Last weekend we spent a busy, fun-packed two days exploring London with East Midlands Trains.
Our capital city has so many attractions to offer families; fantastic sightseeing spots, world-class museums, beautiful parks, and a wealth of live entertainment, to name but a few. London is a brilliant option for a short break, and with the summer holidays on the way it’s the perfect destination to keep the kids busy.
With such a wide choice of things to do, it can be a little daunting planning a family trip to London. To make it easier, I’ve teamed up with East Midlands Trains to produce a brilliant trip planner, with a range of itineraries to choose from.
Whether you’re a first time tourist, keen to see London on a budget, or planning for a rainy day of exploring, there’s a trip planner for you. Each one features an itinerary of all the recommended attractions to visit, complete with costs, travel times, and nearest public transport. There’s also a map for each itinerary to help you find your way around; this includes local tube stops, restaurants, toilets and baby changing, so it’s really useful for families.
To help East Midlands Trains create the trip planners, we spent the weekend visiting some of London’s top attractions. I know, I know, it’s a tough job!
Our six key activities were:
- London Eye and South Bank
- A river cruise
- Tate Modern
- The Science Museum
- The Natural History Museum
- Regent’s Park
Here’s how we got on.
Nottingham to London by train in under 2 hours
We travelled with East Midlands Trains from Nottingham to London St Pancras International, stocking up on snacks from the station café before boarding our train.
Our journey was really quick (around 1 hour 45 minutes), comfortable, and arrived on time. The kids busied themselves with comics and snacks and the journey flew by.
At London St Pancras International we transferred onto the underground system to head to our first sightseeing spot.
The London Eye
Located on the beautiful South Bank, London SE1 7PB, the London Eye is a must-visit if you want to see the capital from above.
Tickets start at £21.20 for adults and £16.10 for children, with under-4’s going free. However, you can get discounts on certain attractions when you book train tickets through East Midlands Trains, meaning you could purchase tickets for a family of four on the London Eye for just £69.40.
The nearest tube stop is Waterloo, which is direct from Euston, southbound on the Northern Line. If you have a pushchair or require disabled access, you can take the Circle Line from King’s Cross St Pancras to Westminster; both stations have disabled access.
There is often a pretty long queue for the Eye, but with each capsule holding up to 28 people, it does move quite quickly. For £5-7 more you can buy a Fast Pass Ticket, which cuts your queueing time down to around 20 minutes.
If you’ve got a pushchair with you, be aware that you can’t take it onto the London Eye unless it can be fully folded down. There’s a buggy area in the ticket hall, so you can drop it off before you start queueing; you’ll need to take any valuables with you.
The experience takes about 30 minutes, during which time your capsule will complete a full rotation. There’s plenty of time to take lots of pictures.
The Eye is a bit like a giant ferris wheel, with enclosed capsules; you do go up very high, but the movement is very slow and smooth so it’s hard to feel nervous, especially with so much to see.
From your capsule you can identify lots of famous landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and The Shard. There’s an interactive map in each capsule to help you spot things, and a bench in the middle if you need a few minutes off your feet.
The kids were wide-eyed as they peered through the glass. London looks incredibly beautiful from above, and Jay couldn’t believe how much we could see from our little pod.
Our visit to the London Eye was very family-friendly; the staff were all more than happy to help people on and off the capsules, there’s a snack stand located in the queue, and there are toilets directly opposite the Eye. It costs 50p to use the toilets, but I think that’s reasonable since they’re clean, well-maintained, child-friendly, and very conveniently located.
Top family tip: bring binoculars for the kids (or purchase them at the kiosk for £6 each).
Walking and eating on the South Bank
After our bird’s eye view of the city, we headed along the South Bank towards our next destination, the Tate Modern.
Tate Modern is just one tube stop from the London Eye, but I actually think it’s better to not bother with the tube, particularly if you have a buggy with you, as it’s a really pretty mile-long walk along the Thames.
There’s so much going on too; we enjoyed street performers and food markets, as well as being able to spot lots of landmarks. Buy an ice cream and take it slow – it’s preferable to the tube on a hot day and J and Jay adored the walk, remarking that it felt like being at the fair.
There are a huge number of cafés, street food vans and restaurants to choose from on the South Bank, with everything from chains to little independents.
