Ever since my 5-year-old son caught a glimpse of Big Ben in one of his books, he’s been utterly fascinated by London’s iconic clock tower. His curiosity soon spread to everything London-related, and he would ask question after question about the British capital.
When it came time to plan our next family vacation, the decision was obvious. We were going to London, and what’s more, we let him take the reins in planning the itinerary.
The result? Three days of kid-filled fun (that I thoroughly enjoyed too). From the grandeur of the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace to the whimsical Peppa Pig bus tour, our trip hit the highlights from a kid’s perspective.
So, whether you have a little one obsessed with Big Ben or are simply looking for a family-friendly destination, London offers many attractions to delight children and adults alike. Here’s my three-day guide to help you make the most of your family vacation in this vibrant city.
Day 1: Iconic landmarks and 360-degree views
A ride on the London Underground
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling with a little one, it’s to keep the days manageable, especially the first one. So, after landing in the morning, we made our way to the hotel — Hotel Cafe Royal — on the Underground (an activity my son loved) to drop off our bags and have lunch. I’d recommend eating at the hotel or very close by to limit the amount of transit time after what was already a big day of travel.
Once we fueled up, we made our way to the London Eye, where we had 3 p.m. tickets. Buying the fast pass (which we did) allows you to skip the long line (and avoid a meltdown) and get on the famous Ferris wheel quickly. Once on, it’s a 30-minute ride where you can see many of the city’s highlights. It’s a great way to start the trip with a literal overview of London and doesn’t require any physical effort.
After taking in the London skyline, we took a five-minute walk across Westminster Bridge to fulfill my son’s dream of seeing Big Ben. And his desire couldn’t have come at a better time since the famous clock only recently opened after several years of restoration. Although going inside is only available to U.K. residents, we timed our stroll at the base of the clock at 4 p.m. to hear the famous bell ring (it goes off every hour).
Dinner at The Dorchester
We finished up the day with dinner at The Dorchester. The luxury landmark recently underwent a massive renovation, including The Promenade restaurant perched in the center of the hotel. Each seating area was outfitted with a cozy couch, making it the perfect spot to unwind for the day. They had an incredible kids menu with plenty of options, even for the pickiest eaters.
Then it was back to the hotel for an early bedtime and a good night’s rest to prep for the action-filled next day.
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Day 2: Trains, tea, toys and tradition
After a hearty breakfast at the hotel (I often recommend booking a hotel package that includes breakfast to make it easy), we set out for our first activity of the day. Along with loving Big Ben, my son is also a train fanatic. So, we got 10 a.m. tickets for a lesser-known attraction: the Mail Rail exhibit at the Postal Museum.
This off-the-beaten-path museum dives into London’s fascinating postal history with an interactive exhibit that includes a ride on an actual underground train. We wove through the old tunnels, making stops along the way where we learned about the old underground railway system that once moved the city’s mail. Although slightly claustrophobic at times (the train is very tiny), it was very entertaining for both kids and adults. A postal-themed play space for kids under 8 features a small-scale village with roads, structures, trams and tunnels.
Changing of the guard
Then it was off to witness the changing of the guard around 11 a.m. We opted to take a taxi to cut down on travel time and made it to the iconic ceremony outside Buckingham Palace. While we couldn’t get up close to the gates, plenty of British pomp and pageantry along the Mall entertained my son for a little while.
We kept watching as we made our way to St. James’s Park playground, which was just a few minutes’ walk from the palace. My son loved climbing on the rocks, walking across the mini bridge and digging in the sandbox. We could see more of the changing of the guard parade from the playground.
As you can imagine, we were hungry at this point, and my son requested afternoon tea while in London. We chose The Guardsman as it was just a few minutes’ walk and was supposed to be one of the top spots for the quintessentially British experience. We chowed down on sandwiches and pastries, and they gave my son a stuffed bear dressed as a beefeater (a perfect souvenir for what we had just witnessed).
