When my wife and I think of cities in other countries we love, London always nears the top of the list. We enjoyed visiting the city a great deal before we had kids. Of course, after we had kids, the question was, can we handle taking them overseas? For parents considering testing the waters with traveling overseas with young children (or even parents who travel overseas with their kids all the time!), London remains an excellent option.
Here are some of the reasons I think London is great for kids – with some caveats.
Travel options make London convenient to get to
Let’s start with the flight to Europe. If you live on the East Coast, it’s only an hour longer than it would take you to get to California! Of course, if you live on the West Coast, you’re looking at a ten hour flight which isn’t ideal, but living in Boston of course I have East Coast bias. 🙂 Regardless, there are many direct flights to London from many cities in the United States. It serves as a gateway to Europe so you’ll have no shortage of flights to choose from no matter where in the US you live.
More flights means more competition which means lower flight costs. Moreover, there have been a ton of deals to Europe lately, including London – it’s not unheard of to score sub $500 fares or better. Use kayak.com or sites like airfarewatchdog to monitor ticket prices.
One you land at London Heathrow, it’s fairly straightforward to get into the city. You can either take the Tube or the Heathrow Express. The latter gets you into town in fifteen minutes!
Traveling Dad tip: Buy Heathrow Express tickets 90 days in advance to get prices as low as £5.50!
No language barrier means less stress
One of the most exciting things about traveling overseas is the opportunity to experience different cultures. But dealing with another language on top of that can frighten the most experienced traveler, especially with kids in tow.
London (and the UK in general) eliminates the language barrier and gives you the best of both worlds. You don’t need to worry about people having trouble understanding you, you can read the signs, and in a worst case scenario, you can just ask people to speak a bit more slowly if you’re having trouble with the accent.
The fact that the US and England have a lot of shared history helps as well. You won’t have too much trouble navigating cultural norms, if any at all. Yet London still holds enough differences to really give yourself and your kids those different experiences that really help open up minds to the wide world out there.
Free museums allow you to tour at your own pace
One of London’s greatest features are the FREE museums. While they are beneficial to any tourist, they really come in handy if you are traveling with young children. You can visit a museum, but if your kid seems like they are going to meltdown, you can abort. You’ll still retain the peace of mind that comes from knowing you didn’t spend $30 on the admission price!
Also, we have found that we can duck into museums that offer little to no interest to our kids (read: art museums) when they are napping in their strollers. When our daughter was napping for about an hour in her stroller the last time we were in London we ducked into the National Gallery for a bit. Everybody wins.
Outdoor activities keep the kids entertained
If museums aren’t your thing, there are plenty of activities you can do outdoors. In the summer, there are Wimbledon viewings big and small scattered all throughout the city. You can take a long stroll in Hyde Park or rent a paddleboat if you’d like. You can wander the Kew Gardens – they even have a chocolate festival that is a lot of fun!
If you enjoy being on the water, you can take ferries up and down the Thames to get to your destination. Or spend some time eating picnicking outside of Borough Market. Best of all, when the weather is nice you can just wander around the city for as long as your kids are willing.
One drawback – bad accessibility on the Tube
I can’t sing London’s praises without noting the major drawback affecting the city, especially if you bring young kids. The Tube has to be one of the least accessible subway systems I’ve ever seen! Very few of the Tube stations have elevators, including the majority of the stations near the tourist attractions.
We ended up walking a lot and taking cabs when we were tired. The cabs have plenty of space for your strollers, but in the end, I do wish London had a better public transportation system. To be fair, the buses are quite accessible.
London is a wonderful place to visit, especially with your kids. Whether they are watching the changing of the guard, learning about British Culture, spending time in (free!) museums, or just running around in the parks – your kids will have a blast and so will you.
Best of all, it’s a quick hop from the East Coast and there are many direct flights you can find from the US. So if you’re thinking of taking your kids overseas, why not give London a shot for that first trip? There’s a reason it’s one of the biggest tourist destination in the world?
Are there any other overseas cities that are good for families? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!