What to do in London with a Baby
Sarah’s Guide to Handling Big Ben and the Tube with a Tot in Tow
Or, more honestly, where to take breaks.
You’re going to London with a baby! or You’re going to London with a baby?
Whether it’s a question of terror or excitement, London is possible with a baby. And yes, it can be fun.
When reading this ‘guide’ for your travels keep in mind three things:
This is not ‘London for Beginners’ – I am writing as if you have seen the major sites before
I like food. So, it’s mostly things to eat.
This is for parents with a baby that is easy-going or sleeps well on the go. If your baby is fussy or hates sitting in their stroller – you may curse me under your breath attempting the tours I am going to suggest.
Got it? Super! Let’s get started.
WHERE TO STAY
You know I am going to tell you a vacation rental or Airbnb because they have my prerequisites: laundry, small kitchen, and ideally some separation from you and your child.
You can read about why this is so important here (if you don’t know yet).
I’m also going to tell you to choose an area outside of the centre of the city.
This is for three reasons: usually cheaper, usually quieter and usually more London-y (You know: quaint London pubs filled with actual Londoners. Adorable green grocers shopped at by actual Londoners. Cute London women dressed all shabby chic and looking just-out-of-bed-put-together whereas you just look flustered and red in the face. Or is that just me?)
I would aim for Zone 2 or 3 on the tube map.
My preferred area is Clapham, Maida Vale or Primrose Hill (although the latter is very very expensive). I also really enjoy Greenwich but that is quite far from all the main action (And I will write more on that later).
The centre of London is bonkers, mad, crazy, bananas – it’s busy, vibrant, and loud. All things I loved ten years ago but now it just gives me a headache. And I curse everyone who dares walk slowly or trips me up on my mission to get places.
What to do
For you, if your baby will let you . . . .
1. EATING LONDON FOOD TOURS
If you know me, you know I love my food tours. I basically can’t go anywhere new without going on a food tour now. I booked George and myself on the Twilight Soho Food and Cocktail tour.
Not only was George an absolute rock star on this tour (seriously – he either slept or chatted happily to his hands the whole time) but I found the tour absolutely excellent. I spent an entire summer strolling through Soho without actually seeing it or knowing that much about it. This tour opened me up to basically the best gin & tonic I have ever tasted, fabulous Spanish tapas, and Lebanese food (mixed with fun facts about prostitution and drugs in the area – so totally suitable for kids!).
Not only was the tour guide absolutely incredible but she, and the rest of the tourists, were so accommodating of George and the stroller. I didn’t hesitate to book another food tour for the very next day. This time we indulged in the East End Tour which takes you to Spitalfields Market and around where I had the best, and I mean the best, bread pudding of my life.
We also had fish and chips so tasty I went back the same day for more (and have since gone back on other trips to London). Plus, we had curry, bagels and cheese. To say I was stuffed at the end of the tour is an understatement.
Both tour guides were fantastic, both tours left me so full I had to be rolled to the tube, and both tours opened my eyes to areas of London I didn’t really know that well.
2. MUSEUM OF LONDON
I had never gone to this museum before and I am really happy I did. I think this is a fantastic stop for your first time to London as well – but is overshadowed by the big galleries.
It’s great for all ages as they have really unique programming: story telling about ancient Roman London, family-centred museum guided tours, or toddler sensory activities like creating their own herb pouch.
When I went, George thankfully slept the entire time so I was able to actually enjoy myself. Basically, you walk through the history of London starting with prehistoric London (who knew hippos once lived under the Thames!?) through Roman London, to the great fire, the plagues, war time and the present. Absolutely fantastic for the history buff.
I must commend the museum on the displays as well. Not only were they easy and informative to read for an adult, but they often would include facts or clues for a grade-schooler to read.
I watched a grandmother and her grandson go from area to area reading clues and discovering facts together.
Yes, I basically stalked them like a creep.
But nothing is more endearing to me that a little kid who loves history.
