London Itinerary 4 Days – Best Things to Do in London with Kids (or Without)

London Itinerary 4 Days – Best Things to Do in London with Kids (or Without)

London is a perfect destination for a long weekend city break: museums, parks, musicals, sightseeing…  there are abundant options on what to see and do when you visit London with kids. Plan your family trip to London well in advance to make the best out of your time there – this 4 days London itinerary covers the essentials and can be easily modified from 3 to 6 days depending on your preferences (for a longer stay see More fun things to do in London in the end of this post).

My 9-year-old suggested London as our travel destination for this summer. She had clear priorities: see Big Ben and Tower Bridge. I’ve seen London’s main sights quite a few times before, though it had already been a decade since my last visit. I was looking for some new things in addition to the key sights and got inspired to visit Sky Garden and go for a yoga class.

Day 1: Paddington, Tower of London and Tower Bridge

Meet Paddington Bear

Have you read Paddington Bear books or seen the movies? We love the story and my daughter made sure to pack her teddy along. A quick visit to Paddington Station makes a great way to start the city visit with kids, as platform one is home to the Paddington Bear Statue. There’s also a souvenir shop dedicated to Mr. Paddington at the station.

Paddington Bear Statue

Switch to underground and take the Tube to Tower Hill to see some of the best views in London overseeing Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Trinity Square Gardens is a small patch of green between the tall city buildings and offers a calm oasis after the tube ride.  Our hotel happened to be located in this area which made it easy to stroll around in the neighborhood and Tower of London and Tower Bridge turned out to be our favorite sights in London.

Tower of London

Tower of London

Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 and a very popular attraction. The guided tours are highly recommended, and it would have been fun to see the crown jewels. However, we arrived at closing time around 5pm were happy to admire the Tower of London just from the outside, sense the atmosphere, read and discuss about its fascinating history. It’s a great walk around the castle walls and enjoy the location on the bank of river Thames and the contrasting views of the Roman ruins with the high-rise office towers in the background.

Tip: Don’t miss the Traitor’s gate on the Thames side of the castle.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

“London Bridge is falling down…” she kept signing the familiar nursery rhyme as we approached Tower Bridge, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. It’s an impressive landmark and there’s plenty of spots to take photos along the river banks. It would have been cool to see the Bridge open for a passing ship so check out the Tower Bridge lift times  in advance. It’s possible to go up to the bridge tower and walk across the bridge on the glass floor but we saved this experience for a later visit.

Restaurant recommendation: Natural Kitchen Trinity Square. Tables outside. Smoothies, fresh salads and bonus points for a great kids’ menu with fun things to do for kids. Free wifi.

Day 2: Sightseeing tour, Science Museum and Natural History Museum

Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Tour

Hop-on Hop-off tour

A Hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour is a great way to start your exploration of London. We checked the offering and opted for Golden Tours based on the routes – with the red line we were able to get from Tower Hill to the museums in South Kensington without need to change transport. On the way we there and back we saw most of London’s key sights – including the much awaited Big Ben that unfortunately was being renovated – and could listen to the recorded commentary with some interesting historical facts. It took around 1,5 hours from Tower Hill to South Kensington so it’s not the fastest form of travel, but it was enjoyable to sit at the open top seats watching the sights.

Tip: Invest in the 24h ticket with the river boat tour included for the next day. It also includes different guided walking tour options.

The best museums for kids in London are the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum located in South Kensington.

Science Museum

Science Museum’s highlight was the Summer of Space exhibition. It’s exciting for both kids and adults to explore the history of space travel and some of the equipment that took people to the Moon 50 years ago when Neil Armstrong was the first human to step on the surface of the Moon on 21 July 1969.

Science Museum

Also, the exhibitions about the industrial revolution and different materials sparked the 9-year-old’s curiosity. There’s often lots of groups of school kids so it can get a bit noisy and might be best to go early or later in the day.

Fee: No entrance fee (voluntary donations welcomed).