With some renewed energy, we had one last outing for the day. Of course, my son also requested we visit a toy store in town. And there’s no better one than Hamleys. It’s one of the world’s largest and oldest toy stores, with seven floors of gadgets and gizmos. It can be overwhelming as people are dancing, clowns are blowing bubbles and drones are zipping around, but my son had a blast looking at everything. He settled on a small truck as his toy before we returned to the hotel.
Dinner at Cake & Bubbles
With such a busy morning, we decided to spend the afternoon and evening at the hotel. We made it back for the children’s hours (4-6 p.m.) at the pool and took a little late-afternoon dip before an early dinner at Cake & Bubbles (attached to the hotel). While the family-friendly restaurant is known for its desserts (the cheesecake is a must), it also has a delicious savory menu of small bites. We enjoyed burgers, pasta, salad and some dessert for a sweet ending to a fun-filled day.
Day 3: Playgrounds and Peppa Pig
The Diana Memorial Playground
My son always wants to check out the playground scene no matter what city we visit. And one in London is a must-see: the Diana Memorial Playground. After our hotel breakfast and a morning swim (we wanted to keep the morning low-key), we hopped on a local double-decker bus (another request of my son) and made our way to the far edge of Kensington Gardens.
Next to the late Princess Diana’s former Kensington Palace home, the Diana Memorial Playground is inspired by the story of Peter Pan. The centerpiece is a large wooden pirate ship surrounded by a sandy beach and “buried treasure.” Other features include sensory trails, various toys and play sculptures, all set within a carefully landscaped area. My son loved climbing into the crow’s nest and zipping down the hidden slides.
Peppa Pig bus tour
After some playtime, it was time for one final kid-approved activity: the Peppa Pig bus tour. Since my son requested afternoon tea and a double-decker bus ride on the trip and is a fan of the “Peppa Pig” cartoon, I was elated when I learned an option included all three.
The whimsical tour involved driving around the city in a historic double-decker-bus-turned-restaurant seeing the major sites (including Big Ben again) while nibbling on mini pizzas and scones. The kids were served hot chocolate in cups with lids, while the adults had a choice of teas. Individual screens played “Peppa Pig” clips that described the historic sites we drove past. And an onboard emcee played games and sang songs with the kids whenever we were stuck in traffic.
Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane
After the tour, we had some downtime at the hotel before making our way to the final dinner of the trip. Since everything else had been kid-focused, my husband and I opted for a nicer dinner at Pavyllon in the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane.
Although geared toward adults, the staff was incredibly accommodating and had a kids menu available. They even brought my son’s food out first, so he didn’t have to wait. And they rushed our dishes, too, so we could have a speedier meal that aligned better with a 5-year-old’s patience. We brought a deck of cards and played War throughout dinner, which entertained my son thoroughly.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel for our final night before taking a flight out the following day.
Where to stay
When planning a family stay in London, a plethora of options cater to the needs of both adults and children. For families, areas like South Kensington, Covent Garden and Westminster are ideal due to their proximity to major attractions like the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the London Eye.
Hotel Cafe Royal
We opted for Hotel Cafe Royal (part of the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection) in Piccadilly Circus. It is near multiple modes of transportation to reach anywhere in the city and within walking distance of numerous attractions, including the Hamleys toy store. What’s more, it’s incredibly family-friendly. The rooms are spacious, and the property even worked with a former royal nanny to curate the family programming. So, we had a tent with toys set up in the room, and there was a white-noise machine ready to help us all get a good night’s sleep. Plus, if you book through the Chase travel portal, you get daily breakfast, a complimentary upgrade and a $100 property credit.
Other properties to consider
But there are plenty of other family-friendly options too. The Hilton London Bankside (available for around $267 or 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night) has a host of family offerings like connecting rooms and an indoor pool. Kids eat free at Holiday Inn London — Oxford Circus, with rooms available for around $328 or 39,000 IHG rewards points a night.
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