We loved London! I wanted to share our favorite, fabulous and unusual things to do on a family trip to London. I have three children, ages 13, 12 and 11–yes, I was a little nutty having babies at one time. So, when we found out my husband had to go to London for work, we took the opportunity to bring the kids along on a international adventure! First, we went to the Cotswolds, which was simply lovely. Next, we headed to London to see what we would find.
Planning for an international trip is difficult. There are so many places to see and to choose from, it’s challenging to whittle down your list of things to do. We learned on our summer trip to Paris that 4 days is the maximum for pre-teen attention and excitement in a big city. Their eyes started to glaze over once we passed that 4 day mark, so we kept this London trip limited. We also learned that it’s best to sprinkle in unusual and fun with the historical and traditional. Plus, if you miss things you wanted to see on your list, you have all the more reason to go back.
12 Unusually Fun Things To Do on a Family Trip To London
1. See Arsenal play soccer in Emirates Stadium
Having a true UK “football” experience awed me. First, the chants, cheers and collective thoughts of the fans in their completeness and uniformity shocked me. You can hear it if when you watch soccer on the television, but to hear it live is something else altogether. Here, I truly believe crowd consciousness could affect the outcome of a game. Part of this togetherness has to do with how focused everyone is on the game itself. There is no drinking in the stadium. I saw no eating, no walking vendors, and almost no phone use. Guess what? That means everyone just watches the game and cheers their hearts out together. AMAZING! Definitely put this on your things to do on a family trip to London List!
2. Spring for a private tour of the Tower of London
We splurged on a private tour of the Tower of London from Context Tours. I highly recommend this at the top of your list of things to do on a family trip to London. In fact, do this kind of tour in at least one historical location in any major city you visit, especially with inquisitive and curious children. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and entertaining. The tours make you feel like the city is your personal oyster to crack open. In this case, the guide geared the tour of the Tower especially for the kids and they participated with rapt attention to the history of London for over four hours. In my mind, I allocate the price of these tours to the overall price tag for the trip. It’s worth having such personalized and accurate background information to kick off your trip with the right sense of historical context.
3. Go to China Town for soup dumplings and street performers
Your kids will be somewhat on U.S. time, so take advantage of it and have some night time adventures. This visit to Chinatown was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. First, Gerrard Street is pedestrian-ony so we could stand around and soak it all in. The dumplings (but just the dumplings) were yummy here! We especially loved an amazing street performer who we found singing some of the kids’ favorite songs. There’s nothing like dancing in the streets of London at midnight (okay, it was 10pm, but it felt awesome)! Combine this trip with a walk around lively and youthful Leicester Square.
4. Take a ride on the London Eye
Enjoy a very touristy morning in London by taking a whirl on the London Eye. It’s okay because you are, in fact, a tourist. My advice is to show up right when it opens otherwise you can expect a long wait. We loved every part of our ride. What a great way to see London from up high!
5. Indulge in Liberty of London Department Store Purchase
I literally swooned over this store. First, the entrance is covered with gorgeous flowers to buy. Win! Then, the vestibule is filled with more gorgeous flowers Win! Win! Next, follows the most charming interior of a department store I’ve ever seen. Take a look at the drainpipe above to give you an idea of the inside. The details–the wood, the wide staircase, the old elevators, the ceilings . . . sigh! My hubby gave me a time limit (good idea). I took the hour to wonder at the charming, antique Victorian charms, drool over the collection of Liberty fabrics and products, and run my hands lovingly over the yarn (see photo at top of post). I didn’t even dent this gorgeous store and would go back to spend a day there in a heartbeat!
6. Walk over the Millenium Bridge at dusk
I loved walking over this beautiful pedestrian bridge over the Thames with the family at dusk. The blue tones of the vista, with the lights of the Shard in front of us, and the Tower Bridge in the distance created a beautiful mood. Make sure you get a bag of freshly roasted nuts to much on as you cross – yum. If you have a chance to cross the bridge, don’t forget to look down. A street artist has adorned hundreds of ground in pieces of gum with intricate and colorful mini “gum paintings.”
