London with the boy (nearly six!)
August 26, 2016 2:52 AM   Subscribe

So I'm about to take my son to London on a father and son trip. We've been once before and loved it. We went on the river bus, to the Natural History Museum (scary animatronic T-rex!), Science Museum and to Grenwich to see the Cutty Sark. We saw the changing of the guard. We had a WHALE of a time.

I wonder if Mefites have any suggestions or top tips for this trip? We're wondering about the Tower, London Transport Museum, London Eye and those Duck Tours. We're also wondering about places to eat. Somewhere fun and interesting maybe a bit different than a Pizza Express but also friendly to (well behaved) young bears. Our B&B doesn't do the second B so it's all three meals of the day we're looking to cover.

Our B&B is near Harrods (but please don't make assumptions about our budget, we got a great deal on Priceline and are doing this trip on a shoestring budget!)

This isn't an urgent/desperate askme question as we'll definitely really enjoy ourselves but there may be some insider knowledge or top tips which we'd really benefit from. In particular I'm wondering if he may be a bit young for the Duck tour - I think he'd love the splashdown into the Thames but apart from that I think he may get a bit bored and it's not the cheapest.

posted by dance to Travel & Transportation around London, England (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The Tower is great - just get in early, as it has a nasty tendency to get packed. Likewise, the Eye is smashing on a clear day (and if the current weather holds, there's a good chance of that).

I'm not so keen on the Transport Museum myself, it seemed a poor cousin of some of the other tech/transport museums about. That was a few years back, mind.

Have you considered RAF Museum in Colindale? It's out in zone 4, so easy enough on the tube, and I remember it being a good day out - assuming you like aeroplanes, of course.
posted by Mostly Harmless at 3:07 AM on August 26, 2016

The Tower is quite good, and has lots of different aspects to learn about. Have you heard of the Horrible Histories series? I loved them as a kid, and they definitely made learning history a bit more fun. I recall the Stuarts and Tudors books having elements relevant to the Tower, and that time period.

Since you are so close to it, I would go in the V&A as well. The V&A is just a beautiful building (in addition some great art), and well worth even a quick walk through. Another museum to consider is the British Museum. It has a huge collection, so following something like the BBC's history of the world in 100 objects can make it a bit more personal, and help place context for the exhibits.

The London Eye is ok - if you aren't super familiar with London's layout, get one of the guide maps so that you know what you are looking at. I almost think that the Shard is better - higher up, more interesting architecture. But it is more expensive.

Food wise, I highly recommend London's many markets and food halls. Borough Market is fantastic, with lots of delicious food options. From paella to wild boar sausages, there is some good variety.

Have a fantastic time in London!
posted by troytroy at 3:08 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

My kids loved the Diana Memorial Playground at that age. Its an easy walk through Hyde Park from Harrods.
posted by paulash at 3:45 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

What about Tower Bridge? I've no head for heights so I've never been myself, but two of my nieces really enjoyed the tour. They were older than six, but I think the bridge would impress a six-year-old too.
posted by Azara at 3:48 AM on August 26, 2016

A short walk from the Tower is Tower Bridge.
A short walk from Tower Bridge on the other side of the river is HMS Belfast.
posted by carter at 3:49 AM on August 26, 2016

The Museum of London - it looks like they've just started a new exhibition about the Great Fire of London.

The recommendation for the RAF Museum Hendon is seconded (but then I'm ex-RAF so I would say that!)

The V&A Museum of Childhood (at Bethnal Green) is great, although you may enjoy it even more than your son - everyone I know who's been there has had at least one "I used to have one of those!" moment looking at the toy collections. And they currently have a special exhibition on The Clangers and Bagpuss.
posted by Major Clanger at 4:09 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

A few ideas:
- the Tower and London Eye are both excellent. definitely go early to the Tower though.
- ride on the DLR and go at the front - you get a great view because it's driverless and the buildings of Canary Wharf are impressive (depending on what you're used to )
- Tate Modern might be worth a look for the scale of the place + sometimes young kids really like modern art. It's free to go in.
- Royal Academy courtyard has a remarkable kinetic sculpture at the moment (free). The summer exhibition is good but probably not for a 6 year old.
- London Aquarium was a hit with our kids. It's maybe not very "unique" to London, but it's impressive (if a bit pricey).
posted by crocomancer at 4:11 AM on August 26, 2016

The British Museum has an amazing Egyptian collection - i.e. lots of mummies, both human and animal. And there are normally also hordes of primary school aged children on field trips in that part of the museum. And they all seem to have a whale of a time. So if your child is the sort of child that would be freaked out by the idea of dead people/pets clearly give that a miss. But if he'd be intrigued you should check it out.

