London with Kids for a Birthday Party
Every time we go to London with kids we are charmed. There seems to be an endless supply of things to do with the littles. Cafes abound, meaning you’re never far from food. The city is easy to get around. The fact that you get to use a double decker bus just adds to the kids’ enjoyment. This time we headed to London with kids to celebrate the Big Little’s sixth birthday. We pulled out all the stops for an amazing kid-friendly birthday weekend.
Getting To London
Although there are many ways to reach London from the Netherlands we opted to take the train. When we arrived in Europe three years ago we took the train from London to Delft and had not a clue about reservations or train travel. We hadn’t booked anything properly and the journey ended up taking forever as we rode local trains most of the way.
This time however we had no trouble boarding the Thalys from Rotterdam to Brussels and then transferred to the Eurostar to complete our journey to Saint Pancras. Eurostar now runs a direct service from Amsterdam to London! The first train ran the day of our journey, but wasn’t announced till well after we had booked Thalys-Eurostar tickets.
The Eurostar app lets kids “see” underwater as they go through the tunnel under the French-English channel. Our kids had a blast playing with it and collecting points for spotting marine life. The app also provides access to some TV series, courtesy of a partnership with Amazon to enjoy on your ride. Mostly though our kids worked on their Usborne Travel Activity Books.
Staying in London
Each trip to London we’ve stayed in a different area of the city. This is a great way to get to know the neighborhoods. We’ve stayed at the London Elizabeth Hotel on Hyde park which gave us quick access to the Princess Diana Playground and easy access to the Underground. We’ve also stayed with the Royal Overseas League, a reciprocal property to San Francisco’s Marine Memorial Hotel, The Royal Overseas League rooms are walking distance from Saint James Palace.
This time we were in a three bedroom Airbnb in the Waterloo area. Waterloo is an amazing place to stay! We were a 20 min walk from most of the big tourist attractions and had easy access to buses and the Underground.
Plus we were right around the corner from the famous Leake Graffiti Street.
Waterloo was teeming with life pretty much 24/7. We found refuge early in the morning at some fun coffee shops. Our favorite was Four Corners Cafe, which has amazing coffee and wall-to-wall travel books. If you bring one of yours to donate, rumor has it you get a free coffee.
We loved starting our mornings at the Four Corners Cafe. If i didn’t have the kids with me I might have just sat there all morning trip planning! The streets in this area are all lined with fun coffee shops, so if travel books don’t do it for you, keep walking and you’ll find a cafe to fit your vibe.
London Activities with Kids
The London Eye is just a few blocks further so we headed there to enjoy the view down the river. We’ve ridden the London Eye in the past and opted not to do it again. The kids really get a little antsy as the ride takes about 30 min and there is just one bench in each compartment.
Even if you don’t want to ride it though it’s worth checking out, and one of our favorite London playgrounds sits in the shadow.
We had the Big Little at this exact playground at nearly the exact same age as the Little Little is now. This playground became our morning routine. We were here with our coffee before the tourists were out in throngs.
The course is quite challenging so there is plenty for everyone to enjoy. It was a good way to burn off a bit of energy and gave Jeff and I some time to game plan for the morning.
We settled on taking a walk down the river and over the bridge to Westminster where we would hop on the Tube. Unfortunately, the Tower of Big Ben is under construction and covered in scaffolding. It is still quite charming nonetheless and our Big Little recognized it from books he has.
We roamed around the area exploring some of the parks and buildings behind Westminster Abbey and Parliament. On past visits we were checking off tourist items in this area so it was nice to just enjoy the walk and really see the city beyond the blockbuster sights.
We hopped on the Underground at Westminster station and headed out to Westfield Mall to check out Kidzania, a city run entirely by kids. It deserves its own post, but I want to say that while it is not unique to London, it was worth a visit. Our 6 year old was right in the sweet spot for really having a great time. The mall also offered plenty of food options. Although one parent has to stay in Kidzania the other can come and go. We took full advantage and each took a little down time. I used mine to get my hair cut at a nice salon!
Post Kidzania we wanted to get everyone outside and had the idea to head to the Princess Diana Playground! It however was packed with an hour wait just to get in. We abandoned that idea and instead ran wild around the park finding smaller playgrounds to entertain the kids instead. My advice to anyone waiting in an hour-long line to get into a playground: “Make your own play space and run around the park instead.”
The Big Little and I had an evening tea reservation for his birthday at the Park Room.
