For the past two springs, I have taken George to the UK to visit various family and friends we have over there. On our first visit, I did this ALONE. Which may have been the most bonkers thing I have ever done (but I learned a ton about travelling with babies which you can read HERE). I was beyond exhausted when we got home and, dare I say it, needed a teeny break from George.
My alone time felt incredible after five, yes FIVE, weeks away.
This past year I had my mum with me for most of the journey, save a day, and then the Engineer. It proved that four hands are always better than two for travelling.
That being said, I have these incredible memories of just me and my little man exploring one of my most favorite places in the world: London.
As we were with family or friends for most of our travels, London was the only place baby George and me were alone.
There were good times and there were bad times.
Firstly, the bad.
If you are travelling to London with your little one be aware that the public transport is not the most stroller friendly. Several tube stations are stair access only. If you have a partner, you can manage (albeit awkwardly) lifting a stroller up and down the stairs. Or if you are alone, like me, you can test your superhuman strengths by carrying the stroller, baby and all, up and down the stairs.
I must say this for Londoners: more than once people raced to help me so it wasn’t a total gong show. Although I was stuck at the top of a very long staircase in the pouring rain with no one offering to help me lug George down – and that was a gong show.
Even getting on the famous double decker buses is a pain. There is a space reserved for buggies (strollers for us North Americans. But when in Rome . . .. ) at the front of the bus. BUT it is a limited space. I believe the driver only allows one or two buggies on the bus, therefore you might have to wait for a few to pass by OR have the ultimate struggle (aka fight) at the bus stop with other parents trying to get their strollers onboard.
I had it in my mind that George would get a kick out of being on the top decker watching London go by (this is when he was two). So my mum and I folded down the stroller, threw the various bags on our shoulders, and clamoured up the tiny staircase upstairs.
George did love watching out the window. For about five minutes. Then he wanted to walk up and down the aisle or play on the seats. Hrrrm.
Getting off of the bus was ridiculous. My mum went ahead of me with our bags and told the driver to hold on a moment while I came down (he was not happy about this request) with the stroller hoisted over my shoulder and holding George’s hand as I prodded him down the stairs. Two things to note here: I was also seven months pregnant and this was a moment George did not want to walk.
Can you hear the gong? It may be a battle you don’t want to fight or wait until your kids are older. I <think> I could have left the stroller downstairs but you risk people taking it/moving it, etc.
Needless to say we ubered quite a bit (sans car seat – which is another risk most mothers would rather not take but I did it).
Shout out to my Uppababy G-Luxe here: light enough for me to lug the baby and my stuff up and down stairs AND a total rockstar on cobbles!
Things are Old:
Obviously this is a reason most of want to visit London in the first place – for the history. Here’s a fun fact about history: elevators weren’t invented when they built the Tower of London.
What does that mean?
That most of the incredible buildings of London are not stroller friendly.
I did not take this into consideration when booking our accommodations. Our first Airbnb was a three-flight walk up (but as it was a massive apartment located near a park – it didn’t matter) and our second hotel in the city centre was a five-story walk up. I think there were eight or nine flights of stairs!! GAH! Granted, the hotel staff carried everything up for us. But they didn’t carry me (and my seven-month pregnant ass) or my toddler up the stairs.
So when booking your stay in London, please keep this in mind
Thirdly, London is an insanely busy, bustling city.
London is one of the most visited cities in the world, which makes for travelling with a baby or toddler quite stressful.
I am a fairly seasoned traveller and have lived in London. I am more than familiar with the tube system, the city centre tourist attractions and all that hustle and bustle that comes with London.
And it still kicked my ass.
I found trying to do all the tourist things incredibly difficult with a stroller and child in tow. I was constantly fighting crowds. I was not able to get to places I wanted to get to as fast or how I normally would (either due to inability with the stroller or meeting the needs of George).
The hardest part of travelling with children (for me) is that you have to let what you want to do go.
This is really hard for me, but I got more upset trying to get it all in and see everything. Once I let all the should do’s go, I was able to enjoy London a bit more.
And finally, the London you know as a young, free single person is not the same London as a parent.
