For travellers with access needs, London is a frustrating mix of user-friendliness and head-in-the-sand disinterest. New hotels and modern tourist attractions are legally required to be accessible to people in wheelchairs, but many historic buildings, B&Bs and guesthouses are in older buildings, which are hard or prohibitively expensive to adapt. Similarly, visitors with vision, hearing or cognitive impairments will find their needs met in a piecemeal fashion.
The good news is that as a result of hosting the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, and thanks to a forward-looking tourist board in VisitEngland, things are improving all the time.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Various websites offer useful information.
VisitLondon (www.visitlondon.com/traveller-information/essential-information/accessible-london) The tourist board's accessible travel page has useful links and information on accessible shops, hotels and toilets.
Accessible London (http://www.disabledgo.com/accessible-london-visit-london) Professionally audited guide, produced by DisabledGo, to access in the city.
Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk/transport-accessibility/) All the information you’ll need to get around London on public transport, including 'how to' videos and a live Twitter feed keeping you up to date on transport access issues such as out-of-order lifts.
Accessible Travel Online Resources (http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/world/accessible-travel-online-resources-2017) Lonely Planet’s guide offers many more useful links to get the best out of your visit to London.
Several organisations have a UK-wide remit.
Action on Hearing Loss (0808 808 0123, textphone 0808 808 9000; www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk) This is the main organisation working with deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. Many ticket offices and banks are fitted with hearing loops to help the hearing-impaired; look for the ear symbol.
Disability Rights UK Umbrella organisation for voluntary groups for people with disabilities. Many wheelchair-accessible toilets can be opened only with a special Royal Association of Disability & Rehabilitation (Radar) key, which can be obtained via the website or from tourist offices for £5.40.
Royal National Institute for the Blind The UK's main charitable institution for people with sight loss.
- Around a quarter of tube stations, half of overground stations, most piers, all tram stops, the Emirates Air Line (cable car) and all DLR stations have step-free access. However, even if your starting and destination tube stations have step-free access, stations where you interchange may not and there is always the dreaded gap between train and platform to mind – careful planning and notification of a staff member are recommended before you board a train.
- Buses are a much better bet: all can be lowered to street level when they stop and wheelchair users travel free. A recent court case has confirmed that wheelchair users have priority use of the wheelchair space over pram (stroller) users, and bus drivers should back you up if a buggy is blocking the space.
- All black cabs are wheelchair-accessible, but power wheelchair users should note that the space is tight and sometimes headroom is insufficient. This should improve as a new fleet of more accessible black cabs is phased in over the next couple of years.
- Guide dogs are universally welcome on public transport and in hotels, restaurants, attractions etc.
- Throughout the capital pavements are generally in good repair, pedestrian crossings relatively frequent and well placed, and kerb cuts sufficient not to leave you stranded. The further you get from the centre of London, the more likely it is that you'll have the occasional issue with a missing kerb cut.
Dangers & Annoyances
London is a fairly safe city for its size, but exercise common sense.
- Terrorist attacks have afflicted London in recent years, but risks to individual visitors are remote. Report anything suspicious to the police by calling 999 (emergency) or 101 (non-emergency).
- Keep an eye on your handbag/wallet, especially in bars and nightclubs, and in crowded areas such as the Underground.
- Be discreet with your tablet/smartphone – snatching happens.
- If catching a cab after a night’s clubbing, get a black taxi or licensed minicab.
- Victims of rape and sexual abuse can contact Rape Crisis England & Wales (0808 802 9999, noon-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm; www.rapecrisis.org.uk); anyone in emotional distress can contact Samaritans (116 123 toll free, 24 hours; www.samaritans.org).
London Pass (020-7293 0972; www.londonpass.com; 1/2/3/6/10 days £69/94/114/154/184) Worthwhile for visitors who want to take in lots of paid sights in a short time. The pass offers free entry and queue-jumping to all major attractions, and can be adapted to include use of the Underground and buses. Child passes are available too. Check the website for details.
You can download the app to your smartphone or collect your pass from the London Pass Redemption Desk, near Leicester Sq.