The Park Room at the Grosvenor House overlooks Hyde Park and they go above and beyond to create an elegant atmosphere. They offer a special children’s tea and were happy to provide a high chair for my friend’s baby who joined us.
We were greeted by these fun little drinks topped with cotton candy. The Big Little loved these although the adults weren’t so sure how to eat them. We followed the Big Little’s lead and drank them. . .although it took a while for the liquid to be viscous enough to slide down the cup.
The tea tray was lovely. We were given one of each type of sandwich and one of each type of dessert. Our waiter later came around to offer more of whatever type we liked. You only get the two scones though so savor those because they are delicious! There was plenty of food so we were glad to have booked a 5pm tea that would serve as our dinner
They also brought out a special treat for our Big Little and sang Happy Birthday to him. They provided a small gift of a coloring set. He felt so special.
There are certainly plenty of themed teas available in London for children that we would love to try, but the Big really enjoyed being such a grown up. Toward the end of the meal though the tea really got to him and we had to excuse ourselves five times to use the restroom.
With full bellies we walked a bit towards home and caught a bus for the remainder of the ride. We aren’t sure what happened but our bus ended up letting everyone off at Westminster, so we walked home from there instead of boarding the next bus. It was only a few blocks and it was good to walk a bit after eating all evening.
The next morning we were up early to make our way to King’s Cross Station to board the bus to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. You can easily navigate to the tour on your own using public transport, but tickets sold out so quickly that booking the combo with the bus was the only way to guarantee tickets the day we wanted them.
The Harry Potter Studio tour will get its own post, but know that for a Harry Potter fan it was an amazing experience. We had some trouble knowing how to pace ourselves. The tour takes the better part of the day.We managed to sneak in a quick visit to the Portrait Gallery before meeting Jeff for dinner at a pub in our neighborhood. Jeff had taken the littles to the Imperial War Rooms and several playgrounds and they had had a full day as well.
The next morning we headed to London’s Tower Bridge at its opening time. The walk across the bridge is quite scenic in and of itself. I love this view down the river. The Big Little even remembered that we had seen this bridge from the Sky Gardens on a previous visit.
I had always figured that going up the towers of tower bridge was just another scenic viewpoint but they’ve done an great job with the visit to make it a full experience. We purchased our tickets in advance, so when we arrived we were put right onto the lift and taken to the top of the north tower.
The kids were both given kids packets to complete. The six year old was able to read and do most of the packet on his own, which is sort of a game changer. He was fully immersed in completing his packet.
Until he saw the tower’s glass floor! Then I couldn’t get the boys off the floor. They absolutely loved looking down at the traffic on the road and boats in the water below them.
I was taken by it as well. It was a totally new vantage point. The two tower walkways both have glass floors, so if one side is getting busy just make your way to the other side. The west walkway has a mirror on the ceiling so you can take some really fun selfies.
I think we all could have just laid here for the whole day watching the world beneath us.
Your ticket also includes a visit to the engine room, which is hidden beneath the bridge (south end). My engineering loving kids (and husband) were excited to see how this bridge works.
The victorian era engine room is fully set up and restored. They have demonstrations on how it works and little models to show the whole thing in action. The boys loved this little computer game where they had to maintain the bridge without allowing road or boat traffic to back up. The tower bridge really delighted!
We spent the remainder of our morning walking down the river. We paused in one of the arcades for some lunch at a cafe. The kids ran around in the square while we ate outside.
Then we took the bus out to the London Postal Museum, where we really could have spent all day. They have a museum full of kids activities, a play area and a train that runs in the old mail delivery tunnels. Everything but the museum requires advanced reservations and timed tickets. The Postal Museum also has its own blog post because it is packed full of amazing fun for kids.
The Big and I also had to leave the London Postal Museum early to make it to one of the most fun things you can do in London – tea on a bus tour!
The Afternoon Tea Bus London Tour was a huge hit. So much so that, you guessed it, it’s getting its own blog post. You’ll need an advanced reservation for this experience. You get tea, delicious treats and a narrated city tour. We saw all sorts of people and groups on the bus but it was a huge win for the Big Little and I. Beware that there are no toilets on the buses.
We had only a little bit of time on Sunday morning before our flight back to Amsterdam. We opted to hit up the Tate Modern for just a bit. They were going through a transition and the kids were not in a museum mode so we saw a few things and then opted to grab some food and head to the airport.
London is a huge city with something to offer everyone. I never regret a visit here and always instantly feel so at home in this great city.