Congratulations Kate and William! With the arrival of the British Royal Family's newest heir to the throne, we have our minds on babies, and our eyes looking across the pond. At first glance, a big, busy city like London may not seem welcoming to visitors traveling with very young children, but, although you may not have the support network and resources of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, having a baby in tow doesn't mean having to give up your travel dreams; it just requires a little extra planning. Here are a few tips for visiting London with babies and toddlers
Getting Around: If you have the spare funds, you might prefer to stick to traveling by black cabs, which take you exactly where you want to go and are usually roomy enough to accommodate baby strollers. If, on the other hand, you are watching your budget, you will likely have to make use of London's extensive public transport network.
You can get to most places via the underground system, or "tube" as you should call it, but it is not always the most family-friendly mode of transit. Some stations lack elevators or even escalators, and "Mind the Gap" is not just a quaint British-ism announced over loudspeakers for the benefit of tourists: there really is a significant gap between the train and platform edge at many stations, proving hazardous to strollers and small children.
Get a copy of Transport for London's Step-Free Tube Guide (you can download it here) to plan your trip. The map highlights all the tube, DLR, and Overground stations with step-free (i.e. elevator or escalator) access from the street, as well as information about the size of the gap between platform and train.
Another, slower, option is to take the bus. Navigating the bus route requires a little more planning but you get to see sights that you would otherwise miss underground. Buses usually designate space for strollers at the front of the bus, although they tend to get crowded during rush hours.
Things to Do: London's plentiful green spaces provide ample room for kids' playtime, picnicking, kite-flying, and squirrel and duck spotting. Some of our favorites are Hampstead Heath in the north of the city, and the central Regent's and Hyde Parks. In Hyde Park, close to the Serpentine Lake you will find lots of kids (and a few adults) splashing around in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Immediately west of Hyde Park are the Kensington Gardens, setting of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, and the site of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. The playground was inspired by Peter Pan and features a full-scale wooden pirate ship, teepes, play sculptures, and a sensory trail created specifically for children with special needs.
Further playtime awaits at the small and charming Battersea Park Children's Zoo, where sandpits, spider nets, trampolines, and a fire engine will compete for your child's attention with cute, not-too-big-or-scary-looking animals such as meerkats, donkeys, squirrel monkeys, and capuchins.
Although it has one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities, you may think that young children would find the British Museum, frankly, booooring; but do not underestimate the spell that a roomful of Egyptian mummies can cast over younger visitors. The museum has also created a commendably family friendly visitors' experience, with art materials (crayons and pads) and activity backpacks available to borrow; picnic areas, baby changing and feeding rooms, and high-chairs and kids' menus in its cafés and restaurant.
Restaurants: Many of London's higher-end restaurants are openly hostile to accommodating very young children. A notable exception is Tamarind in Mayfair, which was one of the first Indian restaurants to win a Michelin star and welcomes children under five until 7 p.m. Tamarind's basement location does make stroller accessibility difficult, however.
Giraffe, with its kids' menu, stacks of high-chairs, ample stroller parking, and accommodating environment, is a classic standby for local families and has numerous venues across the city.
Set on a 32-acre farm in East London, Mudchute Kitchen offers organic and locally-sourced produce, as well as stroller space, baby-changing facilities, highchairs, toys, and a rocking horse. After eating you can take a walk and visit the sheep, donkeys, and pigs of one of Europe's biggest city farms.
A handy resource for women traveling around London with babies is the Breastfeeding Welcome Scheme, which offers a list of businesses that are accommodating to breastfeeding mothers.