Best tips on how to travel with a kid in the U.K.
March 4, 2011 1:49 AM   Subscribe

What's different about getting around with kids in the U.K.?

I'm about to take a 3 week trip to the U.K. (Southeast England and the Highlands) with a 1 1/2 year old.
In the interests of making this trip go as smoothly as possible, I'd like to know what's different about kid-wrangling in the U.K. vs. the U.S.

For example, in the U.S., just about every restaurant will have a child-seat (high chair). Most will also be able to provide some sort of kid sized food and sometimes activities.
Similarly, one can usually find a diaper-changing table in at least one bathroom in a public place.

While I've been to Britain quite often, I've never really paid attention to the child accommodations of the place.
So I'm interested in your perspectives, tips, etc so as to spend more time enjoying things and less time saying, "Well, that would have been nice to know at the beginning of this trip"
posted by madajb to Travel & Transportation around United Kingdom (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The vast majority of restaurants will have high chairs, and toilets in places that are open to the public places will have baby changing stations.

The UK is fairly well served in this regard these days.
posted by pharm at 2:05 AM on March 4, 2011

For example, in the U.S., just about every restaurant will have a child-seat (high chair). Most will also be able to provide some sort of kid sized food and sometimes activities.

High chairs are available everywhere, except perhaps high-end restaurants where you'd probably not expect to see children (and even then, I'll bet most of them have one tucked away).

Similarly, one can usually find a diaper-changing table in at least one bathroom in a public place.

In public places, and again in most restaurants there'll be a changing table, particularly if you choose one of the chain restaurants such as Pizza Express. In a larger shopping centre (mall) you'll generally find an entire room with changing tables and other facilities (a secluded area for breastfeeding, perhaps even a mini fenced-off play area with toys). Motorway service areas (which you'll certainly be using if you're travelling from the S.E. to Scotland) are similarly well-provisioned. The only caveat is that in a few places you'll find that the changing facilities are in the women's restrooms, which can make it difficult when a man needs to do the change; the staff can usually suggest something though.

In short, don't worry about it. We have small kids here too.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:12 AM on March 4, 2011

But don't expect to find usable public toilets in many outdoor places - a lot of them have been lost in recent years, and it's pot luck as to whether the remainder are usable. Look in indoor shopping centres; alternatively, Boots, Mothercare and most department stores provide free-to-use toilets.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:17 AM on March 4, 2011

Motorway service areas (which you'll certainly be using...

If you're using a car :)
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:18 AM on March 4, 2011

I have two kids and live in London. You'll be fine. Almost any restaurant will be OK with kids at lunchtime; perhaps a bit less so in the evenings. Most have kids' menus and highchairs.Very young children (under 4) are free on pretty much all public transport. I'd have thought at 1 1/2 you'll just get a cot for hotel rooms and it won't cost anything / very little. Baby changing facilities are reasonably good/ people are quite accommodating. Presumably you have medical insurance, etc - but paediatric/ emergency medical stuff is pretty decent too. Contrary to Victorian stereotypes, the UK is pretty child friendly. One thing worth remembering is that the Highlands can often be far, far colder than the South East.
posted by rhymer at 2:21 AM on March 4, 2011

I think you might have problems with pubs (if you were thinking of going into any of those), especially in Scotland - though some cater specifically for children.
posted by Segundus at 3:22 AM on March 4, 2011

My number-one tip for getting around the criminal lack of public toilets in the UK - McDonalds. Some pubs don't take too kindly to people just going in to use the facilities, and you're incredibly unlikely to find a changing station there...

But in McDonalds, nine times out of ten the staff simply do not care - and if you explain that you have a baby in desperate need of changing, they'll almost certainly relent anyway. You're almost guaranteed to find a changing station in the toilets.

McDonalds are everywhere in this country - so seek them out, and change with impunity.

PS, don't eat the food.
posted by Ted Maul at 4:15 AM on March 4, 2011

As people have said, we're generally child-friendly.

But we can tend to be a bit crap about it as part of our often appalling approach to customer service. It's not that we're anti-child, more that we can't work out how to support parents properly.