Also, my cousin's younger son has always had a fascination with escalators. He just loved them, always has from an early age. So I once explained to him that the escalators in centraol London underground stations are realllllllllllly long. And there are lots of them. And we made a daytrip to central London to ride escalators - we also hit the tower because he likes history. So if your son is easily entertained like my cousin's boy and likes trains and or things like escalators you should absolutely just ride the tube for a while. Change frequently to maximise the fun. And for the record the longest escalators are Angel station. We spent a very long time just going up and down those escalators.

If the whole maritime thing is of interest - when you go to check out Tower Bridge and to walk through the top you should plan to go from the Tower end to the other side. Then take a right towards London Bridge. You'll have to walk past HMS Belfast, which is a war ship permanently moored there. This is part of the Imperial War Museum's collection and it's quite interesting.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:14 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to love going to the parks in London.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 4:15 AM on August 26, 2016

Which just led me to: Adventure Playgrounds for Kids in London.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 4:17 AM on August 26, 2016

What about London Zoo? Depends where you're from and how you feel about zoos, of course - but it's large and friendly and actually very interesting. Geared for kids and adults - lots of birds, big cats, and other mammals, plus penguins and a really rather excellent meerkat enclosure with a tunnel.

There's also the Imperial War Museum down in Elephant and Castle which has some really cool real life fighter planes hanging from the ceiling, decommissioned tanks and massive cannons outside which you can climb on - pretty cool if your kid is into that sort of stuff! It has some nice gardens for a picnic, though the rest of Elephant and Castle is not that picturesque. Warning - some of the exhibitions on at the IWM are truly excellent but really fucking depressing. If it says 'not suitable for kids' on the way into any exhibition, heed it.

Foodwise there are lots of chains in London which feel less like chains than your usual Pizza Express but are very kid-accessible. Giraffe is a nice one, plus kids get little plastic giraffes with their drinks; Byron for burgers; and Wahaca if your kid is more adventurous than I was as a 6 year old.
posted by citands at 4:21 AM on August 26, 2016

Come back to say - if your trip is soonish and it's a nice day I'd recommend you picnic in the parks for lunch. They are nice settings, it's still warm enough for a little while and it's probably one of the more economical options.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:21 AM on August 26, 2016

The views from the top of the Tate Modern extension are great and entry is free! It is also pretty walkable from Borough Market, HMS Belfast and St Pauls.
posted by mml at 4:22 AM on August 26, 2016

If it's a sunny day, you could combine a walk through/picnic in Regent's Park with a visit to London Zoo next door.
posted by Aravis76 at 4:22 AM on August 26, 2016

Coming back again - St Pauls was mentioned and walking up to the whispering gallery and beyond to the very top is also quite good albeit exhausting.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:28 AM on August 26, 2016

Seconding Hyde Park if sunny. You can row round the Serpentine, count wild rabbits in the sculpture meadow and watch the waterfowl. If you take seeds, parakeets will nip down and eat them from your hand (this I know from having my sandwiches nibbled on many a lunch break!).

Battersea park is also lovely for kids - there's a big tree top playground, petting zoo, rowboats, bikes etc.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:00 AM on August 26, 2016

Just to offer a different perspective than Mostly Harmless, my kids LOVE the Transport Museum and have pretty much loved it their entire lives. We're undoubtedly very biased, because we have a family member who works for Transport for London, but I've literally never met a kid of any age who didn't love the Transport museum.

The Tate Modern isn't the kind of thing you'd think of as a kid's museum, but my kids have always loved running around the huge main hall there. There's also a small but fun kid's area on one of the upper floors -- ask a guide for directions. And in the Surrealism exhibit, there used to be a room where people could do their own surrealist drawings and put them up on the wall -- my kids loved that. (I say "used to be" just because I haven't been there for a while, so I can't promise it will still be there.)