Note: Beware of noisy and untidy toilets, maybe try to go somewhere else for a bathroom break if possible…

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum’s highlight was the Dinosaur trail. There’s lots of information about different dinosaurs and the encounter with the roaring T. rex was almost too real 😉

Additionally, the hall with the Moon installation was impressive. Would have loved to join one of the family yoga classes organized under the moon if dates had matched with our visit. Also, the Human Evolution Gallery would have been of interest but we had to skip it this time.

The building itself is marvelous from its architecture from both outside and inside. There’s a café in the yard and lots of people enjoy sitting on the lawns having picnics.

Fee: No entrance fee (voluntary donations welcomed).

Restaurant recommendation: Take a lunch break at Brompton Food Market between visiting the two museums. This café became our all-time favorite and we ended coming back for another lunch. The décor is lovely and the outdoor seating in the secret garden in the backyard is heavenly! The staff was nice and friendly. Thumbs up for the salad bar and ham and cheese sandwich on the kids menu.

Lunch at Brompton Food Market

Note: No wifi in the backyard – just enjoy the moment of being fully present (maybe pack an activity book along for the kids to enjoy a peaceful cappuccino for dessert) 🙂

Day 3: Thames River Cruise, Buckingham Palace, Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk

Thames River Cruise and London Eye

Running or walking along the river Thames is an excellent way to explore London. However, the little ones usually aren’t so keen on walking so best way to see London with kids is from the river Thames on-board one of the riverboats. Our Hop-on hop-off tickets included the river boat tickets from St. Catherine’s Docks to Westminster and we got to enjoy great views to the Tower Bridge and the London Eye up close from the river.

 

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From Westminster pier it’s a short walking distance to the Queen’s Horse Guards and it makes a great photo with the kids.

Horse Guards

The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk

We didn’t know about the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk in advance but ended up following the trail by accident and found it a lovely way to explore some of London’s best parks. The walk is in total 11km / 7mi so a bit long for the kids but it works well to walk in one direction and take public transportation on the way back.

St. James Park and Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Walking through St. James Park is refreshing, and the kids love watching the swans, ducks and other birds on the lake. There’s also a café in case you feel like taking a break. At the end of the park you’ll arrive to Buckingham Palace and see the palace over the beautiful sea of flowers at Victoria Memorial monument Arrive early if you’d like to see the changing of guards (11am Mon-Sat, 10am Sun). At other times, you might get lucky and see royal horse carriages on their way to the palace.

Hyde Park

Wellington Arch

Head up Constitution Hill towards Hyde Park and walk through the Wellington Arch. Enter Hyde Park and admire the lovely Rose Garden and Huntress Fountain.

Restaurant recommendation: enjoy lunch at Serpentine Bar & Kitchen at the lakefront.

Serpentine Cafe Hyde Park

Note: you need to take a table first, memorize the number marked on the table and only then go to the counter to place your order. You’ll find pizzas, sandwiches and salads as well as a kids menu.

Tip: Go to the garden kiosk for burgers and take a table outside or go for a picnic.

If you’re feeling energized after the lunch break you could rent a boat (rowing boat or pedal boat) and go boating on the Serpentine.

Hyde Park Boating

There’s self-service bicycle hire docking stations in the park where it’s possible to rent bicycles starting from £2. It seemed like a great idea until we noticed a few restrictions: first, use of the bikes is limited to only 14 years-old and above and second, most of the park paths are restricted from bicycling with a threat of fines whereas outside of the park (at least in the direction of Queensway/Bayswater) there wasn’t a bicycle track. Also, you’d need to plan ahead to bring bicycle helmets along… We still took a little ride and noticed that the size of the bikes was good for over 140cm tall riders.

We also noticed that it’s possible to go horse riding in the park – we’ll definitely try this next time!

Kensington Gardens and Princess Diana Memorial Playground

Kensington Palace looks gorgeous in the western end of the Kensington Gardens. The thought of real princesses and princes living in the palace was quite exciting to the 9-year-old.

