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London or London Plus with Kids

Hello All,

It's 2023 and the town summer camp signups are in two weeks, which means it's time to start planning our summer trip to London in earnest. I'll give the facts, then ask for suggestions.

- We are limited to summer travel - likely mid-June through late August.
- The trip would be ten days INCLUDING departure dates. Meaning we would leave on a Friday from Boston and come home the following Sunday. So eight nights on the ground.
- "We" are myself, my husband, and our two sons (one turns 10 next month; the other will be 8 in July).
- I have spent a lot of time in Europe, but it was almost 15 years ago during grad school. Husband has traveled but not as much. We've both been to London. Boys have never been out of the country but we make frequent trips to Florida.
- Boys' interests include science, playgrounds/outdoors activities, Harry Potter (they, but especially the youngest, have recently started the books and binged the movies).
- My interests are history and more history, but I will sacrifice those if it means we get along and no one whines.

- We probably need to just spend the whole time in London, right? The logical part of my brain says find a place to stay, and stay. Don't get cute. It's a first trip, you'll be back. But there's a nagging voice that says, Hop on a train upon arrival and head to York for two nights! Spend three days in northern Wales and the rest in London! So I ask - Which voice would you listen to?

  • Let's say we stay in London, but allowed for a day trip. Let's even go a little crazy and say two (two!) day trips. Where would you go? My ideas and concerns (and tell me if I'm wrong):
    - York (I really want to go, but is two plus hours on a train each way worth it, or will it just mean tired kids?)
    - Bath (I've been, it was pretty, boys might like the Roman ruins but will the appreciate the town?)
    - Oxford or Cambridge (Can we get our Harry Potter fix at one of these? Will boys appreciate the change of scenery, or be bored by the universities?)
    - Cotswolds (Is this worth it as a day trip, though? Don't you at least need to spend the night and rent a car?)
    - Warwick Castle (Looks like a blast, but again, is it worth the two plus hours of travel each way?)
    - Portsmouth (Kid #1 saw this on a Rick Steves video and thought it looked cool. I think the ships would keep them interested. Thoughts from those who have been?)

  • Harry Potter Studio Tour - Yea or Nay? Is it worth the time and money? I'm more a fan of the books, but the boys have now watched all the movies and Kid #2 is especially into it. It wasn't even a consideration until the last two months or so, but now I'm wondering if we should go.

  • You can visit one castle - GO! Windsor? Hampton Court? Warwick? Leeds? Dover?

  • Any suggestions for getting the boys involved? Right now they seem excited about the idea of going to London, but uninterested in the specifics. And they think Rick Steves is boring - blasphemy! I know the common advice is to get the kids involved in planning - but are mine just too young for that? Too inexperienced?

Okay, this is long enough and I'm sure I'll have more queries the more we plan. Thanks, all!

Posted by
181 posts

London. London. London.

My brother and his wife spent 2 months in London a few summers ago with their 11 and 9 year olds. Never ran out of great things to do. And you don't know what the kids will be into until you get there. The 9 year old became a walking encyclopedia of the tube (we played "how do you get from ____ to ____" and almost never could stump him). And the both of them sat through (or should I say stood through as we had only groundling tickets) and entire Shakespeare play at the globe.

A few good tips:

-many museums are free so you haven't wasted price of admission if you just stop in for an hour or so (and you can go back again) and many have kids "treasure hunt" or similar activity packages if you ask (check their websites)

-the online magazine TimeOut www.timeout/ has a kids page with lots of great ideas of current goings on

Enjoy the planning!

Posted by
9214 posts

I think you will regret it if you don’t do the Harry Potter Studio Tour. For a castle, go to Windsor. It is an easy trip by train and should fulfill the kids’ need to see a real castle!

Posted by
198 posts

There is of course an enormous castle right in the middle of London. Hampton Court is great , but it’s not a castle.

