It was my children’s first ever visit to London – so I was determined to show them all the sights and fit as much in as possible.
But at the forefront of my mind was the cost of visiting the capital. There’s no way of getting away from some of the expense, but by planning ahead, being organised and visiting a lot of free attractions – I was able to visit on a shoestring – here’s how.
Travelling to London
We decided to save the hassle of driving and avoid high parking fees by travelling direct from Hull to London Kings Cross on train.
The best deal I could find was with Hull Trains, by booking in advance. Click here to sign up for cheap tickets alerts. You can book 12 weeks before travel when the deals are released. The cheapest fares usually sell out quickly though.
Hull Trains also offers 2for1 entry to over 150 London attractions, restaurants, theatres, exhibitions and more, when you travel by train to the capital. Click here for more information about the offer.
The kids loved travelling on the train, we don’t do it often so it was a treat. They had their iPads to keep them amused and I was able to relax with a drink – and before we knew it, we had arrived in the capital!
I would highly recommend staying at Kings Cross so you don’t need to cart your suitcases on the underground.
We stayed at the Travelodge London Central Kings Cross on Grays Inn Rd – which was only a five or six minute walk from the station.
We were able to drop our bags as soon as we arrived in London, and on the day we left we were able to leave them in the hotel and didn’t have to go right out of our way to collect them as we were travelling home from Kings Cross anyway.
The hotel was perfect for us. There’s family rooms which are spacious and comofortbale. Although the hotel is on a main road it was very quiet inside. The staff were welcoming and friendly and it was a really good base.
The Travelodge was the best value hotel I could find because you can get rooms for as little as £49 per night in London (£29 per night in all other cities.)
Top tips for getting a £49 room:
1) The best value rooms are snapped up early. Rooms can be booked up to 325 days in advance, so the earlier you book, the more likely you’ll get a £49 room.
2) Book direct on the Travelodge website
3) Stay midweek. £49 rooms tend to be available Sunday to Thursday. You can find some £49 rooms on Friday and Saturday nights, they’re very popular and tend to get booked quickly, so remember to book early.
4) Sign up to the Travelodge newsletter to be the first to receive great value offers and seasonal promotions.
At the Travelodge I was also given a map of London which had 20 per cent off vouchers for loads of restaurants and attractions.
Getting around London
Kids go free on the London Underground so we used the tube to get about. There is no need to buy tickets anymore. Simply scan your debit card at the barriers when you enter and leave the stations to pay contactless. This saves time and money and is just so easy.
I also downloaded the Tube Map app before I set off and so instead of having to work out the quickest route, you simply put the station you’re travelling from and the station you’re travelling to and it gives you the exact route to take.
I also took the kids scooters to get about. According to my iPhone we were averaging 16,000 steps per day and that would be a lot for my seven and five-year-olds to walk.
Taking the scooters were a godsend. It was a bit of a hassle holding them on the tube station escalators, but totally worth it for the miles of scooting they did, which prevented them from walking.
Free places to visit
The best thing about London is the amount of free places there are to vist, here’s just a few of them…
High up on my list was watching the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and I’m so glad we did because the kids thought it was brilliant. This every-other day event is the ceremony where The Queen’s Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace to the New Guard.
Most people head for Buckingham Palace to see Changing the Guard, but the ceremony actually takes place between three locations – Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks.
We got the tube to Green Park and strolled through the park towards the palace. It’s a must-visit place, even if you don’t got at 11am for the ceremony.
If you want the best view you will need to get there before 9.30am to stand up against the railings to see the the old and new guards present arms before the Captains of the Guard ceremoniously hand over the Palace keys.
However, the guards do march along the streets, followed by the military band, so there are many vantage points if you get there later.
Click here for more changing of the guards information, dates and times.
From Buckingham Palace you can walk along Birdcage Walk to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside this tower, but nowadays, the entire tower is commonly referred to as Big Ben. Although it is is undergoing restoration work at the moment it’s still a landmark worth pointing out to the kids.
From Big Ben you can walk across Westminster Bridge over the River Thames and take a stroll along the South Bank, and you will eventually find Jubilee Gardens. This is a free playground in the shadow of the London Eye.
Don’t get caught out by the three cup and ball con artists working on this bridge. They are good to watch, but do not place a bet because no one ever wins.
St. James’s Park
This is a beautiful and picturesque royal park and a good spot for a picnic. You can also see the pelicans being fresh fish between 2:30pm and 3pm every day, next to Duck Island Cottage.
There are a number of London museums which are free to enter. Kids will love the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.
The kids will love watching the street entertainers at Covent Garden where you can sit on the pavement or stand to watch.