Historic Royal Palaces If you're a royalty or palace buff, taking out an annual membership allows you to jump the queues and visit the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Banqueting House, Kew Palace and Hampton Court Palace as often as you like, making you a fair saving. There can be a lengthy wait for membership cards, but temporary cards are issued immediately.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|London’s area code||020|
|International access code||00|
|Police, fire or ambulance||999|
|Reverse charge/collect calls||155|
Entry & Exit Formalities
UK immigration authorities are stringent and methodical, so queues can get long at passport control, especially at Heathrow Airport.
The UK distinguishes between goods bought duty-free outside the EU and those bought in another EU country, where taxes and duties will have already been paid.
If you exceed your duty-free allowance, you will have to pay tax on the items. For European goods, there is officially no limit to how much you can bring but customs use certain guidelines to distinguish between personal and commercial use.
|Tobacco||200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco|
|Spirits & liqueurs||1L spirit or 2L fortified wine (eg sherry or port)|
|Beer & wine||16L beer & 4L still wine|
|Other goods||Up to a value of £390|
Not required for Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and US visitors, as well as several other nations, for stays of up to six months.
Immigration to the UK is becoming tougher, particularly for those seeking to work or study. The exit of the UK from the EU will take several years, but the process has commenced and entry requirements for EU nationals may change. Make sure you check the website of the UK Border Agency (www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa) or with your local British embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date information.
Tourist visas can be extended as long as the total time spent in the UK is less than six months, or in clear emergencies (eg an accident, death of a relative). Contact the UK Visas & Immigration Contact Centre for details (0300 123 2241; 9am-4.45pm Mon-Thu, to 4.30pm Fri) .
Although largely informal in their everyday dealings, Londoners do observe some (unspoken) rules of etiquette.
- Strangers Unless asking for directions, British people generally won't start a conversation at bus stops or on tube platforms. More latitude is given to non-British people.
- Greetings When meeting someone formally for the first time, shake hands.
- Queues The British don't tolerate queue jumping. Any attempt to do so will receive tutting and protest.
- Tube Stand on the right and pass on the left while riding an Underground escalator.
- Bargaining Haggling over the price of goods (but not food) is OK in markets, but non-existent in shops.
- Punctuality It's not good form to turn up more than 10 minutes late for drinks or dinner. If you're unavoidably late, keep everyone in the loop.
- Apologise The British love apologising. If you bump into someone on the tube, say sorry; they may apologise back, even if you are to blame.
Not all holidays are trouble-free and travel insurance for visits to London is very much recommended. Insurance usually covers medical and dental consultation and treatment at private clinics, as well as the cost of any emergency flight, plus loss of baggage and so forth. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
- Virtually every hotel in London now provides wi-fi free of charge.
- A huge number of cafes, and many restaurants, offer free wi-fi to customers, including major chain cafes. Cultural venues such as the Barbican or the Southbank Centre also have free wi-fi.
- Open-air and street wi-fi access is available in areas across London, including Oxford St, Trafalgar Sq, Piccadilly Circus, the City of London and Islington's Upper St. Users have to register but there's no charge.
- Most major train stations, airport terminals and even some Underground stations also have wi-fi, but access isn't always free.
- See Time Out's Free Wi-fi Map (www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/where-to-find-free-wi-fi-in-london-9) for more locations.
Should you face any legal difficulties while in London, visit a branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau (www.citizensadvice.org.uk), or contact your embassy.
The laws against drink-driving are very strict in the UK and treated seriously. Currently the limit is 80mg of alcohol in 100mL of blood. The safest approach is not to drink anything at all if you’re planning to drive.
It is illegal to use a hand-held phone (or similar devices) while driving.
Illegal drugs of every type are widely available in London, especially in clubs. Nonetheless, all the usual drug warnings apply. Cannabis was downgraded to a Class C drug in 2004 but reclassified as a Class B drug in 2009 following a government rethink. If you’re caught with pot today, you’re likely to be arrested. Possession of harder drugs, including heroin and cocaine, is always treated seriously. Searches on entering clubs are common.
In general you rarely have to pay on the spot for an offence. The exceptions are trains, the tube and buses, where people who can’t produce a valid ticket for the journey when asked to by an inspector can be fined there and then. No excuses are accepted, though if you can’t pay, you’ll be able to register your details (if you have some sort of ID with you) and be sent a fine in the post.
The city of Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and Elton John does not disappoint its queer visitors, proffering a fantastic mix of highbrow culture and brash parties year-round. It's a world gay capital on par with New York and San Francisco, with visible gay, lesbian and transgender communities and enlightened laws to protect them.