Posted by
1292 posts

I would just stay in London and take day trips on the train. I would pick Hampton Court. The kids would like it because it has tours lead by costumed guides; and you actually get to see how people lived at the time. Warwick is like a Tussauds Wax Works...but they do have live events such as Tournaments. Windsor has limited Tours based on what's going on with the Royals. There are day tours with transportation that will take you to Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral and the Cliffs of Dover starting at $111.00 Each. We really did enjoy our visit to Portsmouth and the ancient sailing ships. For Harry Potter fans I would recommend visiting the Village of Lacock, a real place, where some of the movie was staged; it is near Bath. So, it might be worth it to do an overnight. Look at for good ideas on sites to visit, hikes and special events. They do have a family membership admissions pass. There are lots to see in Metropolitan London. Actually, the Tower of London is a Castle. There is a walking path that can start there and then you can walk over Tower Bridge to see some of the many Street Markets.

Posted by
521 posts

I think you know the answer to your first question - stay in London. Give the kids what they want -Harry Potter! There are all sorts of options for tour including the studio tour.

Forget most of your out of town options they are all too far for a day trip.

In London - Tower of London, history galore, Crown Jewels, beefeater tours, legends. Cruise the Thames to or from the Tower for a London history tour.

Museums Natural History - dinosaurs and other neat stuff. I have loved the British Museum since I was a kid and keen on Egyptology…. 2 hours is usually enough for kids, so plan on something to allow them to run off some steam, a visit to one of London’s great parks for example.

Windsor Castle, a nice easy trip by train. See the guards marching through the streets as they head up to the castle to change the guard, or grab a spot inside the castle to watch the ceremony; much closer than at Buckingham Palace.

Hampton Court is another favourite. Meet Henry VIII and his court up close and personal. Quick Train or slower boat from London.

Something a bit different - mudlarking! The Thames is tidal in London and when the tide is out the mudflats can yield all sorts of treasures, Google mudlarking and there are some interesting articles about people doing it when visiting London. For safety go with a permitted guide.

London Eye. Some people Pooh Pooh it, I loved it but went on a very clear day for stunning views.

Theatre: look for shows that are suitable for kids; the Globe has some programmes aimed at families and kids that sound really fun.

Good luck with your planning.

Posted by
3614 posts

I'm not a HP fan but really enjoyed our visit to the Studio. I think it's a must for your family.
I think your boys would love York-they could walk on top of the city walls, which are not terribly high, even by my height-adverse standards. In London, they would love the British Museum(mummies) and the Natural History Museum. We also loved the Zoo. I think the Tower of London could be your only castle. I say no to Bath and Cotswolds(if you really must go to Cotswolds, take a Mad Max day tour from Bath that includes Lacock and Avebury or Stonehenge) and Oxford/Cambridge-there are so many other places that I think would be much more interesting to your boys. We spent a good bit of time in London with our 4 yr old daughter two decades ago. She returned twice while in college and adores London. She is dying to go back, but we told her that the parent travel gravy train is mostly over.

Posted by
699 posts

National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark in London might be a good substitute for Portsmouth.

Posted by
1422 posts

Recommend staying in one place, an apartment, in London. The apartment provides a kitchen to start the day with breakfast and ability to serve snacks/even a dinner. Eating out is great, but having option to eat in makes for a nice break. Plus the kitchen allows a place to stash food purchased in markets. Also the extra space provides a place to spread out a bit. Be sure and quiz about the effectiveness of the AC.
Yes on HP tour, will definitely be a hit with kids.
Speaking of kids, toss them the assignment of doing on line research to mentally/emotionally invest in participating in the journey (they are not too young). Ask them to research London sites of specific interest to them and also share with them something you would like to do and request their help. Our daughters liked locating food markets to experience. Locating HP filming locations might be an enticement for the boys. TIP: Inside St Pauls Cathedral is the staircase utilized for many HP movies which creates a way to get the kids interested in visiting a "big old boring church". There are a variety of big old boring buildings to visit so being aware of how to spike their interest can be an assist to family contentment. BTW: Westminister offers a nice place to enjoy a bite to eat and rest the feet.
Pre purchase timed entry tickets to skip the lines and make the most of your most precious commodity, time.
Rain? Probably. Head to the British Museum, something for everyone within.
Seek to learn where outdoor concerts, festivals and similar events are being held. Consider the interaction opportunities for the family to participate in one of these events.
You will have long days of, hopefully, daylight so consider creating a picnic and heading to a park for a place to rest and enjoy a light meal. We traveled with our daughters internationally at all ages and found the intentional insertion of slowing down, resting and eating refreshed our bodies and minds.
STAY HYDRATED to help ease in dealing with body travel stress. Start prior to getting on the plane. Standing in lines, riding the tube, lots of walking, stairs and all the like will take a toll on young and old. Staying hydrated helps deal with these issues and also with overnight recovery.
Locate department stores to have a refuge to conduct some interior window shopping while escaping heat/rain and finding a restroom.
Modes of transport: the Tube can be fascinating while offering a variety of experiences depending upon the line and station, grab a bus to provide a different perspective, definitely take a water taxi on the Thames and chat up how folks have always depended upon the river ever since London was started, take a stroll across the Millennium pedestrian bridge (seen in HP movie) and be sure to walk through portions of Hyde Park (or other parks). Kids love kids and you will encounter all sorts of activities with kids playing in the parks.
FYI, not to be an alarmist, but discuss a plan in case you get separated from a child while on public transport........ experience speaking! A daughter stepped out of a Barcelona subway car and the door closed and off we went............ We had not discussed a plan, but she (age 13 at the time) decided to stay put and see "how much we loved her" (her words) by returning to find her. All worked out and made for a good travel story.