Some negative sides, then:

Don't be surprised if the restaurant has run out of high chairs, or the one you're given isn't clean. You might want to ring ahead and book one if you can. Bring wipes. Children's menus can be rubbish: various breaded processed meat products with chips and either peas or beans; or at least not as inspiring as the adult menu. Some places have great kids menus or even child portions of some things, but I'd say that's no too common. But most places will give you another small plate and cutlery so you can share some of your main course. This can avoid another speciality, which is bringing the child's meal to the table AFTER all the adult main courses arrived 5 minutes earlier. And the other kids' behaviour can raise eyebrows, especially if the parents can't be arsed watching over them in a play area. This applies very much to that evil monster belonging to those nice middle class people over there who arrived in the new Audi SUV and are loudly discussing their chalet in the Alps.
posted by dowcrag at 4:47 AM on March 4, 2011

The one experience I had that left me flustered when I lived there with my kids when they were >2 and 5 was the busses kept passing me by and I didn't know why until someone told me I needed to fold up my stroller before they would let me on the bus-this was in London, and admittedly it was usually rush hour. Also the train stations can have a gazillion stairs and very often don't have elavators so you either need to carry the stroller down the stairs or fold it up. Very few people stopped to help me bring the stroller up or down- though some did.

I liked to go to the grocery stores and buy the ready made sandwiches and snacks for my kids- I loved this about the UK the prepared foods are much better then what you get here.

Also, there is a message board called mumsnet that I found really valuable when I lived there. It is pretty huge now but you can get good advice there too.
posted by momochan at 6:15 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you might have problems with pubs (if you were thinking of going into any of those), especially in Scotland

Are kids allowed in pubs? I seem to think they must be, as I remember being in some when I was young. In my state, they've got signs with the hours minors are permitted, anything similar over there?
posted by madajb at 9:29 AM on March 4, 2011

I didn't know why until someone told me I needed to fold up my stroller before they would let me on the bus-

Ah, see, this is what I'm looking for.
This would have confused me as well.
posted by madajb at 9:30 AM on March 4, 2011

momochan - I think that folding up the pushchair must be a London only thing, because I've never come across it in all the places I've lived in the UK. London does have differently designed buses to most places, it might be something to do with that? I've just come home on the bus which had two non-collapsed strollers still with babies in them, so I think it's just London!

If you're going round the Highlands it's much more likely that the pubs will be child-friendly - they're often the only place for miles around, so all the locals bring their kids, so they're quite happy with kids during the day/early evening.

Ditto there are more public toilets in the Highlands than other places - not reliably so, check out where they are before travelling (this is the sort of thing that tourist information centres should know). This is good because in contrast to TedMaul's comment I think there's only one MacDonalds in the Highland area! The larger public loos will have baby changing, the smaller ones won't - for example, the public toilets at Helmsdale are basically just a concrete shed with cubicles and loos, so don't have baby changing facilities; but the big loos at Kyle of Lochalsh which have showers, toilets, and marvellously bonkers interior decoration do have baby changing. Some of them will have an entry charge, usually in the region of 30-50p - the same can be said of station toilets, which are often quite convenient in larger towns (and will have baby changing, though as said above, possibly only in the ladies).

I'm going to assume that you're bringing some sort of non-wheeled baby carrier as well as a stroller if you're coming to Highland - you won't get round most of the places that are interesting, historic, pretty or otherwise if you can't ditch the wheels. Even Urquhart Castle, which has been made wheelchair accessible, has a long uphill from the castle to the car park which you may prefer carrying your child to pushing them up.

If you're travelling by train, most of them have baby changing facilities on board these days, but often only one loo out of two or more on the train - you can ask the guard or the person coming round with the refreshments trolley.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:33 AM on March 4, 2011

A lot of pubs let kids in these days, during the day at least. Especially in London, and especially the more 'gastro' type that serve food. You can't move for kids in the pub round my way. Pubs have changed a lot in the last 10-20 years. It varies from pub to pub, obviously. It's easy enough to pop your head in and ask if it's OK to bring the kids in if you're not sure.

London buses certainly let you get on with a non-collapsed buggy. If it's busy, ask if you can get on via the back doors, that's nearer the bit where you park the buggies. If there's already one or two buggies on, though, they might not let you on. Make sure your buggy can fit up the aisle between the seats, though.
posted by ComfySofa at 2:18 PM on March 4, 2011

Well, I think we have the bathrooms covered. heh.

Anything else I should know?

Playground etiquette?
Kid faux pas?
Secret handshake to identify other mefi parents?
posted by madajb at 9:56 PM on March 5, 2011

Playground etiquette

Really? Well, give up the swings after five minutes if there are other kids waiting. Don't climb up the slides. Don't be afraid to ask the older kids to get off the play equipment if they're too old for it and generally being a nuisance.

Kid faux pas?


Secret handshake to identify other mefi parents?

"We're friends of Matt Haughey" is the classic greeting, I believe. That or gesturing manically at a plate of beans. Both are going to get you some strange looks.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:09 AM on March 8, 2011

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