The ultimate London itinerary: Three days in London with a small child; image of a palace guard at the Tower of London
Europe,  Travel

The ultimate London itinerary: three days in London with a small child

For Peter’s birthday, we flew to London for a long weekend. We had gifted him tickets to an NFL game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and wanted to show Miss M the city, too. I won’t bore you with the details of the game or his birthday celebration. Instead, here is our ultimate London itinerary for three days in London with a small child.

View of St Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge. Photo: Anthony Delanoix on unsplash.
Normally, I only use my own photos. During our trip, the weather was so bad that I have to use a number of photos taken by others. This one of St Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge is taken by Anthony Delanoix on Unsplash.

A caveat

We had terrible weather. Some would say it was typical London weather. It was cold and rained almost the entire three days that we were there. Many of the things we wanted to do were outside and no longer doable in the weather. Other things were no longer as enjoyable or we were wet and cold before we got to go inside.

We also faced major underground closures. Our hotel was very conveniently located at Tower Bridge – at least we thought it was. That was until almost all of the district and circle lines were closed for the weekend. This made getting anywhere much more difficult.

The rain did not help with transport, either. In addition, climate protestors at Trafalgar Square delayed our bus lines and often prevented them from getting through.

I can definitely recommend that you have an alternative program to account for such weather and closures if you are planning to spend three days in London with a small child. For completion – and assuming that you will not face the same transport problems and accordingly have more time to enjoy London – I have included a couple of activities that we wanted to do but could not do under the circumstances.

Three days in London with a small child: Palace Guard at the Tower of London, protecting the Crown Jewels Vault

Our hotel

As per usual, we stayed at a Motel One (I seriously should look into earning money from referrals to their hotels!).

Our Motel was located only a few hundred meters from Tower Hill station, a five-minute walk even for little legs. We had several places to eat in the area and some of the things we wanted to see were close by as well. The location would have been perfect if the station was not closed for the weekend.

The hotel was clean modern and staff were friendly. We had a fold-out bed for Miss M in our room but there was still space to move around. The breakfast was simple (no full English breakfast), but there was enough variety for our picky little eater to find something she liked. Staff were always friendly and helpful. The price was also quite good for London.

Where we ate

With the exception of Peter’s birthday dinner and lunch (yes we celebrated twice), we ate in places near our hotel.

  • Starbucks: We’ve been avoiding expensive coffee for a while, but we enjoyed our simple brunch of sandwiches, muffins, coffee and juice for Miss M.
  • Wagamama (near the Tower of London ticket booths): This is one of our favourite food chains, but we have not found one in Germany yet. The waitress looked at us a little strangely when Miss M just wanted rice, but the food was just as delicious as we expected.
  • The Minories: This pub is located in tunnels a train line, which makes it a little loud but fun at the same time and a little wet when it rains. The food was good with several options for children and vegetarians. Service was very quick – our food arrived while the bar staff were still pouring our drinks.

Predictably, Peter chose the new Hard Rock Cafe at Piccadilly Circus for his birthday dinner. They’d just changed their menu, so there were things that we had not tried before. Their staff were very good with food allergies and with Miss M – they made her feel special even though it was not her birthday.

Where to eat during three days in London with a small child: some snacks at the Minories

Three days in London with a small child – the ultimate London itinerary

Day 1

Tower of London

Our first stop on our three days in London with a small child was also the closest to our hotel: the Tower of London.

Miss M loves pretending to be a princess. Naturally, she loved seeing the crowns and the castle, but she also liked the ravens, the guards, and the view over the skyline.

Day 1 of our three days in London with a small child: Start with a visit to the Tower of London.
Tower of London. Unfortunately, the weather did not make for brilliant photos.

During our time in London, Miss M learnt the nicknames of the buildings – shard, walkie talkie, typewriter – starting with the view from the Tower of London. She delighted in telling us what they were called when she saw them, especially the Shard.

Like most other children, she tried to catch the guards smiling, without success. She oohed and ahead over the diamonds and crowns and loved finding the animal statues throughout the castle. The only disappointment was that there were no toy crowns available in the gift shop.

Tip: If you can, time your tour that you can do a tour with a Yeoman Warder. They are very knowledgeable about the Tower, but also have some tips for you (e.g. watch out for pickpockets who are active inside the site!). You might need to be prepared to cut your tour short if your little one does not have a lot of patience.

When visiting the Tower of London, if you can't do a Yeoman Warder tour, get a copy of the kid's guide to the Tower.
Our “guide” for the Tower of London

Tower Bridge

The next stop on our three days in London was supposed to be the Tower Bridge. Time differences, tiredness and hunger and the fact that we didn’t get to our hotel until nearly 2 p.m. meant that we had to abort our plans and have some dinner instead.

Miss M has come to love towers and watching me quaking in my boots at the height. We wanted to take her to the Tower Bridge to look through the glass floor – 42 metres above the river.

Tip: Don’t forget to check the website for bridge lift times – you might be lucky enough to see it in action during your trip. Miss M was fascinated by the bridge in Amsterdam, so this was sure to be a hit.