The Hyde Park lido is a fabulous place to take children on a warm day. There is a sun bathing and picnic area near the lido itself and a separate children’s area with a paddling pool, sand pit, climbing frame and bouncy toys. The lido is £1 per child, children under the age of three are free.
Also in Hyde Park is the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain where children can paddle.
Hamleys Toy Shop
This is Britain’s most famous toy shop and well worth a visit. Kids can play with toys and meet charactars.
Coram’s Fields, Bloomsbury
Coram’s Field is a seven acre, open access playground in the heart of London. There’s grassy areas,several climbing frames, sand boxes with climbing apparatus, swings, animals in pens, sports fields and an adventure playground for older children. In the middle of the park is an enormous paddling pool for hot summer days.
The Sky Garden
This is London’s highest public garden. It’s free to enter, but a ticket to visit must be booked online well in advance. There are only a limited number of tickets available per day. It gives fabulous views across London. Click here to book.
Other must-visit attractions
A West End Show
I honestly don’t think any visit to London is complete without going to see a show in the West End. There’s no budget option for this, but if you can afford it, taking the kids to see a show will be a magical and unforgettable experience.
We went to see Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre. I’d kept it a surprise from the kids as a special treat. We got the tube to Leicester Square and as soon as we walked around the corner on Old Compton Street the kids saw the huge lit up Aladdin sign and asked if we could go and see it. It was such a lovely moment when I was able to tell them we had tickets.
Seeing their faces whilst watching the singing and dancing was a moment I won’t forget. The genie was absolutely hilarious, the costumes were amazing and the magic carpet scene was simply magical. Both my children thought the carpet really was flying itself.
We sat in the dress circle and had amazing seats and the bar gave us access to the balcony overlooking the street which was a lovely place to enjoy the interval.
This was one of the best days out we’ve had in ages, the kids absolutely loved it at Kidzania. It’s basically an indoor town run by kids – so they can become dentists, vets, chocolate makers, mechanics, shop-keepers, dancers, theatre performers, police, firemen – to name a few.
It’s designed for children aged 4 to 14 and kids can choose from 60 real-life activities and test their skills in a variety of professions.
Only children are allowed in each activity base, so they become independent in choosing what to do and play with other children and parents can watch from outside. There’s adult helpers in each one.
Kids are even given Kidzania money and can earn a salary after doing each job. At the end they can use this money to spend in the gift shop!
My five-year-old daughter loved playing nurse in the special care baby unit and my son loved being a pilot for British Airways. Click here to book tickets.
The Coca Cola London Eye
This is a must-do attraction. Not only do you get amazing panoramic views of central London, but it’s also a ride too!
At 135m, Coca-Cola London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. It’s easy to see why it has become the UK’s most popular paid for visitor attraction.
The kids were amazed to see the Eye from a distance, and then actually go on it, to the top! It stands on the South bank of the River Thames and from it you can see most of London’s landmarks.
In easy view is the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Shard, Buckingham Palace, The Tower and The Tower Bridge, St.Paul’s Cathedral, London parks and gardens and so much more.
It’s actually a good idea to go on the Eye on your first day so you can point out the landmarks to the kids and then go and visit them on foot.
Included in the price of your ticket is the 4D cinema, don’t forget to do this, and it’s better if you watch it before you go on the Eye as it gives the kids a good idea of what they will see whilst on the Eye.
Book online here and save 10 per cent, prices from £22.95. I’d recommend getting the fast-track tickets as queues can get really long at peak times.
I remember going to Planet Hollywood as a child, so I was keen to take my children back. It’s moved location, but is on the same street on Haymarket.
The Hollywood-inspired American restaurant with cinema memorabilia is a really good fun restuarant. The burgers are epic and the atmosphere is brilliant.
The menu is varied with everything from ribs, fajitas and singapore noodles to salads, pizzas and meatballs. The quality was very high and there’s also a good kids menu.
You can also get your kids names on the big screen if you request it in advance.
Currently Planet Hollywood is giving diners a free child’s ticket to Shrek’s Adventure. Two children can go free with one paying adult.
I’d recommend getting off the tube at Trafalgar Square and watching the street entertainers before making your way to the restaurant.
Click here for Planet Hollywood promotions.
The London Transport Museum
Kids go free at the London Transport Museum. My kids enjoyed sitting in the drivers seat on a red London bus and it was really interesting to see how the tubes have evolved over the years.
The kids were also given a stamp trail to follow and really enjoyed finding all the stamps.
You need to stay for at least two nights the first time you take the kids to London – although the longer you can go for the better. However, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s impossible to fit everything you want to do in on one visit!