The Indian restaurant was great, but small and cramped. You can probably imagine how tiny the restroom was, yet it still had a fold-down changing table. That was so typical throughout our trip to London: Virtually wherever you went, there was a diaper changing area. If not, the waiters would apologize a thousand times before showing the way to a quiet corner, and even offer to dispose of the stink bomb for you – I mean the diaper, of course – not the baby. This is a huge difference from Switzerland, where a diaper-related request often results in eyebrows raised in annoyance the moment they hear the question, and is ultimately followed by some kind of diaper-changing gymnastics on steps or toilet lids.
And this wasn’t the only reason why London was a top destination for us and our little one!
Tips for Toddlers
We never would have expected such a city to be so child-friendly. At first glance, there are a multitude of obstacles wherever you look: people, traffic, and Tube stations that are a nightmare for buggies. But it’s all good! So good, in fact, that whichever one of us wasn’t pushing the buggy had to act fast when it came to lifting it up and down the world of stairs of the Tube because so many strangers were already jumping in to help out!
I already knew the city pretty well. Every time it came to mind, my heart fluttered with happiness. When we spontaneously booked a trip there with our 15-month-old rascal, however, my heartbeat was a bit nervous, instead. It didn’t help that my online search for London tips for families did indeed lead to plenty of positive articles, but all of them focused on older children – for example, this one here. As is so often the case, Twitter was my lifesaver. It enabled me to get in touch with @sporty_mum, a Swiss mom who lives in London, goes out and about with her little girl – and also blogs about it. Her incredibly long message with many tips erased any worries that the big city might not be great with toddlers:
- There are playgrounds around every corner. The ones in the parks are particularly good. I normally like to go to the playground at the foot of Primrose Hill Park, which is also home to a small hill providing a stunning view of the city. The High Street has its own special character and a number of good cafés (Greenberry: a super brunch, a bit cramped if you take your buggy but it works) and restaurants (Lemonia: really tasty Greek food, child-friendly and a well-priced lunch menu).
- If you go to Hyde Park, be sure to visit the Diana Memorial Playground and the Diana Memorial Fountain, which is close by. Both are also just around the corner from the Serpentine Lake, which is home to loads of ducks and other animals and also has a friendly café (Lido Bar and Cafe) or the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen, both doable with children. What’s more, you can swim in the lake all year round. The Paddington area (close by) features the Merchant Square, with restaurants and a fountain.
- I also think Regent’s Park is great. It has a lake with lots of ducks. Its cafés, on the other hand, are not all that great. But Marylebone (and Oxford Street) or Primrose Hill are only a short walk away. London Zoo is also located in Regent’s Park – it’s a good zoo but very expensive.
- A slightly less urban location with no paved paths is Hampstead Heath Park (a great place for a day out), the bottom of which (to the south) even contains a playground with a small pool. From here, you can also walk to Hampstead, a village-like area with lots of good shops located close together, an excellent pancake house and plenty of cute little restaurants and pubs.
- Another park that I really like is Holland Park, which has a large grass area and a playground. It is also home to a Japanese garden with loads of koi fish, which are large and easy to spot. The café in the park is not that great, but the area around Holland Park Station contains a couple of good Italian restaurants (no chains) and Notting Hill is only a short walk away. Portobello Road Market is also worth a visit (but very busy on a Saturday).
- Granary Square at King’s Cross St. Pancras There are little fountains on a huge square, always full of children. The restaurants surrounding the square are also all great. To top it off, you can quickly make your way to the canal, where you can look at all the houseboats and walk towards Camden or Angel (home to cafés, restaurants and shops – a great area that’s bound to have a playground in one of Islington’s parks).
- Greenwich (a great day out): The park is pretty and the area has cute little shops, a good market (food) and a very child-friendly Jamie Oliver restaurant (a chain). My tip: Go there by Tube and then return to the city center by boat (you can also get off at Tower Bridge). It’s a really easy trip if you use a topped-up Oyster Card.
That was just an abbreviated version of a message packed with shopping and restaurant tips…THANK YOU SO MUCH, dear Sportymum! Given that we were only in London for five days, we weren’t able to try out even half the tips.
A welcoming home from home
Our days started off totally stress-free thanks to a friendly and relaxing breakfast in our PJs. We’d rented an apartment that was actually even better than it looked in the pictures. The only problem was that we couldn’t make use of the abundance of storage space….
Anyway, we had plenty of space and were able to lounge around in the morning, instead of having to make ourselves presentable for breakfast in a hotel dining room. (And in the evening, we could put our son to bed and have the living room to ourselves rather than having to whisper and read by flashlight because he was in the same room – so much better! Although if we’re honest, we were usually pretty wiped out after a day in the big city, so we only managed to exchange a few words and read a few pages. But that’s another story.)
After breakfast, we headed into the city. We tried for a good mix of adult and children’s activities, and stopped at parks and playgrounds for regular breaks.
Thanks to the wonderfully sunny October weather, we were able to picnic outdoors most days. Our little boy totally fell in love with the red buses all over the roads and never failed to point out every single one. He was also totally happy that people were so nice – those Brits do love kids! And even when we tried to squeeze into a jam-packed subway train with our stroller, we weren’t met with irritated glares, but with smiles for our little guy.
Our top 3 highlights
Our five days in London flew by much too quickly. Besides the wonderful sights and restaurants, these were our favorites:
- Hampstead Heath: This really was an awesome tip from @sporty_mum. We got away from the hustle and bustle of the big city with a day out in the heart of nature, walking and chatting. The Parliament Hill playground is in a beautiful location and is very well kept. After already spending a lot of time there, we came across the One o’Clock Club just a few meters away – amazing! The club, aimed at kids between 0 and 5, offers crafts, play and lots of active fun. It even has special child-sized toilets and sinks, plus loads of space for diaper changing – and it doesn’t cost a cent. When we ventured into Hampstead itself, we treated ourselves to a chocolate croissant in a cute café called Le Pain Quotidien, while our happily exhausted little rascal had a nap. Phew!
- Diana Memorial Playground: A dream of a playground, designed with great imagination; and laid out so that it doesn’t feel cramped, even when it’s full of visitors. A few weeks later, I met the designer of the playground for an article for the Swiss newspaper NZZ – he’s a man who wants to create spaces where children can truly be children. That’s exactly what he achieved with the Diana Memorial Playground.
- Imperial War Museum: Insight into years of history from World War I through to the present day. Many exhibits that are impressive even for young visitors. A brilliant thing about London is that many of its museums offer free admission. So it’s not so tragic if kids suddenly decide they’re bored and want to leave.
London, you were an excellent host. Cheers!