Protection from discrimination is enshrined in law and same-sex couples have the right to marry. That’s not to say that homophobia does not exist, and anti-gay violence still occurs with some regularity. However, it would be extremely surprising (not to mention illegal) for same-gender couples to strike any problems when booking a double bed in a hotel or, indeed, dealing with any service provider.
Gay Bars & Clubs
Several famous venues have closed their doors in recent years – due, in part, to gentrification of traditionally gay neighbourhoods. That said, London still has a widely varied bar scene with venues spread across the city, not just in the traditional Soho heartland. Whether you fancy a quiet pint in an old-fashioned boozer that just happens to be gay, or a pumping place to wet your whistle before going out dancing, plenty of options remain.
Clubbing in London, and on the gay scene in particular, is less about specific clubs than it is about promoters staging specialist nights at established venues. This means that a club that was full of shirtless gay dudes one night might well be full of straight goths the next.
The lesbian scene has few venues of its own – She Soho on Old Compton St being a notable exception – and most gay bars are overwhelmingly male. That said, the hipper, younger venues (such as the Glory, Dalston Superstore and Her Upstairs) tend to be much more mixed, and there are regular women's nights held at establishments straight and gay, especially in the East End.
Need to Know
London has a lively gay press charting the ever-changing scene. Check out any of these publications, available both online and in hard copy; their listings are the most up-to-date available.
- Boyz (www.boyz.co.uk) Weekly magazine covering the bar and club scenes.
- QX (www.qxmagazine.com) Another weekly mag devoted mainly to men's venues.
- Pride Life (www.pridelife.com) Quarterly news and lifestyle magazine.
The following magazines are for sale at newsagents.
- Gay Times (www.gaytimes.co.uk) Long-standing monthly gay men's mag.
- Diva (www.divamag.co.uk) Monthly lesbian magazine.
- Attitude (www.attitude.co.uk) Monthly gay men's lifestyle glossy.
Blogs & Other Resources
- 60by80 (www.60by80.com/london) Gay travel information.
- Time Out London LGBT (www.timeout.com/london/lgbt) Bar, club and events listings.
- Always report homophobic crimes to the police.
- Switchboard LGTB & Helpline Confidential helpline (0300 330 0630) and website (https://switchboard.lgbt) for all aspects of gay and lesbian life.
- The West End Centred on Old Compton St, Soho’s gay village still has London’s greatest concentration of venues.
- East London Dalston has an alternative, diverse and mixed scene, while Limehouse has some old-school gay venues.
- Greenwich & South London Vauxhall has a good-natured but somewhat blokey scene, leavened by the kooky RVT.
- BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival Renowned film festival, hosted by the British Film Institute, with screenings, premieres, awards and talks.
- Pride One of the world’s largest LGBTQI parades, complete with floats, stalls and performers.
- Fringe! (www.fringefilmfest.com) Queer film and arts festival, held in various venues in November.
Best Historical & Cultural Sites
- Gay's the Word Bookshop that's been a bastion of gay culture since 1979.
- Hampstead Heath Legendary cruising ground, with popular single-sex bathing ponds immortalised in Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty.
- Cadogan Hotel, Sloane St, Knightsbridge Site of Oscar Wilde's arrest in 1895; due to reopen in 2018.
- 52 Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury The house where Virginia Woolf was living when she wrote Orlando, inspired by Vita Sackville-West.
- Admiral Duncan, 54 Old Compton St, Soho Gay pub that was the site of a homophobic bombing in 1999, killing three patrons.
- She Soho London's only dedicated lesbian bar, in the heart of the gay strip.
- Ku Klub Party girls head down the stairs for the weekly Ruby Tuesdays takeover.
- Dalston Superstore Regular women's nights readjust the gender balance of this female-friendly hispter hang-out.
- RVT Monthly Butch, Please! nights, plus a whole host of drag kings and other lesbian performers.
- Glory A mixed crowd of hip young things head to this bastion of kooky camp.
Bars & Pubs
- Yard A rare indoor-outdoor venue in the middle of gay Soho.
- Glory One of London's most eclectic venues, where weird is a term of genuine endearment.
- Two Brewers Long-standing Clapham bar serving a local South London crowd.
- Duke of Wellington Nothing flashy here, just an unpretentious gay boozer attracting a beardy crowd.
