We know this is a very specific age and topic, but we have only been with 8-year-old kids to London. Specifically our 3 nephews Jonas, Elias, Marcus, and our niece Nora. As a birthday present on their 8th birthday we gave them a trip to London with us (and one parent just to be on the safe side), to see if we could inspire them and give them their first taste of the big world outside our small Norwegian city (with a population of 16 000 people compared to London’s 9,3 million). It was 4 different kids with different interests and needs, of course the boys had quite different wishes compared to the girl Nora. We tried to ask if there was anything they really wanted to see, but since they had little experience in what London could offer, we also made sure to visit some places and sights that we hoped would be of interest. In hindsight we were a bit ambitious on the number of things we did on a weekend trip, we had 3 nights in London, 2 full days, and that was more than enough for the small ones.
The most important lesson we learned was that you NEVER mention Hamleys toy shop until the last day if you can avoid it. If Hamleys is visited the first day, nothing else will be able to compete with it, and subsequently everything will now be about when we can go back to Hamleys again. Lesson number two was giving the little ones any kind of food they fancy at any given time, a kid low on energy is no fun, and a McDoodles burger will suffice even if the adults really want an artisan burger with kale and pickled daikon. Feed the Gremlin!
There are many great museums in London, and the best thing is that many are free to the public, and you can cater to almost any interest in kids and adults alike. Both Jonas and Marcus had a blast visiting The Imperial War museum on Lambeth Road. The museum is the world’s leading museum on war and conflict, the entrance is adorned with huge naval guns and inside the museum there are planes and tanks exhibited along with experiences of ordinary people forced to live their lives in a world torn apart by conflict, educational for any 8-year-old and adult. Jonas also visited the was ship HMS Belfast (a part of the Imperial War Museum) that is moored opposite Tower of London. Easiest way to get to the IWM is by bus 344 and 360 or the tube to Lambeth North with a 7-minute walk to the museum.
Elias wanted to see the Natural History Museum in Kensington. If your kid is interested in dinosaurs and animals in general, this is the place to visit. The Natural History Museum is iconic both on the exterior and the interior, used in many documentaries, not least by the great David Attenborough’s excellent Museum Alive shot inside the museum.
British Museum was visited by all the boys, and it is another one of the world’s greatest museums, and totally free. The amount of stuff inside the museum is mind-boggling, from the Elgin Marbles to original lyric sheets from the Beatles, the collection is huge. The best thing is to pick a subject or two, we chose Egypt and Greece with a wander in between, no problem using days and days here, so maybe important to narrow down the interests of whoever is visiting. It is hard to see 2 million years of human history in an hour.
All the kids enjoyed the London Eye immensely. It is a great start to the London adventure, and it is guaranteed something they would not have done before. A great recommendation is purchasing a timed ticket that gives you a shorter line to queue up in, the drawback is that you have to be there at a specific time, and it costs more, but we think the premium is worth it to avoid long lines and useless waiting in line. Nora was a bit nervous before entering the pod, but that nervousness gave way to giddiness and excitement once we had started our ascent to the top. The view from London Eye across London on a good day is fantastic, and you can point out areas of interest and places you will be visiting later to build up excitement.
Nora wanted to visit the Sea Life London Aquarium, so we bought combination tickets for the London Eye and the aquarium. Without her knowing we also bought a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium that was great fun, and the aquarium itself is huge with great tanks with fish and sharks in them.
When you are done with London Eye it is a short walk across Westminster Bridge and over to Parliament Square and Big Ben, all the kids knew Big Ben from pictures, so they were stoked to see it in real life. A great little walk when at Parliament Square is up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square. The short walk will take you past 10 Downing Street (ooooo, the Prime Minister lives here) and further up to the Queen’s Life Guards who guard the old entrance to the palace on horseback.
Hugely popular with especially Nora, the dressed up guards on their huge horses were mesmerizing, and horses had to be petted (just beware that they might give the kids a head butt if they don’t like they way they stroke their mules). Continue up the road and Trafalgar Square with the huge lions around Nelson’s Column (they might ask who the dude on top of the column is, but most likely they will be more interested in the 7-ton lions) and of course the pigeons of the square, there are thousands!
An alternative is also to walk to Buckingham Palace from Parliament Square via St James’s Park. The lake in the park contains thousands of birds that are great for feeding from the bank, and Nora enjoyed this very much! The front of Buckingham Palace is very cool and the view down the Mall towards Trafalgar Square is great. Walking back along the northern bank of the lake in St James’s Park will bring you to the Horse guards Parade and the entrance to the Queen’s horse Guards. And when in the area of Buckingham Palace be sure to see the changing of the guards that takes place around 11am and check the days and exact times here.
