Travelling with a baby
Too many friends asked for my tips for visiting London with kids and or toddlers on too many occasions.
What I love about this city is its diversity, buzz, sheer size, magnificent parks, old houses, cutting-edge art, tones and variety of restaurants and shops. It also happens to be one of the most kid-friendly cities in the world – walk into any museum, chances are it’s free for kids, and they have a special activity going on. Given the size, for visiting & transport logistics, I suggest dividing & conquering specific areas each day; also make the most out of sunny days: head to the parks and take the alfresco lunch options – blue skies should not be taken for granted in London!
And where else to start but in Kensington? Royal and with a myriad of museums frequented by locals and visitors alike; Victorian houses and old-world buildings blend with the artisanal shops and international consulates; grand architecture with exclusive clubs, leafy streets with family fun. And if I were to pick one playground for London, that must be Diana memorial; in a nutshell, cool, big and beautiful. Pirate ship, musical gardens, mazes, swings, sand, water, lots of slides. It makes a perfect morning with a toddler; we even bumped in here into royal Kate & prince George, discretely enjoying the spring & distractions.
Lunch: The Orangery. A cool and welcome break after all the fun at Diana, just 5 minutes walk from Diana playground in the greenery of the Hyde park. Some British and some European dishes, one brilliant al fresco option if sun is still shining and weather is decent (those rare days we could count on our hands! ), all next to Kensington palace. Once the setting for Queen Anne’s court entertainment, the Orangery has lovely high ceilings and 18th century architecture. Booking for tea or lunch at week-ends strongly recommended.
Afternoon: Science Museum / Natural History Museum and or Victoria & Albert – depending on levels of patience and / or energy. Another nice walk, within 15 minutes I’d suggest Exhibition road. Lots of cultural & entertaining options in South Kensington, from one of the best European science museums, 5 floors of fun for all ages and interests, including planes, engines and pods; to animals and dinosaurs – you guessed, Natural History Museum; to lots of art and cool exhibitions – V&A. All 3 are free of charge but donations are encouraged, huge and great.
Evening: For the very energetic parents, if babysitting options are available and sorted, South Ken is also great for cocktails – Walton street has some great options, Jack’s included. If kids are still around, an easy option dinner is Itsu still on Walton street. For well behaved kids or parets equipped with ipads, Kiru is a great sushi option, yum food and nice vibes, highchair and personnel kind and patient with our curious toddler.
2nd day, morning: St James park. There’s a small playground, including sandpit, swings, slides next to the icecream shop corner close to Buckingham Birdcage Walk side. Friendly squirrels and lots of birds, from swans, huge pelicans, ducks to the omnipresent pigeons. With Buckingham Palace and the Horse Guards next door, nice picture opportunities, including the bridges over the lake. Should one finish with exploring the park and feeding the birds, Trafalgar square is 5 minutes away. More picture opportunities plus if weather gets tricky, National Galleries. On Sundays our toddler loves the Magic carpet storytelling, a couple of sessions from 10:30 and 11:30; weekdays and school holidays plenty of other family & kids events.
Lunch or casual coffee & bite: Inn the Park (St James) is an easy option for kids and parents could have a beer or chill over some wine. There’s space alfresco for sunny days and a cool rooftop should the little ones wish to around. Trafalgar square another 5 minutes walk in case you wish some different cuisine, with a nice Thai square. Another favourite of ours is the Bakery inside National Galleries; great views over Trafalgar square, helpful staff, highchairs, nice pies and lunch menus.
The horse guards are 3/5 minutes from St James park and / or Trafalgar. Thereafter one could carry on walking by Big Ben, Parliament and cross the bridge. On the other side of Thames, more great options including the Aquarium and South Bank Centre, a bunch of artistic venues with lots of children events.
Lots of dinner options around South Bank, sushi or European dishes. This neighbourhood is filled with great cultural pursuits and public attractions, from sweeping panoramas from the London Eye, paradigm-challenging performances at the National Theatre or South Bank Centre, riverside gathering spaces, wry street art and skateboard-friendly underpasses.
It is our hood, so we may be biased, but we like Holland Park to bits. Two playgrounds for little ones, pretty gardens, opera in the summer, wild gardens and an ecology centre to mention just few items very dear to us. We had so many beautiful mornings in here, trust you’ll find something to enjoy.
