Traveling with Kids: London
The gray skies met us in London. Their familiar presence along with the ease of people speaking our language was a great way to ease into our three week European adventure. Although we still delighted in the subtle differences in dialogue with words like water closet, fancy (in lieu of like) and biscuit. And the way in which they speak with a delightful properness that Roman loved try and replicate. London, albeit a bit expensive, is a wonderful city to explore with children. I’ve compiled a small list of some of our favorites from our short stay in London. Perhaps you may find it useful in planning your own trip. I hope you do.
With the recent news out of the U.K. it makes our travels there even more valuable and important. I won’t say much on the subject as am far from an expert but I will say that fear is a powerful motivator and not often for good. In fact fear is a huge reason why Gabe and decided to take this trip in the first place: To teach our children that the world is a big, beautiful place filled with people who are different than us – which is something to celebrate, not something to fear. When our kids were very little Gabe and I gave ourselves the goal of teaching our children how to be competent and confident travelers because we believe that travel is the best education. Through travel my world and myself become small so that my perspective can expand (much like my waistline while consuming croissants and bowls of pasta – not complaining one bit).
A quick word on eating while traveling with children. We quickly learned that our most successful meals were the ones eaten at “home” – or whatever place we are calling home in that particular city. We’d make it part of our day’s mission to find and bring back food for dinner. We’ve had some of the best food that way and also is less expensive and the kids won’t rush you to leave the table.
Great spots in London for grabbing food to go:
Harrod’s Food Halls
This place overwhelms any food lover. Of course there’s also floors and floors of fashion but both times I’ve been I head right towards the food. There are salads, meat pies, curries, cheeses, cured meats, fresh produce, chocolate, tea, coffee…. Room after room display some of the most indulgent and stunning food you’ve ever seen. I walked the kids by the fruit stand where each strawberry is perfectly ruby red, no seed is out of place and no sign of crinkled green tops or the smallest bit of soft spots or fur growing on them. Absolutely pristine – and you pay for that. We opt for a farmer’s market or a local grocery store to buy our fruit. But the meat pies, salads and English cheeses are totally affordable and completely delicious.
There are a few locations around London so before you head out for your day’s activities be sure to map the location you’ll be stumbling across. Ottolenghi is known for their creative and stunning ways with vegetables. This is how I love to eat. Crisp green beans and sugar snap peas with fresh mint and red chilies. Eggplant covered in a creamy yogurt sauce and roasted summer squash and zucchini with wispy shards of Parmesan and fresh herbs. We also grabbed a few slender pieces of roast beef which accompanied a verdant cilantro sauce. And don’t skip the desserts. The towering cake stands and platters filled with freshly baked cakes, cookies, and tarts are your due reward for a long day of travel.
While we didn’t make it to the market this trip (tired legs and lots of rain) I’ve been enough times to tell you that you must visit. It’s not open every day of the week so be sure to check their website for the most updated information. If you go during the winter grab a cup of mulled wine to sip on while you wait in line for Raclette. In the spring and summer the produce stalls are brimming with locally grown beauties. Inside the market you’ll find a tea shop, truffle shop, cheese, meats and basically whatever else you made need to grab dinner/lunch to go (hello, wine!).
We didn’t take every meal with us. Here are a couple great places to dine out the kids:
The Harwood Arms
We enjoyed our first meal in London here and while it was more expensive than we were planning on spending at most meals it was such a fun way to start the trip. It’s a British gastropub that has classic British fare done really really well. And it’s completely kid friendly to boot. Their kids menu (a rarity) included breaded sole (fish and chips) and braised beef cheeks with mashed potatoes. The kids are still talking about those potatoes. For dessert don’t miss the donuts and the sticky toffee pudding ice cream. Gabe and I each did the prix fix dinner which included a starter and a main for right around £30. Total fun bonus – it’s the only Michelin starred pub in London.
