London is a popular gateway city to all of Europe. It is the perfect place to stop and recoup before continuing on your European adventures. There is so much to see in London, you could spend a month there and still not see everything. However, children do not have that kind of endurance, so it is probably better to spend a few days here and move on. Here are some tips for families to explore London in roughly 48 hours.
Get Ready To Explore London In The Next 48 Hours
Day 1: Morning arrival
Starting May 2019, automated e-gates at United Kingdom airports now allow entry by the following passport holders: Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. Unfortunately, if you are traveling with children under the age of 12, you will still have to wait in the normal lines. The wait can be quite long at London Heathrow since this is where the majority of international flights into England land, but lines should be shorter now that so many passport holders will be able to use the e-gates.
The Heathrow Express transports travelers from Heathrow to Paddington Station in only 15 minutes. From there, you can grab the metro to your final destination. Children 15 and under ride for free so it is an excellent option for families to quickly start their visit to explore London.
If you want to spend less to get into London and do not mind spending the extra time, you can hop directly on the metro from Heathrow, but you will most likely need to change metro lines at some point. Keep this in mind since you and your family will be carrying your suitcases through the maze of underground metro stations.
After making your way to your hotel and dropping off your bags, do not stop to rest. You only have 48 hours to explore London and need to make the most of it!
If you are lucky enough to arrive on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, you can grab a quick lunch at Borough Market, London’s oldest food market.
It has been operating for 1,000 years, but that does not mean it is not dynamic. It has changed with the times and now offers a variety of foods and products from traditional British to specialties from around the world. One stop here will help visitors realize what a global city London is at its core. A major benefit of eating with children at food markets is that there is such a wide variety of food types that everyone in your family should be able to find something to please them.
Take a 30-minute walk from Borough Market along the embankment at South Bank for views of the Thames River and end your stroll at the London Eye. This route allows you to explore London at a slower pace and take in the way of life along the river.
Your kids may not be the type that take kindly to long walks, but there is plenty to entertain them on the South Bank along the way. If nothing else, you can encourage your children to keep moving with the promise of riding the big Ferris wheel. A more proper explanation for the London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. It takes about a half hour to make the trip around the wheel. The experience will give you an appreciation for the sheer size of London. Riding the London Eye on your first day will help you get your bearings and make it easier to explore London for the remainder of your stay. That being said, if it is grey and the sun is in the forecast at a future point of your short stay, you might want to wait to take a ride as the views are even more dramatic on a sunny day.
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The next stop in your effort to explore London in only 48 hours is tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel London. You might be a little anxious about the idea of taking your children to high tea, but do not worry, there are many places that specialize in afternoon tea with children. One such place is The Tea Lounge at St. Ermin’s. British tea culture needs to be experienced, and The Tea Lounge at St. Ermin’s makes it easy with kids. The current offering is the Mini Gardener Tea which displays the nibbles in a child-friendly way, and also includes a herb growing pack to encourage children to be little gardeners when they return home.
For children who do not like tea, they can order as much juice as they want. Between the tea, the juice, and the delicious sandwiches and sweets, the sugar high should help the entire family get over any jet lag you may be experiencing and continue with your day.
After tea, make sure to take a stroll along the third-floor walkway corridor to visit the bees. You and your family can peer through the glass walls of London’s only ‘Bee & Bee’ hotel. St. Ermin’s Hotel is committed to both the London urban beekeeping and gardening movements. The rooftop features bee-friendly plants and a greenhouse used to grow fresh produce for the hotel’s signature restaurant, The Caxton Grill.
St. Ermin’s Hotel London is centrally located and makes it easy for families to explore London. It has so much to offer families, including special family stay packages like the ‘Budding Bond’ spy kit and ‘A Bedtime Story’, that you should really consider staying here to make things easier on your family. Whether you stay here or somewhere else, take advantage of your location upon completing your afternoon tea and take the short ten minute walk to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, & The Palace of Westminster where you can explore the heart of London.
Be warned, Big Ben is under renovations until 2021 so for the next couple of years, your photo of the iconic landmark will mostly be scaffolding. A quick note – Big Ben actually refers to the Great Bell of Elizabeth Tower, but many refer to the tower itself as Big Ben. For a laugh, check out Big Ben’s Twitter account.
Tonight is the perfect night for a snack type dinner after your afternoon tea, so take this opportunity to eat traditional fish and chips. Less than a ten-minute walk from Westminster Abbey is The Laughing Halibut, a family-run authentic fish and chips restaurant that has been in central London for 35 years. To really explore London, you need to do more than see the sights – you should eat like a local, which means you must order mushy peas with your fish and chips.
