Last updated on September 1, 2023
I’ve known the joys of London since I moved there at 19, but going there with Otis and Arlo woke me up to a whole different side of the city. It turns out London for toddlers is a wonderland. From seeing the sights though a child’s eyes to discovering some of London’s best playgrounds and toddler-friendly museums, we had an incredible seven days in London.
In this post, I’m sharing our full 7-day London itinerary, filled with all we did and top tips for visiting London with a toddler. I went with Steve and our two boys, Otis (3.5 years) and Arlo (just turned one). I wouldn’t necessarily describe Otis as a toddler anymore, so this could be a London for preschoolers or under fives’ guide, but the internet assures me that three is still a toddler, so I’m going with that!
For more family vacation ideas, see our epic guide to bucket list family trips.
Travel guide: London with a toddler
Where to stay in London with a toddler
You know I’m normally a fan of London’s hip hotels, but they don’t mix so well with two toddlers in tow (with one, I reckon they can be okay, like on our family trip to New York). So for our stay in London we opted for a home exchange in Dulwich Village, which was absolutely perfect for us.
Here’s a post about why home exchange is my favourite way to travel as a family. But, if that’s not you cup of tea, these are my top family accommodation tips for London because I think where you stay in London with a toddler is key to making your trip a success.
The three main things to look out for when choosing family accommodation are: transport links; useful local family amenities (like shops and playgrounds); and space for all of you.
Looking at those in more detail…
Think about the places you want to visit and make sure they’re easily accessible from where you’re staying. The London transport network is brilliant, but London is also huge, so check the journey times using the Citymapper app (better than the TFL site). You might be happy to make an hour journey one day for something really special, but make sure you don’t have to do that for all your day trips.
We stayed in Dulwich Village, which was handy because it has two local railway stations (North Dulwich and Herne Hill). We could get to London Bridge or Victoria in 15 minutes from each one, and then take tubes from there if needs be. This meant our journey times were never much more than 30-40 minutes. We also had a car with us, so could drive to some of the nearby parks, like Peckham Rye.
Local family amenities
If you’re in London with a toddler, it’s useful to stay in a family-friendly area where there are things to do in the immediate vicinity. Just beingable to go for a little walk is enough, but having a park and playground nearby is golden. Also look out for a local shop where you can grab emergency supplies (although most of these are also available for delivery by Deliveroo).
Space for all of you
This largely depend on how many children you’re travelling with and how well they sleep. For example, at 3.5 years, Otis now sleeps like a log and is happy to sleep on the floor in a little inflatable bed in the same room as us. On the other hand, Arlo sleeps lightly and wakes regularly if he’s in the same room as us. These are my thoughts on accommodation types and the space they provide:
I love staying in hotels for the luxurious novelty and convenience of it all, but it definitely tends to be more complicated, or at least expensive, when you add a child to the mix. It depends a lot on how your individual child/children sleep. Are they light sleepers who will be disturbed by your or their sibling’s movements? And will they need to sleep in a separate room to you or their siblings? If you need more than one room, you can sometimes get suites with multiple rooms, or interconnecting rooms, but then the costs soon add up.
For us, when Otis was a baby, we often stayed in hotels, but tried to make sure he had a separate sleeping area, or there was a balcony/living area where we could hang out. That way we didn’t have to be in darkness and silence when he went to sleep.
Nowadays, at 3.5 years, Otis sleeps deeply, so we’d be able to have dim lights on and a little noise even when he’s asleep. Arlo, on the other hand, isn’t a great sleeper and sleeps lightly, so I wouldn’t want to stay in a hotel room with both of them. If staying in a hotel, I think we’d probably find an option with two separate rooms and have one adult with each child.
Rental apartments / Airbnbs
In terms of accommodation types, I think having an apartment/house rental rather than a hotel is the best option as then you have more space. The kids can go to bed in the evenings and you’re free to hang out and cook/order take out without worrying about waking them up. It’s also useful having a kitchen and somewhere to do laundry if needs be. I’ve written a guide to the best Airbnb alternatives in London, including family stays. And here are my full thoughts on the wonders of home exchange.
Where to eat and drink in London with a toddler
Where you eat in London as a family will depend largely on how adventurous your kids are when it comes to eating. If you have fussy eaters like me, then I recommend bringing a packed lunch as often as possible. This will also save cash.
