Thursday, April 18, 2013

Once Upon a Time: Experiencing London with Kids

One of last spring’s highlights was a week-long trip to London with my husband and my five-year-old daughter.  I was traveling for work, but my daughter’s school recognized the educational opportunity in her tagging along, so we made a mini-vacation out of the trip as well.

I have been to London several times; I even lived and worked there for awhile.  London is one of my very favorite cities, and a place where I feel comfortable and know my way around.  But it was all new to me this time, as seen through the eyes of my child.  For a child who believes deeply in the magic of childhood --- fairies and castles, princesses and pirates --- London was better (and cheaper) than Disney World.  

We let our daughter's interests lead the way.  We didn't feel compelled to tour every museum, cathedral, or historical site on this visit; instead, we focused on those landmarks about which she had previously read or learned.  She loved, for example, recognizing the sites from "Madeline in London" and "Paddington Bear."   We also refrained from micro-managing her travel experience; we didn't object, for example, when she insisted on wearing her favorite tea party dress five days in a row "just in case" she happened to meet the queen.  :)

With those guidelines in place, and despite the chilly weather, we had a blast.  Here is my daughter's personal Top Ten List of Favorite London Experiences:

1.  The Princess Diana Memorial Playground at Kensington Gardens.  I can't imagine a more fitting tribute to the late princess, who loved children, than this fabulous playground on her palace grounds. With a pirate ship, mermaid grotto, and trees full of fairies, this is the perfect place to run off some energy and fully immerse your imagination.

2.  Tea at The Orangery.  After exhausting yourselves at the playground, stop in for afternoon tea at Kensington Palace.  We like The Orangery because it offers charming tea-time formalities (and yummy food) without the pretense or expense of places like the Ritz Carlton.

3.  Harrod's. We could have spent all day at this visual feast.  My daughter was fascinated by every hall.  She spent hours examining the beautiful flowers, the food delicacies, the gorgeous jewelry, and of course, the toys, toys, toys.  

4.  The Natural History Museum.  The animated T-Rex is alone worth the visit to this free museum.  But my daughter also loved the energy hall and its escalator ride through the core of the earth.


5.  The British Museum.  Pack a year's worth of history, science, and art education into one afternoon.  With a young child, we hit the highlights: The Rosetta Stone, the Acropolis, and of course, the mummies! While there, we sent real-time video and picture updates to kindergarten classmates back home, so they could learn along with us.

6.  Covent Garden.  My daughter loved the street performers, vendors, and the art display of giant painted Easter eggs.

7.  The English National Ballet.  We originally contemplated a West End musical, but because our daughter loves ballet, we instead opted for a beautiful production of "My First Sleeping Beauty." Gorgeously costumed and choreographed, and age appropriate for a young audience, this was a hit.

8.  The London Eye. Yes, it's tourist-trappy.  But our child was wowed by the bird's eye view of London. Seeing all of the city's landmarks from above also helped orient her when we later walked the city.

9.  A cruise on the Thames.  London requires a lot of walking.  When those little legs get tired out, purchase inexpensive tickets for a leisurely cruise on the Thames.  Your young kids can see The Tower of London, London Bridge, Big Ben, and more in comfort.  Save the lengthy, historical, and sometimes expensive tours of those sites for when they are older and have longer attention spans.

10.  The transportation.  For a kid from Texas, London's transportation system was like an amusement park -- the tube, the double-decker buses, and the charming taxis were all novel and exciting.  She quickly became expert at reading the maps and determining the most efficient routes.  

And of course,  there were many more "favorites" beyond these ten: doing brass rubbings at St. Martin's, the Science Museum, Piccadilly Circus, Paddington Station, the Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens, the fields of flowers in St. James' Park, Buckingham Palace, the Horse Guards, seeing her first-ever telephone booth, visiting some dear friends, and all of that good Indian food.

From start

to finish

taking my daughter to London was one of my most rewarding parenting experiences.  I'm already planning the next trip.  :)

(Also sharing with Sun Scholars and Memories by the Mile)


  1. What a fun trip. I love your pictures. Thank you for sharing at Memories by the Mile.
    Wanda Ann @ Memories by the Mile

  2. That would be such a wonderful trip!
    Visiting over from the Real Family Fun

  3. Oh! What a neat post and summary of all the fun you had. I love your tips and ideas, they sound like great ideas and lots of fun.
    Thanks so much for linking up at the Real Family Fun link party! Hope to see you next week.