2 days in London with our kids was a dream come true!
In 2019 as we were moving around the world we were able to squeeze in a longer stopover in London. Cosimo and Emma were curious to see this famous capital that everyone is always talking about! So we had to make it happen.
However it is a huge city and not the cheapest to visit. So we had to be a bit smart about it!
Where did we stay?
Every time we visit a big city we always try to find a place to stay in a central location. What is the biggest challenge? Finding an affordable price!
Another important feature for us is to find an apartment, especially if we are staying more than one night. After exploring all day we like to come home, relax and cook our own meal. We don’t want to have to deal with finding a restaurant. Specially have to get through a meal with 3 tired kids somewhere in the city.
For this location, we stayed at the Borough Market Apartments. They offered a 2 bedroom apartment in the heart of London’s Bankside. It was minutes from the River Thames and Borough food market. We were also close to some of London’s best attractions: Tower Bridge, the River Thames, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the South Bank Centre and St Paul’s Cathedral. They were all within a 20-minute walk.
The highest cost for us was the taxi ride from the airport to the house! Since it is in a central location it is a bit of a drive! We could have found a cheaper way there. However, we arrived in the late afternoon and we were tired. We were not in the mood to use the underground or buses to find our way home.
How do we like to explore a new city
When we explore a city we love to just walk it! We try to avoid as much as possible public transportation. All we want to do is see the city, smell it, hear the noises, enjoy it at its best or worse!
On the first day in a new place, we plan out a route to follow. However, we are open to whatever unexpected adventures come our way. For example, finding the Borough Market and walking around checking out all the food stalls. Or finding a lovely carousel right under the London Eye and making sure to ride it a few times. Unplanned and unexpected detours are more than welcome in our exploration!
When we have limited time and maybe a lot of ground to cover we often take a city tour bus. They drive around the city and stop at the most important sites. You can choose to hop off, explore and hop back on. During the drive around they give you plenty of information about the different stops.
When we set out that first day in London we had a plan of finding that bus. However, we kept on walking and ended up not getting it. It was a beautiful sunny day and our kids just kept going. Here is what we managed to see during our 2 days in London walking around with our kids!
Crossing the Tower Bridge
Just a few minutes away from our apartment was Tower Bridge. This is often confused with its neighboring bridge: the London Bridge.
The City of London held a competition for the design of a new bridge in 1876. It would help Londoners travel between the two sides of the Thames. Over 50 designs were submitted but none were approved, until 1884. The final design by architect Sir Horace Jones and civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry was picked. The construction of the bridge was completed in 1894.
Tower Bridge has two towers linked by two walkways and suspended sections to either side of the towers, stretching towards the banks of the Thames. The central span of the bridge can be raised to allow ships to pass. When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed. These bascules were operated by hydraulics, using steam to power the enormous pumping engines.
It is possible to go up the tower to have another view of the river. However, the line was too long and we preferred to continue our city exploration. Click here for more info
Ride the London Eye
It is a pricey adventure but why not do it once in a lifetime? Especially if you are visiting London on a clear day! You will have a stunning view of London’s most famous landmarks. In fact, you can see up to 40 kilometers in all directions!
Did you know that the London Eye is not a Ferris wheel? It’s the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel. The 32 capsules on the London Eye are representative of the 32 London boroughs. Each one weighs as much as 1,052,631 pound coins. However for superstitious reasons they are numbered 1 – 33. For good luck number 13 is left out!
During our ride we had a chance to get a better view of Big Ben. At the time of our visit unfortunately it was being restored so could not to see it at its best! From the London Eye you also get a full view of the House of Parliament just across the Thames. It it is huge! If you have time, you can also take a tour and attend debates of the House of Commons or House of Lords. Just check out their schedule here.
Making our way to Buckingham Palace
Just before making our way to Buckingham Palace we had a chance to walk around Trafalgar Square. This square is visited by many tourists all year around. Mainly, it is used for pleasure and relaxation, but sometimes there are meetings and demonstrations as well. Trafalgar Square is also home to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The fountains in Trafalgar Square were not part of the original square design. They were introduced in 1845 to discourage large gatherings and protests. The two original fountains made it harder for crowds to form but were replaced in the early 20th century.
The Square is named in honor of the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It was led by Admiral Lord Nelson. Dominating the square is the 56 m (171 feet) column, named Nelson’s Colum. It has the statue of Nelson on top. The column is guarded by four huge bronze lions. The lions are rumored to have been cast from melted down bronze cannons, reclaimed from old battleships (possibly from the French fleet).
On our way to Buckingham Palace, we walked along the Mall. This is a short tree-lined royal road leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. It was built as a ceremonial route in the early 20th century. In fact, it is closed to traffic on Sundays, public holidays, and ceremonial events, including royal weddings, jubilee celebrations, parades, and state visits. The surface of The Mall is colored red to give the effect of a giant red carpet. It is only 0.93 km (0.58 mi) long.