The next stop on our ultimate London itinerary: Tower Bridge

SkyGarden

The SkyGarden, one of London’s newest attractions, was another element that we missed this visit. It boasts some of the best views in London. It definitely deserves to be part of the perfect London itinerary, even when you are spending three days in London with a small child.

Tip: Tickets are free, but you need to book in advance.

Unfortunately, when we tried to book, it was booked out. It is already at the top of our list for the next visit. It seems, however, that it may be a little easier to get tickets in Winter.

Day 2

A boat trip

Start the second of your three days in London with a small child with a boat trip on the Thames. We went from Tower Hill to Westminster and that was sufficient for Miss M (and much easier given the underground closures). She enjoyed pointing out and naming the buildings as we passed them.

Tip: There are many tours available, but we recommend just taking one of the regular public transport lines. You can use your Oyster card to pay.

Start day 2 of your three days in London with a small child with a boat trip on the Thames. Here is the view of the London skyline from the public ferries.

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

If your child is like Miss M, the Houses of Parliament will not enthral them or carry much meaning. Still, any trip to London is not complete without them. Have a quick look (from the outside) and move on.

Big Ben – or the thought of a huge bell that is so special it has been given a name – is probably more interesting. Miss M was just annoyed that she couldn’t actually see the bell.

The next stop on our ultimate London itinerary: Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Henry Be on unsplash.
During our visit, the sky was grey and scaffolding covered Big Ben’s tower.
Photo care of Henry Be on unsplash.

Westminster Abbey

We recommend doing either Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral during your three days in London with a small child. We chose St Paul’s Cathedral for various reasons, which we’ll explain below. However, both have wonderful children’s tours and programs.

Miss M did appreciate learning that the future king of England got married at the Abbey.

Changing of the guard

The weather during our three days was not conducive for a long wait to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. In fact, it didn’t lend itself to seeing the changing of the guard at all, unless we wanted Miss M to get sick.

The whole changing of the guards ceremony is quite long. Watching it with a small child is a toss-up between getting there early enough to get a good spot and being there too long and having your child get bored. Check the program (it is not on every day) and try and get a day where there is some interesting musical support. The official website also has some tips to help you reduce the waiting time and maximise the activity.

Tip: If you manage to catch the changing of the guard at the Tower of London, you can probably give the changing of the guard a miss unless your child is likely to be very interested. You might want to still visit Buckingham Palace and St James’ Park.

Bus trip

Kids love taking different types of transport. No trip to London would be complete without a ride on an iconic red double-decker bus. Choose a route that will show you some of the city and sit up the top to make the most of it.

Tip: Children under 11 years old ride for free on public buses.

Three days in London with a small child: make sure you take a ride on an iconic red double-decker bus. Photo: David Henderson on unsplash.
Photo: David Henderson on Unsplash

St Paul’s Cathedral

Although we had a brief wait in the rain, Miss M really enjoyed our time at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Tip: On Sundays, St Paul’s Cathedral is open for worship only.

St Paul's Cathedral was one of the longer stops on our three days in London with a small child. Our small child loved it! View of St Paul's from Queen's Head Passage.

The multimedia guide was a hit. Miss M loved watching the phoenix and finding the lions throughout the Cathedral. She also enjoyed just sitting and looking for a while, particularly of the ceiling.

The multimedia guide and children's guide at St Paul's Cathedral were a big hit with our little one

Just before our trip, Miss M had started learning about St Martin at kindergarten in preparation for St Martin’s Day. She was very proud to be able to recognise St Martin in one of the artworks and tell us about him.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Whispering Gallery was closed during our visit. I say “fortunately” because we had debated whether Miss M would be able to make the 259-step climb. The Whispering Gallery will be closed until at least Easter 2020 as the Cathedral considers safety issues following the death of a man.

We were fairly clear that she would not make the whole 528-step climb to the Golden Gallery – I would struggle too – but we were willing to do it for the views. At least we were considering sending at least one of us up to the top. When we discovered that the Whispering Gallery was closed, we decided not to make the climb.

Tip: Buy your tickets online to save GBP 3 per adult ticket. Children under 6 are free.

The famous cupola of St Paul's Cathedral and view towards the Whispering Gallery

If you have the time, take a walk on Millenium Bridge for a different view of St Paul’s and the London skyline.

Afternoon Tea

Take a break and have afternoon tea.

Miss M loves taking a break and taking tea. She likes the ceremony and the variety of little cakes and savouries that she has to choose from. She also knows that it is something special.

I had hoped to book a table for the Science Afternoon Tea at the Ampersand Hotel. I know my little dinosaur aficionado would get a special kick out of digging for a dinosaur biscuit. Unfortunately, I was a little late getting myself organised and was unable to make a reservation.

I considered booking somewhere else – the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason was one that I considered. In the end, I decided just to see where we were when afternoon tea seemed appropriate.