In terms of food, there are a ton of easy chain options for sandwiches and similar. The sandwich chains you can find anywhere in the UK (Pret A Manger, Eat, M&S Simply Food) will be on just about every corner in London. One step up from those, but still not fancy, are small chains like Wagamama and Byron's Burgers. Actually, I would say that most restaurants in London are pretty kid-friendly-- I think you will find very few places that will look askance at you for bringing children in.
posted by yankeefog at 6:27 AM on August 26, 2016

Oh, and also: don't forget you can book your tickets in advance for The London Eye, The Tower of London, and many other tourist sites. It's always good to skip the queue, but especially with an impatient 6-year-old in tow.
posted by yankeefog at 6:29 AM on August 26, 2016

London Transport Museum! London Transport Museum! It's huge fun for kids and interesting for adults as well.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:36 AM on August 26, 2016

Seconding the Bethnal Green Museum. (Now part of the V & A)

I know I enjoyed the statues on both sides of the Houses of Parliament. One one side you have Cleopatra's Needle and Boudicia, and perhaps a walk on the embankment, above you, you get to hear Big Ben (Go in the late morning so you get to listen to lots of bonging). Then round about the other side of the building (possibly too long a walk for a six-year-old) there is a park with the Burghers of Calais, by Rodin. Boudicia is way up on a plinth so you can't touch her, but the Burghers you can touch and I was fascinated by the coolness of the metal and the utter realism of the blunt toes and the tendons.

Disclaimer; It has been a looooong time. For all I know they have moved all three, Cleo, Boudie and the Burghers, and Big Ben has been permanently mothballed.

I liked the V&A very much, probably because my Dad made me read every inscription concerning the Elgin Marbles which were on display at the British Museum and we were there for hours while my older sister copied inscriptions in the Egyptian Rooms, but I was fascinated by the mummies at the British Museum too, particularly the entire family of grave robbers, kids and all that were sealed up in a tomb to die.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:55 AM on August 26, 2016

Definite yes on the Tower of London, the London Eye (book in advance!) and the London Transport Museum.

The aforementioned Diana memorial playground is also great, as are all of the royal parks. Pick up sandwiches at M&S and picnic in the park.

If you feel like a trip a little way out, take the tube and then the train west, and go to Kew Gardens. The kids' playground there is phenomenal, and its great exploring the gardens, the greenhouses, and the treetop walkways. Not sure if the butterfly house will be open when you are there, but that's awesome too. There's also a fake train rolling around the gardens that my kids adored.
posted by Joh at 10:10 AM on August 26, 2016

Personally I wouldn't trust the Duck tours. They have a tendency to catch fire.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are canal boats that run to the London Zoo and Camden Market. Highly recommended.

Also, just anecdotally, I took my seven year old girl to the British Museum and she is still having nightmares about the Bog Man. The museum is fantastic, of course, but just FYI on that particular exhibit.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:16 AM on August 26, 2016

Have you asked your son what his favorite parts of the previous trip were?

I took my daughter to London when she was about that age, and these were some of the things she enjoyed:

The British Museum has free activity backpacks (she did the "Life in Ancient Greece" one and enjoyed it)

The V&A also has activity backpacks.

Seconding the Diana Memorial Playground - we spent hours there and she had so much fun.

Restaurant-wise, Wagamama was one of her favorites.
posted by mogget at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2016

Tower of London, Tower Bridge, yes to those. At the Tower of London, you can go on a yeoman tour, which can be quite fun. By the way, there's this restaurant by the Tower, where you can get fish-n-chips for £5 if you get them takeaway. I forget what the restaurant is called, but the fish-n-chips were quite good.

London Eye is fun, but damn is it expensive, and if you go on the weekends, there will be tons of families. If it wasn't for the 2-for-1 deal, I wouldn't have done it.

The Imperial War Museum seems like a hot spot for kids because tanks! cannons! planes!