7. Visit Trafalgar Square at Night
We continued with the late night adventures, and loved visiting this typically day-time destination at night. Everything was lit up beautifully. We climbed all over the lions with not many people to disturb us. Still, the square was lively and full of life. Our daughter loved this stop so much, she asked to go back the next night!
8. Traipse through Shoreditch on a Street Art Tour
We loved walking around seeing the amazing street art in East London. We went on a tour and were amazed by the variety of art we saw, and from artists all over the world. I would put this high on the list of things to do on a family trip to London. It really opened the kids eyes to see the things around them differently. Plus, the kids loved this shifted perspective from a traditional art museum.
9. Listen to Big Ben Toll
The kids loved visiting this magnificent tower and listening to the clock chime. We had a bit of a picnic snack in Parliament square and just took in all the action.
10. See Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a can’t miss stop. This magnificent cathedral is right next to Big Ben, making it easy to do these stops back to back.
11. See where and HOW the Harry Potter movies were made
We took an afternoon to go to the Warner Brothers Studio in London to see how and where the Harry Potter movies were made. This was so much fun for all of us, for so many reasons – our kids were raised on Harry Potter, of course. We loved seeing the sets (Hogwarts train, Ministry of Magic, Hagrid’s Hut, Griffindor’s Common Room, Potion Classroom etc). The number of props was awe inspiring, especially for a maker like myself. We loved learning about the combinations of special effects and computer animation, and how things evolved over the course of the 8 movies. But, my favorite part by far was the creative direction brainstorming material: the sketches, the inspiration paintings for characters, places and scenes, the architectural plans to build things, and the models (above). I adored seeing the process of how creative ideas in someone’s head become movie reality–so inspiring and beautiful.
12. Explore the local neighborhood you are staying in
It’s fun to stay in the thick of town, but it’s also fun to stay in a neighborhood where people live. On this trip, we stayed with my cousin who lives in Stoke Newington, close to the Overground into London. The trip into the city was easy, but it was a real neighborhood. We checked out their local brunch spot, their bagel shop, their hamburger joint. We wandered the streets, saw their bodegas and burgeoning trendy shops. I got a beautiful leather belt made in London from a local shop there. Take a bit of time to walk around a non-touristy neighborhood and see how regular folks live.
One Last Thing about London
The stream and quantity of people shocked me the most about London!! (photo above by Gary J. Wood/Flickr) Now, I lived in New York City for 7 years, so I know a thing or two about major cities and crowds. But, the sheer flow of people on just a regular day on the streets around Oxford Circus and a pretty good radius from there shocked me! These folks were just walking about doing errands, shopping etc. It felt like being on 5th Avenue in the middle of Christmas. Wow.
Honorable mention fun things to do on a family trip to London:
We also visited the rebuilt Globe Theater, which was worthwhile and gave an interesting perspective on London prior to the great fire. I would highly recommend trying to find an actual performance you can see here on your trip.
We also saw the Los Angeles Rams play football in Twickenham Stadium (this was the work part of it for my hubby). The NFL definitely brought the American experience to London. I hope this doesn’t start to change how they watch their football (soccer) games as described above.
Other fabulous things to do on a family trip to London, but we ran out of time for:
:: visit the Victoria and Albert Museum (and others!)
:: visit a couple Charles Dickens spots
:: take a Fat Tire bike tour through the city (we loved their in Paris.)
:: play in Hyde Park.
I hope you enjoyed all my fun things to do on a family trip to London. I highly encourage you to take a trip there if you get the opportunity! It’s a great entree into international travel. If you do plan a trip to Europe, be sure to check out my friend’s blog, www.driving-dad.com. His blog is full of family friendly travel trips. I love this surf trip he took to Cornwall – wish we had had time for that!!