- Old Ship Unassuming and cosy corner pub in Limehouse.
- Heaven London's most famous gay club has been reeling them in since the late 1970s.
- Dalston Superstore Diner by day, subterranean nightclub after dark.
- Eagle Blokey, beardy and a bit beary, this is a cracker of a late-night venue.
- RVT Themed party nights, cabaret, drag shows, open stage and all kinds of wacky shenanigans.
- Ku Klub After Soho's bars close, the Ku basement beckons.
- Popcorn at Heaven A fun and cheap Monday night out, with a great selection of music.
- G-A-Y at Heaven Love it or hate it, G-A-Y is where seemingly half of Soho heads on Saturday.
- Duckie at the RVT Tagged London’s 'flagship rock 'n' roll honky-tonk’, this is the club’s legendary queer performance night.
- Horse Meat Disco at Eagle Long-standing Sunday nighter for dudes old enough to know better.
- Pop Horror at the RVT If you like pop and you like horror, combine them in a monthly disco bloodbath.
The London A–Z series produces a range of excellent maps and hand-held street atlases. Online, www.street map.co.uk and Google Maps are comprehensive.
ATMs are widespread. Major credit cards are accepted everywhere. The best place to change money is in post-office branches, which do not charge a commission.
ATMs are everywhere and will generally accept Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus or Maestro cards, as well as more obscure ones. There is almost always a transaction surcharge for cash withdrawals with foreign cards. There are nonbank-run ATMs that charge £1.50 to £2 per transaction. These are normally found inside shops and are particularly expensive for foreign-bank card holders. The ATM generally warns you before you take money out that it will charge you but be vigilant.
Although many London ATMs are largely tamper-proof, always beware of suspicious-looking devices attached to ATMs, including tiny pinhole cameras. If you are unsure about any particular ATM, find another one.
The UK did not adopt the euro and retained the pound sterling (£) as its unit of currency.
One pound sterling is made up of 100 pence (called ‘pee’, colloquially).
Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50, while coins are 1p ('penny'), 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. Loaded with features to thwart counterfeiters, a new dual-metal, hologram-decorated, 12-sided £1 coin entered circulation in 2017.
The best place to change money is in any local post-office branch, where no commission is charged.
You can also change money in most high-street banks and some travel agencies, as well as at the numerous bureaux de change throughout the city.
Compare rates and watch for the commission that is not always mentioned very prominently. The trick is to ask how many pounds you’ll receive in total before committing – you’ll lose nothing by shopping around.
Credit & Debit Cards
Londoners live off their debit cards, which can also be used to get ‘cash back’ from supermarkets. Card transactions and cash withdrawals are generally subject to additional charges for foreign cardholders; check with your provider.
- Credit and debit cards are accepted almost universally in London, from restaurants and bars to shops and even by some taxis.
- American Express and Diners Club are far less widely used than Visa and MasterCard.
- Contactless cards and payments (which do not require a chip and pin or a signature) are increasingly widespread (watch for the wi-fi-like symbol on cards, shops, taxis, buses, the Underground, rail services and other transport options). Transactions are limited to a maximum of £30.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Hotels Pay a porter £1 per bag; gratuity for room staff is at your discretion.
- Pubs Not expected unless table service is provided, then £1 for a round of drinks is sufficient. Do not tip at the bar.
- Restaurants Service charge often included in the bill. If not, 10% for decent service, up to 15% if exceptional.
- Taxis Londoners generally round the fare up to the nearest pound only.
Many restaurants add a 12.5% ‘discretionary’ service charge to your bill. It’s legal for them to do so but this should be clearly advertised; do, however, examine your bill.
In places that don’t include a service charge, you are expected to leave 10% extra unless the service was unsatisfactory. A tip of 15% is for extraordinary service.
You never, never tip to have your pint pulled or wine poured in a pub.
Some guides and/or drivers on Thames boat trips will solicit you – sometimes rather forcefully – for their commentary. Whether you pay is up to you but it is not required.
You can tip taxi drivers up to 10% but most people just round up to the nearest pound.
The following are standard opening hours.
Banks 9am–5pm Monday–Friday
Post offices 9am–5.30pm Monday–Friday and 9am–noon Saturday
Pubs & bars 11am–11pm (many are open later)
Restaurants noon–2.30pm and 6–11pm
Shops 9am–7pm Monday–Saturday, noon–6pm Sunday
The Royal Mail (www.royalmail.com) is no longer the humdinger it once was but it is generally very reliable. To find your nearest post office, consult www.postoffice.co.uk/branch-finder.