Tomtom Coffee House
The Internet is a weird, wonderful place. A few weeks prior to our trip I reached out to an Internet friend who happens to live in London. A few Instagram direct messages later we were meeting up for coffee in her neighborhood spot. She showed us around the charming streets around Tomtom after we enjoyed a flat white and a tomato and cheese toasty (crisp bread, cheese outside and in grilled with sweet tomatoes). It felt like a local spot with a large bowl of perfectly golden croissants sitting in the middle of the communal table. Regulars strolled in, helped themselves to a croissant then ordered their coffee and went on their way.
Natural History Museum
Our kids happily surprised us with their ability to put in the miles. We walked quite a bit despite a bit of rain and gray skies. But if walking isn’t your thing the tube is completely easy to navigate. Download the London Tube app before you go.
I had heard such good things about the Natural History museum and the free entrance sealed the deal.
We wandered the fascinating halls for hours, stopping only for a quick coke and sketching break. My favorite exhibit was the volcanos and earthquakes, however terrifying (we live on an epic fault line), I was giddy while ascending the escalator into the center of the earth. You’ll know what I mean when you get there. Don’t try and see it all – your kids will hate you. We had each child choose an exhibit then we explored those. While there is so much we missed I love leaving a place wanting more and that’s just what we did.
If your kids have it in them for another great stop, the science museum is practically next door.
The National Gallery
Again, free entrance! Monet!! Cezanne!! Van Gough!! Our first visit to London Gabe and I made our way here twice. I was enamored while watching a school class (they couldn’t have been much older than 6 or 7) sitting in front of a Monet and Renoir painting. Both paintings were water scenes and the delightful docent asked the children what similarities they noticed and then what was different. What painting would you most like to jump into? Why? I marveled at the education these kidlets were receiving and wanted that so badly for my own kids. Two years later I brought them to that very museum. Sure they were whiney and exhausted from walking and not fully understanding the scope of what they were looking at but they’ll thank me later, I just am sure of it.
A lovely park to wander through and a sweet little playground for the kids to work off some energy. Plenty of great spots to picnic and there are is a café in the park as well.
River Boat Ride
Touristy? Absolutely and totally fun. Learn from our mistakes – try and avoid going during the rainiest part of the day and be sure the kids have all used the restroom before boarding. Yikes. (Or just find a boat with indoor seating and an accessible bathroom while going down the river.) You can purchase tickets online before hand or just walk to the river near Big Ben and grab some tickets. Many packages include the double decker bus tour. We had planned on doing that but I love using my feet. The kids may not love that about me.
Hamley’s Toy Store
This toy store is wonderfully overwhelming. A trip here makes for great fodder for taking them to the museum right after. “We just spent an hour in a toy store now we get to go to the museum.”
We started our journey having a very comfortable and stunning stay with onefinestay. We were so thrilled with our little apartment. Every time I’ve been in London we’ve wandered the streets and I have so often wanted to just see what the inside of those white stone flats look like. I wanted so badly to be invited in for dinner by a perfect stranger (strange, it never happened) just to see what the interior held and to experience how the “locals” live. That’s always how I want to experience a place – as one would who lives there. One Fine Stay helped to make my dream a reality. While I didn’t get invited to someone’s house for dinner I did get to have dinner in a gorgeous flat complete with a exterior courtyard looking out onto a sweet garden and ivy climbing it’s way up a centuries old brick facade.
A representative from onefinestay greeted us as we arrived. They gave us access to an iPhone to use during our stay so we wouldn’t have to use up our rather pricey data plan. The phone was pre-programed with loads of great spots for dining, activities and groceries right near our flat.
Two of our three nights were gifted to us but even if they weren’t I would still be delighted to tell you about this company. They have beautiful homes and apartments in London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York and now Rome. onefinestay started “to give people a new way to experience a place. Handmade hospitality, for stays in the finest homes.” We felt it and loved it.
Thanks to our friend, Jo for this family photo of us – they are rare and perhaps by the look of this image you can see why.
We did all of the eating and activities above in about two and a half days. We left wanting to see so much more but delighted with the time we did have in London. Next up: Paris and Normandy!