As you know from Flynn’s valentine greetings, we ventured to London in February. This blog post has been hanging over me since then, but 1) we weren’t ready quite yet to announce the official reason for the trip (pregnancy check ups), and 2) all of my awesome photos somehow ended up on the computer that Andy took with him back to DC, and I was hoping to figure out a solution to that. Alas, I haven’t, so you’ll have to settle for the iPhone photo version.
Here’s what I learned along the way about taking a toddler to London:
1) No matter how much you hated those awful touristy hop-on-hop-off bus tours in your pre-baby life, when you’re traveling with a toddler, just do it. Also, no matter how great you think it will be to sit on the top deck, just don’t do it. Here we posed for the obligatory top deck photo, and then, as soon as Flynn expressed the modicum of interest in diving overboard (which of course was pretty much immediately), went back downstairs.
Someone wasn’t happy about the move, but you know what? That someone’s not the boss.
As far as I can tell there were two major companies. We went with Big Bus Tours and it was perfectly fine. (The other major company is the Original Tour. Stay away from companies besides these two; they don’t come as often or stop as many places.)
2. The bus tour also includes a free boat ride, always a hit with the toddler set. Having to sit still waiting for the boat to arrive, though, not as much of a hit.
3. Think twice before visiting the aquarium, as least if you’re traveling in the winter. Sure, it was a nice (albeit expensive) place. That’s probably why every person I asked for travel tips said, “Oh, you must visit the aquarium.” That was the problem. Every tourist in London that day must have been told by someone they must visit the aquarium. It’s probably better in the summer when everyone’s not searching for an indoor activity. But still. You’ve been warned.
If you do happen to visit the acquarium, note that the London Eye — a giant ferris wheel –is right there too. I decided Flynn was a little too young and I was a little too cold to fully enjoy it, but if you’re interested you can get combo tickets.
4. You know what I would do instead of the acquarium? The zoo. They also have acquarium like things there. Hello, penguins.
Having grown up in St. Louis where the zoo is free, it was hard for me to stomach the hefty entrance fee, but in the end it was definitely worth it. This is a phenomenal zoo, and a lot of the things that usually cost more are included in your admission ticket, like for instance the butterfly house.
In addition to animals, there are good casual restaurants and food stands. There are merry go rounds.
There are ride on toys.
There’s a giant playground.
There’s absolutely enough to do to spend a whole day.
5. The zoo is located in Regents Park, which is a worthy place to visit in and of itself. After being strapped into his stroller or carrier, your little guy is going to love the freedom to just run. Especially when he’s running after ducks. There are playgrounds too.
6. There are even more playgrounds in Hyde Park, though. Every time you turn around you’re running into another one. Plus there are lots of ducks there as well. And boats. And horseback riding.
7. We also got a lot of recommendations for the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum — all located in the same area, near the famed Harrods Department Store. The V&A seems to have some arts and crafts activities that might be good for older kids, but there wasn’t much of interest for us. The Natural History Museum was a bit of a let down too. Flynn’s a little too young to understand that bones are part of the dinosaurs, so that exhibit hall was kind of a bust. Luckily he did get excited about some real stuffed animals.
The science museum was mediocre too. For a kid who’s obsessed with all forms of transportation I expected more of a reaction to a room full of airplanes, but it seems that airplanes parts and old fashioned planes aren’t really his thing. So it goes. There is a small learning and play area for toddlers, though.
None of these museums in and of itself is wonderful for toddlers in my opinion, but since they’re all so close and free, so it’s easy to hop between them, it’s still worth a trip.
8. Bring a stroller. Even if your toddler is a good walker, he’s going to get tired. And you’re going to get tired of keeping him from running into traffic. Even if you’re usually a baby carrier, he’s not exactly a baby anymore and is going to get heavy fast.
9. One great free activity: Hamley’s Toy Shop in Oxford Circus. It’s a London institution, apparently the world’s largest toy store, with seven floors worth of play things. There are lots of interactive displays, staff member demos, etc. And by some miracle we even managed to escape without having to buy anything.
10. Another pleasant place where he can get out and run around without fear of traffic is the waterfront promenade, the Queen’s Walk. When we were there in the dead of winter there all kinds of kid friendly street performers — clowns, guys with bubble machines, face painters, blue and tin men — so I can only imagine what it would be like in the summer…
11. If you, like me, are always looking for affordable but cute kids clothes that not everyone else back in the U.S. is going to have, check out Primark and Marks & Spencer.
12. Finally, a word on food. I found it easiest to grab delicious prepacked meals at Marks & Spencer (the food shop in the basement of the big department store, or a stand alone cafe) or Pret a Manger, both found everywhere, and then settle in on a park bench to eat. But maybe your toddler sits still in restaurants better than mine does. In that case, I hear the Wagamama chain is kid friendly, and that Giraffe is the place to go for pancakes.