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Do you have any tips for a trip to London with a 3 year old?

February 27, 2012

London St Pancras Station

Everytime I get home from a work meeting in London my little boy asks whether he can go on a trip to London with me. So I’m considering options for a citybreak in London with a 3 year old. I thought it might be an idea to post a few questions here in case some of you have any tips. Perhaps you live in London or have been there recently?

The first challenge is finding some way to keep him entertained on the train for the best part of two hours each way. My son is fascinated with trains, but gets bored after 20 minutes of sitting inside one. I read somewhere that one trick is take along a selection of things to play with, but not hand everything over immediately. Do you think that would work? Do you have any other suggestions?

Another thing I’m wondering about is which of the London attractions would be suitable for a lively 3 year old. Is there anything you can recommend? The London Transport Museum might be worth a visit, if there are train-related things for my son to see. He enjoyed visiting the National Railway Museum in York.

Two things to bear in mind:
1) my son is a very bouncy child with lots of energy who likes climbing on things and running around
2) he doesn’t like the dark so we tend to avoid places with low lighting (for example, some sections of Bristol Aquarium freaked him out)

Finally, let me know if you have any tips for cheap, family-friendly places to eat or stay in London. We would be arriving at London St Pancras Station, so it might be easiest to stay in a hotel near there.


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21 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 2:19 pm

    Hi! One of our guestbloggers has just wrote a very good article on traveling with toddlers, check it out xx

  2. Soph permalink
    February 27, 2012 2:26 pm

    London zoo is nice but it is pricey-maybe you can get a good deal on the tickets somehow? There are a couple of dark aquarium/reptile rooms in there but otherwise it is light and out in the open and Zayd was a similar age when we went and absolutely loved it. If you sign up to travelodge, they do quite often send you an email with a £20 off code specifically for money off their London hotels, they sent me one the other day but cannot find it now…

    • February 27, 2012 5:24 pm

      Thanks for the tips Soph. Will check prices for London Zoo.
      Travelodge is usually a good option and I think there’s one near St Pancras – will look out for discounts.

  3. Helloitsgemma permalink
    February 27, 2012 2:40 pm

    Trains: cbeebies magazine, books, selection of surprise toys, rather than toys choose by child. Snacks. Aim for something different every 20 mins/half hour.
    Covent garden is great aside museum busy with lots street entertainers. May keep small child amused for a while. Heard great things about princess Diana park in regents park – think. Changing of the guard? We had great trip to natural history museum but was one section that was dark and noisy maybe avoid TRex. London eye? Land boat tours. Yellow anfifin craft? Enjoy

  4. Issy permalink
    February 27, 2012 3:31 pm

    We had a week in London with Alex when he just turned 3.

    He liked the Dinosaur Gallery at the NHM (get there as it opens if going on a weekend), and, as Nick is a space geek, he got his dad’s enthusiasm for the Space Gallery in the Science Museum. The Science Museum also has a good play area in the basement with a water run (and aprons so you can get v. wet).

    He also liked the London Eye after he got over his initial WTF as it started going up (as you can see here. He also liked the river boat trip we did.

    • February 27, 2012 7:04 pm

      Thanks for the pointers Issy – and Alex looks so cute in those photos
      I love the London Eye, but I’d never get H on it, so it would just be me and Aled.
      I never knew the Science Museum had a play area in the basement – that sounds great 🙂

  5. Heather permalink
    February 27, 2012 4:29 pm

    Science Museum: lots of buttons and a play area. The London Aquarium is good but gets crowded. The Army Museum has an excellent play area, though it’s not so hot on good things to amuse adults. Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green worked well, and E just went to the Horniman Museum with Lisa, and enjoyed it. It’s small enough that it doesn’t overwhelm ( Also, there’s the City Farm, which again, E went to with Lisa.

    You’d be welcome to visit, if you fancy it.

    Trains: we tend to find food works best to distract E on long journeys, which might not be as effective for A. Get a Family and Friends card, so you can get 1/3 off your travel and get Aled his own seat (technically he doesn’t need a ticket yet, but it’s often cheaper to do this anyway, and you can then book the seat) and book one by the window. Clean the window if you can. E licks it. Get there early so you can settle down easily when it’s not crowded.

    Take a few toys, but nothing with small, irreplaceable pieces: I won’t even allow trains with tenders, if I can manage it. Alex likes to get magazines (oddly, train modelling mags work well for E, and better than kid magazines, which tend to include lots of cutting out games or stamping type things).

    We played a good game of I spy on the way home from you, to my surprise. E started it, and we did all sorts of adjectives and colours. E also likes pointing out railway infrastructure, and we talk about stories he knows which have bridges, and signals and so on in them.

