Having children doesn’t have to stop you travelling. Of course taking a young one (or collection of them) along with you will change things - but it doesn’t have to be a chore if you’re smart with your planning, preparation and accommodation choices.
This kids travel guide will help you think about the where and when for your family trip to London and the options that will make your life as easy as possible. Holidays should be relaxing and enjoyable for the whole family - and that includes you!
What you need to know when planning a family short stay in London
Planning really can be key when it comes to any holiday, let alone one with all the added variables of children. As any parent knows: the rollercoaster that fits into each hour of a child’s life is anything but predictable - but what you can have control over is where you stay.
Having an itinerary of sorts, or at least a sleeve-full of things to do is a great start. Bear in mind, though, that flexibility is the most important part of all. Trying to keep to a regimented time schedule is only going to end up stressing you out when it, inevitably, turns out to be impossible.
Having an idea of what it is you might be doing is a good idea when visiting somewhere as diverse and jam-packed as London.
This guide will cover the following sections:
- Booking accommodation - where to stay.
- What to pack for your journey.
- Where to visit during your time in London.
- When is the best time to travel to London with children.
1. Accommodation - Where to stay in London when travelling with children
The first step of getting ready for a family trip is choosing where you’re going to be staying. In London there is a wide array of accommodation options - this can get a little overwhelming when you’re browsing.
We’ve broken it down into a few types and offered some pros and cons of each:
- Can be quite costly
- May have to have separate rooms for all of you to fit
- No private, shared space
- Come with the luxury of housekeeping and room service - no cooking or cleaning required
- Standardised quality
- Often come with great guest amenities
Private rentals (e.g. AirBnB)
- Taking a risk - as it’s usually just someone’s home then you’re never totally sure what you’re going to get
- No guarantee of health and safety - no set standard in terms of cleanliness of upkeep of the building
- Feels homely
- Can choose location that suits you
- Can opt for lots of space
Corporate Lets or Serviced Apartments
- Some don’t have parking
- Don’t always allow pets
- The best of both worlds
- Great value
- Lots of space
- Services and amenities
- ideal for families.
Serviced apartments used to be considered the domain of the executive business on secondment- but they are growing in popularity with all types of travellers for all types of trips - and it’s easy to see why.
Serviced apartments, like the luxury yet affordable units at Dolphin Square, sit between hotels and private rentals. They offer the privacy, space and freedom of private rentals and home-away-from-home atmosphere - while still providing the sort of quality assurance, daily housekeeping services, onsite amenities and guarantees of a good quality hotel room.
Thanks to VAT breaks, serviced apartments also reduce in cost the longer you stay, unlike a hotel room which stays at a fixed nightly rate. This means a serviced apartment can work out a third cheaper than an equivalent hotel room. With another 33% more floor space.
One of the best features for families is shared common space, like a lounge or dining room to play, chill and eat in together - then have your own rooms for when you want a moment to yourself.
All apartments with Dolphin Square have a pantry style or full kitchen, which provides you with the flexibility and convenience required when travelling with kids - a space where you can do the necessary tasks like whip up a peanut butter sandwich for a fussy eater, store expressed breast milk or sterilise bottles in the middle of the night
Some providers have excellent onsite amenities, like The Bar & Grill, so you can eat out without having to roam too far with the little ones.
Dolphin Square is located in Pimlico, in the heart of central London but it is still peaceful, leafy and residential. These serviced apartments are right by the River Thames and only a few minutes walk from Pimlico underground station - so when you want to explore the city it couldn’t be simpler, quicker or more convenient for you and the family to do so.
If you are heading out then you can also have peace of mind that your belongings are in good hands - with 24 hour reception and security systems in place, as well as quality assurance (especially with ASAP accredited members, like Dolphin Square), because it’s not worth taking unnecessary risks when it comes to the safety of your family.
2. What to pack when travelling with children
Being prepared is important when travelling with children- so you need to put some real consideration into what you’re packing. There are a lot of essentials with little ones, from nappies and crucial cuddly toys to ipads, depending on their age.
On the flip side you don’t want to overpack and have more stuff to lose or trip over - so you want to pack wisely. Choosing accommodation with more space will mean you’re less cluttered while you’re trying to relax.
Only you know what your kids need and want with them on a holiday (a dummy; their favourite comfort blanket; 96 different but equally important My Little Pony dolls…) but here are a few general suggestions:
- Pram and/or harness - if you’re travelling with toddlers or babies you’ll probably need at least one of these options to minimise grizzles and save your arms.
- Drink bottles (for everyone) - keeping hydrated while out and about.
- Snacks (also for everyone) - this can be make or break for a kid’s (or adult’s) mood. The last thing you want is a whole hangry troupe waiting for a delayed train to get to lunch.
- First aid kit - kids are bound to pick up a few bumps and bruises along the way.
- Spare change of clothes - spills, dribbles, bodily fluids, mud or sudden urges to run through sprinklers - all sorts of things can happen to kids in a day, so it’s a good idea to have some spare threads handy.
- Camera - whether it’s your phone, an old disposable or a state-of-the-art DSLR, children grow up fast (it’s a cliche for a reason) so you’ll be grateful for any captured memories.
3. Where to visit in London with children
With such a choice of activities in London, it can be difficult to know what’s suitable for who. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Where to visit with babies
There are a few museums with soft play areas especially for the really tiny ones, and on Canary Wharf you’ll find Mudchute Urban Farm with lots of animals to see ( as well as educational activities for the slightly bigger ones). You can check out baby friendly cafes and get a step-free map of the underground for travelling with a pram.
Where to visit with young children
A lot of attractions which are of interest to adults also have specially designed children’s areas - The Aquarium, Battersea Park Children’s Zoo and the Children’s Garden at Kew Gardens are great examples that won’t disappoint. If your kids are at an age where they’re vehicle obsessed then try out the London Transport Museum, or the Aquarium never fails to wow.
Where to visit with teenagers
Depending on your teen’s tastes and age they might be keen to enjoy a little retail therapy and explore London’s markets. There are some incredible museums and galleries in London which will interest even the most shrugging teenager. If possible you could take them to experience the wonder of a West End musical.
4. The best time to visit London with children
As well as fitting in around your own commitments, it’s worth thinking about when everyone else might be travelling. Prices can crank up during school holidays, especially religious holidays - like Christmas, Diwali and Eid, and things can get a lot busier. Bear in mind that busier times mean attractions and tours might fill up quickly so it’s a good idea to book in advance. Queues will also be longer.
Think about the season you want to travel in. Winter in London can be a bit wet and grey - but there are days which are gorgeous, frosty and fresh. London around Christmas is lovely and festive, and there are usually all sorts of attractions put on especially.
Some activities only open in the summer months - so it’s worth checking if you have your heart set on somewhere!
It’s your holiday too…
Remember that this is a holiday for everyone, so you want to make sure you’re considering yourself in all this. As well as thinking about the family travel tips outlined above, why not keep things as simple, convenient and luxurious as you possibly can, while still getting a great deal, by booking a beautiful short let apartment for you and your family to have as your home-away-from-home as you spend some quality time together in the heart of London.