There is no shortage of lists of must-see sights in London on the internet. Different sources have different opinions on what you have to see, but I’m pretty certain all the lists have at least one item in common: The McDonald’s Across from King’s Cross and St. Pancras Train Stations. For that and more must-see destinations or random things we did with our kids in London, read on!
The McDonald’s Across from King’s Cross and St. Pancras Train Stations
Sure, Big Ben is great, but you know what is better? The McDonald’s directly across from King’s Cross and St. Pancras. First off, Big Ben doesn’t serve chicken nuggets (as far as I know). Big Ben also doesn’t serve chocolate milk, but neither does the King’s Cross McDonald’s, so save yourself the trouble and DON’T ASK FOR IT! Because if you do, you’ll end up trapped in a labyrinth of questions from your disinterested McDonald’s employee. No, I do not want a milkshake. And no, not ice cream either. (Those are the only chocolate items on the menu according to the cashier, FYI.)
Other than chocolate milk related snafus, McDonald’s is a life saver. Particularly when you have hungry, jet-lagged kids who are picky eaters. We set out on our first full day in London with the vague idea of taking the subway to Westminster to see Big Ben and maybe Buckingham Palace. We made it as far as the King’s Cross McDonald’s. I may or may not have spotted Adele walking briskly away from King’s Cross pushing a stroller while I waited for my wife to grab the food from inside. (It probably wasn’t her, but you never know!) We then took our Happy Meals inside the train station, the kids ate, and everyone was so tired from the eating we walked back to the flat and went to bed.
A Double Decker Bus
The next day, however, we really took London by storm. Day three! It was time to get this show on the road. There was no vomiting in the morning, which was a good start. We were able to get out of the flat and on the move before noon! Fortunately, the bus line that ran directly to Westminster stopped right outside our door. So, we read up on how to ride buses in London. You need an Oyster card, which is the card you buy at the subway stations, or a contact-less credit card, which is a thing Americans do not have as of 2019, I don’t think. When you enter the bus, you tap the yellow pad beside the driver to register your payment. Each ride costs a pound and a half and kids eleven and under are free (I hope). Double decker buses are definitely a can’t miss. We rode on the top floor on our first ride, because our kids would have it no other way.
The Buckingham Palace Swans and Some Café in the Park Area Around Buckingham Palace
Let’s face it. Buckingham Palace is a bit underwhelming. Sure, it’s big and has some rather elaborate gates that serve as cool backdrops for selfies, but otherwise, there’s really nothing to do but gaze appreciatively at the large rectangular prism. “That is an excellent box-like structure,” onlookers routinely comment. However, lurking nearby the palace is a green area with lots and lots of ducks and swans and even a few very unusual looking pelicans. You don’t want to miss the waterfowl. Trust me.
But please, don’t be like all the other tourists who pet the birds. That’s very rude. However, if you spot one of the black swans, it is perfectly acceptable (if not required) that you say in your best indeterminate eastern European accent, “Show me the black swan. I need the black swan!” That’s a quote from the movie Black Swan, by the way. Probably not exact, but you know, close enough. The swans won’t know the difference unless they’ve seen the movie.
After you get past the swans, don’t forget to stop in this one café that’s somewhere in the park. They have coffee and food items.
Some Playground in Islington
I’ve touched on this one in a previous installment, but it bears repeating. There is a playground by the water somewhere in the Islington/Angel area that you must visit. If you miss this park we randomly found, what’s the point of even traveling to London?
While it might not be the McDonald’s directly across from King’s Cross and St. Pancras, Big Ben is still a must-see. Pro tip: If you’re planning on sneaking a peak at Big Ben (and yes, I know Big Ben is the bell and the tower is called something else, but the thing you have to remember is I don’t care), maybe wait until 2021. We were unaware the tower is completely covered in scaffolding until then. It’s okay, though. We still had the McDonald’s directly across from King’s Cross and St. Pancras. And look how much fun we had seeing the one exposed clock face of Big Ben’s tower!
