London with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

London with Kids: A Family Vacation


Ah, London. Such a big city, so full of history, so much fun to visit. But, while you might think it's too sophisticated and overwhelming a place with young kids in tow, you'd be wrong. London, England, offers many great choices for a family to visit.

Here is our suggested itinerary for the perfect family vacation day in London with young children:

You've told your kids a million times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When visiting London with kids, you might think they would be even harder to convince. However, they'll never argue with you again, about anything, when you begin the day with breakfast at Carluccio's Caffe, with locations throughout London, +44 (0) 1892 614 968. The restaurant at Garrick Street in Covent Garden is centrally located and an excellent place to begin your day of adventure with your precious little progeny. Carluccio's hot chocolate is among the best and most affordable in town, and they have all sorts of traditional breakfast fare, as well as fresh fruits and glorious baked goods that will please the most discriminating palate in your group. You can dine in or have it to-go, but sound like a local and ask for take-away. Carluccio's is open Mon-Fri 8AM-11:30PM, Sat 9AM-11:30PM and Sun 9AM-10:30PM.

You'll find plenty of things to do in London with kids; the secret is finding the right time to visit popular London attractions. Mid-morning is an excellent time to visit Covent Garden with young children as it is far less intimidating before the crushing throngs of people arrive, typically in mid-afternoon and continuing late into the evening. Covent Garden is located in the West End of London between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. Eight hundred years ago this area served as the kitchen garden for Westminster Abbey, and for a few hundred years, fashionable homes surrounded the area. By the middle of the 17th century the area began attracting taverns and theatres. My Fair Lady's Eliza Doolittle would be seen here selling violets and singing under the shadows of porticoes surrounded by the massive columns of Covent Garden's St. Paul's Church. Today Covent Garden has been reborn as a massive entertainment complex showcasing talented street performers. There is a large glass-covered building with fashionable boutiques, cafés and stalls filled with arts and crafts. In the open piazza, jugglers, mime artists and musicians perform. If the weather is agreeable, you can sit and watch the whirlwind of activity that surrounds one of the most captivating places on earth. You'd be daft (crazy) to miss it.

London is a massive city and can be quite overwhelming, but you'll find that most attractions for the best family vacation in London are easy to access. An open-air bus tour on the city's famous double-decker buses provides an excellent opportunity to examine in detail this metropolis that perfectly blends 2,000-year-old Roman buildings with a range of modern shopping, dining and entertainment options. The Big Bus Tour is a reputable operator that offers recorded or live commentary. Call +44 (0) 20 7233 9533 for information; prices are £26 for adults and £10 for children. The tour guides provide a fascinating overview of London's most popular family travel attractions. You can get on and off as you wish, and your ticket is valid for 24 hours. It is a safe and relaxing way to see what you want to see and experience London on your own schedule. On your tour you will pass by (and have opportunity to get off and visit): Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the Clock Tower (Big Ben), the London Eye, the London Aquarium, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, London's own version of Times Square in New York City. A cruise on the River Thames is also included in your admission. If anyone's feeling peckish (hungry), Hard Rock Cafe is located at 150 Old Park Lane at Piccadilly, open Sun-Thu 11:30AM-12:30AM, +44 (0) 207 514 1700). Rainforest Cafe, offering kid-friendly dining options, including cheeseburgers and pasta, is another good option, located at 20 Shaftesbury Avenue, open Mon-Fri noon-10PM, Sat-Sun 11:30AM-10:30PM, +44 (0) 20 7434 3111).

Resist any temptation to wait in queue (meaning to wait in line) for the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. You'd need to arrive hours before the ceremony and as the crowds swell you're likely to get pushed back until you're twelve deep. Yes, the guards are quite majestic, but if you're lucky all you'll get is a brief, fleeting 10-minute peek. Watch it here now and thank me later:

The plaza of dramatic fountains and statues at Trafalgar Square afford an excellent vantage point to showcase regal Britain with Nelson's Column, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church and the National Gallery as backdrop. A rather large pigeon population inhabits Trafalgar Square which induces the requisite yet futile chase between child and bird, the perfect opportunity for kids to release bottled-up energy.

While on your bus tour you would be remiss to skip Hamleys Toy Store, located at 188-196 Regent Street, open Mon-Fri 10AM-9PM, Sat 9AM-10PM and Sun noon-6PM, +44 (0) 871 704 1977). William Hamley began selling toys in London in 1760 and has been at its present location since 1981. Hamleys holds the distinction of being the world's largest (and arguably best) toy store, attracting more than 5 million visitors each year to its 54,000 square feet of retail space situated over 7 floors. The ground floor in its entirety is devoted to stuffed animals and all things "plush." In addition to making its own high-quality line of stuffed animals, Hamleys also carries Steiff, the original "Teddy Bear" maker. Here you will find every imaginable and unimaginable animal in an incredible variety of sizes. Your child will have a difficult decision between a life-size tiger, friendly brown bear or tempting long-necked giraffe. The first floor has science and learning toys, board games and a "build a bear" workshop where children can customize their perfect Teddy. The second floor is filled with toys for younger children; the third is heaven for little girls as every shape, size and style of doll imaginable calls Hamleys home. The fourth floor is a marvel of hobbies, model kits, model railways and remote controlled cars, boats and planes. The fifth floor is filled with action figures and miniature riding vehicles. Rather than waiting for the elevator, take the "Narnia" stairs to each level. These magical stairways are painted in the art and themes of the Narnia books and provide children the chance to walk through different lands on each level. Break away from looking "with" your children here. Look "at" them to see their wide-eyed delight. If anything will render them speechless, it is Hamleys. The only break from their speechlessness will be pleadings of "Can I have this, and this, and that...." They'll be positively gobsmacked (surprised).

To complete your London family vacation with the kids, take in a showing of the Lion King, at the Lyceum Theatre in Leicester Square. Advance tickets are available online or by calling +44 (0) 845 505 8500. If you're on a budget, you can get same-day tickets at considerable discount by visiting the kiosk in Leicester Square or any of the reputable agents selling last minute tickets on the side streets. Get there early for the very best selection. With its heart warming message and catchy soundtrack, the Lion King is an amazing production for children and adults alike.

So, now that you're fully prepared to have the best family vacation in London with your kids, Bob's your uncle (translation: there you have it).

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