4 Family-Friendly Aspects of Life in London

R, at a London coffee shop, with some house toys.

R, at a London restaurant, with some house toys.

We’re nearing the end of our time here in London (we leave Dec. 23; I can’t believe it either), and I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on some of the most family-friendly aspects of life here.

Yes, I know the health care is free and higher education is dirt cheap (especially for residents). But I’m not talking about that kind of stuff. I’m talking about the family-friendly aspects of life that make visiting this great city with kids easy. Here, in no particular order, are my faves of the faves.

The playgrounds are awesome.
I’ve chronicled the awesomeness of the playgrounds here before, and I’ll do it again and again (probably until I sell a story about it to a major glossy newsstand magazine). Play areas are well-kept. Play structures are new. Ground surfaces are soft so kids don’t get badly hurt when they fall. And each playground boasts activities we simply don’t see at home: the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Hyde Park has a pirate ship kids can play inside, while the one at St. Stephen’s Church Garden has a zipline. Of course my favorite aspect of London playgrounds is that many of them have on-site cafes. This means we moms and dads are never too far from a hot black Americano.

Coffee shops give kids free stuff.
Did somebody say coffee? One of my other favorite things about London is that almost every coffee shop in this fair city treats kids like royalty. So long as the grown-ups in your party buy drinks, the kids in your party receive a free drink of their choice. Most places—Pret a Manger and Caffe Nero among them—offer something called “babyccinos,” essentially warm milk with a splash of cocoa. Other places will go so far as to make the little ones pint-sized decaf cappuccinos. When I’m out and about with L and R, I usually opt for simplicity, and just request child-sized take away cups of cold milk. Whatever you order, these freebies are a nice touch.

Public transit treats parents with kids like rock stars.
The vibe toward families on buses and trains in other cities is simple: You’re on your own. Here, however, whenever I board the bus or the Tube with the girls, people are incredibly accommodating and eager to help. They give up their seats. They help carry the stroller up steps. They actually make eye contact with us, and they smile. Overall, I have found the bus system more child-friendly than the Tube; every bus has a separate area for buggies—a nice amenity, especially on those days when I’m schlepping all over town with both of my kids. (Of course when I’m traveling with only one of the girls, and I’ve left the buggy at home, double decker buses also offer the best attraction in town: Watching the city pass by from the front seats of the top level.)

Restaurants are prepared…and welcoming.
So what if kids aren’t allowed in most pubs after 7 p.m.? Most restaurants in this city are incredibly welcoming toward families with young kids, and just about all of them are prepared with kids’ menus and crayons or colored pencils to keep the little ones happy until their food comes. Heck, one of our favorite places in our neighborhood even has toys for kids to play with. Back in the U.S., I’m notorious for lugging a backpack full of paper and pencils everywhere, just to make sure we’re covered. Here, so many places have it covered that I’ve actually started leaving the art supplies at home. It’s nice to have one less thing to worry about. It’s also nice to know Powerwoman and I can count on enjoying at least a few moments of every restaurant meal in peace.

What sort of family-friendly features do you look for in a travel destination?

Comments

  1. I found on our recent trip to Buenos Aires that that city is also very child friendly. Everyone gives up seats on the bus, all restaurants, even fancy ones, have high chairs, and instead of giving me a dirty look when my toddler (who’d been in a stroller all day) starts walking around the table, they pat her on the head and get down to play with her. But the best is the playgrounds. There are rainbow colored playgrounds all over the city. All havesand for safety reasons and it makes great fun to play with. Not to mention the excellent ice cream palors all over the city. Cheaper than Europe but the same culture, Argentina is a great place to go, especially with young children, right now.

  2. I found London very family friendly when we lived there (and our son was born there) except the lack of lifts in tube stations, but I agree that people were always willing to help, it would always throw me off when some guy would walk up and just grab the front of the stroller, help me on the stairs, and walk away, not expecting a thank you or praise!

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