Sometimes booking flights and hotels is the easiest part of trip planning. Deciding what sights you’ll see and how you plan out each day can be a daunting task when visiting a city for the first time. Add kids to the mix and it adds to the challenge. My favorite resources for trip planning are online forums, like Fodor’s or TripAdvisor and guidebooks. There is nothing like getting advice from someone who has been there, done that. My go-to guide books are those from Rick Steves. His guide books have helped us organize sighseeting days around certain neighborhoods and his museum tour guides are lifesavers when wanting to hit the big highlights with little time in Europe’s best museums.
London is a treasure trove of historical sights and attractions. With a large family there is no way we could afford to see or do it all. Lucky for us, many of the most popular sights in London are free! As a family we chose what was most important for us to see and hopefully the next time we visit, we’ll be able to visit the sights we passed on this time.
Since Day 1 is the day we arrive into London our mission is to stay awake and try to adapt to the time change. This can be hard with kids that didn’t sleep a wink on the flight over. Today we stayed in Westminster and got the kids oriented to the area. We were back in our hotel room early tonight, ordered pizza delivery (which was easy on our food budget) did laundry and got ready for our 2nd full day.
Rick Steves Westminster walk – (free): this is one of our favorites and we do it every time we go to London. Rick also has free walking audio guides to accompany your walk, but with kids we just strolled around and pointed out the highlights. We enjoyed looking for the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing and admiring the beautiful Horse Guards. Don’t be surprised if you see protestors marching from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square on the week-end.
Churchill War Rooms: – This was a highlight for our kids as they are huge history buffs. The War Rooms are located in the basement of Whitehall and were the secret headquarters of Churchill and the British government during WWII. During your tour you’ll receive an audio guide that takes you through the actual living quarters of Churchill and his staff including an infirmary and kitchen and a tour of the Map Room that remains exactly as it was left when the lights were turned off in 1945. Included with your ticket is admission to the Churchill Museum which houses personal objects from all periods of his life including letters, a cigar and the door to No. 10 Downing street.
After your museum visit grab a sandwich and head across the street to St. James Park for a picnic lunch and great people watching.
What else to do in the area?
Houses of Parliament tour – Did you know you can tour the Houses of Parliament? For dates and ticket information click here.
Westminster Abbey tour – We’ve done this one without the kids. Where every English coronation since 1066 has taken place. Self guided tour includes audio wand.
The London Eye: – We’ve done this without the kids and if you time it just right before sunset, the views are amazing. Lines are crazy long, so splurge and buy the fast track ticket online! It’s totally worth it.
Changing of the Guard Walking tour – This morning we booked a Changing of the Guard walking tour, this was a splurge for us. The first time my husband and I visited London, we rushed to Buckingham Palace at 10am (already late according to the huge crowds gathering outside of the Palace) and waited over an hour for the ceremony to begin. There were hoards of people, we could barely see the band walk by, it was a little disappointing. We knew we couldn’t make our kids stand for hours and came across this tour on our search for an alternative. It was such a great decision!
There are several tour groups that offer the Changing of the Guard walking tour. We chose FunLondonTours.com and recommend them highly! We met our guide and small tour group at Piccadilly Circus. The tour is fast paced, so wear good walking shoes.
The Changing of the Guard occurs every other day at 11am. Make sure to check the schedule when planning your trip!
After our morning Changing of the Guard tour, we headed back towards Piccadilly Circus to explore SoHo. It’s so worth walking a few blocks away from the main tourist areas.
What else to do in the area?
Buckingham Palace State Rooms tours – every summer from the end of July through September, Buckingham Palace offers tours of the State Rooms. For schedule and ticket information, click here.
See a show! While walking around London’s West End, stop by the TKTS booth and see if you can find tickets to your favorite broadway show. We’ve purchased tickets here for more than half of what we’ve paid in Dallas and for much better seats!!
Tower of London – The Tower of London is a must see! Take a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) Tour (included with your admission ticket) right after passing through the entrance. Tours are offered every half hour. They are funny and informative.
After the tour, head over to see the Crown Jewels. The lines can snake outside of the building, but they move pretty quickly. We had a nice lunch inside of the Armouries Café and it recharged us for the all the stairs in the White Tower tour . Keep in mind that the Tower of London closes at 4:30p so if you’re planning on going in the afternoon, allow at least 2 hours to explore.
Ceremony of the Keys -Every night for 700 years the Yeoman Warder performs a gate closing ceremony at 9:52pm. Tickets (which are free) can booked 12 months in advance and only 40-50 tickets are issued. If you can plan that far ahead, book your tickets here. We’re hoping to do this next time we visit London.
What else to do in the area:
St. Paul’s Cathedral – If you’re up for a little walk, head up along the river Thames until you see the Millennium Bridge, turn your head to the right and you can’t miss beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Day 3 for us was a museum day. Some of the top museums in the world are in London. We visited the British Museum and the National Gallery. Both museums are free to enter, but donations are encouraged. I highly recommend using Rick Steves’ museum tour guide inside his London guide-book. The self guided tour hits all the highlights in the museum, saving us a ton of time. Tip: There are several family friendly cafe’s inside the museum. We like to grab lunch here before heading out. There is a pizzeria to the left of the front entrance and a café in the Great Court.
The National Gallery Museum is right in Trafalgar Square. The museum is huge! With our handy dandy Rick Steve’s quick tour quide, we knew exactly what rooms to find our favorite Van Gogh, Monet and Vermeer paintings!
After a long day of walking, we ended our last night in London by saying “Good Night!” to Big Ben. Nothing like seeing London’s most famous landmark lit up at night.
Have you visited London with kids? We’d love to hear your top recommendations!
Coming Soon: Our Favorite London Travel Tips