But you’ll have no problem finding kids’ menus in most places, especially the larger chains. For example, we ate in Busaba one day, which had lots of kids’ options.
For me, one of the joys of travelling is trying new restaurants and foods – I love going out for dinner. This is a lot harder with toddlers as it means eating early, as well as dealing with any toddler drama, so our solution was to order Deliveroo meals once the little ones had gone to bed.
This meant we got to eat food from some of our favourite restaurants and also try some new ones. Of course, it’s not the same as being in the ambience of a restaurant, but it’s a good option when toddlers are involved!
Also see this list of child-friendly restaurants in London.
How to get around London with a toddler
London is not a city to drive around, so you’ll need to use public transport for most of your journeys. That said, because we stayed in Dulwich and had driven there from Bristol, we did use our car to visit some local places such as Peckham Rye and the Horniman Museum. We didn’t do this for any of the other trips because public transport is much quicker, plus parking in central London costs a fortune.
Tips for travelling around London with a toddler on public transport
- Children under 11 go free on London transport.
- Citymapper is Londoners’ preferred app for planning journeys, and will take into account all the different transport options.
- Not all the tube stations have elevators, so you either need to plan your journey according to the stations that do have elevators, or be prepared to carry your stroller up lots of steps. Be aware that this might apply to interchanges between different tube lines too (for example, there may be steps between the Bakerloo and Central lines).
- This page on TFL has lots of useful info about planning a step-free journey on the tube, including details about which stations have elevators. It also details tube stations that have short walks between them as sometimes it’s less than five minutes, which means you can walk to/disembark at one that does have an elevator. TFL has also put together a useful page with tips for travelling on TFL with a buggy.
- Train stations also don’t always come with an elevator and some have lots of steps to get to and from the platform. See a list of stations with elevators here.
- Buses are pretty easy to get on and off, and have space for pushchairs and wheelchairs. However, you will need to fold your buggy if a wheelchair user needs the space s wheelchairs take priority.
- Bring a lightweight buggy in case you need to climb any stairs, plus it’s generally easier for getting around the city.
- If you have two toddlers, bring a buggy board and/or a baby carrier. Make sure the buggy board is comfy before you leave as the bigger toddler is likely to use it a lot. If you have a baby carrier, you could use that for the littler child sometimes, so that the bigger toddler can have a rest in the buggy.
- You can either buy a Visitor Oyster Card or use contactless on your credit/debit card to get around London. You’ll never be charged more than a single-day travel card. If you’re going to be travelling a lot every day then buying a 7-day travel card will likely work out cheaper.
What to pack for London with a toddler
Some essentials for travelling in London with a toddler:
- Lightweight and compact stroller, such as the Babyzen Yoyo or the Bugaboo Bee.
- Easy to manoeuvre buggy board (ideally with three wheels instead of four) like the official Bugaboo buggy board.
- Baby carrier, such as the Ergobaby 360
- Big Picture Book of London – ideal for getting toddlers excited about their trip to London
- Packable rain jacket as you never know when the weather might turn in England! This is the one we have for Otis.
Our detailed 7-day London itinerary with a toddler
Day 1: Explore the local area
No matter how you’re arriving into London and at what time, I think it’s a good idea to play it low key on the first day and don’t plan anything too arduous. The best thing would be to explore your local area on foot and not include any transport at all. It will allow you and the kids time to settle into the new locale and conserve energy for the days ahead. This is partly why it’s so important to choose a good area to stay in (see the section on where to stay in London with a toddler), and preferably one with a good playground nearby.
We stayed in Dulwich Village, a beautiful village-feel spot within the city, It’s indisputably “posh” and filled with young families. When living in London, we lived in nearby Peckham Rye and used to frequent Dulwich when we fancied a little taste of village life and a peaceful break from the pace of the city. It’s a special situation to feel to find yourself within a village atmosphere but within 15 minutes from the city centre. Find more in our guide to London villages.
On day one, we arrived around midday and had lunch at a family-friendly Italian restaurant called Rocca. We then spent some time in Dulwich Park, which has a great playground, a good café in the middle, and a boating lake with pedalos and rowing boats. And we spent the remainder of the day hanging out in the garden of the house we were staying at. It was a lovely, relaxed start to the holiday.