You’ll probably want to head to your hotel soon after dinner because tomorrow will be a very busy day as you try to explore London as much as possible in the only full day of your trip!
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Day 2: The Bus
The easiest way to explore as much of London as possible in a short period of time is by a hop on/hop off bus. Yes, it is a super touristy activity, but with kids, you need to be strategic in order to see as much as possible. There are several companies that offer this type of tour to quickly explore London, but The Original Tour makes it easiest on parents. They offer a special bus tour just for families, but even if that tour does not work with your schedule, all of the buses on the Yellow Route offer headsets with a special channel giving a kid-friendly commentary. In addition, if you check in at their office at Trafalgar Square, children are given activity books to keep them entertained while on the tour.
The Yellow Route is also the route where you see the most popular attractions, but if you are catching a morning flight on Day 3, we are going to recommend that you start your day on the Blue Route because it takes you to The Natural History Museum which is so much fun for kids and absolutely free. If you will have a few morning hours on Day 3, you could consider buying a 48-hour hop on/hop off bus and enjoying The Natural History Museum and The Science Museum next door on your last morning to give you more time on Day 2 for all that London has to offer.
After visiting The Natural History Museum, continue along the Blue Route to observe Kensington Palace and leave the bus at Buckingham Palace. In the shadows of Buckingham Palace, you will find a beautiful playground in St. James Park surrounded by trees, a lake, and elegant swans. You feel the essence of England in this park and it is a welcome respite in the bustling city.
From St. James Park, cross through Green Park to the Green Park stop on the yellow route of The Original Tour. Disembark at Piccadilly Circus and you will quickly remember that you are in a bustling city after your peaceful visit to St. James Park.
From Piccadilly Circus, make the quick walk to Kingly Court in the Soho district for a lunch in a lively outdoor venue full of restaurants, many with kid menus.
After lunch head around the corner to Hamleys on Regent Street, a toy store that kids young and old need to experience. You cannot properly explore London with kids without a visit here.
As you approach the store, you cannot miss the costumed employees outside of the doors beckoning you to enter. From the moment you cross the threshold, you will be drawn towards the energetic employees showing you how the toys work in a fun and engaging way. You may even be treated to a magic show by an employee advertising the magic kit. There are some displays, such as the remote control cars, that allow children to play with the toys, but beware, a meltdown from sheer toy overload may occur! You could make it easy on yourself by only visiting the first floor, which is where most of the employees are displaying the toys, but you’ll miss out on Queen Elizabeth made out of Legos, the snack shop, and the colorful bathrooms on the fifth floor!
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Good luck getting out of Hamleys quickly with your children, but you really need to try and make your way back to The Original Tour Yellow Route stop at Piccadilly Circus and ride along until you reach The Tower of London. If it seems like you still have time to tour the Tower, try to book your tickets online as it is cheaper and they offer Family Saver tickets.
If you visit The Tower of London, make sure you take advantage of the Yeoman Warder tours. The Yeoman Warders are commonly referred to as Beefeaters. The most popular theory behind this nickname is that the Yeoman Warder’s were at one time paid part of their salary with chunks of beef! The beefeaters entertain tourists with all of the famous stories that surround the Tower.
Yeoman Warder tours begin at 10 AM Tuesday through Saturday and 10:30 AM on Sunday and Monday. The tours run every thirty minutes and are included in your ticket price to see the Tower. Please note that the last tour of the day begins at 3:30 PM in the summer and at 2:30 PM in the winter.
Another thing to take note of is the last time of the day that the City Cruises Thames River Cruise departs from the Tower of London stop. The price of the river cruise is included in your 24 hour hop on/hop off pass with The Original Tour. A trip along the Thames is the perfect way to end your busy day in your attempt to explore London with your family in 48 hours.
Once you disembark the cruise near Big Ben, make your way by foot or hop on/hop off bus to the London County Hall stop right by the London Eye. A few minutes walk from the stop, you will find your dinner spot, The Crown & Cushion. If you get there early enough before kids are banned from the pub area, you can have a pint in a traditional pub atmosphere. Then head upstairs for some of the best Laos and Thai food you will ever try. You can wash down the spice with a cider from downstairs. If you are not a fan of Southeast Asian food, do not worry, they also serve traditional British fare.
You are probably exhausted from fitting so much into your short 48 hour stay in London, so it is okay to head back to your room to recoup.
Day 3: Finish With Museums
While it is glaringly obvious by now that 48 hours is not nearly enough to explore London, experiencing some time in London is better than nothing. Now you have enough knowledge of London to make sure your next trip is even better than your first!
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