I saw no West End shows (WAH!!!! I missed ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’), I didn’t have late-night dinners at fabulous restaurants, and I didn’t spend hours drinking Pimm’s on a pub rooftop at sunset.
There was a moment when I was walking out of Borough market right around lunch time when I glanced inside this lovely, intimate restaurant full of well-dressed people sipping white wine over gorgeous plates of food and thought “I wish I could do that”. Instead, I was pushing a stroller down a cobbled alley filled with families eating sandwiches out of Marks and Spencer bags.
But that is parenthood, at home or abroad. You will, someday, drink white wine in a trendy lunch bar again but for now you are eating sandwiches out of shopping bags.
The bad is out of the way, now for the good.
Here’s the greatest thing I learned travelling in London with George: some doors may be closed but there so many more doors opened that you didn’t even know about. Travelling with kids slows you down, and in London, that is a good thing.
With the Engineer, I was rushing us towards the Big Ben/Westminster Abbey area and we happened upon a playground on the south side of the Palace of Westminster (Riverside Walk Playground). George badly needed to run and play so we stopped. It had a little café stand so I could grab a coffee and we just relaxed, letting our little man run circles with one of the world’s most iconic buildings as a backdrop. That became one of our favorite memories.
There are so many things to do with kids of all ages in London. You can read about my baby things HERE and my toddler things HERE.
Picnics & Parks: London is a great place to picnic, which is the funnest (yes, it’s a word) or less-stressful way to eat with kids. As long as it isn’t raining.
London is packed with green spaces. You honestly just have to go around the corner and I am sure you will find a green space. Be it a small garden square or one of their massive, rambling parks. There are plenty of places to lay down a blanket (and in the UK you can find adorable picnic rugs everywhere – like here and here) and have a break.
London, and the UK in general, is also full of great picnic food. Go into any of the major grocery stores and you will find an array of salads, sandwiches, wraps, etc. that surpass what we have here in deliciousness and unique flavors (goodbye ham and cheese hello hoisin duck wrap).
Not to mention some of the greatest food halls in the world (Harrods food hall is one of the most incredible places in the world for food. And for harem spotting).
Or one of the many fabulous markets that you can find here..
Or a plethora of cafes with food to take away.
Or the corner fish & chips shop, which are more that plentiful in London. But this one is a favourite: Poppies.
I had so much fun just taking a rest in the grass with George and eating fresh strawberries (I swear the UK has the best strawberries) and munching on yummy cheese.
Oh, and my favorite thing they have in the UK: picnic alcohol! You can buy plastic wine glasses full of Riesling or cans of pre-made Pimm’s! It’s fabulous. Damn you Canada and your stringent liquor laws.
Discovering the Quiet Nooks of London
We all tend towards the centre where all the action is. If you follow my guidelines for where to stay, you will most likely be staying in a more quiet area just outside of the tourist zone (Zone 1 on the tube map).
This was a huge positive for me. I am sure it is true of any city (like my Brooklyn vs. Manhattan debate HERE), get outside of the tourist zone and you experience the real deal. If it is your first time in London, this may not be a positive for you. But if you have been to London before and don’t have an urgent need to see every attraction, staying outside of zone 1 will be a real bonus.
You can read about my love for Clapham Common HERE or for Greenwich HERE.
Museums, Museums, Museums! And they are FREEEEEEEEEEEE
My mum didn’t believe me. It was hilarious watching her try to buy a ticket at the Imperial War Museum.
All London museums are, in fact, free. This is a massive bonus when you are traveling with kids. You don’t feel obligated to get your money’s worth, you can pop in for a respite from the rain, you can pop in just to look at one thing that will capture your child’s imagination or you can stay all day. Again, you can read about some of the great museums for kids in my entry HERE.
So, in conclusion, would I go to London again with my children?
Alone with my kids?
Hmmm, maybe not. Well, not until they can walk down the stairs to the underground themselves.
London is a hard city for anyone to navigate. I can’t tell if it is me with kids or me and pregnant or me getting older – but London in general is more exhausting and difficult than I remember. It’s also a fantastic, energetic, chock-full-of-history wonder of a city that will give you memories of a lifetime.