Where to eat in Dulwich Village with a toddler
Dulwich Village is pretty tiny but has a few good options for places to eat. Gail’s Bakery fees like the beating heart of the village, busy from the early hours of the morning with families and people grabbing a post-run coffee. They sell breads, sandwiches, salads, cooked breakfasts, cakes and pastries. We went there several times for breakfast or to buy picnic items or treats. I’m a big fan of their flavoured drop scones and cakes (the little honey cakes are amazing!).
For more substantial meals, there’s Rocca Di Pappa, a family-friendly Italian restaurant; trusty Pizza Express and The Real Greek (both in charming buildings, making them feel more special than usual). And there’s also the Crown and Greyhound pub, which does good roasts and has nice outdoor seating amid the village.
Day 2: The South Bank
I always recommend the South Bank as a perfect introduction to London, so that’s what we did for Otis’ first proper London experience. We started at London Bridge and walked all the way down to the London Eye and back again. Our two main stops were Borough Market; the Tate Modern; and the carousel near Royal Festival Hall. But we also walked past lots of sights that Otis enjoyed, including The Golden Hinde, St.Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, The Shard, Big Ben, and the Southbank Skatepark. Plus he and Arlo generally enjoyed the enormity of it all, with so many grand buildings everywhere. The river was also a hit, watching all the different boats cruising along.
Things to do on the South Bank with a toddler
The most toddler-friendly attractions on or near the South Bank are: the Tate Modern (we were pleasantly surprised by how much both Otis and Arlo loved this; Leake Street Tunnel for street art; South Bank Skatepark to watch the skaters; the London Aquarium; the Jubilee Park Playground; and Borough Market to eat/see all the different types of food on sale.
We also decided to save the London Eye for when they’re a bit older as it’s a slow ride and I couldn’t face the idea of one of them deciding they didn’t like it midway and screaming to get off! If you want a view, I think the View from the Shard is a better bet for toddlers.
Where to eat on the South Bank with a toddler
We ate at Borough Market where there are plenty of food stalls selling hot meals, including south Indian curries and snacks, decadent cheese toasties, Japanese street food, raclette, and artisan pasta. It’s one of those places where you want to eat miltiple meals in one setting. I can definitely recommend the Japanese curry, which Arlo was a fan of too. Although there was food Otis could eat, he was being fussy, so we played it safe and got him a mac and cheese from Pret instead.
The benefit of eating from the stalls is that you can take the food away and eat it wherever you like, perhaps overlooking the river or on the benches around the market. The downside is that you don’t get a highchair, so it’s a little more tricky if your toddler is used to one. We kept Arlo in his pushchair, and held him when he got fed up.
There are plenty of restaurants in Borough Market as well as all the stalls (see a full list here). Plus even more along the South Bank. The area between Waterloo Bridge and the London Eye has a particularly wide selection, including the Southbank Centre Food Market. Time Out has a handy guide to the best places to eat in the area.
Day 3: Science Museum / Natural History Museum
The thing Otis talked about most before we went to London was The Science Museum. He’s a space fanatic, so was super excited to see all the rocket ships and astronaut paraphernalia. Plus he loved all the interactive exhibits, some of which were also great for Arlo’s age (especially The Garden).
If, on the other hand, your child is more into dinosaurs, then opt for the Natural History Museum instead. We popped in at the end of the day to quickly see the dinosaur skeletons, T-Rex and whale skeleton – but we were there for no more than 45 minutes. We spent a full 5 hours from 10am-3pm in the Science Museum!
I’ve written a separate post with all my tips for visiting the Science Museum with a toddler.
Day 4: Down day (local parks)
After two days in central London, we recommend a down day in the local area as it is tiring exploring London, especially with kids. Luckily, London is filled with amazing parks and playgrounds, so you should easily be able to find something nearby. Have a look at this guide to London’s coolest playgrounds to find one near you.
This day can also give you a chance to try some of the local restaurants and cafes.
Day 5: Central London and Transport Museum
One of the joys of London is that it’s exciting to just be there. You can walk around and be entertained and awed by the sights alone. This is particularly true on the South Bank (from day two) and also in central London where you can walk among all the grandeur and see plenty of famous sights.