Posted by
1074 posts

Hi Allison -

You could do York in a long day, but personally I think the bare minimum you can get away with is to travel up early, spend one night in York and travel back late. York is full of things to do and is also very walkable. One thing the kids might like and would keep you interested is on arrival to buy a copy of the book ‘Snickleways of York’ and let them navigate you through the tiny old alleys and passages that shortcut through York. You’ll find out where ‘Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate’ is if nothing else! Also directly outside the railway station are the mediaeval walls which you can climb onto and circuit the city - well almost - the walls never completed the full circuit as the city was partly protected by a swamp - cue ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ script!

York Minster is jaw dropping, the Railway Museum fabulous and a chance to get up close and personal with giant locos, including, assuming she’s there, Mallard, the fastest steam train in the world. That’s before you get Jorvik, the Victorian streets recreated in the museum, the recently renovated Clifford’s Tower - now has a roof with a view accessed by steel mesh walkways, the church where Ann Lister (Gentleman Jack) got ‘married’, all sorts of stuff you’d never get through in a day. Just a thought anyway!

Hope you have a great trip!


Posted by
4939 posts

I'm with Ian on York, it requires a minimum of a night's stay, there's too much to see to make a day trip viable.

Portsmouth is a good day trip. Take the train from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour and you'll be steps from the Historic Dockyard in just over an hour and a half. They'll love exploring HMS Victory and HMS Warrior and they'll burn off plenty of energy at Action Stations. A harbour boat trip to view the modern naval ships is also fun.

Any of the castles you've mentioned will be a great option. Of them all, Warwick is the one that is more akin to a theme park but it is done well and it's great for kids. As an adult I prefer the others so it depends on whether you want to fully indulge the kids or whether you'd prefer to cater for the whole family.

Posted by
1022 posts

With the time you have available, another vote to stop in London - there's so much to see and do that fits in with the kid's interests.

Get a copy of DK Eyewitness London which is definitely NOT boring! Have a look at the images on Amazon to see what the book is like. There are loads of pictures and diagrams showing details of places. Let the boys loose on this and they will come up with lots of cool ideas.

Harry Potter Tour is a must (book early as it books up quickly) and definitely worth the money. Allow a full day for this as even the adults enjoy it!

Cecil Court near Convent Garden is one of the inspoirations for Diagon Alley and Leadenhall Market was used as Diagon Alley in the films.

Historic Dockyards at Portsmouth is definitely worth considering - especially if the boys have seen the video and thought it 'cool.' There is also Cutty Sark at Greenwich too.

The Science Museum is also worth considering as well as the Natural History Museum

Forget the Cotswolds ('just boring scenery' I can hear from the boys). I'd also skip Bath too. Not sure Warwick Castle is worth the time to get there and back. Leeds Castle looks fantastic from the outside but the boys will be bored with the inside. Dover is a possible if you want another trip out of London, but I think I would stick with either Windsor Castle or Hampton Court. (they can always get lost in the maze there...)

