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London With Kids

As we boarded our overnight flight from DFW to Heathrow, I reminded my 8-year-old son for the umpteenth time that we weren’t flying 4,889 miles for a weeklong, Minecraft-themed playdate.
When Chip’s best friend (and fellow gamer) moved to London in November 2013, we consoled our heartbroken son with promises of a summertime visit across the pond. Once school ended for Chip in May, my husband and I began luring him into intense discussions of itineraries that included Medieval marvels, gothic cathedrals and some of the finest museums in the world. We talked up the fanciful fare — high tea, fish and chips, exotic-sounding entrees like bangers and mash and steak-and-kidney pie. We primed him for a minivan-free week filled instead with double-decker buses, the tube and hikes around various park.
I’m pleased to report that with precious little pushback, we managed to strike a good balance between sightseeing and screen time. The passion of our hosts (my son’s best friend Nate Barling, 8, his sister Jenna, 6, and their parents, Nathan and Jen) to show off their new hometown claims much of the credit. The rest lies with London itself.
When traveling to the UK with a kid, consider the following Chip, Nate and Jenna-approved destinations, most of which we reached by bus or tube, which are free for children 10 and younger. We hoofed it all over the place, too; Jen’s Fitbit estimated we walked some 40 miles in six days.
The British Museum: Though the National Portrait Gallery resonated far less with Chip than with me, he totally dug The British Museum, particularly its fascinating collection of Egyptian mummies and other notable antiquities including the sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens (the Elgin Marbles) and the Rosetta Stone. You could spend a week wandering the 95 galleries so map out a strategy before you go.
The London Dungeon: Rotting corpses. Plague-ridden rats. Sinister characters ranging from Jack the Ripper to Sweeny Todd. Two thumbs up! (Or six, in this case.) Actors bring some of London’s goriest history to life such as the sad fate that befell several of King Henry VIII’s wives and the macabre results of rampant disease. Afterward, the kids rode the London Eye, where they beheld a 360-degree view of the city. Parental advisory note: Our kids were on the youngish side of appropriate for this attraction, which is geared to tweens and up.
The Royal Parks: More than a quarter of the acreage in London proper is parkland. That plus the perfect August weather (temps in the mid-70s!) enticed us to stroll through three of the grandest: Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Kensington Gardens, home to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, a popular stop for anyone under the age of 10.
Stonehenge: We decamped for an all-day sightseeing excursion by coach to Stonehenge and the charming city of Bath, which proved a terrific adventure. We bought a Groupon for our tour; there are any number of quality services to and from the city. (Note: We did allow “devices” on the bus trip, a foil to the inevitable “are-we-there-yets” during the 4-hour ride.) While in Bath, you must get ice cream. Chip, Nate and Jenna will pity you if you don’t.