So on day five, we did a huge walk around central London, starting at Westminster and ending at Waterloo. Along the way, we passed: the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, China Town, Piccadilly, Regents Street, Hamleys, Carnaby Street, Soho, Covent Garden, Somerset House and Waterloo Bridge (where you get great views across the river). Otis recognised loads of these places from his picture books, so was excited to see them in real life. But phew, it was as long as that list sounded!
The whole walk would take around an hour without stops, but we took the whole day for it, stopping for plenty of refreshments along the way, as well as a visit to the London Transport Museum and some time to watch the Covent Garden street performers.
There aren’t any playgrounds in the area, so the transport museum gives a good opportunity for kids to run around and play. It’s filled with old buses, trains etc that children can explore, plus a play area at the end. There are also lots of interactive exhibitions for them to explore.
The transport museum isn’t free for adults, so over 17s have to pay £18.50. This gives unlimited entry for a year, which is great if you live in London, but not so useful if you don’t!
Note: We visited the transport museum when pandemic restrictions meant that you couldn’t go on the vehicles, but the play area was open, so Otis and Arlo has fun on that. Check current restrictions before you visit. It would be extra fun for kids when the vehicles are open.
The Covent Garden street performers are also great entertainment for toddlers and give the adults an opportunity to sit down with a coffee and rest for a bit – they’re the equivalent of a bit of TV time!
This type of day is no doubt a lot to do with toddlers, and Otis in particular was exhausted by the end of it (Arlo was in the pushchair so napped along the way), but it was also lots of fun and made possible by plenty of refreshment stops, play at the museum and some down time watching the performers.
Day 6 and 7: Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
The Princess Diana Memorial Playground (or the ‘pirate ship playground’) is a must – it’s Peter Pan-themed and comes complete with a pirate ship, sensory walk, tipis, and a good café nearby. And if the weather’s good, kids can also paddle in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.
You could also visit Kensington Palace or the Serpentine, although neither has anything that is particularly toddler friendly (more one to do if the adults really want to and the kids will tolerate it!).
It’s a 20-minute walk from the Science Museum/Natural History Museum to the playground in Kensington Gardens, so you could also combine a short museum trip with time in the playground.
Day 7: Local area / Choose a museum / London Zoo
For your last day, depending on how much oomph you all have left, I recommend either staying in the local area and having a lovely relaxing day, or else choosing one last museum/sight to go to.
Here are some options:
London Zoo is a brilliant day out for kids, filled with exciting animals, plus a play area and gardens. It’s on the river, so you could combine it with a boat ride to Little Venice or even Greenwich.
Discover Children’s Story Centre
The Discover Children’s Story Centre celebrates and encourages storytelling for 0-11-year olds. There are two floors of story worlds and a story garden, which are all exploratory play areas where kids can follow story trails and interact with models of famous storybook characters. It’s in Stratford, so you could combine it with a visit to the Olympic Park.
Greenwich is a gorgeous place to spend a day and there’s plenty to do for toddlers, so both parents and kids will be happy. Greenwich Park and playground is a toddler dreamland and has lovely views across the city. And you could also visit the observatory and planetarium – the latter is something older toddlers who are into space will love (and a good sensory experience for babies too).
The British Museum has a brilliant collection of cultural artefacts, and while it’d better suit older kids, some toddlers would enjoy it too. Start with this ‘12 objects to see with children’ trail.
Natural History Museum / Science Museum / V&A
Depending on what you did on day three, you might lie to return to Exhibition Row to see one or two of the other museums there.
Horniman Museum and Gardens
The Horniman Museum and Gardens is a lovely day out for toddlers. There’s a butterfly house, aquarium, little farm animal area, beautiful gardens with views, an outdoor musical play area, and a playground across the road.
Visit a city farm
There are a few city farms in London where you can visit the farmyard animals. Relatively central options include: Hackney City Farm; Vauxhall City Farm and Spitalfields City Farm. See this list of the best city farms in London.
Performances for children in London
You could also see what kid-friendly performances are happening and perhaps go to one of those. Check Time Out for the latest listings.
More UK travel guides
UK family travel guides: Birmingham with kids |Bristol with kids| Cornwall with kids | London with toddlers | Edinburgh with kids | Manchester with kids | Best UK family Christmas breaks | Travelling with a baby