We have mentioned Hamleys toy shop on Regent Street before, and it is a must visit with any kid. Just make sure everyone is filled up on energy before entering, it will drain you of every ounce of energy and patience once you have entered. And do NOT venture into Hamleys on a Saturday unless you have a wish for a mental breakdown. Hamleys is the world’s biggest toy shop, 7 stories of any toy from stuffed beard to Lego and Harry Potter paraphernalia. It is filled with everything a kid might need and caters to every need a kid did not know he had. Hundreds of employees on every floor will demonstrate, operate, and sell every ware under the sun for kids. It is heaven for the kids, and a tab more hell for the adults who must follow into the dungeon of toys. It can not be missed, but as we said, maybe the timing of the visit should be carefully considered.
Shopping is also something that is high on any kid’s agenda. We chose to visit the major brand stores of Oxford Street and Regent Street with Carnaby Street in the same area as a calmer option. Just walking around in Top Shop or Nike Town makes the eyes of any kid go wide with sensory overload. The area around Covent Garden, Neal Street, Neals Yard and Seven Dials is also a shopper’s haven and is a bit calmer than the major shopping streets around Oxford Circus.
Football with kids is a great outing. Two of the kids opted to see a football match, and we had a great time going to Crystal Palace to see them play West Ham. And we went to see Fulham play some team we cannot recall. Buying tickets to see a match in London can be an expensive affair for the more established teams like Arsenal and Tottenham, but if you go for the lower leagues or Premier League teams with older stadiums, it will be cheaper and maybe a more “authentic” experience. The most enjoyable was going to see Crystal Palace in south London at Selhurst Park in Croydon. It was very exotic to take the train to Croydon, and to be in a part of London that is more “London” than what central London is. This is where the normal Londoners live and work. We went into a small shop to get some water and suddenly Jonas shouts “Uncle! Uncle! Look! A Ninja!!” he had seen his first ever woman in a burka. We ate fish and chips at a very local chippie and had a great late summers afternoon watching the game with the crazy West Ham supporters chanting abuse at the Crystal Palace supporters. Epic.
Tower of London was a great experience for the boys, Nora did not choose to go there, and I would say that the Tower is more a boy’s thing without being sexist. Beheadings and armour and fortresses are more boy’s day out than girls. The Tower is the most popular tourist destination in London, so getting there early to avoid the biggest crowds is a must. The yeoman wardens in their attire, the Crown Jewels, the ravens, and the Tower itself with exhibitions of armoury and weapons are all a must visit.
A trip to the dungeons to see the torture devices always makes an impression on kids. If you want some extra adventure getting there take the number 15 bus from Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square and ride the front seat on the top floor, it will take you past St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank of England, and other great buildings on the way to Tower Hill. When you have finished with the Tower, walk across Tower Bridge to the other side of the Thames and visit HMS Belfast.
Across the river from Tower of London is The Shard, at 309 metres it is the tallest building in the UK and the 7th tallest building in Europe. The viewing platform was visited by Elias, and he was overwhelmed by the view from the viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor, at a height of 244 metres. If London Eye was too low, get a ticket to the View from the Shard.
Food wise it is never wise to upset a small Wookie! Feed the gremlins when they ask for food, not when you think it is time for food, we found this out the hard way. So, we ended up at some emergency MacDoodles menus and we ended up at a favourite diner we have been visiting for years and that the kids dug: Ed’s Easy Diner! What a find for the kids. American style diner with burgers, fries, and milkshake. What joy! We ended up here maybe more times than the adults wanted, but the kids loved the menu and the food, so we kept going there and every kid was happy. We also ate an overpriced meal at the first Hard Rock Café in the world by Hyde Park Corner with one of the kids. Most evenings the kids were so nackered after a long day with sensory overload and lots of walking, dinner was a takeaway in the room, and that was ok for the kids. Nora took to the big city living and fell in love with large decaf mochas in takeaway cups. The boys sucked on Red Bulls and Ribena. We had a candy shop just around the corner from our hotel, and that turned out to be one of the bigger attractions of London for at least two of the boys. On all occasions we stayed in the middle of central London at St Giles Hotel, affordable and great location.
We think that with great planning together with the kids London is a grand first visit to a metropolis. It is important to suss out the interests and expectations of the small ones, just to see what is a must and what is of no interest. To be overly ambitious is just to make the small ones tired and sick of wandering around, so plan carefully, and leave time to feed the ducks and the squirrels in the park, and do not forget to sit down and have a beer and a soft drink when possible. London is a great adventure!
And thank you to Jonas, Elias, Marcus and Nora for giving uncle and auntie memories to cherish for the rest of our lives. We love you!
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