We ate at Wahaca, a family-friendly Mexican restaurant with a great children’s menu. Wahaca is accessible via stairs, so you may need assistance from a kind passer-by if you’re struggling with a buggy. It’s not very many steps though, and it gives you a great view of the Thames.
Children can order “Build your own tacos” which arrive with plenty of salad, chicken or fish, some tortilla chips and a couple of soft tortillas for them to construct as they wish; lots of fun (and quite a bit of mess!).
Mark and I had burritos which turned out to be HUGE so we were more than satisfactorily refuelled for the walk ahead.
Lots to see and do at Tate Modern
If you do take the tube to Tate Modern, it’s just one stop from the London Eye; travel on the Jubilee Line from Waterloo to Southwark, both of which are accessible stations.
Located by the Thames on Bankside, London SE1 9TG, Tate Modern is a huge, spacious modern art gallery. It’s free to enter, and there’s a programme of workshops and free activities for children.
From a family point of view, Tate Modern is very accessible. There are plenty of clean, free toilets, a restaurant on the top floor, and lots of escalators. There are also lifts, but these may be out of order, as they were when we visited.
Both children were completely engaged during this visit, staring contently at the exhibits, asking questions about different shapes and colours, and happily soaking up the creativity the runs freely around the museum.
Outside, we also discovered a lovely secret garden which the kids loved. It’s perfect for burning off some energy before entering the gallery.
Top family tip: check the website for dates and times of the children’s activities.
A relaxed City Cruises ride along the Thames
If the kids – or adults for that matter – are flagging, a Thames river cruise is a great way to see the sights.
City Cruises river tours are located on the South Bank, and can be boarded at either Tower Pier (next to Tower Bridge) going west, or London Eye Pier / Westminster Pier going east. Westminster Pier is accessed from buggy-friendly Westminster Tube station on the Circle Line.
Boats depart every 30 minutes, and tickets for a family of four booked through east Midlands Trains is just £54. It’s best to buy tickets in advance, then queue to board at the pier; don’t try to board at other piers, as your journey may not stop there and you’ll queue only to be sent away!
The smaller boats aren’t practical for a buggy, but some boats are fully accessible to wheelchair users. There are limited spaces available so it’s best to contact the operators in advance and work out the best slot for you. If you can fold your buggy it’s worth doing so, as there may be limitations if it would otherwise restrict the gangway.
A one-way cruise takes about 25-40 minutes, and a return cruise takes 50-80 minutes. The cruise takes you along the Thames, with comical and relaxed commentary explaining local landmarks (there are some slightly blue jokes, but nothing that is above PG).
The boat moves slowly so there’s plenty of opportunities to take photos. Some of the larger boats have drink and snack facilities. There’s a roofed section in case of rain, but space is limited, so if the heavens open you’ll have to be quick!
Having already walked along part of South Bank earlier in the day, the children really enjoyed spotting the major landmarks, pointing enthusiastically the whole way.
Top family tip: stock up on snacks if you’re boarding a smaller boat.
After a hard day’s sightseeing, we headed to our hotel, the Hilton Metropole Edgeware Road. It’s in a great location, but centrally located hotels needn’t cost a fortune. Check sites like lastminute.com and hotels.com for discounts and last minute deals.
Our family room was spacious and comfortable, perfect for a good rest before our second day. My kids LOVE staying in hotels – it’s like an adventure in itself – so they settled in happily for the night without any fuss.
Natural History Museum
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we headed back out into the city for day two of family sightseeing trip. First stop was the Natural History Museum, located at Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD.
The Natural History Museum is packed to the rafters with things to see, do and explore. The nearest tube station is South Kensington, which can be reached direct from London St Pancras International on the Circle Line. South Kensington doesn’t have disabled access, but you could stay on the tube to Earl’s Court and walk the last mile to the museum.
The museum is free to enter and super-popular, so you need to be prepared for long queues, particularly during school holidays. It opens at 10am and tends to be extremely busy then, but if you wait an hour it settles down quite a bit.
Once inside, the sheer scale of what’s on offer takes your breath away. There’s an incredible exhibit that feels like you’re entering the Earth’s core, animatronic dinosaurs, and interactive human biological exhibits, and that’s just for starters.