    • February 27, 2012 7:08 pm

      Thanks Heather for all these tips. Aled likes train modelling mags too! I hope he never thinks of licking train windows though – yuck!
      Will investigate the Horniman – had never heard of this before and like the idea of small and not too overwhelming.
      And a visit to your place sounds good too. It would be nice to have some downtime. Now all I have to do is work out the timing.

  6. February 27, 2012 4:48 pm

    My favourite playground to take my son Ben (2 years) is the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Garden’s (Hyde Park) – it is amazing there. I wrote a post on it here Also Coram’s Fields is fantastic and central, nearest tubes are Russell Sq (Piccadilly), King’s Cross St Pancras (Northern / Victoria / Circle / Hammersmith & City) and Holborn or Chancery Lane (Central).

    We are thinking of doing a boat trip or maybe the duck tour with Ben when the weather gets better so that might be an idea. We found the Aquarium great but if your little one doesn’t like the dark probably best avoid like you say.

    As for keeping him entertained on the train do you have an iPad or iPhone you could load up with apps? Also I would get some magazines, stickers and colouring pencils and paper. Hope you have a great time!

    • February 27, 2012 5:32 pm

      Thanks for this – especially the link to your blogpost about that playground it looks fab. Will investigate Coram’s Fields and I think I’m definitely going to add the Duck Tour to the list too.
      I’m trying to find some quiet iPhone apps (my son’s current faves are Peppa Pig’s Party Time and Thomas and Friends Misty Island Rescue both of which will probably drive other train passengers round the twist!)

  7. February 27, 2012 8:59 pm

    Joseph is a very accomplished little traveller. Definitely a range of things and then give one every half hour or so. Wrap stuff in wrapping paper, that takes time.

    We did an awesome walk from Victoria down to Southbank, playing in the gardens at Westminster Abbey, the gardens outside parliament, then to the aquarium and area around there.

    Joseph also has enjoyed the V & A and Hyde Park. We’re planning on doing more London trips.

    • March 1, 2012 8:28 pm

      Wrapping paper! What a good idea!
      That walk also sounds nice. Will add it to my list.

  8. February 27, 2012 10:02 pm

    We went to London when the boys were 4 and 1.. here is a link to our experience on my old blog address (my new address ie but the photos at the science museum didn’t come through very well). Have fun! x

    • February 28, 2012 2:01 pm

      Those photos are great. Thanks Louise! I’m starting to think we’ll need more than one trip to get everything in 😉

  9. February 29, 2012 10:01 pm

    Hi Ruth,
    I’ve taken Ella down to London a LOT in her 3 1/2 years. Because she’s so used to it, the train isn’t too much of a struggle and we only have an hour or so journey. I’d recommend one of the children’s mags that you can get in Tesco. There are stickers and activities and you don’t have to worry about things rolling away. Pack a small bag of crayons or felt tips and you’re sorted. Or an iPod or iPad for viewing pleasure if you have one.

    As for in London…FREE is always good. Off the beaten path but very close to a Tube Stop is the Museum of Childhood. It’s not super toddler friendly but is sort of fun and is FREE. Also the Natural History Museum is free and really toddler friendly. There can be long queues to get in but it’s worth it. I find Trafalgar Square quite entertaining and St Martin’s in the Field has the Cafe in the Crypt which is a great place to get a nice lunch. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are all fab and Green Park is very lovely as well. For a different destination, Regents Park is quite huge and has a small, not overly busy play area.

    Bring snacks and I’ve seen an Usborne Children’s book that’s about Tourist London which might be a fun prep for the journey. Good luck and have a great time. Oh, I have heard really good things about the Transport Museum but there is a charge. Covent Garden is a great area to have a mooch & there’s a Build-a-Bear Workshop store there as well which might be a fun treat.

    Can you tell we love London? I miss it! 😉

    Karin xx

    • March 1, 2012 8:26 pm

      Thank you so much for all your tips and suggestions Karin. I agree FREE is good. Toddlers sometimes decide to take against a place and that is especially irritating if you’ve just paid a few quid to get in.
      I love visiting London and am looking forward to sharing some of these places with Aled. Will report back on how it goes.
      R x

  10. March 10, 2012 3:22 pm

    We have taken a 2 1/2 year old to London a couple of times and found some brilliant places to visit, would particularly recommend the (free) Science Museum, there is a lovely play area in the basement.

    You should check out the WeAreWildThings blog, she has written a page on Toddler London which is great

    • March 12, 2012 4:55 pm

      Thanks for this – the page on the WeAreWildThings blog is a good summary

      The Science Museum is definitely on my list

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