5 London Royal Palaces To See With Kids
As an ex-Londoner living in New York all the recent royal-family news has me thinking about what I would do if I wanted to take my English-born kids with their American accents on a wild ride of the top royal tourist destinations around London.
The U.K.’s palaces and castles are far more kid-friendly than you might expect. With their combination of royal splendor, history and beautiful grounds to roam around they usually manage to keep everyone in the family happy from toddlers to teenagers. Several go out of their way to make kids feel welcome with activities just for them.
There is never a bad time to plan a U.K. trip but it can be hard to decide what sightseeing to do with children; London has so many bucket-list attractions.
Seeing a royal palace is probably high on most family’s lists. So here are the castles and palaces I would consider an essential part of a vacation in London withe kids. (Here are 20 more things to do in London with kids and teens.)
5 Kid-Friendly Palaces & Castles in London
This palace is home to young royals Kate and William and their three cute kids, and the newly married Harry and Meghan. The palace is nestled in Kensington Gardens, which has plenty of pretty places for your kids to roam.
There are fabulous things to see inside as well. Kensington Palace runs a number of kid activities, storytelling events and scavenger hunts.
For the grown-ups, look for revolving special exhibits like “Fashion Rules Restyled,” which explores the history of royal fashions and style. It included some of Lady Diana’s and Queen Elizabeth’s most beautiful dresses, which you and your girls will love.
(Fun fact: My kids were born in same hospital as Kate Middleton’s, though I can’t say I looked quite as good as the Duchess of Cambridge in the hours following my labor.)
Who can resist the Tower? It’s home to the crown jewels and was the setting for many dramatic moments in royal history.
Older kids will salivate over its history and younger ones will love the elaborately uniformed Beefeaters who guard the tower.
There are plenty of trails and activities for kids, too. Providing entertainment and intrigue, it’s one of the top things to do in London for good reason.
The Yeoman Guards are all members of the British military who have served with distinction. Their tours, which are highly entertaining and informative, are a must for any visit and with any age child. And they’re happy to pose for photos and to answer questions.
But they’re also there to protect the Tower and its valuables. Some live onsite with their families.
The crown jewels are stunning. Absolutely stunning. The line to see them can be long but it moves fast. A moving sidewalk inside the vault where the gems are ensures this. But if your kids can’t get jazzed about them, consider seeing them yourself while they go and look at the arms and armour.
Inside the arms and armour exhibit there are interactive stations, including one where you can try out your sword-weilding skills. And there’s a giant dragon made from armaments.
FamiliesGo! editor Eileen says Tween Traveler opted for arms over jewels and gave the experience an enthusiastic thumbs up.
On weekends and school breaks look for special family activities such as a game called Guard the Caste.
Hampton Court is a quick train ride from central London and a giant leap into history. See Henry VIII’s former palace come alive with court jesters, a working Tudor kitchen, costumed tour guides and activity trails.
You can get a family ticket and explore everything including a garden maze and truly Elizabethan playground. The website has a great guide to spending 1, 2 or 3 hours at this amazing estate that is genuinely one of my favorite places to visit in London and ideal for exploring English history with kids.
The maze isn’t open during the winter months, but the castle is. During school breaks look for special activities, especially in the kitchen. Renassaince chocolate making was on while Eileen’s were visiting over the UK’s winter break week.
I can’t leave Buckingham Palace off the list. While it’s another of London’s most popular tourist attraction it’s also impressive in every way.
The changing of the guard (see box below) still thrills kids and adults alike. There is something about the pomp and splendor that has all of the watchers straightening their backs and standing to attention.
You can enjoy the palace from the outside for free all year round.
The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open during the summer (when the Queen is away) and there are some cool kids activities like a giant jigsaw puzzle and dress-up opportunities.
After your palace visit, take a walk in St James park and down to Horse Guards parade too (you might know them from Madeline in London.
How To See The Changing Of the Guard With Kids
Few things epitomize a visit to London for Americans like going to see the changing of the guard. Even on a winter’s day when London tourists are far below peak numbers, we joined hundreds of people outside Buckingham Palace to watch. Here is what we learned and our best tips for taking kids to the changing of the guard.
- Most of the information available on how to see the ceremony is aimed at military enthusiasts. It’s highly detailed but unhelpful. If you go with a baby use a front carrier, not a stroller.
- Don’t take toddlers or preschoolers. The crowds are too big and the wait is too long for their attentions spans.
- All of the action that you want to see–the military bands playing, soldiers marching, guards changing–happen in the courtyard behind the palace’s front gate. Ignore all the people crowding Victoria’s statue and the street in front of the palace. Get at close as you possibly can to the front gate. And wait.
- Once you have a spot by the gate, don’t leave. You’ll never get it back.
- The action happens between 10:45 and 11:30. But you have to be in place by 10:00 at the latest for a good spot. Bring books, screens, snacks, maybe even breakfast to keep yourself and the kids occupied while you wait.
- If you are facing the street in front of the palace you’ll see horse guards, carriages, marching bands and soldiers march up and down the side streets into and out of the palace grounds. One group of soldiers will march right by you. This was okay but not worth the wait, especially for Tween Traveler, who found everything about the exercise underwhelming.
- After the show is over head to St. James Palace to see the horse guard return. Or just wander into St. James Park, which is gorgeous, even in winter, and has a lovely playground.
- Dont’ pay for a guided tour of the ceremony. They can’t guarantee you a good spot, which is really the only thing that matters for getting the most out of it.
This royal estate is is amazing. You can explore the castle and expend any extra energy in sprawling Windsor Park. It’s steeped in history but not boring.
A life-size version of the Queen’s famous corgi dogs will help you follow the kids’ trails through this famous royal home. What could be more perfect than a photo with one of these larger-than-life pups?
Note: Windsor Castle is technically not in London, but it’s an easy train ride out of Paddington Station. Give yourself extra time at the station to check out the Paddington Bear statue and shop.
A Note on Transportation: You can get to London easily on most major carriers. It’s well worth checking out budget airline Norwegian, which flies into London Gatwick. Icelandair and Aer Lingus can offer excellent off-peak fares.
There is easy public transport to central London from both Heathrow and Gatwick. The train from Gatwick is about £10 for every traveler above age 12. A taxi will be upwards of £125, quite a difference!
The train from Heathrow is quite fast and about £20 per person over age 12. Whether it’s cheaper than a taxi depends on time of day, how many travelers you have and how far you’re staying from Paddington Station, where it comes in.
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