Also JD is really familiar with the Natural History Museum from multiple visits when I worked near by, Jay is much less so, and she was almost overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place, often looking to her brother for reassurance.
Being the amazing big brother that he is, in response to her uncertainty, JD took Jay’s hand and guided her round the museum, explaining the exhibits softly as they walked. What cuties!
Thinking practically, there are toilets with baby changing facilities located throughout the museum. Escalators cover some floors, and the lifts can be limited to certain floors during renovation work.
Food-wise, there’s a food hall inside the museum and snack and drinks carts in the grassy area outside. This was a great spot for allowing the kids to stretch their legs and obviously we all simply had to have ice creams.
Top family tip: Drop as much off as you can in the cloakroom (for a small fee) as you may be using the stairs a lot.
If you’ve been to the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum is a two-minute walk around the corner, on Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD. As with the Natural History Museum, the nearest tube station is South Kensington on the Circle Line.
Another free-to-enter attraction, the Science Museum offers lots to do on several floors, including exhibits on themes such as space, transport, early inventors and computer science. It’s very hands-on and educational, with lots for kids to touch and feel. My two loved it, tapping on every screen they could find!
There are toilets with baby changing facilities located throughout the museum; some are only accessible by stairs or lift. For a small fee you can use the cloakroom.
The museum has three restaurants, all of which are family-friendly. We ate lunch at Deep Blue, a futuristic-looking venue serving good quality, healthy meals prepared on the premises, and a range of child-friendly options. The kids ate well, which is always a good litmus test since little’uns are often the fussiest eaters.
Top family tip: the lifts may be out of order at one end, but working elsewhere in the building, so ask staff if you get stuck.
If you need to break up the sightseeing for the kids, Regent’s Park is a great place to get them into the open air.
Located at Chester Road, London NW1 4NR, the nearest underground station is Regent’s Park on the Bakerloo line. From London St Pancras International or Euston, you can travel south on the Picadilly or Northern lines and switch to Bakerloo; alternatively you can take the Circle, District or Metropolitan line direct to Baker Street and walk from there. You’ll find some great waffles outside Baker Street station, so that’s worth the trip!
If you’d prefer to avoid the underground with a buggy, the 205 bus connects Kings Cross and Euston to Regent’s Park. You’ll be able to leave your buggy up, as long as there isn’t already another one on board.
Regents Park is free to enter and there’s plenty to see and do. There are buggy-friendly paths and a play area with climbing frames, swings and slides at the Hanover Terrace end of the park.
It’s well-located for access to other tourist attractions too, with Madame Tussauds, ZSL London Zoo and the Sherlock Holmes Museum (at 221b Baker Street, of course!) close by.
It really is a beautiful park, with large stretches of grass, plenty of trees (some suitable for little climbers), wildlife, cafes, clean public toilets and a bandstand. After spending most of the weekend in the bustle of the city, they were delighted to escape into nature and hopped from tree, to path, to tree with glee.
If you want to use the toilets there’s a 20p charge, unless you need the baby changing facilities in which case it’s free, but you’ll need to ask the attendant for a radar key. If you stop off for a drink or snack at the park cafés, you can use the café’s toilet facilities free of charge.
We watched live music on the bandstand, and hired pedalos on the lake, which costs £4 each for 20 minutes. It really felt like an exceptionally gorgeous day, even when the sun started to hide behind the clouds.
We stopped for a snack at the Boathouse Café, which is a family restaurant selling ice creams, meals and drinks. There’s a large terrace seating area, which is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch in the sun overlooking the park.
Again, ice cream was essential…
After chilling out in the park for as long as we possible could, enjoying every last drop of our adventure, it was time to head back to London St Pancras International for our train home.
Stocking up on snacks at one of our favourite station cafés, The Curious Pig, we climbed about our train and whizzed home again in time for baths and bed.
As I’m sure you can tell, we packed so much into our London weekend, it all went by in a blur and the kids loved every minute. I lost count of how many times they announced it was the “best weekend ever!”
If you’re thinking about making a family trip to London this Summer, I’d say go for it – and do check out the East Midlands Trains trip planners to help you plan your visit.
Will you be checking out all that London has to offer soon? Let me know what sights you’re planning!
This is a commissioned post for East Midlands Trains