For a very long time now, “holiday” travel has meant amazing all of the airport onlookers as I balance car seats, backpacks and sleepy, whiny kids; all while pushing the stroller with one hand and searching for our gate – which, of course, is at the end of the terminal. Smile everyone, because after all, we’re on vacation!
Not this time.
I’ve been waiting for this moment for 12 long years. Three days in London with just my 12-year-old. Along for the ride is one carry-on, two of our best friends (my daughter’s tween friend and her mom) and a long list of what we wanted to do. This time, for the first time in a long time, it was really going to be a holiday.
Getting around in London
With no little kids to deal with, getting around felt effortless. Once we lost that feeling of forgetting something now that we didn’t have all the usual extra baggage and chaos, it was wonderful to see how travel changes when your child is perfectly capable of taking care of their own bag!
On our arrival, the Heathrow Express brought us directly into the center of the city and we were then just a black cab ride to our hotel. Heathrow Express is the fastest way into central London from the airport and much cheaper than a taxi. Alternatively, you can take the Underground, which will even be cheaper, but it adds a lot of time onto your journey. (Book ahead online for reduced rates.)
The rest of our trip was spent travelling around on the local underground system Londoners call “The Tube,” with the occasional cab ride as necessary. The tweens felt like grown-ups using their own Oyster Cards and learning to read the Tube map.
An Oyster Card is a travel card for the London transportation system that you can get at most underground stations. You load it with money to use on any public transport in London. Likewise, if you have a credit card with contactless payment option, you can also use that and enjoy the same lower rates as with the Oyster card. Kids get further reduced rates, so make sure you get them their own card (most larger stations have an attendant to help you – so just ask). The cost of an Oyster Card includes a deposit – so if you don’t plan to return to London, return it before you leave the country.
Where to stay
Our hotel for this adventure was the Marriott at Grosvenor Square. Our room was lovely, the breakfast buffet generous, but best of all, the location was perfect for our adventures. Located off Oxford Street and just a short walk to the Bond Street tube station, you would think it might be noisy, but the hotel is located in a quiet street, right where you can stroll along imagining you are a Londoner living in Mayfair.
What to do in London with tweens
As you know, London is a huge city full of a million possibilities. Narrowing down the list wasn’t an easy job. We wanted to have fun, get our tweens off their screens and hopefully learn something in the process. With that in mind, we all got together as soon as we booked our tickets for a holiday planning session and decided to go for our top four.
See a musical
With the biggest theater scene outside of Broadway, you are spoiled for choice. Many appeal to the tween set: The Lion King, School of Rock, Mamma Mia, Wicked, and Matilda were among our top picks. We finally decided on Matilda and were not disappointed. Playing at the Cambridge Theatre (Tube stop: Leicester Square), Matilda is based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. We booked tickets online before we traveled and had wonderful seats.
Learn about London’s rich history
London is well known for its wonderful museums, so it was important to us that we squeezed in a bit of history while we were there. Our museum of choice was the Churchill War Rooms in Westminster. With the politics of the day, as well as the fact that the girls had studied about World War II in class, we thought that the War Rooms could be a great addition to their studies.
We walked through the same halls in the secret underground bunker that Winston Churchill himself walked during WWII. The map room is exactly how it was left when the lights were turned out in 1945. The most astonishing part was that both the tweens were captivated from the moment we entered. They listened to the entire audio guide, which up until now has been unheard of. It was engaging, interesting, and very real.
Visit an off-the-beaten-path museum
London is filled with museums, many of them with free entry and almost all suitable for kids. We’d been to the usual suspects in the past, so this time we decided to try something completely different: The Cartoon Museum.
The small museum on a side street behind the British Museum was a unique look at history through cartoons over the decades. They have seasonal exhibitions, and a bonus when we visited was the “The Inking Women” – promoting women cartoonists. When you are finished looking at the cartoons there is a drawing room where you have a go yourself. Worth noting, they also run workshops.
A little shopping, of course
Tweens love shopping (mine does, anyway), so we made sure to make some time for it. We were able to avoid the big crowds on Oxford Street by heading instead to the Kings Road, where it is always a little quieter and definitely more scenic. You’ll find upscale designers combined with your regular High Street shopping. Worth checking out is the Peter Jones department store at the Sloane Square Tube stop, where they have something for everyone – including a couple of reasonably priced places to grab a bite.
What to eat in London
Afternoon tea and England go hand in hand, so treating ourselves to something very British was on the cards. While we weren’t in the mood (nor did we have the time for) a traditional High Tea, we still enjoyed a wonderful pot of tea and a fresh scone with clotted cream at Cafe Concerto along the Kings Road, where we could still practice holding cups with our pinkies sticking out.
After visiting the obligatory pub and sampling the amazing Gordon Ramsey restaurant called Maze, located directly in our hotel, we ventured out on our last night to Burger and Lobster for, you guessed it, a burger and some lobster. It’s a casual and limited menu, but who doesn’t like burgers and lobster?
Having a mini-holiday with your tween is as easy as booking the flight and hotel. Our tweens cannot wait to return, and neither can we!
I’m Kristin, a photographer, writer, mom, wife and part-time minimalist (mostly because I hate tidying up!). I get to exercise all of my passions with my lifestyle blog, “Simple Family Travel,” where I aim to help you reduce stress, have more fun with your family and find more time to travel! Originally from Australia, I have called Switzerland home for over 16 years now. You can also follow my adventures on Instagram.
What discoveries have you and your tween made in London? We’d love to hear your recommendations. To comment on a phone, please scroll all the way down – thanks!
When you’re wiped out after a weekend of sightseeing, put up your feet with your tween or teen and find your next parent-teen Netflix binge. For London fun with littler ones, check out London with a Toddler.