3. Any of London’s Markets.
My two favourites are Old Spitalfields Market and Borough Market
The key is to hit these guys early. Luckily with a 12-month old alarm clock, I was always ready to hit the town at 8AM.
London’s markets are absolutely fantastic – so full of great food that is ready to eat, gorgeous produce and meats, and other unique items.
Borough Market is the oldest market in London (I believe it dates back to 1014). It’s sheer history and incredible range of traders make this a very popular destination with both tourists and Londoners.
Read: it gets insanely busy.
You might recognize it as the place Bridget Jones buys food for her failed birthday dinner in the movie. As well as where her flat is:
I beeline right for the duck confit sandwich at Le Marché du Quartier – so good even my non-eating child devoured half of it.
There are also so many cheese traders that if you love cheese like me, you will be in heaven. I may have gasped in wonder when I stepped into Neal’s Yard Dairy. And when I say ‘gasped’, I mean squealed. And clapped my hands. Even as I write this, just thinking about the place evokes so much happiness in me that I want to book a ticket to London this minute.
I won’t lie. It’s hard with a kid. I couldn’t stroll and stop as much as I would have liked but I was able to grab some food and then look wistfully in cafes as people sat sipping glasses of white wine and nibbling salads. If you have a stroller, it’s absolutely imperative you get here early. By 11 am, it’s bonkers to get around and you will be fighting with crowds. Nothing is worse than fighting crowds with a stroller.
There are a couple of food tours of the market I would have loved to have gone on, like this one or this one but George had had enough. Maybe you will have more luck!
Old Spitalfields Market is another favorite. It’s totally different than Borough – it has been fancied up so it feels more like an informal shopping mall. It is still old (older than my home and native land of Canada) but is quite shiny and full of trendy and fancy stores and cafés.
Not surprisingly, one of my favorite places is Androuet – a French cheese shop and restaurant where you can have fondue, raclettes or charcuterie boards. Or just stuff your face with cheese samples if you have a baby in tow, like I did.
I did manage to sit and have some wine at Vagabond Wines. I couldn’t pass this place up. IT’S A SELF SERVE WINE BAR!!!!! You buy a card that is like a library card, take your glass to one of the wine taps and tap your card to purchase a sample of that wine. And then the wine magically comes out in a perfect amount. Seriously. The best thing ever (and there are several locations in all the places I tell you to go so feel free to top that card up!).
Oh, and of course you have to go to Poppie’s Fish and Chips for some of London’s best fish and chips. I mean when in London right? You must must must have fish and chips when visiting. Poppie’s is one of the oldest and yummiest in the city. Although what gets me here are the mushy peas. Don’t poo poo the mushy peas as gross as they sound. They are absolutely delicious. We had these on our food tour and one American woman liked them so much she licked out her bowl. The bowl she was supposed to be sharing with other people. She didn’t get that memo.
When you see a drawling American woman with a fanny pack licking the bowl of mushy peas – you know it’s a good thing.
Here is a list of the other markets of London. I have been to and love them all. You can’t go wrong!
4. PICNIC IN THE PARK
Which park? Any park!
I love love love the green spaces London has.
It doesn’t matter if you are traveling solo, with friends, with your partner, with a baby, with five kids – go for a picnic in the park. Unless it’s winter and raining. Then don’t go for a picnic obviously.
London is full of parks. The massive ones like Hyde Park or Regents Park are incredible: sprawling green lawns, gardens, ponds to watch toy boats float, smooth surfaces to ride your Santander bike and plenty of playgrounds.
There are also small green squares dotting the entire city so you are never very far from a spot to plop down for a rest with your little one.
And you will need your rest when travelling with a little one.
Once again, I should remind you (because I often had to remind myself), you can’t just go go go like you used to or want to.
Your child can’t handle going to museum after museum or tour after tour or shop after shop or wine bar after wine bar.
And neither can you.