Buckingham Palace and the change of the guard
By the end of the day, my hope was to get on time to Buckingham Palace. I wanted my kids could see the change of the guard. Unfortunately, I did not check the schedule before heading this way. The ceremony takes place, weather permitting, at 11.00 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday and daily in the summer. In case you are more organized than me, check out the detailed schedules on the British Army website!
The Changing the Guard ceremony, also known as ‘Guard Mounting’, one regiment takes over from another. The Queen’s Guard is made up of the St James’s Palace and Buckingham Palace detachments. The New Guard, during the course of the ceremony becomes The Queen’s Guard. It marches to Buckingham Palace from Wellington Barracks with musical accompaniment.
It is also possible to visit parts of Buckingham Palace during the summer months. Visitors can walk around 19 magnificent State Rooms, used during the year for official entertaining and ceremonial functions. Unfortunately, we were here in the Spring and way too late in the day to do this tour!
Taking the Tube to Piccadilly Circus
On the second day in London, we decided to take the Underground, also known as The Tube. We were too tired after walking 10km the day before and needed a break! Plus who wouldn’t love to ride on the London Tube at least once?!
We got off at Piccadilly Circus and headed to Chinatown Gate. The original London Chinatown was in Limehouse, London’s East End. Chinese sailors of the East India Company settled at the docks in the late 19th century. They helped to create a Chinese community. A decline in shipping and large-scale destruction of the area during the Second World War saw this quarter go down. The area of Chinatown as we know it today started to form in the 1950s. A handful of Chinese restaurants opened. By the 1960s and 1970s other businesses and services moved in. The neighborhood had become a hub for Chinese culture.
As we were walking around we also found the Lego shop with a few reproductions of London’s famous sites. We spent some time wandering around. It was fun to see the lego version of this amazing city!
Exploring Hyde Park
On our second day in London, we needed to spend a bit more time in nature. We decided to escape to Hyde Park!
This is one of London’s largest and most well-known parks. It connects with Kensington Gardens and the two combined cover 630 acres (253 hectares). Once it was the private hunting grounds of a king. Today it is London’s most famous park, a place where everyone can enjoy gardens, monuments, and music performances.
You can stop by Speaker’s Corner to hear orators debate and discuss the issues of the day. This is the site where public executions used to take place.
From March through October, you can also rent a rowboat. It will give you the chance to explore the expansive Serpentine Lake, which separates Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
You can also visit the numerous memorials within the park. The most popular are the Diana Memorial Fountain, the Holocaust Memorial and the 7 July Memorial.
Diana Memorial Playground
I grew up when Princess Diana was living her life as a princess and was so sad about her death. I could not miss taking my kids to play in her memorial playground. She loved children and this felt like the best tribute to her.
The popular playground is for kids up to 12 years old. It includes a sea monster sculpture, a giant swing, a turtle drum, a storyteller’s chair, and a tree carving by Daniel Cordell. It was created in the year 2000. The area’s main attraction is the vast wooden pirate ship sailing a sea of sand. It is pure joy to watch the kids play around in this beautiful place. There is also a trio of tepees and a tree-house encampment with walkways, ladders, slides, and ‘tree phones’. Hidden among the greenery there are also delightful play-sculptures. Much of the equipment has been designed for use by children with special needs, including those in wheelchairs.
You can imagine how hard it was to leave the playground!
Natural History Museum
The only museum we had a chance to visit while in London was the Natural History Museum.
Our kids were blown away by this museum! We had barely 2 hours and they were not enough! There is so much to see and learn that a whole day would not be enough! The Natural History Museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology, and zoology.
The origins of the Natural History Museum go back to 1753. Sir Hans Sloane left his extensive collection to the nation. Originally, the items were housed in the British Museum. By 1860, Sir Richard Owen persuaded the government that a new building was needed. The museum’s collection includes more than 70 million botanical items, 55 million animal exhibits, nine million archaeological relics, and 500,000 rocks and minerals. Around four million people visit the museum every year.
What about Harry Potter?
This post might seem incomplete without making some sort of reference to Harry potter. The truth is that Cosimo started reading the books a few months after our visit here. For this reason, all the “must do” stops didn’t make much sense to any of us, so we didn’t go. However, now of course Cosimo and Emma want to go back and see them all. So returning to London is on our Bucket List again!
This is just a little guide of what we did during our 2 days in London. We usually don’t make extensive plans of what we are going to see and do, because we like to improvise too. However, there is so much more to see and do! London has a lot to offer to any type of visitor.
Unfortunately the time was limited and so was the energy after 2 days of walking! Now we have to plan our trip back soon!