Family Vacation to LondonA Royal Family Fling
Good For: A royal family fling, from toddler to teens, with enough huge dollops of variety to make for a mean multi-generational meet-up.
The Highlights: Pitching itself as a year-round destination, come rain (the rule) or shine (the exception), London is about as British as it comes. A flurry through the Royal Parks and a flutter along the Thames will tick off the wish list, before delving deeper into the city for extreme gastronomy, baby spas and llamas. Llamas? Yes, at the urban farms.
What to Know: Eat, drink, and be confounded by the Tube and bus network. Neither reliable nor cheap, it pays to invest in an Oyster card (£5 from Tube stations) for cut-price travel with no expiration date. Hailing a black cab is an iconic experience. Try it once, then make like a local and call Addison Lee (0844 800 6677) – quick, cheap, and safe as houses.
Anglophiles unite in a great happy throng because we’re all feeling the London vibe right now. With more Brit cool than you can shake a Union Jack at, this is the city for families who like to play together. From theater to shopping, Royal parks to street cafés, it’s easy to navigate around, yet big enough to feel the buzz.
Eat, Play, Live
Forget “Eat, Pray, Love.” Londoners eat, play, live. Breakfast like a king, and then get thee to the Wolseley, which has been heaped with awards. It’s great for teens, though perhaps a touch formal for the tiny ones. For a more relaxed affair, head west to Granger & Co where celeb chef Bill Granger turns out the best eggs in Notting Hill while posh kids clad head-to-toe in RL run amok.
From here, it’s a leisurely stroll to Kensington Palace Gardens, where you can wend your way across Hyde Park, to St James’s Park and Green Park in a few hours, barring any toddler tantrums. Make a lunch stop at the Inn in the Parkin St. James’s and aim to emerge on the Mall as the Old Guard leave en route to Buckingham Palace.
Mercifully, you’re only a skip from the Ritz. Containing a toddler throughout afternoon tea in the Palm Court is, frankly, terrifying, but the landmark hotel has been encouraging tykes with their Kidz@TheRitz members club, including teen concierge, free ice cream, and games.
Doing slightly less damage to the wallet, check in at the Athenaeum in Mayfair, which will win the family vote with a dedicated Kids’ Concierge. Besides doling out birdseed, kites, and bikes to use in Green Park across the way, they’ve also enlisted Sharky & George to create bespoke itineraries for kids. The family apartments offer independence with benefits, from kids’ room service to in-house nannies, but with your own kitchen so every meal is not a five-star extravagance. What’s not to love?
You’re up early with jetlag so head to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, with its new interactive Darwin Centre. If you have a newborn and a penchant for the sublime/ridiculous, submerge your baby in warm water at the world’s first Baby Spa. Lunch is at Tom’s Kitchen, the casual sister restaurant to Tom Aikens’ iconic but rather too swanky joint round the corner. Reliably packed with Chelsea locals, this is a noisy affair with delicious specials and prime people-watching. Head to the Thames for the inevitable ride on the London Eye, built for the millennium and featuring the best views of the city (unless you’ve bagged a penthouse at the Shard). See the sun set over the river from a Rigid Inflatable Boat(RIB), which embarks from the London Eye to Tower Bridge, and across the water to Canary Wharf. You’ll hit speeds of up to 35mph so get ready for an aquatic adventure.
As hotel guru’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith rightly say, dirty weekends and dirty diapers don’t mix. That doesn’t mean that families can’t indulge in ultra-chic design hotels like the Hempel. Beyond the clean lines and manicured lawns, the staff is friendly and welcoming and so damn attractive you can pretend you’re young and cool again. Kids will love the vast marble floors, which make for great sliding, obviously. When you need cocktail time away from the kids, help is here: the childcare veterans Kensington Nannies. You won’t get Mary Poppins herself, but you can bet your last quid that their parenting skills will be better than yours after a couple of mojitos. Keep your humor intact by heading to the deeply trendy but laudably tongue-in-cheek Portabello Star where you’ll be clinking glasses with a fun bunch of willfully populist Notting Hillbillies. Note: Any references to the movie “Notting Hill” will be met with faintly concealed disdain.
Live like a Local
Hey-ho it’s Sunday and you’re no tourist so head to Borough Market. Wildly popular, this sprawling produce market is divided into raw ingredients and hot food. Wander around aimlessly following your nose, but take an empty hamper and allow at least a few hours. If the weather is not ideal for picnicking, lunch is at Fish! Grab a table on the outdoor terrace to immerse in the bustle but keep the little ones on a short leash. Try the Bigbury Bay oysters from Devon or tuck into the famous fish pie. Home is so much easier than hotel with kids, so take over one of a clutch of gorgeous family homes through the clever new company One Fine Stay. For a chic retreat smack bang in the heart of town, indulge at the four-bed Old Queen Street. Who’s the Royal family now?