Have they seen the Harry Potter Films? If so Oxford might be worth a visit - the Bodelian Library and Divinity School were usedin the films for the library and hospital. (You will need to book a guided tour to see the library..) Christ Church College was also used for different scenes in Hogwarts. Check opening times as they vary. Then take then for a punt on the river... OR take them to Pitt Rivers Museum. It is a wonderful and very ecletic archaeolgical and anthropological collection of a C19th explorer. I don't think there's anything else like it . Do a google image search to find out what I mean.

Posted by
272 posts

U.K. school holidays run from the last week of July until September 2nd. If you come during this time there will be children's activities running at almost all the museums and galleries. Just check the websites under the family section. They’re often free. Things like craft activities or shows.

Posted by
422 posts

With the time you have IMO you really need to stay in London. Save the rest for another trip. (York is great for kids but needs 2/3 days at least to do it justice). And some of the other stuff is just boring for kids, eg Cotswolds.

As there is interest in Harry Potter, you really must do the HP tour. And, it books up quickly, so get your tickets as soon as you can. I have not been, but everyone I know who has can't say enough good things about it, including those lukewarm on all things HP.

Doing the HP means you will have a day out of London, so realistically I wouldn't want to do more than one other day outside London. I think the best suggestion - with kids - is Hampton Court Palace, which is a short train ride away (you could include travelling all, or part, of one way using the boat along the Thames).

As mentioned above Greenwich might be a good alternative for Portsmouth for this trip.

Do think about going to the theatre, there's plenty to choose from and would be a great experience.

Posted by
59 posts

Kids = Brighton? It may be a tacky tourist trap, but kids love tacky. Easy day trip.

Posted by
174 posts

Thank you, Thank YOU! These are great responses and I really appreciate them. Looks like we'll definitely be doing the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Several London activities mentioned were already on my mind, but it's nice to see others suggest them, too; makes me feel like I'm on the right track. I think we will sleep in London the whole time, with maybe another day trip (likely to Windsor or Hampton Court - some place close by - but we'll see).

Thanks again! I'm sure I'll be asking more questions in the months ahead.

Posted by
19 posts

I'd say stay in London. I'm currently planning a trip for end of May and we have 7 full days in London and I can't fit in everything we'd like to do. My kids will be 11 and almost 8. We ended up deciding on Harry Potter and Hampton Court as our daytrips. I've heard amazing things about the Harry Potter tour so it was a must for us. Other things we're doing are Transport Museum, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Science Museum and afternoon science tea right by it, British Museum, Hyde Park, and Westminister Abbey. I've found several playgrounds to stop at but the best look like Diana's Memorial playground in Hyde Park and Jubilee Park near the London Eye. Coram's Field also looks cool but further out of the way if you aren't staying up there.

I really wanted to do Bath, but I just don't think my youngest would find any of it interesting. I show my kids videos from youtube of where we are going once we decide on what we are doing, they don't have the patience to help pick out what to do, but love watching videos before.

Posted by
131 posts

Don’t forget the Science Museum, next to the Natural History Museum, if your kids are sciency

Posted by
2729 posts

I would go to Windsor, take the train from Paddington Station it’s a 35 minute ride, you will change trains in Slough, but it’s so easy.
When you arrive in Windsor when you exit the train turn to your left and walk up to High Street and right there across the street is the castle. If you stand on High Street facing the castle you could turn to your left and walk down the street to the second street on the left, turn walk over the bridge and you will be in Eton
When standing on High Street facing the castle if you turn to you right and walk down the road you will reach the Great Windsor Park, as you enter to your left you will see black gates, from there you can see the royal residence part of the castle really good. There is a long road in the park it’s called The Long Walk, it’s the private road for the Royal family to use to enter and exit the castle.
Have a great trip.

Posted by
23 posts

Consider taking a boat ride up the Thames to Greenwich. If your boys have seen Thor: The Dark World, the end battle was filmed at the Old Royal Naval College there. The Cutty Sark ship, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory are also close by and interesting for exploring. They can stand with one foot in each hemisphere on the Prime Meridian, which divides the world into the east and the west. Definitely worth a day's visit!

Posted by
272 posts

If you do go to the Science Museum you can book in advance for the children’s ‘hands on’ gallery called Wonderlab. You have to pay and I think it’s about £9 a person. Kids love it.