The unusual London postcode system dates back to WWI. The whole city is divided up into districts denoted by a letter (or letters) and a number. For example, W1, the postcode for Mayfair and Soho, stands for ‘West London, district 1’. EC1, on the other hand, stands for ‘East Central London, district 1’. The number a district is assigned has nothing to do with its geographic location, but rather its alphabetical listing in that area. For example, in North London N1 and N16 are right next to each other, as are E1 and E14 in East London.
Most attractions and businesses close for a couple of days over Christmas and sometimes Easter. Places that normally shut on Sunday will probably close on bank holiday Mondays. The transport network shuts down in London on Christmas Day, apart from Santander Cycles. Hotel restaurants are about the only thing you'll find open.
New Year’s Day 1 January
Good Friday Late March/April
Easter Monday Late March/April
May Day Holiday First Monday in May
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May
Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
These change from year to year and often from school to school. As a general rule, however, they are as follows:
Spring half term One week in mid-February
Easter holidays One week either side of Easter Sunday
Summer half term One week in late May/early June
Summer holiday Late July to early September
Autumn half term One week in late October/early November
Christmas holidays Roughly 20 December to 6 January
- Smoking Forbidden in all enclosed public places. Most pubs have some sort of smoking area outside. Some pubs and restaurants have a no-vaping policy (so check for each establishment); vaping is not allowed on buses, the tube or trains in London.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is a 20% sales tax levied on most goods and services. Restaurants must always include VAT in prices, but the same requirement doesn't apply to hotel-room prices.
It’s sometimes possible for visitors to claim a refund of VAT paid on goods. You’re eligible if you live outside the EU and are heading back home, or if you're an EU citizen and leaving the EU for more than 12 months.
Not all shops participate in what is called either the VAT Retail Export Scheme or Tax Free Shopping, and different shops will have different minimum purchase conditions (normally around £75 in any one shop). On request, participating shops will give you a special form (VAT 407). This must be presented with the goods and receipts to customs when you depart the country. (VAT-free goods can’t be posted or shipped home.) After customs has certified the form, you can sometimes get a refund on the spot, otherwise the form gets sent back to the shop, which then processes your refund (minus an administration or handling fee). This can take up to 10 weeks.
British Telecom’s famous red phone boxes survive in conservation areas only (notably Westminster). Some people use them as shelter from the rain while using their mobile phones. Some BT phones still accept coins, but most take credit cards. The minimum charge is 60p, for the first 30 minutes of a national call.
London’s area code is 020, followed by an eight-digit number beginning with 7 (central London), 8 (Greater London) or 3 (nongeographic).
You only need to dial the 020 when you are calling London from elsewhere in the UK or if you’re dialling from a mobile.
To call London from abroad, dial your country’s international access code (usually 00 but 011 in Canada and the USA), then 44 (the UK’s country code), then 20 (dropping the initial 0), followed by the eight-digit phone number.
International Calls & Rates
International direct dialling (IDD) calls to almost anywhere can be made from nearly all public telephones. Direct dialling is cheaper than making a reverse-charge (collect) call through the international operator.
Many private firms offer cheaper international calls than BT. In such places you phone from a metered booth and then pay the bill. Some internet shops also offer cheap rates for international calls.
International calling cards with stored value (usually £5, £10 or £20) and a PIN, which you can use from any phone by dialling a special access number, are usually the cheapest way to call abroad. These cards are available at most corner shops.
Note that the use of Skype or Whatsapp may be restricted in some hostels because of noise and/or bandwidth issues.
Local & National Call Rates
Local calls are charged by time alone; regional and national calls are charged by both time and distance.
Daytime rates apply from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday.
The cheap rate applies from 7pm to 7am Monday to Friday and again over the weekend from 7pm Friday to 7am Monday.
Buy local SIM cards for European and Australian phones, or a pay-as-you-go phone. Set other phones to international roaming.
The UK uses the GSM 900 network, which covers Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but is not compatible with CDMA mobile technology used in the US and Japan (although some American and Japanese phones can work on both GSM and CDMA networks).
If you have a GSM phone, check with your service provider about using it in the UK and ask about roaming charges.