I liked St. Paul's, and would recommend going (almost) all the way to the top for that kick-ass view, IF you and your son can handle the stairs AND the very narrow balcony of the Golden Gallery.
posted by curagea at 12:18 PM on August 26, 2016

Many good suggestions here. Hampton Court Palace has costumed re-enactors (Henry VIII & court) wandering about its late medieval/early modern half and has preserved the large early modern kitchens. There's a play garden, a "garden adventure" on weekends, and a maze. A short train trip from London.
posted by praemunire at 1:38 PM on August 26, 2016

If you're interested in the Tower and London Eye, you could do a lot worse than structuring the day or part of it around walking along the South Bank - that would also take you past HMS Belfast, London Bridge/Borough Market, the Golden Hinde, the outdoor event/theatre stuff around More London, the Tate Modern, and the nearby Wobbly Bridge leading over to St Paul's. There are loads of nearby places to eat: Giraffe or the conveyor-belt sushi place might be fun, plus there are often good pop-ups, depending on when you go. If you grab something from a pop-up, you could head over to watch the skateboarders at the South Bank undercroft while you eat.

Otherwise - I really like the Transport Museum, and my 4yo son adores it. Partly for different reasons (I like the social history and transport nerd stuff, he likes the ingeniously well-designed play area (eg ALL of the seats on one of the pretend buses have steering wheels, so everyone can drive); partly, well, uh, they have a tube driving simulator there and if the prospect of being able to try your hand at driving a tube train doesn't sound appealing then the Transport Museum probably isn't for you.

If you fancy heading back to Greenwich, the Planetarium and Royal Observatory are pretty good.

Concerning Borough Market: it's great, and I love it, and the best hummous in London can be found at the Turkish Deli there, but unless he's a budding foodie or would enjoy taking in the (considerable!) sights and sounds and tastes of the market, I'm not sure it would be a prime attraction for a 5-6yo. It can be a slightly more annoying place than you might expect to grab lunch, esp at weekends, due to the crowds (who tend to mill and faff around a lot), and the lack of much space to sit.
posted by doop at 2:01 PM on August 26, 2016

Climbing Monument might be a more fun way to see the city from above, and definitely less expensive than the Eye or the Shard. It's a 311-step spiral staircase all the way up, and I think you still get a certificate at the end.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:26 PM on August 26, 2016

For a cheap alternative to the London Eye, take the Jubilee Line to North Greenwich and go on the Emirates cable car across the river for the price of a tube trip. You can have a quick look round the O2 while you're there too.
posted by KateViolet at 2:28 PM on August 26, 2016

How about Coram's Fields in Bloomsbury, a seven acre playground and park for children? He might be enjoy the fact that adults must be accompanied by a child in order to enter the park.

Entry is free, the park is open from 9am until dusk, and there's a little cafe with a kid's menu.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 2:47 PM on August 26, 2016

Just returned from London. The Transport Museum was actually much more fun than anticipated -- especially when you get to the section where you can sit in the old underground cars, and then use the driver simulation programs!

What about going to see the circa-1851 dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park, also home to fun playgrounds? A bit of a ride out there on the overground, but then you can grab a snack at the cafe in the station and have a picnic.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:43 PM on August 26, 2016

The Foundling Museum next to Coram's Field's has kid friendly stuff.
posted by brujita at 2:03 AM on August 27, 2016

The London Aquarium is quite fun and child oriented but I'm easily I'll impressed by fish and small sharks.

The Museum of London is great, engaging, aimed at a wide age range and currently has an exhibition on the Fire.

Kew Gardens has some pretty cool stuff on at the moment, there is an installation called the Hive and a Brazillian exhibit. There's paddle boats and kiosks.

If you are travelling late September early October you can see if you can catch the rut in Richmond Park.

2nding Crystal Palace, if you go you can also visit the Horniman which has exhibitions aimed at nippers on dinosaur, a lovely park and garden and a petting farm.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2016

You can go up to the "sky garden" at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the Walkie Talkie, for free, although you need to book in advance. Great views, with the debatable bonus that you can't see the walkie talkie itself!
posted by knapah at 4:46 PM on August 27, 2016

On the off chance your kid is a Pokemon Go fan, here's a map of the known Pokemon nests in London, in case there's something specific he wants to catch.
posted by yankeefog at 12:36 AM on August 28, 2016

« Older What comic did this routine about Mr. T?   |   iPhone 4 Vulnerability? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.