London's Top 5 Things To Do with Elementary & Middle School Kids
Arts & Culture
Food & Wine
London is the first place I would choose to live if I ever had to leave NYC. It's always my quick weekend away, and when I'm there I cram in as many shows as possible, hit the Tate and just walk, walk, walk. I could walk London for days on end, popping into shops and eating amazing food along the way. I recently had the chance to introduce my boys (7 and 10 at the time) to this incredible city, and they fell in love with it as fiercely as I did on my first trip back in 1986. This is their "Top 5 for Tweens" list (with a few honorable mentions), but I fully enjoyed every one of these, so I'd say its "Top 5 London for Kids Ages 6-600!"
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Where to stay in London
The Hoxton, Southwark
192 creatively-designed rooms just a stone’s throw from the River Thames and South Bank’s best galleries and food markets, including Borough Market and the Tate Modern.
Shangri-La The Shard, London
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Covent Garden Hotel
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Things to do in London
1. HIGH TEA at The Chesterfield Mayfair
I am a devout patron of the Savoy for High Tea, but when I was thinking about bringing two active young boys there, I actually shuddered. I was uncertain if they'd enjoy it, and quite certain that the other Savoy tea-goers would not enjoy them. Enter (after some hefty research) The Chesterfield Mayfair. WOW. This place is high tea paradise for kids and adults alike. They start off with a fizzing "surprise drink," and they have their own children's fruit tea, which my children insisted on buying to take back to Brooklyn. There is a separate children's food/treats menu option, which my little people devoured with only crumbs to spare. And they have the most adorable old-fashioned penny sweets stand, that the children are allowed to fill a bag from at the end of the meal, assuming they've behaved (stick, meet carrot).
2. MATILDA THE MUSICAL
The biggest hit from this show is the song "When I Grow Up," but this had me wishing I was 8 years old again, experiencing London musicals for the first time. This Roald Dahl classic, which won 7 Olivier Awards and 4 Tony Awards, is so much FUN. It is visually stunning and wildly creative; the music varies between gorgeous, catchy and ominous; and the story, while heartbreaking at times, is delivered with such humor and ingenuity that it keeps kids rapt the whole time. If I had to pick one London musical to see with kids in tow, I'd pick Matilda!
3. BOROUGH MARKET
While I do love to be in the heart of Covent Garden or Soho, in the past five years I've become obsessed with the South Bank of London. There are fabulous hotels at all price points to be found, the Tate is in your backyard for a quick pop-in, and best of all is proximity to Borough Market. My boys insisted on strolling through Borough Market every. single. day. of our trip. We started each day wandering the food stalls, eating bits and bobs to make up our breakfast along the way, and often returned in the afternoon for lunch, or stocked up on treats for later in the day. Every time I visit, I wish I lived in London so I could also buy goods to cook at home, not just eat the ready made food (although I may have to admit to eating a block of cheese there recently). It's easy to see why it's lasted since the 12th century!
4. HOUSE OF SPELLS
If your kids (or you) are fans of Harry Potter, this is THE place to shop. The store itself feels like an experience, even if you buy nothing (best of luck with that). They also have items from other universes, such has Lord of the Rings, but the main attraction here is HP and they do it so well. Unfortunately for us, this was the last HP store that we tried, after a few disappointments - I wish it had been our first, because its really the only one you need.
5. THE TOWER OF LONDON
Beautiful grounds, the Crown Jewels, ravens and the traditional Yeoman roaming around are all great reasons to visit the coolest tourist attraction in town, but for my kids it was the history of the Tower as a prison (and the old torture devices!) that really made it fun and exciting. They loved having their own audio guides and hearing about Mary Queen of Scots and Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn, and I loved seeing them so engaged in learning history! Book ahead of time, especially if you want to see the Yeoman's Ceremony of the Keys, which happens nightly at 9:30pm (this is a separate booking from your Tower ticket). It's also very close to the Tower Bridge, which is fun to walk over before or after your visit.
Places to eat & drink in London
Sadaf: Persian food heaven! Sadaf has two locations near Hyde Park and one in Notting Hill. It's a great stop for lunch (or dinner) after a walk through the park and visit to Harrods, or a meander through the stalls on Portobello Rd. The chicken and lamb koobideh are a must-order, and also happen to be great option for kids (and adults!) - as is the traditional Persian bread that they bake to order and serve perfectly warm.
The Farrier (Sunday Roast): No trip to England is complete without a proper Sunday Roast, and The Farrier simply nails it. In addition to the traditional beef (my personal favorite here), they offer a Sunday Roast of pork belly, a lemon thyme chicken and a vegetarian option. But any day you visit, the Farrier is a perfect place to dine when you visit Camden market - they boast elevated fare sourced from British farmers, fantastic wine and of course, pints. Tucked into a corner of the market, its a bit hard to find, and even harder to leave. Book ahead, especially if its for Sunday Roast or Thursday night steak dinner.
Ottolenghi Islington: Breakfast perfection. If I had to pick one proper restaurant to bring kids aged 1-100 for breakfast in London, this would be it. The menu is small but includes everything you could want or need, including a to-die-for halvah danish. Good luck making it past the cakes in the window!
Rock & Sole Plaice: Did you really go to London if you didn't eat fish and chips? This Covent Garden standard is considered London's oldest fish & chip restaurant. While so many touristy spots miss the mark, I've found Rock & Sole Plaice to be consistently delicious, though their takeaway is definitely better than dining in, even if they don't wrap it in newspaper anymore.
The Garrison: Fresh British produce is the star of the show at this Bermondsey gastropub, complimented by protein from British farms and fishermen. Truly refined food and an elevated pub environment means it books up, so reserve your spot ahead of time, and check the menu to make sure your kids will enjoy what they have on offer - this one is definitely better for tweens and teens.
Fortnum and Mason: Often my first stop in London, their Piccadilly flagship is a luxury multilevel bazaar dedicated primarily to their brand of gourmet food (with a nod to homewares, beauty and jewelry). Shop 'til you drop - they have a handy in-store concierge service who will ship your purchases home for you - and then end by treating yourself (oh, and the kids too) to the insane dessert delicacies at the Parlor, their 1st Floor ice-cream and dessert restaurant. While they're known first and foremost for their teas, I never, EVER leave without sending home a hefty supply of their curds - lemon, lime, passionfruit and my personal favorite, orange.
Din Tai Fung: This Taiwanese restaurant consistently makes THE best soup dumplings on earth. Sadly for a New Yorker like me, outside of Asia and Australia, you can only find DinTai Fung outposts in SoCal, the Pacific NW and Vegas. And... in Covent Garden! Book ahead to guarantee a seating and ask to be upstairs if you have kids with you, so they can watch the small army of chefs diligently making xiaolongbao in the glassed-in kitchen. The black sesame dessert buns are unparalleled.
Wagamama: Tried and true, and found in every part of town, Wagamama is always great for a pop-in with kids for lunch or dinner. When everyone has gone too long without eating and you need to kill the hangry monster quickly, find your nearest Wagamama! The food is delicious and filling, and the kids menu is fun for them and a great way for you to make sure they devour some protein and veggies (and, of course, noodles) while you're on the go. They also have a non gluten menu.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Erin Jones' guide, Beginner’s Guide to London.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to London.