It’s usually better to buy a local SIM card from any mobile-phone shop, though in order to do that your handset from home must be unlocked.
London is on GMT/UTC; during British Summer Time (BST; late March to late October), London clocks are one hour ahead of GMT/UTC.
Train stations, bus terminals and attractions generally have good facilities, providing also for people with disabilities and those with young children. You’ll also find public toilets across the city, some operated by local councils, others automated and self-cleaning. Most charge 50p. Department stores and museums generally have toilets. It’s now an offence to urinate in the streets. To locate your nearest toilet, consult the Great British Public Toilet Map (www.toiletmap.org.uk), or download one of several toilet-finding apps to your smartphone.
Visit London (www.visitlondon.com) can fill you in on everything from tourist attractions and events (Changing the Guard, Chinese New Year parade etc) to river trips and tours, accommodation, eating, theatre, shopping, children’s activities and LGBT+ venues. Kiosks are dotted about the city and can provide maps and brochures; some branches book theatre tickets.
Travel with Children
London is a fantastic place for children. The city’s museums will fascinate all ages, and you’ll find theatre, dance and music performances ideal for older kids. Playgrounds and parks, city farms and nature reserves are perfect for either toddler energy-busting or relaxation.
Central London Kid Picks
- Hyde Park & St James’s Park
Open spaces, playgrounds, water and wildlife.
- The West End
- London Transport Museum
Drive the tube, trains and buses and then have a London Underground–themed smoothie in the upstairs cafe.
- Coram’s Fields
Sandpits, swings, animals and areas for all kinds of acrobatics (www.coramsfields.org).
- Kensington Gardens
- South Kensington
East London Kid Picks
South London Kid Picks
- Southbank Centre
Car-free and full of fun, there are also music and theatre events at the Royal Festival Hall for teens, toddlers and those in between.
- Battersea Park
Leafy park with a small children's zoo.
- Horniman Museum
Fantastic museum with an array of free-to-touch objects, such as puppets and masks.
- Vauxhall City Farm
Animal petting and picnicking on the grass (www.vauxhallcityfarm.org).
- Imperial War Museum
After older kids are done checking out the battle aeroplanes, the whole family can picnic on the vast green outside while the little ones play at the adjacent playground.
North London Kid Picks
Parks & Playgrounds
London's parks and gardens are manna from heaven for parents of young children.
- St James's Park
Admiring the ducks and squirrels and watching the pelicans’ teatime at this park is a must, followed by running around the rocky playground and sandpit.
- Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
Row your boat on the Serpentine lake or hire a pedalo. Rent a bike to ride around the park. Otherwise, take little ones to splash about the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain or play at the excellent Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground.
- Science Museum
Really! Head down to the basement of this museum where 'the Garden' is a dedicated interactive play zone for tots aged three to six. The water area is especially popular (waterproof smocks are provided).
- Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
From the sprouting fountain patio in which kids frolic to the amazing Tumbling Bay Playground (complete with tree houses, sandpit and wobbly bridge), this park will keep kids busy for hours.
This working city farm near Canary Wharf has lots of animals, meadows and plenty of activities for kiddies.
- Coram's Fields
Almost 3 hectares of lawns, sandpit, shallow pool, animal yard, swings and other contraptions are all yours at Coram’s Fields, a local favourite (www.coramsfields.org).
- Battersea Park
A leafy haven that contains a small children's zoo and provides some great playing opportunities.
- Regent's Park
A truly wonderful park with lots of peaceful green spaces for your kids to run wild. It's also home to ZSL London Zoo, which makes it cool without even trying.
City Farms & Nature Reserves
City kids need a regular fix of their animal buddies, and London obliges with the UK’s most diverse pick of the animal kingdom through its city farms, zoos and nature reserves.
- Freightliners City Farm
A fantastic working farm (www.freightlinersfarm.org.uk) in the inner city that’s home to cows, sheep, pigs and giant Flemish rabbits. It’s also a community centre with a cafe and opportunities to buy eggs and veggies grown on the farm.
- Hackney City Farm
A retreat from the urban East London surroundings, Hackney City Farm has goats, sheep, pigs and a donkey named Larry.
- Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park
The perfect place to meander on the marshland paths and bird-watch. Lose yourself in nature in the midst of industrial London. See www.tcv.org.uk/greenwichpeninsula.