This is when you pop into a nearby Marks and Spencer (my go-to for fun and easy picnic food) or any food store, grab some food and drinks, a bubble wand and a blanket and take a breather in a park.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous – you must grab a picnic from Harrods food hall. It is to die for gorgeous, exciting and filled with interesting characters (albeit often chaotic with what I can only assume are the harem girls of Brunei).
Oh, and one of the best things about food on the go in the UK: you can easily find pre-filled wine glasses where you simply fold back the foil or cans of ready-made Pimm’s cup.
There is nothing better than a warm afternoon in a London city park. It is alive with happy people making use of the sun and taking a rest from the bustle of the city.
I can’t tell you how much I love it – I never get the same sense at home.
You will see kids flying kites, hear so many different languages, laugh at the students having political debates like they know everything, and see business men/women slipping off their shoes or jackets and basking in the sun.
This is when having a baby with you and slowing you down is a good thing.
5. CAFE IN THE CRYPT: ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS
Hmmm, taking a baby into a crypt? Are you out of your mind Sarah? No! This is a random and lovely thing to do with your baby. The food is just okay, but it’s affordable, the place is busy so your baby throwing spoons and screaming will not be noticed, and it’s a great place to take a rest from the bustle of central London.
Oh, I think we are heading into my third theme: where to take rests from the hustle and bustle.
It’s one of those tourist places I always meant to check out but never did until recently. It’s fantastic here! It’s quite peaceful even in the frantic energy of its location. The main reason I came here was for the music. I believe there is music almost daily and several times a day. You don’t need a ticket or a seat to enjoy the classical music which makes it perfect for babies. We just popped in and listened for a while and then discreetly left when George had enough.
6. HAVE A TEA AND SCONE AT 5th View IN THE WATERSTONE’S IN PICADILLY
Again random and again all about having a break. If you had your sights set on an afternoon tea at one of London’s hotels, I laugh at you. Or maybe you have a newborn who doesn’t move. Anything older than 3 months will make having a proper, elegant afternoon English tea impossible. That’s what the 5th View is all about.
I happened upon this spot years ago because Waterstone’s happens to be one of my favorite bookstores (FYI – Waterstone’s is a giant bookstore). The reason I like this spot, which is just okay for food, is the view. You can sit, sip on some tea, nibble on a scone and stare above the London rooftops over to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
And then sit in the kid’s book section for a bit so your baby can play with their train table and you can read some fun British kids’ books.
7. THE LONDON EYE
Yes, this is touristy. Yes, this is expensive. And yes, this is a lot of fun for your baby or toddler (unless your baby is really a little baby and in that case, save your time and money).
George has been in this sucker twice and loved both times. He squealed with delight as a one-year old, cruising his way around the bubble and looking at all the boats. And as a toddler, he spent the whole-time yelling “BIG COCK” at Big Ben. So. That was fun.
8. PRIMROSE HILL AND HIGH STREET
I just like it here and tell everyone to visit it. It’s very pretty and quiet. And full of celebrities. I am always on the lookout for Gwyneth Paltrow.
There are lots of things to do here. Mostly eat and drink, but by now you know what I look for.
You can take a stroll down the High Street (Regent’s Park Road) and stop for a Pimm’s Cup at The Queen’s Pub & Dining Room (they do not have a change table I discovered but otherwise are very child-friendly).
Or you can have a picnic on the actual Primrose Hill if you don’t mind a wee hike. There you have a fantastic view over London.
I mostly think you should go to Chalcot Square and push your baby in the swings surrounded my candy-coloured townhouses that simply jump off the page of a storybook. And much less crowded by the also adorable Notting Hill.
WHERE TO GO SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUR BABY
Besides the above-mentioned rest stops that I happen to enjoy, you will need to have a few more pit stops in your arsenal to deal with meltdowns, dirty diapers and sore feet (yours, not your child’s).
1. SPITALFIELDS CITY FARM
I happened upon this little farm when I was searching for a playground to push George on the swings and feel I stumbled upon a bit of a treasure.
Firstly, it’s FREE (unlike the zoo which costs nearly $80 Canadian to get into).
Secondly, they have a café.