For the afternoon 2 options, depending on one’s inclinations. Notting Hill for pretty streets, beautiful houses and antiques on Portobello road. Lots of great lunch options including: Daylesford and 202 next door. For very well behaved kids and parents that manage to get a booking, Ledbury – 2 Michelin stars. The other afternoon option which may involve mum shopping and dad at the Hyde Park 1 playground includes Harrods & Harvey Nichols.
Evening: easy to have dinner on the 5th floor of Harvey Nics. There’s a 5th floor cafe & restaurant with great options (booking may be a good idea) or an easy Yo Sushi, bit better quality at Korobuta or Polpo for something more Mediterranean. Posher option at Bar Bouloud at Mandarin Oriental next door. If you fancy another walk on Sloane street to rest your eyes on designer shops (cards endangered here), Duke of York’s square next to Saatchi galleries, including the easy and delicious Comptoir Libanais or for great Italian Manicomio.
For lunch, head to Marylebone, on high street you’ll find intimate bookstores, family-owned patisseries, high-end boutiques and a cosy village vibe, despite its central London location. Orrery is one of our favourites for lunch but lots of other options, including a quick & easy steakhouse, Le Relais de Venice.
For the afternoon, a walk through pretty Mayfair. Molton street and cute mews and nice tea or aperitive options at the Mews of Mayfair. Wine bars and scotch lounges, decadent restaurants and buildings impressive, so very pretty for afternoon or evening strolls. One could head on Bond street to Royal Academy of Art to recharge spiritually and sweets wise at La duree in the beautiful Burlington arcade.
Somebody once stated when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. May I tweak this famous sentence adding tired of the urban life? This one buzzy charming very busy city called London could exhaust even people on a holiday. If you are similarly living in a busy city, one could use a break after 4 days of urban sightseeing, travelling and walking around some green wide spaces. A list of 5 gardens and countryside retreats within 30 min of London is available in an earlier post, one prettier than other. My top National Trust properties easy to get to would be Ham House, Osterley and Fenton House (Hamstead). There’s also Chiswick House and Richmond Park.
But if I were to pick, I’d go with the Kew, glorious gardens and UNESCO heritage site. Could easily spend a couple of day with a toddler and/or kids: treehouse, inside and outside playgrounds, good food options from picnic areas to casual family cafe and cute orangery.
For a rainy morning: British Museum. It is huge and very baby/ toddler/ kids friendly. Pick a bagpack from the Family service desk – we usually have lots of fun with the lion puppet who chased Ralphie around the museum, the zoom which helps studying little & more grown up people various objects and exhibitions. Regular exhibitions and activities, best to check on the day.
If the sun is out, head to Hyde park. Serpentine galleries & lake, boats and/ or more playgrounds. Combine Italian gardens, playground next door, arty galleries and one cool restaurant at Serpentine Sackler to keep all family happy and entertained.
7th days: 5 more options
–Battersea park & the zoo. Small animals, including otters, cappucines and chinchillas and interactive options. Peace pagoda by Thames, lovely green spaces and if you cross the bridge Chelsea funky pubs and cafes, one old favourite of ours is The Phene, clubhouse style pub with heated gardens. Afternoon option at Chelsea Physic Gardens or Saatchi Galleries. Nice dining options at Duke of York square as mentioned above or Sloane Square.
-Less touristy and more remotely: V&A museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green & Columbia Road Flower market. On Sunday the street is transformed into oasis of foliage and flowers; sixty independent shops, small art galleries sit next to cup cake shops, vintage clothes stores, English and Italian delis, garden and antique shops. There is also a wealth of great pubs, cafes and restaurants and a common thread – love of the flowers and a refusal to be dictated to by a chain retail world where the fun may be gone.
-London Transport Museum & Covent Garden. Iconic plaza filled with street performers and food stalls; winding side streets with cheese shops, casual taverns, art museums, and opera houses that cater to those looking for less trafficked locales. Watch, applaud, get rid of your pocket change to the countless entertainers and diversions. For the afternoon, Thames boats options either sides of the bridge: Embankment or South Bank.
–Horniman museum & gardens. Goats and Saturday market. Resting in the sun if you fancy something not touristy but more remotely.
-If you’re still up for the hustle and bustle, Somerset House galleries combined with a cruise on Thames. Mid week or Sunday brunch Radio roof bar is a good option for mum & dad, good cocktails and cool views, but brunch menu or the tapas won’t disappoint the toddlers. The roofbar becomes very animated at weekends and sunny late afternoons, so after 5pm more appropriate for parents only.