- Kentish Town City Farm
London’s oldest city farm (www.ktcityfarm.org.uk) has been going since 1972 and was the example for the rest of the capital’s farms. Apart from petting the animals, kids can get involved in feeding and cleaning; there are popular pony-riding and pottery-throwing workshops too.
- Highgate Wood
Highgate Wood is a huge woodland area that feels worlds away from the traffic-laden streets of London. The entire place is just heavenly for kids with its carefully thought-out playground and outdoor storytelling sessions and treasure hunts.
- Mudchute Park & Farm
There are daily activities, including a 9am duck walk, and a great picnic area at London's largest city farm.
- Epping Forest
Twelve miles in length and nearly as many across, Epping Forest (www.visiteppingforest.org) is popular for horse riding, cycling and walking, and is also the place to spot a grazing cow. Best for older kids and their families, and those keen on getting plenty of exercise.
Best for Kids
There is so much to see and do that you won't know where to start.
- V&A Museum of Childhood
Dressing-up boxes, toys from times gone-by and interactive play areas.
- Natural History Museum
Dinosaurs, animals, more dinosaurs, planet earth and the role of scientific research – all fascinating stuff at this museum.
- London Transport Museum
Twenty London Transport buses and trains are on display and available for climbing on and general child-handling at this museum.
- Greenwich Park & Royal Observatory
First there is the park, which you need to gambol through to get to the observatory; then there are the Astronomy Galleries and the Planetarium, which kids will marvel at, as well as the Camera Obscura.
- ZSL London Zoo
Want to see your kids saucer-eyed with wonder in London's largest menagerie? Well, they can do that here.
- Golden Hinde
Kids go wild for the treasure hunts, the tall tales of pirates and mutinies, and the incredibly evocative interior of this replica 16th-century galleon.
- Horniman Museum
An aquarium, a hands-on music room, natural history galleries and huge grounds – this museum offers endless fun.
Best for Teenagers
London punches above its weight when it comes to entertaining blasé teenagers.
- ArcelorMittal Orbit's slide
This 178m-long corkscrewing slide is one of London's most adrenalin-inducing experiences, with superb views.
- Science Museum
The sensational displays about space, information technology, flying and more will have teenagers enthralled at the Science Museum.
- Tate Modern
The Drawing Bar at Bloomberg Connects at this modern art museum has digital sketch pads where teens can express their inner Rothko.
- Madame Tussauds
With its celebrity waxworks this museum is selfie heaven, be it with Luke Skywalker, David Beckham or Benedict Cumberbatch.
- Bond In Motion
The James Bond car collection steals the show, but there is plenty more film memorabilia to enjoy here.
- London Transport Museum
The A to Zs and nuts and bolts of London transport told in fun fashion. The museum also stages Hidden London tours (from 14 years) taking you down into secret shelters and disused tunnels across London (book early).
- HMS Belfast
HMS Belfast was a light cruiser that served in WWII and the Korean War. Amazing displays bring those history lessons to life.
- Changing the Guard
Soldiers in bearskin hats and red uniforms, military orders and all the pomp at the Changing the Guard – everyone will gape.
Off-beat Activities & Courses
If you’re a London resident, or if you’re just after a bit of off-beat fun for your children, take them to one of these courses.
- Children’s Cookery Classes
Try La Cucina Caldesi (www.caldesi.com) in Marylebone, where courses are aimed at kids aged from six to teens, or Kiddy Cook (www.kiddycook.co.uk) in Twickenham, where those aged two to 11 can get busy with raw ingredients.
- Children & Youth Dance
The Place has great term-time courses for young people between the ages of six and 15. Some toddler classes too. Best for London residents.
- Mushroom Foraging
Fungi to Be With (www.fungitobewith.org) runs trips to Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest and Wimbledon Common.
Plans rain-checked by London's famously unpredictable weather? As well as myriad museums and galleries, here are some ideas to stay warm and dry.
- BFI IMAX Cinema
Documentaries and blockbusters in 3D for a different cinema experience.
- Queens Ice & Bowl
Get your skates on and go spinning around the rink, or have the kids aim for a strike in the bowling alley.
- West End matinee show
The West End has plenty of plays and musicals children will love, from Matilda to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Tickets are often available on the day.
