While the intentions are always good when we suggest taking children or grandchildren on a trip, there are a lot of potential pitfalls along the way. To make the trip, and especially a city trip, enjoyable for both young and old(er) travelers, the trick is to choose attractions that appeal to all ages and to compromise: one attraction or experience for them, one for you.
There are cities that are great to travel to with grandchildren, and others that are not ideal. London is perfect for all generations, and you’ll be hard pushed to drag them away. From museums to experiences, from learning to fun, there is something for every age in London. For the sake of ease, I am assuming that you will be traveling with grandchildren of 8 years and older. Not that there aren’t plenty of things to do for the really little ones, but chances are that you are not traveling with a babe-in-arms to Europe.
So, here are my favorite things to do with younger travelers in London, and I have structured each suggestion so that it includes the main experience for the grandchildren, and in the Pro Tip I include something that all of you will enjoy, can be added on, or complements the experience.
1. Natural History Museum
There are museums and then there are London’s old, grand Victorian museums. My favorite of them all is the Natural History Museum. This huge red brick building is worth a visit in its own right, but add the numerous exhibits — and the fact that it is free to get in — and you can spend all day here.
From countless bugs to stuffed birds, and meteorites to, quite appropriately, dinosaurs, this museum has it all. Even Dippy the Dinosaur, whose skeleton used to grace the vast entrance hall, and rose to fame through the 1975 Peter Ustinov film One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, and which had been replaced by Hope the Blue Whale skeleton in 2017, will be back in its old home between May and December 2022.
Pro Tip: You are traveling with a little dinosaur enthusiast, but had enough of traipsing through a museum? Take them to Crystal Palace Park, a lovely outdoor space with plenty of fresh air and park benches for you, as well as many dinosaur replicas for them to discover in the park.
2. Science Museum
This is another of the triple London Museum threats in one close area: the Science Museum. The other is the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum next door, which will thrill any fashionista you might be traveling with. I mention the Science Museum here simply because grandchildren of a certain age — i.e. of young teenage or younger years — can all be wowed with science, even if they don’t think so. There are so many interactive and immersive displays, exhibitions, and experiences that they will learn something interesting without even realizing it.
Pro Tip: And afterward? Afternoon tea. Sounds not much fun for the grandkids? Think again. At the Ampersand Hotel in South Kensington, just a step away from the Science Museum you can book a science-themed Afternoon Tea. While you enjoy the traditional scones and finger sandwiches, you also get planets and satellites on your plate.
3. Harry Potter Experiences
There is no doubt that Harry Potter appeals to young and old; there are few that are not spellbound by the sheer imagination and, yes, magic of the books and films. In London, you can go a few steps further and visit special locations such as Platform 9 and three-quarters at Kings Cross Station, and even go on guided bus tours to the Warner Bros. Studio and marvel at all the props and sceneries from the films. This will enthrall most grandkids, without you even having to try.
Pro Tip: And in the evening? Take them to the theater to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Chances are, they — and you — have not seen that play yet, and a visit to the theater in London is always special, for the old(er) and young.
4. Take To The Stage
When in London’s West End, the city’s equivalent of NYC’s Broadway, it would be a shame not to take advantage. There are plenty of kid-friendly musicals available for matinees, afternoon, or evening performances, depending on their age. Choose from The Lion King, Frozen, Wicked, Doctor Who, Mary Poppins, Matilda, Mamma Mia, and many more, and you will all have fun. London’s theaters are all top class, as are the performers.
Pro Tip: For a little grown-up treat, but not too boring for the grandkids either, book a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. This magnificent building founded in 1732 is filled with tricks of the trade and little surprises.
5. Sea Life London Aquarium
I love a good aquarium, and Sea Life London is fabulous. Huge tanks filled with all sorts of creatures from under the sea will fascinate your grandchildren and also teach them about preserving our oceans and what lives in them. See sharks, octopuses, coral fish (can you find Nemo?), jellyfish and more. There are even penguins. The coral reef you’ll see is the UK’s largest living coral reef, making it extra special.
Pro Tip: The tickets for Sea Life are not cheap. To take the sting out of it, why not get a combination ticket for the London Eye (maybe the champagne experience for you?), just opposite the aquarium or even the London Dungeon, the goriness of which the kids will love. There are several options, and the tickets get more affordable the more attractions you combine.
6. Royal Observatory Greenwich
The Royal Observatory is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, and with the Meridian Line going through the park, you can stand with one foot each in the western and eastern hemispheres. There is also a planetarium which is worth visiting. The park, the Royal Naval College, the Cutty Sark, and little Greenwich itself are beautiful. There are many great restaurants, such as the lovely Coach and Horses, that are perfect for lunch.
Pro Tip: To get from London to Greenwich and back, hop on one of the river ferries, which will take you from the city center, such as the Westminster or South Bank Pier, to Greenwich going past most of London’s iconic sights along the way.
7. Climb The O2
Here is a bit of a thrill for those who are not afraid of heights: climbing the O2, the dome near Greenwich — formerly called the Millennium Dome. Obviously, all harnessed, kitted out, and safety-controlled, with great views once you are at the top. There is a minimum age of 8 years old and a minimum height of 1.2 meters or about 4 feet, and there are options, including a sunset climb, or even a climb and dine experience. You can have a bit of a James Bond moment, remembering him darting past the dome in The World Is Not Enough, or even re-enact the experience with a speed boat ride along the Thames (minimum age 10 years).
Pro Tip: While you are at the dome, why not enjoy crossing the Thames in a cable car? Take the Emirates Air Cable Car and then take the kids along on an art trail?
8. A Bit Of Shopping
You cannot go to London without hitting the shops. There are some wonderfully historic stores still in existence, including Hamleys founded back in 1760. While the grandkids will unlikely be interested in the history, the seven-floor flagship store on Regent’s Street in the heart of London is stuffed to the rafters with toys, games, and very cute fluffy animals.
For those who might not be so keen on toys but always on the lookout for gorgeous historic stores, Liberty’s is just steps away and always a joy to explore. While the M & M and LEGO stores by Leicester Square are more aimed at the younger generation, a trip to Harrods ticks boxes for all, with a great toy department, which you have to traverse all sorts of other floors to get there. If you are clever, you can get your shopping in while the anticipation rises.
Pro Tip: If you are traveling with a sulky teenager who cannot bear shopping and is in dire need to release some energy, why not drop that one off at House of Vans on South Bank for some skateboarding, street art, and street food?
Traveling With Baby Or Toddler In London
If you are traveling with a baby or toddler in tow, that is no problem at all in London. Changing facilities are available at pretty much all public toilets, travel on public transport is free, and if you are worried about hopping into a taxi or Uber without having a car seat handy, you can pre-book a private taxi, but note that you are not breaking the law if you travel with the child on your lap, strapped into your seatbelt. Many museums have special kid-friendly programs such as the British Museum’s Little Feet.
For more ideas and inspiration on London, explore these articles: