4 Days in London

London is a fantastic city for families to visit. There is a lot for adults and children to do and see. But with so much to do and only 4 days in London, how should you schedule your time? We visited London as a family and loved it. Here’s how it went for us. What went well, what didn’t, and what we’d change.

Arrive in London – 10:05am

Arriving at Gatwick Airport

Our flight from Toronto to London overnight with Air Transat went well. We landed at Gatwick Airport on time ready to start our 2 week adventure in Europe with 4 days in London. Customs was easy and since we went carry on only we didn’t have any bags to check. We were going with the Gatwick Express to get into the city and that process was easy as well. There’s a plenty of kiosks to purchase tickets for the train into London. Since this was our first time and we wanted to make sure that we were purchasing the correct tickets so we used the counter and got to speak to an actual person and have our questions answered.

We were able to take advantage of the two for one offer with the purchase of our Gatwick Express tickets. With the purchase of a Gatwick Express ticket, you can then receive two for one when purchasing tickets to certain attractions. This is one great way to save when visiting London among others. We were able to use this with our visit to the Tower of London.

We had to take a shuttle to the Gatwick Express and that process was pretty straight forward also. It helped to ask a few questions, but before we knew it we were on the Gatwick Express on our way into the city of London!

Changes:

None. The other options were taxi, Uber or an express coach that would have taken a bit longer. The train was fast, clean, easy to use and a pleasant experience. There were even restrooms onboard. The next time we’re making the trip to London from Gatwick, I’d make the same decision and go with the Gatwick Express. The two for one deal saved us some money so that was great also. Overall it was a good experience. Their customer service at the ticket window was really nice also. I’m sure they deal with a lot of tourists but the ticket agent was patient, kind and helpful.

Arrive at Victoria Station – 2:00pm

Upon arrival at Victoria station we had a quick lunch and purchased a sim card for use during our stay in Europe. We chose Vodafone because we had used them previously and they had an option for a sim card that we could use during our stay in Italy as well. It provided us with plenty of data and we wouldn’t have to change once we moved on during our vacation.

Stasher – 3:00 pm

Since our apartment was in Belsize park, we didn’t want to travel there, drop our stuff off then hop back on the train to the Westminster area. We especially didn’t want to do this after an overnight flight. This left us with the dilemma of what to do with our bags since even though we had carryons and backpacks, we didn’t want to lug our stuff all around London. This is where Stasher helped out big time! We found a location close to where we want to starting touring and reserved our spot there. I made the reservation online ahead of time. Drop off was easy. It didn’t take long since we already had a reservation. We left our luggage and were off to tour London.

Westminster Bridge – 4:00pm

We had originally planned to stop by the Southbank Centre Food Market for lunch. But by the time we reached Victoria Station everyone was ready to eat, so we just grabbed a quick lunch there.

Westminster Bridge was our first stop and unfortunately throughout all of my research I didn’t find out that Big Ben was undergoing extensive renovation. The iconic clock tower and surrounding area was completely enclosed by scaffolding and some type of covering. It was impossible to see anything except the clock face itself. Big Ben is such an iconic symbol of London that it felt kind of incomplete traveling to London and not being able to see it. That often happens in travel. Things don’t always happen the way that you want them to. Even though it was disappointing not to see Big Ben, the Westminster bridge was nice to cross. Spanning over the Thames River there’s an excellent view on either side. Looking north you see the Eye of London on the right bank. Facing south there’s the Houses of Parliament on the left bank.

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament in London

Even though Big Ben and the surrounding areas were completely covered, the Houses of Parliament are huge and stretches some ways down. So we were able to enjoy the iconic gothic architecture of the awesome buildings despite the obstruction.

Once we crossed the bridge we were able to get a much closer look at the Houses of Parliament and the view up close was amazing. The detail and artistry in that building is something to see. We continued south until we reached the Victoria Tower Gardens.

This wasn’t in our original plans, but we just kind of happened upon it as a result of our looking at the Houses of Parliament. There was a small garden then an opening to a larger space so we made our way through. I’m glad that we did because that open green space was a great place for our kids.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey in London

We didn’t plan to enter the church as that would entail tickets and reportedly quite the line. So if you want to tour the inside it’s possible, but it’s best to plan ahead for the experience. We did get to view the outside and walk around it a bit. That was remarkable in and of itself. Westminster Abbey has been a site for royal weddings dating back to 1100 with King Henry I and includes the wedding of Prince William and Kate. It has an even more extensive history of coronations as every monarch has been crowned there since 1066. It’s an impressive example of gothic architecture and is an incredible building to view even from the outside.

Changes:

I would’ve found out about Big Ben ahead of time! When traveling you’re never going to know everything or be prepared for every possible situation. This was one of those times, despite the amount of research that I did I never happened upon the fact that Big Ben was under such construction. At least the construction is coming to a close, so it should be back to normal soon. I also would’ve loved to get to the Southbank Centre Food Market but the timing didn’t work.

Homeaway apartment in Belsize Park – 6:00pm

Our Homeaway apartment in London

When searching for apartments for our 4 days in London it was difficult finding something on Airbnb. We needed something that was cost effective and reasonably close to the attractions that we wanted to visit. This was my first time using Airbnb or Homeaway so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. As the weeks crept closer to our departure date I noticed that the selection was quickly dwindling. It took some work and even looking at a completely different company with Homeaway, but we found a really nice little apartment in the Belsize Park area of London.

It was a great area and only about a 20-minute tube ride to most places that we wanted to visit. This residential area was really nice, clean and safe. Our street, Howitt, was very close to the Belsize Park tube station. The main street that it was off of, Haverstock Hill, had several restaurants, the tube station and perhaps our greatest find, a great little grocery store. This is the place that we stocked up on snacks, sandwiches for lunch. We also bought items there for breakfast each of the days that we were in London.

The apartment itself was in a row house that was converted into separate apartments. We loved being able to stay in an actual London apartment. Because it was converted, the layout was a bit unusual and would only really work for small families and maybe even only families with younger children. But the space was nice, clean had a good little kitchen. The owner wasn’t on the premises but the manager that resided on the premises was a tremendous help. He was very attentive, and quick to respond. Our stay there was great.

Changes:

None. The location was perfect, the apartment was perfect and the neighborhood was perfect. This was our first experience using this type of service and we loved it. We liked that we could experience a bit of what it’s like to live in London and it was close to the tube station. We also liked that from the station we could get wherever we wanted in about 20 minutes or so. For our next trip to London we’ll definitely consider this area. It’s a great area to stay for families on a budget.

Monday – Day 2

British Museum – 11:30am

The British Museum at the Assyrian exhibit

Our original plans for this day was moved to Tuesday due to the weather. And the weather during the majority of our stay was very wet and in some cases cold. This day was the coldest if not the wettest so we made the switch to a nice indoor activity. The museum itself was wonderful. We were a bit skeptical about how long we would stay in the museum because we had been to the Louvre a year ago and the kids didn’t last too long there. There’s several reasons why that happened and I tried not to repeat those mistakes. Fortunately it worked because the kids loved this museum.

First the British Museum is absolutely massive, so you’re not going to cover everything in one try. But the variety makes for a very interesting visit. We were able to see the Lewis Chessmen, Winged Lion/Bull of Khorsabad, Rosetta Stone, Enlightenment Gallery and the Great Hall.

The British Museum is world renowned for the great Egyptian collection, so we were greatly anticipating that part of the museum. I’d been wanting to visit for that reason for many years and their collection did not disappoint.

The collection is extensive with many sarcophagi, mummies, and various other artifacts. Some other things to see are the Parthenon Marbles, Mesopotamia exhibit, renaissance and medieval objects. There is a really nice gift shop with an extensive selection of books to purchase on the various subjects in the museum. Right along side it is a nice gift area for kids.

Changes:

None. Starting the day with the museum worked so much better than ending the day with the museum. The kids had just had their breakfast and they were up and ready to go. They thoroughly enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit it was their favorite by far. So many mummies! The museum is a great place to take kids, it was one of our favorite parts of London.

Jen Cafe – 6:00pm

Jen Cafe in London

Jen Cafe is in Chinatown and is well known for their dumplings, so we stopped here to try them out for ourselves. Their dumplings are handmade and you can taste the difference. We bought a couple for each of us and they were all gone in short order. The restaurant was pretty empty so we got served quickly, likely because it was a Monday evening.

Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar – 7:00pm

Soup at Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar in London

After our appetizer at Jen Café for dumplings, we headed to Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar for our main course. It was the absolute best soup I’ve ever had in my life. They have quite the reputation and for good reason. The food was astoundingly good. We ordered two big bowls of soup, one for me and one for my wife. My daughter had some noodles and my son was going to share with my wife. Well he basically took over her bowl he loved it so much. Her soup was beef based and mine was seafood. There was so much soup that I couldn’t finish mine and she and my son together couldn’t even finish theirs. I can’t say it enough that this place was the best and if you like Asian food, you owe it to yourself to stop there and eat.

Changes:

Absolutely nothing. I’d go there for dinner today if I could!

Tuesday – Day 3

Buckingham Palace – 12:00pm

In front of the gates at Buckingham Palace

It was fun to see Buckingham Palace in person. There are tours if you want to go inside, but they are generally only available for a limited time, like from July to September. So you have to check to see if that option is available during the time that you visit. It wasn’t for us, but we were more than happy to enjoying seeing the famous palace. Not only do you get to see the palace, but the entire area is really stunning. We especially appreciated the Queen Victoria Memorial that stands in front of the palace. It’s a stunning piece made of marble and gilt bronze that gleams even on a cloudy day.

Near the Victoria Memorial in London

From the palace, we made our way down the mall, the famous processional route. Walking part way down the mall and looking back to the palace gives you a pretty great view. There’s safe spot between the lanes in the crosswalk to take some great selfies or regular shots looking back at the palace. To get to Buckingham Palace from our tube stop we were able to walk through Green Park which is a lovely area. Also in the vicinity and worth spending time in is St. James Park. We got a bit of a late start so we didn’t make it to St. James Park, but Green Park was pleasant to walk through.

Changes:

Buckingham Palace was great but we could’ve spent more time in the gardens with an earlier start. I questioned whether the kids would be up to arriving at approximately 10:30am for the start of the changing of the guard ceremony, but again our late start negated that idea anyway. That is the one thing that I would change. I think that they really would’ve liked to see the ceremony and with a little more planning perhaps we could’ve gotten there in time.

Hyde Park – 1:30pm

Hyde Park in London

Hyde Park is so huge with quite a bit to do when you visit. From Buckingham Palace we took a bus to the Exhibition Road stop RB and walked a path to Kensington Palace. We had planned to see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, but since rain was threatening we headed straight to Kensington Palace. We had a great view of the palace and discovered the Sunken Gardens, which wasn’t on our itinerary. That was a nice surprise. The gardens are beautiful and there a couple of benches so that you can sit relax and enjoy their beauty. We really liked the canopy walkway and the look throughs to the gardens.

The Sunken Gardens of Kensington Palace

We also had plans to visit the Diana Memorial Playground, but the rain started and that ended those plans. The playground would be an excellent addition to your itinerary if you have kids along with you.

Changes:

Stop the rain!

Regent Street – 3:30pm

Regent Street in London

Time for some shopping! Well mostly window shopping but it all counts, right? This street and the surrounding area is full of retail opportunities so whatever you’re looking for is likely around here. There’s a mix of familiar brands and brands that are unique to London, especially when you wander off of the main streets.

We were in the usual stores but the real highlight was Hamley’s. This seven story location is the largest and oldest toy store in the world. London has many things that kids will enjoy. This is one of the best. The place is so nice, you’ll probably appreciate the inner kid and enjoy the place yourself. This kept our kids busy and happy for a good while and there are even some items that won’t break the bank. They also serve as nice souvenirs aside from the standard touristy stuff. At least it’s something that the kids will appreciate and remind them of London.

It’s a nice walk from the corner of Oxford and Regent down to Piccadilly Circus. With the large selection of stores and the wonderful architecture, it’s a really nice area. We followed this path to Piccadilly Circus and was able to see one of London’s most famous roundabouts. The monument and area in the middle is the perfect spot to people watch and see London move past you. I’ve heard it called London’s Time Square, but while it’s nothing close to the magnitude of Times Square, but it is a nice little lively area. And it’s definitely worth it to make your way there and stop for a few moments.