- Treetop Walkway
Go underground and then up 18m into the canopy for an unforgettable encounter with nature at Kew Gardens.
- Mayfield Lavender
Wander among the lavender flowers in a magically beautiful landscape.
- Thames River Services
These river cruises may be less thrilling than a high-speed boat, but there will definitely be more sightseeing.
- Hampton Court Palace Maze
It takes the average visitor 20 minutes to find the centre of the maze – can your kids beat that? Look out for summer events such as jousting and falconry too.
London’s museums are nothing if not child friendly. There are dedicated children or family trails in virtually every museum. Additionally, you'll find plenty of activities such as storytelling at the National Gallery, thematic backpacks to explore the British Museum, pop-up performances at the Victoria & Albert Museum, family audio guides at the Tate Modern, and art and crafts workshops at Somerset House, where kids can dance through the fountains in the courtyard in summer. The Science Museum has a marvellous interactive area downstairs called 'the Garden', where tots can splash around with water; however, some kids never get past the fantastic shop at the museum. Older kids will be thrilled with the flight simulators at the Science Museum too.
In winter (November to January), a section by the East Lawn of the Natural History Museum is transformed into a glittering and highly popular ice rink; book your slot well ahead (www.ticketmaster.co.uk). Somerset House also sparkles with a fantastic ice rink in winter.
Remember, many activities are free (check websites for details).
Museum & Attraction Sleepovers
What better fun than sleeping at the feet of a dinosaur? Museum sleepovers are very popular and must be booked at least a couple of months in advance.
- Natural History Museum Snooze under the watchful eye of the blue whale in the Hintze Hall, having first explored the museum’s darkest nooks and crannies with only a torch to light your way. Monthly; adults welcome too!
- Science Museum Each month kids aged seven to 11 get the chance to experience a night of hands-on workshops, science shows and an IMAX 3D film.
- British Museum Sleepovers give kids aged eight to 15 the chance to bed down next to Egyptian sculpture.
- ZSL London Zoo Don't let the bedbugs bite! Sleepovers for kids aged seven to 11.
Eating with Kids
OK, it’s not Italy, Spain or France, with their uber-relaxed approach to small diners, but most of London’s restaurants and cafes are child friendly and offer baby-changing facilities and high chairs. Pick your places with some awareness – avoid high-end and quiet, small restaurants and cafes if you have toddlers or small babies (and those with the ‘No Children’ signs on the doors). Go for noisier restaurants and more relaxed cafes, and you’ll find that you’ll be welcomed and probably even given that rare London treat – a smile.
London is a great opportunity for your kids to taste all the world’s cuisines in close proximity to each other, so pick from good-quality (and MSG-free) Chinese, Italian, French, Mexican, Japanese and Indian restaurants. Many places have kids’ menus, but ask for smaller portions of adult dishes if your children have a more adventurous palate; you’ll find that most places will be keen to oblige. Items on kids’ menus range from the usual burgers, pastas, sausage and mash and so on, and cost anything from £3.50 to £7.50.
This chain (www.wagamama.com) is much loved by kids for its noodles and general buzz. Fresh juices and sugar-free ice lollies are favourites, and your little ones get to master the chopsticks.
Nando's (www.nandos.co.uk) branches are everywhere and are excellent for kids of all ages, except tots. They serve peri-peri chicken, and you can order to taste. The bottomless drinks and frozen yoghurt are a perennial favourite.
- Frizzante Cafe
Good cafe (www.frizzantecafe.com) for a big lunch before or after animal sightings at the adjacent Hackney City Farm.
Need to Know
- Transport Under-16s travel free on buses, under-11s travel free on the tube and under-5s go free on trains. Steps and escalators mean some stations are hard to access with buggies (strollers) – buses are a safer bet. Transport for London has accessible-transport details (www.tfl.gov.uk/transport-accessibility).
- Walking The best way to see London is by walking – public transport can be crowded and hot in summer.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The UK uses a confusing mix of metric and imperial systems.
Female visitors to London are unlikely to have many problems, provided they take the usual big-city precautions. Don’t get into an Underground carriage with no one else in it or with just one or two men. And if you feel unsafe, you should take a taxi or licensed minicab.
Apart from the occasional wolf whistle and unwelcome body contact on the tube, women will find male Londoners reasonably enlightened. Going into pubs alone may not always be a comfortable experience, though it is in no way out of the ordinary.