Kensington Palace

Princess Diana Memorial Playground is located in the North East corner of Kensington Gardens and makes a great place to visit with kids. The entry to the playground is free and there’s a gate where only adults entering with kids are allowed to enter.  Stock up on water and snacks at the kiosk café – the ice cream was heavenly after all that walking!

Princess Diana Memorial Playground

Day 4: Sky Garden, Victoria & Albert Museum, Shopping and Musical

Sunrise Yoga at the Sky Garden

Start the day with sunrise yoga on the 36th floor Sky Garden at ‘The Walkie-Talkie’ building (nickname because of the building’s special shape). The classes are held on Saturdays at 8am and Wednesdays at 6am and you need to bring your own mat. The tickets sell out weeks in advance, so you’ll need to be early to get your spot at least to the Saturday class. On a Saturday there were tens of yogis but the soft flow class was a great experience.

Sky Garden

If yoga isn’t your cup of tea, you could also just go for a visit to see the views from the penthouse gardens and enjoy morning coffee or evening drinks at the bar but you’ll still need an advance booking even though it’s free to do it online.

Fee: £10 for the yoga class, £17 yoga with breakfast (smoothie and muffin/pastry)

Tip: In case you miss booking the entrance in advance Garden at 120 – where you can take the lift up to another roof-top garden – is just across the street.

Victoria & Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum

Head back to South Kensington for exploring Victoria & Albert Museum. The museum is huge and probably for most visitors there’s too much to cover everything in one visit. Our favorite exhibitions included Fashion & shoes, Furniture, Jewelry, Theatre & Performance. It would have been nice to see the Christian Dior exhibition, but the tickets were sold out.

Fee: No entrance fee (voluntary donations welcomed).

Tip: Be sure to check out the backyard for The John Madejski Garden at the V&A where you’ll find the Garden Café, beautiful flowers and a paddling pond where the little ones can go cool their feet.

Shopping at Harrods and Oxford Street

From Victoria & Albert Museum it’s a short walk to Harrods department store that’s worth seeing from the inside. However, to be honest it was unfortunately a disappointment to us. First of all, the exterior was under renovation. Secondly, we found it difficult to find anything due to the maze-like lay-out and the staff wasn’t very helpful – we got guided to wrong floors and finally found out that the item I had checked out in advance from the website was only available online (no mention of this on the website!). Thirdly, a serious warning to not visit if there’s a risk of getting hungry during the visit – the pizzeria had a long queue. Still, the nine-year-old liked the toys department and would have liked to stay longer. We ended up returning back to South Kensington and our favorite Secret Garden at the Brompton Food Market for lunch.

If you’re still up to some more shopping, catch the tube for Tottenham Court Rd or Oxford Circus to reach Oxford street, the bustling classic for shopping in London. Kids favorites Smiggles and Claire’s were conveniently located next door to each other. Mum would have been happy to visit Selfridges but it was time to go pick up our musical tickets.

Musicals

Prince Edward Theatre Aladdin

London hosts a number of the world’s best musicals and there’s plenty to choose from for the highlight of your family trip to London. It makes sense to browse the offering and reviews of musicals in London in advance. Surprisingly, the top musicals were same as a decade ago when I last visited the city and had the opportunity to see Lion King, Wicked and Phantom of the Opera. Now our top preferences were Mamma Mia and Aladdin.

We opted for Aladdin based on my 9-year-olds preference as we just recently saw the movie. Aladdin is played in Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End. We got tickets from the Dress Circle 2nd row and the view to the stage was fantastic. The sets, costumes and special effects were amazing, and the music wasn’t bad – all in all, it was an entertaining evening.

Fee: ticket prices range from around 30£ to over 100£ each. Our tickets were 75£ and we were very happy with the seats.

Tip: plan ahead where to have pre-show dinner and how to get back to your hotel after the show ends around 10pm – when the crowds hit the streets from all the Covent Garden theatres it’s practically impossible to get a taxi or an Uber. The brave could try the rikshaws, but we decided rather to walk to Trafalgar Square and take a bus. This was actually a great experience and it got us just around the block from our hotel, though despite the late hour there was quite a bit of traffic congestion.