Piccadilly Circus in London

From Piccadilly Circus we easily made the walk to Leicester Square and stopped at a few little shops along the way picking up souvenirs. Leicester Square was more shopping with some familiar retail spots like M&M’s World and the Lego Store. It’s not something that you have to see if you only have 3 or 4 days in London. The square itself is nice enough but not something that you have to go out of your way to see.

Changes:

None. The walk from Oxford and Regent wasn’t too much for the kids. Of course it was interrupted by a lovely stop at Hamley’s so that helped break up the walk. We also stopped for a bit at Piccadilly Circus. I only wished that we could’ve visited Piccadilly Circus at night as even though it’s no Times Square seeing the billboards illuminated at night would’ve been really nice to see. We just couldn’t really fit it in the schedule. You’re not going to see all of London in 4 days.

Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar – 6:30pm

This wasn’t on the itinerary as we planned to explore more of Chinatown and try out another restaurant in that area since it’s very close to Leicester Square. The food was just that good that we had to go back. And it was even better the second time. It’s a tiny little place with room for seating downstairs, which we did this time, but once again, the food is absolutely amazing.

Changes:

Nothing at all!!!!!

Trafalgar Square – 7:30pm

From Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar, it was a quick 5 minute walk to Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately for us when we arrived there was this massive demonstration/protest/event that filled the entire square and had people marching around the perimeter. So needless to say we didn’t get to experience the square as we originally intended. On any other day it would definitely be worth it to make your way to the tremendous space that’s backed by the National Gallery, and includes the Landseer’s Lion Statues and various other statues and a massive obelisk.

Changes:

Come on a day with no demonstrations/rallies? Not much to do about that, best laid plans and all.

Wednesday – Day 4

Sky Garden – 11:30am

High atop the Sky Garden in London

We really enjoyed the Sky Garden. It’s free, so if you’re trying to save money on your trip this is one of your best options. When we arrived, we headed straight to the observation deck. We were treated to an amazing view of London facing west, into the city. After enjoying that remarkable view, we headed inside. There we saw plenty of trees, plants and flowers. We took our time and observed the many vantage points from several of the benches throughout the garden.

Britannia for lunch – 12:30pm

We had another pub on the itinerary but everyone was hungry now! So we improvised and ended up at the Britannia. And after a quick Google search we happened onto this particular establishment. We were so glad that we did. After finding the entrance and going down a flight of steps we found a perfect little pub. It was pretty much what I would expect a British pub to look like. I don’t know if that’s good or not, but we loved it.

Fish and chips at Britannia in London

This is also the place we tried fish and chips for the first time in London. It came with a side of smushed peas. I passed on those. I also ordered a London Ale. That entire experience and meal was just the best. The food was so good, the fish batter was a perfect crunchy and crisp and the fish itself was very tasty. I wish I would’ve had another London Ale, so good. We finished it by sharing an ice cream sundae. We’d had another great food experience in London.

Changes:

Nothing at all. Great place, reasonable prices, nice ambience and spectacular food.

Tower of London – 2:30pm

Tower of London

From the Britannia to the Tower of London was about a 7 minute walk. The only problem was that the rain had started and it wasn’t letting up at all. We had umbrellas so that helped but it was pretty cool with a steady rain which made it a bit unpleasant. Under ok conditions the walk is definitely doable.

We were happy to use our 2 for 1 discount on the Tower of London with our Gatwick Express ticket, so it was nice to save a bit there. The Tower of London is kind of a 50/50 indoor/outdoor experience so the rain really affected our experience here. We wanted to linger a bit more and observe and explore but the rain was falling pretty good so we basically just made a beeline from one building to the next.

The Jewel House

The line to get into the Jewel House at the Tower of London

The two main buildings that we got to see were the Jewel House and the White Tower which houses the armory. We also got to see the area they used to keep animals when they held them here. The Jewel House was our favorite. There was quite the line to get into the Jewel House. The fact that it was raining wasn’t great, but again we had umbrellas and we had 4 days in London, so we made the best of it! The line moved pretty quickly so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Smaller children should be able to handle it pretty well. Once inside you get an interesting history and backstory of the jewels and the monarchy along with a short video that you can choose to see or not.