We ended up having cream tea at the Tearoom at St Paul’s Cathedral. We looked at the traditional afternoon tea, but Miss M decided she just wanted an egg sandwich. As the sandwiches were preprepared, we couldn’t just have the egg sandwiches in the afternoon. Instead, one of the waiters went to the cafe especially to buy Miss M a sandwich. Of course, when it arrived, she decided that she wanted the scones from my cream tea instead.

While the afternoon tea at the St Paul’s Cathedral Tearoom was perhaps not the most glamorous or even the best afternoon tea we could have found, Miss M had fun and it was a nice break from our sightseeing. It was also much cheaper than our other options would have been.

Tip: Take a break and treat yourself and your little one with afternoon tea. If you just take cream tea (scones with jam and cream and a pot of tea), you will find the prices are quite reasonable.

High street (toy) shopping

Finish the day off with some high street shopping. Miss M needed a new winter coat, so we headed to Oxford Circus to find her one. We were very successful.

If you are not looking for something specific for your little one, head to Hamleys toy store, perhaps the biggest toy store in the world. You can find it at 188-196 Regent Street. However, be prepared for the overwhelm.

Tip: This is a great place to find a small souvenir for your small child to remember your three days in London together.

Day 3

Natural History Museum

Start the third of your three days in London at the Natural History Museum.

Like we have for our visits with our little dinosaur aficionado to the dinosaur museums in other cities, such as Berlin, Brussels or Munich, we will post a separate review of the Natural History Museum next week.

We spent the first part of the third day of our three days in London with a small child at the Natural History Museum. See our separate post for more details.

Not into natural history? Check out one of the other museums or art galleries instead during your three days in London with a small child: The British Museum, London Transport Museum, Science Museum, V&A Museum of Childhood or the Barbican Centre.

Kensington Palace

Once you finish at the Natural History Museum, catch a bus to Queen’s Gate at Hyde Park and walk to Kensington Palace.

At present, the exhibitions look at Queen Victoria’s childhood at the Palace and dressing a princess, featuring some of the dresses designed for Princess Diana. Both are designed with children in mind, but are less likely to interest small children overly much.

Tip: Does your child still have an afternoon nap? This would be a great time for it – and it would allow you to look at the exhibitions.

Kensington Palace is a great place to have lunch. While you might not want to have afternoon tea at the Palace Pavilion and Tea Room, but the cafe is great for sandwiches, salads, soup, and cakes. We chose the simpler sandwiches and shared cake option, but Miss M was still on a high because we were having lunch at the Palace where the future King lives.

Once you’ve refuelled, go for a stroll around the grounds and the garden. We found the sunken garden very interesting.

Statue of Queen Victoria in front of her childhood home, Kensington Palace. A great place for a stroll and a lunch break during three days in London with a small child.

Diana Memorial Playground

The real purpose of going to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace, however, was to visit the Diana Memorial Playground. It was the highlight of our 3 days in London with a small child. Miss M was particularly enthraled by the playground.

You can find the playground in the north-western corner of Hyde Park. Queensway (Central) is the nearest underground station.

The playground is apparently based on the stories of Peter Pan.

For safety (and peace of mind), adults are only allowed to enter when accompanied by a child. Children are also not allowed to leave the park unless they are accompanied by an adult.

Tip: Capacity restrictions can result in queues of up to an hour to get in, particularly in Summer. We had no difficulties when we were there in October. Just in case, go early or have your alternative plan ready.

Our child's highlight of our three days in London with a small child: the Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park

The centrepiece and most popular element of the park is a large pirate ship. Miss M enjoyed the boat, but it was the fort that held her interest the longest. We played in the wooden huts, with the musical instruments and sound wall, in the tunnels, and in the teepees. We only avoided the mushroom pump and water play area because of the weather.

We were fortunate. We spent around 2 hours at the playground. While it was a little chilly, it was the only time during our weekend that it stayed dry. For our small child, it was the highlight of our three days in London. It is also one of the best playgrounds that I have seen.

A visit to the Diana Memorial Playground is a must if you are spending three days in London with a small child.

Our child's highlight of our three days in London with a small child: the Diana Memorial Playground and the fort that fascinated Miss M

The ultimate itinerary for three days in London with a small child

Despite the weather and the underground closures, we had a wonderful three days in London with our small child. If you follow our ultimate London itinerary and allow for some flexibility to suit your child, you will have a wonderful three days in London with your small child, too, even if you are also hit by bad weather and underground closures.

What do you think we missed? What should we do during our next three days in London with a small child?

Don’t forget to check out our post on the Natural History Museum next week!

Enjoy your trip sign-off
The ultimate London itinerary: Three days in London with a small child; image of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben by Eva Dang on unsplash.

2 Comments

  • Jenny

    We were in London over spring break and it was cold and raining all except one beautiful sunny day. But, we did all the things anyways. Love your kid tips. That is always helpful for people who have not been with their kids. Very important to know these things.

    • Rachael Matthews

      Thank you so much Jenny! I noticed a big difference between touring as a single/couple and touring with a child and that is why I try and focus on tips for travelling with kids – small kids at the moment because Mis M is still 4 (unless we have an older child with us). I’m so glad that someone finds them helpful!

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