A Red Phone Booth
A red phone booth. Classic London. Don’t miss the chance to pop into one of these and snap a few photos! One day, your children will be amazed to learn that there were exotic things called telephone booths that existed in their lifetime. Not practical ones, of course, but the fact that there were still decorative ones will seem pretty amazing. And the fact that England was still above water and not yet overrun by the relentlessly rising oceans…incredible!
The British Museum Café
One thing is certain about the British Museum. When you’re walking up to it, there is no doubt you are approaching a museum. With all the columns and the rectangle, boxy shape and the triangle or two tossed up there all whimsical like, it is quintessential museum architecture through and through. Or Buckingham Palace. Easy way to remember which building is which? The British Museum is directly on the bus line that ran by our flat and Buckingham Palace is not. Simple!
The British Museum is amazing. First off, it’s free—or rather, optional donation—so, free. Second, it is massive, and the design inside is surprisingly modern with windows and curved lines and stuff. Also, the Rosetta Stone is in there, which is a medium-sized rock with some marks surrounded by a glass case that always has a crowd of picture takers around it. It’s top-notch. You can skip the wait by holding your camera up above everyone’s heads and snapping a picture from the back of the crowd.
It’s just as good. Or you can walk around to the other side of the glass case and take a picture of the back of it. There’s no writing on that side, but you still get the rock.
There are also mummies in the museum. And an Easter Island statue that we didn’t see. And, presumably, about a million other things we didn’t have time for because the main attraction is the café located in the circular main hall.
This café is special because there are plates piled with brownies and cakes and other goodies just sitting on tables out in the open. There are also grapes in little plastic containers that cost about five dollars each and contain seven grapes. We got three of those.
Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurant in Angel (even though they don’t have pineapple pizza)
So we wouldn’t eat sandwiches, chicken nuggets, or croissants for every meal, we ventured out to Jamie Oliver’s for dinner. We chose this establishment after much deliberation. Just kidding. It was directly across the street from the flat, so it was a shoe-in from day one.
We had a lovely meal and our friend who accompanied us was complimentary that none of our children cried. Well done, kids! Only the two-year-old ate anything other than apple slices, but who cares? They didn’t have pineapple pizza, so can you really blame them? Yes, we asked if they had pineapple pizza.
The helpful server checked first with the pizza chef who was directly in our line of sight. He shook his head vigorously. The server then went the extra mile by heading back to the kitchen. He returned a moment later shaking his head sadly. Apparently, there was not a slice of pineapple to be found on this small island. Or at least in this Italian restaurant. I caught a glimpse of a pizza later as it emerged from the oven and immediately realized the whole pineapple search was immaterial anyway. The pizza was far too artisan—with a less than perfectly round shape, real mozzarella cheese in clumps so the sauce was visible, and brown around the edges. The appearance alone would’ve been disqualifying even if adorned with the best kind of pineapple (the kind straight out of a can).
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Please be aware that London Bridge and Tower Bridge are different and the one you probably think is the London Bridge is actually the Tower Bridge. I still don’t know if this is right, but I’m never going to understand the situation any more clearly, so I have given up. Of course, if you get this wrong, the
know-it-alls on Facebook will drag you relentlessly.
Surprisingly enough, London Bridge Underground station is not all that close to Tower Bridge. If you’re taking the subway to Tower Bridge, the Tower Hill station is the way to go. I don’t know what line Tower Hill is on, but it doesn’t really matter. You’ll get on the wrong train and travel in the wrong direction no matter how long you study the map, so just jump on one and see what happens. Also, I would advise against walking to the Tower Bridge from the London Bridge Underground station if an unexpected hail/sleet storm is about to sweep through. We did not heed this advice and regretted it. We had to huddle in the doorway of some brick building for fifteen minutes or so while the ice pelted down on us. On the bright side, the kids saw something akin to snow!
Once you arrive at the Tower of London, be sure to buy fish and chips from the booth directly beside the ticket booth. It’s fine. Then stand there for a half hour or so, don’t go inside the Tower, walk over and take some pictures of Tower Bridge, and go home. This is the best plan. Trust me.
Need more London travel tips for your family holiday? Hit me up. Not sure what more you could need, but I’ll try my best.