Then it’s on to the main event, the Crown Jewels. They’re enclosed in a case with a moving walkway on either side to prevent crowding and to kept the line moving. You can go back to the start of the moving walkway and ride past the jewels as many times as you want. We took about 3 or 4 trips and alternated sides.

It’s really cool to see and I can say that they definitely live up to the hype and it is a must see. Besides the crown jewels there’s other jewels that are on display in the area as well. Our kids were just fascinated with the crowns, scepters and various jewels on display. There’s just enough info to give you an idea of what the pieces are. The only drawback is there is a strict “No pictures in the Jewel House” policy, so the only memories you’ll have are the ones in your memory.

The White Tower

The White Tower was really interesting because it houses the armory. There is a grand display of all types of weapons that have been used over the years. This was also a very interesting part of our visit. Then there are interactive parts of the exhibit where you can feel what it’s like to lift a sword or fire a bow and arrow. Besides the weapons and armor that are on display there are several informative exhibits scattered throughout. Just being in the tower was fascinating to me, the architecture and history permeates throughout the ancient building.

While you’re there be sure to look out for the famous ravens that call the Tower home. The drawbridge and moat (no water) are cool to see as well.

Changes:

There was so much more to see, but I didn’t anticipate that we’d need more time than we did. When we left, the kids still wanted to see more and we had been there for close to 3 hours. Unfortunately, they close at 5:30 every day so we had no choice in the matter. For as much as the rain impacted our visit the fact that they had so much fun anyway speaks to how great the Tower of London is. Add it to your must see list.

Tower Bridge – 5:45pm

Crossing the Tower Bridge in London

Walking from the Tower of London to the Tower Bridge is a perfect scenic walk to enjoy. We were in the rain, but I wished we had drier weather so that we could take our time and enjoy the view of the Tower Bridge. As you progress closer and closer to the bridge to get several great views/angles of the world famous bridge. On a nice day you could take advantage of the benches lined up along the walk way and take in the spectacular view. It really is an amazing area with the Tower of London behind you and the Tower Bridge in front of you.

Crossing the Tower Bridge

After a little climb of stairs, we were up on the roadway to cross the Tower Bridge. Parts of the walkway has a fence barrier separating it from the traffic but some parts don’t. There’s plenty of space to walk safely, but keep an eye on little ones. The view from the bridge was really nice even on a cloudy, rainy day. With the views of skyscrapers on either bank and the Tower of London and the river running under the bridge, there is a lot to see when crossing. That’s not even including the bridge itself which is beautiful.

The rain was still chasing us, so again we didn’t really get to linger and enjoy the views. We were pretty tired of being damp and cold and were ready to call it a day. We opted for just crossing the bridge but there is an option to go up and see the walkway and see more of the bridge. It does cost money for that part. I figured that we would be happy with being able to see and cross the bridge and that was correct. Crossing the bridge was a fun experience.

Changes:

None. We didn’t miss going up and walking across the walkway, but I think the rain had something to do with it. We were ready to get back to our apartment and had had enough of the damp, cool weather. Even in nice weather going up to the walkway wouldn’t necessarily be a priority for me especially since we got to go into the Sky Garden. I know that it would be a different perspective and is probably pretty nice, but I’m not hurt that we missed that.

Thursday

Our 4 Days in London

The Sunken Gardens of Kensington Palace

We had a 10am check out and a 3:50 flight departure to Rome as our 4 days in London had come to an end. So this day was all about finishing packing up and leaving London. We went back the way we came as we purchased round trip tickets for the Gatwick Express. Everything went smoothly as we took the tube to Victoria Station and then the Gatwick Express to Gatwick Airport. Of course the rain chased us out of London, but it was still an incredible experience. We can’t wait to go back with the hope we’ll have a bit better fortune with the weather to enjoy this wonderful city.

Are you thinking of going to London? Maybe you’ve heard that it’s a very expensive city. Find out more about how we were able to make it more affordable for us.

Author

  • Jeremiah Pittmon

    Jeremiah Pittmon is a published travel writer and photographer from Cleveland, Ohio. Passionate about exploring the world with his family, he finds inspiration in all types of travel. Through his blog, smilesonarrival.com, and social media channels, he shares captivating experiences and valuable tips for families who love to travel.

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