How to Afford (and Survive) London with a Kid:
We arrived to London by train on a Friday morning and so began our weekend adventure in one of the most expensive cities in the world. We are slow traveling and volunteering with Workaway during this year abroad, however, as we navigate our world tour, the opportunity to stop over in some of Europe’s largest and most popular cities for a weekend is working itself into our plans, and we love it!
I realize that a weekend is usually not enough time to see everything you want to in a city like London, however, it is possible to have unique and fun experiences without going broke (or going mad!) Below is our itinerary and some tips to make sure your time in London is right as rain!
We arrived to the city and located our Airbnb, tucked into the bustling neighborhood of Paddington just a few blocks from the tube station. We unpacked, and Uber’ed over to Portobelo Street Market, and within minutes we were eating pastries and curry burritos and buying loads of produce. The beautiful, sunny afternoon allowed us to walk up and down the streets, admiring the wares being sold at individual stalls, and window shopping the brick and mortal businesses. We purchased a few trinkets, lots of food, and after a long afternoon of walking and shopping, we grabbed a taxi back to our place to make dinner and to relax on the terrace.
If you aren’t using Airbnb yet, let’s go ahead and change that: sign up here and you get tapped into a world wide network of homes to vacation in, and I get travel credit towards my next stay! You will too, as soon as you start using the service. Actually use the kitchen in your rental, and make dinner at home. Pick up a few things for breakfast too and you are on your way to saving hundreds of dollars over the weekend.
We chose the Paddington neighborhood because it was away from the chaos of downtown, yet only about a 2o minute tube ride to anywhere in the city. With just some quick research online you can find a desirable neighborhood to stay in near public transportation–don’t freak! It is cheap and quick, and you will enjoy some excellent people watching. An occasionally taxi or Uber is fine, but don’t let transportation eat up a huge portion of your travel fund if you can get around safely and conveniently. Don’t forget to use an Oyster Card for your London traveling needs (kids travel free!) or rent one of the Santander Cycles, London’s rentable bikes.
Markets are an excellent place to visit to get a distinct feel for a city, to find some tasty and cheap food, and to stretch your legs. They are fantastic to bring a kid to because there is so much natural sensory stimulation– honestly, markets can entertain anyone of any age, for hours. Buy your kid (and yourself) a treat and wander the streets window shopping. Good times, little money spent.
We took the tube to the river front in the morning for our reservation at The London Dungeon, an interactive attraction, “which recreates various gory and macabre historical events in a gallows humor style. It uses a mixture of live actors, special effects and rides.” This was incredibly entertaining and a fun way to start our day, and after, we wandered along the south bank under a guaranteed London drizzle. We gawked at the London Eye, rambled around the Tate Modern enjoying interactive exhibits and contributions by Georgia O’Keeffe, Picasso, Warhol, and Marina Abramovic.
We stopped for lunch along the waterfront then continued past the Globe Theater and onto the London Tower. The London Bridge now, is just a big cement structure spanning the River Thames, with whizzing red double-decker buses and loads of tourists taking selfies. The Tower Bridge just further down the river is the true iconic prize of London’s cityscape, in my opinion.
It started pouring down rain while we walked around the London Tower- we bought umbrellas, which flipped inside out and broke within minutes of purchasing, so we took refuge in a coffee shop and waited out the rain. A few minutes later the rain abated as a rainbow appeared over the tower, and we decided to jump on the tube back home to relax and make dinner.
There is no shortage of over-the-top touristy productions happening at any hour of the day here in London. I recommend going to at least one because they are an entertaining way to learn a bit about the history of the city. Kid prices are reduced, and they usually come with an option to bundle several attractions, saving you money. Bonus: if you are traveling with a kid, they generally get to stand in the front of crowds due to their height, which means YOU get to stand in the front too. If you like getting picked for crowd participation then you are in the right spot!
Most museums have reduced or free admission for kids and/or a free day for the general public. They are wonderful opportunities to expose kids to the art and history of a city, and real talk: you can get out of any foul weather for a bit or use the bathrooms.
Pick a path and go for a walk! We decided to stroll the south bank because it passed by so many celebrated structures of London and we enjoyed watching the busy water traffic on the Thames. Besides buying coffee and ice cream on our walk, it was an absolutely free afternoon.
Our free walking tour with Sandeman’s New London began at 11 am at Covent Garden, and lasted about 2 hours. Our guide was hilarious and knowledgeable AND it was a beautiful, sunny day in London. We covered a lot of ground in our tour, including: Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery, The Mall, Buckingham Palace, St. Jame’s Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, and a changing of the guards. Hot damn!
After the tour we ate lunch at a restaurant which gave all tour participants a discount on food, and we made friends with 2 gals from Australia and ended up walking around the city together until we found our way back to Covent Garden and parted ways. We could have spent a few hours at Covent Garden, snacking and shopping our way down the charmingly narrow pathways and watching street performers, however, we decided that after P checked out “her shops” we would do a quick tour of the market and head back home for packing, dinner and chill time.
I am a huge supporter of walking tours, and this tour did not disappoint. You can find free tours in most cities and London offers several. Trip Advisor is a good place to look for feedback on free tours. P loved learning about the city in this interactive way, we made some new friends, and we got a great workout walking all over the city.
Covent Garden is another great market to window shop, buy food, and people watch. When visiting marketplaces, we buy postcards that we want to send to friends and family; it allows us to look around and buy little “gifts” without the hefty price tag or having to lug anything around with us for very long. Thanks Royal Mail Service!
Last tip: when traveling around Europe, don’t forget to check out other airports which may offer cheaper flights. We flew out of Stansted Airport, about an hour north of London, and our flight to Spain was $100 cheaper than flying out of Heathrow.
So there you have it! An affordable London weekend itinerary for you brave souls traveling with kids. Is there any thing that I missed?? Drop your travel knowledge bombs in the comments!