Like the other mentioned green spaces in London, this farm offers a respite from the frantic energy of Central London as well as a fun experience for your baby.
This is the place where George learned how to ‘baa’ like a sheep. Therefore, it will always hold a special spot in my farmer’s daughter heart.
Another farm worth taking note: Vauxhaul City Farm. Also adorable, also plenty of places for your baby to play and also an incredible café serving food made form their own garden!
2. BERTIE AND BOO
This is specifically a play café for babies and toddlers. As I mentioned/suggested, Clapham Common is a fantastic place to stay when you are travelling with child. Northcote Road is a high street there that is packed with fantastic stores and restaurants – including this gem of a place where you can drink some coffee and your baby can crawl around and safely play.
Their Balham location doesn’t have a play centre, but it does have insanely delicious sandwiches, soups and to-die-for carrot cake. So, you know, you should go.
The UK calls them ‘soft play centres’ – so anywhere that you travel in the UK simply look for one of these guys to help your child burn off energy.
3. SOUTHBANK CENTRE AND POETRY LIBRARY
I wouldn’t know about this place save for my London friend pointing it out as a safe haven when it rains. I don’t find the website super helpful for understanding what is here so just trust me. If you find yourself caught in the rain or just need an hour to re-charge: stop here.
Firstly, it’s full of restaurants/cafés so you can grab something to eat or drink (obviously I would suggest this).
Secondly, on the main level there is often some sort of event that can entertain your child or there is nothing but a big, open floor for your baby to crawl and roll around.
If you head up to the Poetry Library you will once again find an open area for your child to crawl and explore as well as a spot to read them books complete with comfy bean pillows and lots of windows to watch London. Lucky you if you happen to hit Rug Rhymes time.
The best part of this place is the number of events that they continually have going. If you happen to be there for the summer of 2017, for example, you can explore the world of Moominland.
4. DISCOVER: CHILDREN’S STORY CENTRE
I so badly wish we had this treasure in Toronto. If you read my blog you know how much I love children’s literature. And this story centre is devoted entirely to children’s literature!
In the summer of 2017, the exhibitions built for babies up to kids 7 years old were devoted to the world of Dr. Seuss and Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler (Gruffalo). Plus, they have . . a café! Would you believe I would find somewhere with a café?
5. V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD
This is both an interesting place for you as well as a fantastic place for your baby or toddler. You can tote your tot around and check out all the interesting toy exhibits and then take your baby to the Sensory Pod for them to enjoy all the water, bubbles and other sensory activities they have.
As well, if you hit the museum on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday you can join in their Little Hands Playtime made for babies 6 months to 18 months.
One of my favorite things that they offer is a Montessori play pack for children under 5 –free of charge! They have different age ranges including one for babies that includes a play mat and sensory materials to play with in the baby section.
6. Battersea Arts Centre
This place looks amazing for kids of all ages.
FYI: this is not far from Clapham Commons park. So you know, yet another reason to stay in Clapham!
They have plays for kids of all ages to watch but what peaked my interest was this adorable play area, called Bees Knees, that they have for kids under five.
And guess what? There is a cafe on site full of homemade baked goods and food! I would never send you to a place with no food!
7. Baby Loves Disco
Baby. Loves. Disco.
This is an event that happens throughout the year in London and elsewhere in the UK.
I tried to go when I was with baby G, but he was asleep and I opted to drink wine instead. From what I gather, this is like going to a club to dance – but with your kids in the middle of the day. Do you miss dancing crazily to music under colourful lights? Urm, I don’t actually. But I do missing dancing like a fiend to things other than Fred Penner so I would love to take my kids here!
I think this list will get your started and keep you occupied. I will be updating as soon as I can about where to eat for both babies and toddlers. I will also be adding a list of things to do with a toddler.
But for now you can refer to this or to this fantastic list from Time Out London
Again, check my guide for getting around London (a fairly challenging thing to do) and I would love any ideas you have on what to do in London. Please leave them in comments below.
For now, bon voyage, and enjoy London!