We love York more than anywhere, but London also has a huge place in our hearts. We lived there for a decade during our twenties, and two of our children were born there. They were so little when we moved back up north that they don’t remember it at all (and after we spent all that money on annual passes to London Zoo, too!). So we were really excited about taking a trip down south with them to introduce them to the city we used to call home.
Most of our trips start with a long car journey, which inspires nothing but dread. Endless cries of ‘are we there yet?’ and repeated requests for toilet breaks make getting from A to B a necessary evil. Our train journey to London with Virgin Trains East Coast, on the other hand, was positively enjoyable. We were lucky enough to sit in First Class, where we all had plenty of space to spread out, room to store the buggy and really comfy seats. The kids (seven, five and two) divided their time between spotting things through the window, enjoying the novelty of eating toast on the train and playing games. As the seven year-old put it, ‘This is way better than being stuck in the car!’. For the first time in months, I even managed to read the newspaper! And with some trains doing the journey in under two hours, you’re there before you know it. We arrived in London refreshed rather than frazzled. Result.
There’s so much to do in London with kids that we needed a plan. As it was their first proper visit, we decided to tick off some of the sights they’d recognise from books and TV and give them a general idea of the city, saving the likes of the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum for another time.
First stop was the National Portrait Gallery (free admission) where the kids loved seeing pictures of famous people they know, like the authors Julia Donaldson and Michael Rosen, singer Ed Sheeran and actors from Harry Potter. From there, we walked up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where, although the Queen was nowhere to be seen, they loved seeing the guards. After that we had a quick play in St James’s Park (London’s parks are fantastic), and then we headed to Downing Street and Big Ben, one of their major highlights.
We hopped over Westminster Bridge and then spent the rest of the evening wandering slowly down the South Bank where there’s so much to see and do. We watched the London Eye go round, saw amazing street performers, watched a brilliant drumming performance, ate pizza, saw some incredible skateboarders, played in the fountains at the Royal Festival Hall, saw Shakespeare’s Globe all lit up and had a wander around Tate Modern.
The next morning we shunned the hotel breakfast for pastries from Borough Market, where the children loved seeing and smelling all the amazing foods on offer. Refueled, we walked along the Thames to Tower Bridge, the coolest bridge in town. On the other side of the bridge, we showed them the Tower of London before walking into the City for St Paul’s Cathedral, the Gherkin and the office where I used to work (they weren’t so interested in that, funnily enough).
Our last stop, after another epic 6 mile walk, was Tate Modern where they spent ages making digital drawings at the Bloomberg Drawing Bar. Another brilliant activity, and again, totally free. In fact, eating aside, everything we did during the weekend was free. We lived in London long enough to know that you don’t have to spend much to have a brilliant time, and lots of the things that children will love cost absolutely nothing.
Completely worn out, we took a cab back to Kings Cross. The Virgin Trains First Class Lounge was our saviour – a welcoming, comfortable place to recharge our batteries (physical and digital) before catching the train home with tired feet and heads full of lovely memories. Watch out London – we’re already planning our return.
Top tips for a family trip to London
- Book your train travel in advance to get the best price. The Virgin Trains East Coast 50% off family travel offer ends soon, so book now to visit London over the summer. Find out more about the discount here.
- Travel light so you’re not worrying about luggage. We fitted everything into two backpacks so we didn’t need a suitcase.
- Virgin Train tickets give you 2 for 1 entry into some London attractions, so check the list of deals before you pay full price.
- Here are some great things to do in London for free: Hyde Park, Regents Park, Hampstead Heath, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the National Gallery, Covent Garden, the National Portrait Gallery
Thank you to Virgin Trains East Coast for providing our travel. As always, our reviews are entirely genuine and we will only recommend something that we have loved.