Planning a Trip to London

Where to Stay in London?

There are hundreds of accommodation options to choose from in London and it depends on your preferences and budget. It was easy to find cheap flight tickets to London but I found the prices of accommodation to be quite a bit more expensive. Staying only 4 nights, a convenient location was the most critical factor for us as we didn’t want to spend too much time on transportation and we preferred to find a place with air conditioned rooms and a swimming pool in the building. We checked out Airbnb as well but for two persons 4 night stay we didn’t find a nice location meeting our criteria. Speaking with the locals, the most common recommendation was for the West Side, close to the museums and parks. However, we found the best hotel deal meeting our criteria via Booking.com and selected Leonardo Royal London Tower Bridge Hotel.

The location was a bit outside the City but close to Tower Bridge. The location on the east side of the City is a bit remote from Heathrow airport but requires only one change of transportation at Paddington Station. The best thing about the hotel for us was the 25-meter indoor swimming pool, which is quite a rare feature in London hotels.

We were positively surprised by the room size that seemed exceptionally large for London, but it happened to be a wheelchair accessible room. The room and hotel were very clean and the customer service excellent – any issues were solved immediately like when we had a problem with the kettle, another one was brought to the room without delay.

We decided to take the breakfast included package. We love hotel breakfasts and although it could be tempting to go to different cafes for morning coffee, especially when traveling with kids it’s nice to eat a peaceful and wholesome breakfast soon after waking up. It was great that there was a grocery store Tesco close by which was convenient for buying snacks.

Tube station: Tower Hill, 10-minute walk from the metro station to the hotel.

Note: the pool has limited access hours for kids except during weekends.

How to Get from Heathrow Airport to the City

Heathrow Express

Our flight to London arrived at Heathrow airport. There are other airports around London such as Gatwick and Stansted, so it’s best to check your flight tickets when planning how to get from the airport to your hotel.

From Heathrow airport the fastest and most convenient option was Heathrow Express to Paddington station and changing to the Tube. The Circle line was our direct connection from Paddington Station to Tower Hill. It was convenient to purchase the Heathrow Express tickets online – I did it on my mobile just before take-off and got the ticket to my email. Kids under 15 years old are free when traveling with an adult. If you’re not in a rush and prefer a cheaper option, it’s also possible to take the underground or a bus to London city center from Heathrow.

Fee: Heathrow Express 37 pounds roundtrip. Options 22 pounds non-peak one-way.

Tip: Check this post on How to get from Heathrow to London for a more detailed comparison on the different options.

London Public Transportation: Underground and Buses

On the Tube it’s easiest to pay with a smart card (touch enabled debit/credit card) as you walk through the underground gates (or hop on a double decker bus) or you could get an Oyster card. Kids 10 years and under are free when traveling with an adult.

Tip: do not pay extra on the machine to get a printed ticket if you can use a debit/credit card

More Fun Things to Do in London

4 days in London is enough time to see London’s key sights but the city has much more to offer. It’s a good reason to come back someday in the future! Next time we would absolutely want to experience:

Kayaking Thames or London canals – I read in advance about the possibility to go kayaking in London and got super excited about doing my favorite sport in the city. However, it turned out that under 18-year-olds were permitted only on the London Canals kayaking and we were too late for it – it was already fully booked a month in advance.

There are some excellent options for day trips from London to explore the country beyond the capital. On my last visit to the city I took day trips to Bath, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Stonehenge. If we would have stayed longer I would have loved to take my daughter to see these wonderful places too.

Did you visit London with kids and what are your favorite fun things to do in London? We’d love to hear your recommendations!

Looking for more long weekend city break destinations in Europe? We would recommend Stockholm, Rome, Naples, and Lisbon.

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London Itinerary 4 Days – Best Things to do in London with Kids    London Itinerary 4 Days – Best Things to do in London with Kids



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