Unleashing the Magic: An Incredible Weekend in London with Kids – Exploring Harry Potter, the Houses of Parliament, and Beyond!

It is one of those strange facts of life that the destinations on your doorstep are often the most overlooked. For us, London is an easy two-hour train ride away and has so much to offer, yet we have only been twice in the last seven years! It was time to change that – it was time for a weekend in London with kids!

We travelled down early on Friday and arrived in ‘the smoke’ just before lunchtime. On this trip, we had two and a half days to explore the city, which sadly is not nearly enough time to see everything London offers. Like New York, London is one of those rare cities where you would need at least a week to see it all, so after several discussions with the girls about what they wanted to do, we decided to cherry-pick the bits we wanted to experience as a family.

Getting to London and Getting Around

If you are coming from just about anywhere in the UK, the best option is to travel down by train and then use the Underground and buses to explore when you are here.

For the return train journey from Manchester, we booked the tickets about three weeks in advance using the Family and Friends railcard (£30 for one year), saving us £130 off the tickets for the 4 of us. On a side note, if you live in the UK or intend to use National Rail often when you are here with children, we recommend getting this card. It has saved us nearly £300 on rail fees so far this year!

Another advantage of booking tickets in advance is the option of reserving seats on the train, meaning we had a table all together both ways.

If you can avoid it, do not drive to or around London. It is a terrible experience compounded by extortionate parking charges, militant traffic wardens, endless speed cameras, aggressive drivers, and the everlasting congestion charge. 

Adrian, Eva and Georgia looking excited as they ride the escalator into the tube.
One of the best things about travelling with kids is that simple things like going on the Underground suddenly become fun again.

Once you are in London, the public transport network is impressive. It is cheap, reliable, and can get you all over the city. We never waited more than a few minutes for a bus or the tube. 

Our only criticism is that the public transport pricing in London is not very clear, and it seems to vary significantly if you don’t have an Oyster card. I will not try and unpick it here (if I am honest, I still don’t fully understand it), but on the two days we were doing most moving about, we opted for the £15.20 London Day Travelcard. This travelcard allowed us to use the Tube, buses, overground and Nation Rail services between Zones 1 & 6 and could take us to Heathrow Airport if needed. We purchased the tickets from the ticket machine at a tube station which seems to be the simplest way. 

The Travelcards are a hassle-free way to get around with the children in tow, giving us maximum flexibility. It meant we could scan or show the tickets on any mode of transport we needed. This proved very useful when we didn’t have a set plan. It also meant that when we could see the girls were flagging, getting back to the hotel or the next attraction was straightforward. Being able to hop on a bus for a couple of stops saved more than one meltdown! 

If you want to use the Underground around Zones 1 & 2 but not the buses, you can do so for a capped maximum fee of £8.10 per adult. This is easy to do, and you don’t need to buy a ticket. You can tap your contactless bank card on the barrier as you enter and exit the tube. At the end of the day, the transport system works out how much you owe and charges your card.  

One word of warning: if you tap on and tap off with a different card by accident (easily done if you keep your bank cards in your phone case), you will be charged a £40 penalty fare. If this happens, you get eight weeks to contest it

Kids travel free on the Underground, which is always lovely! The only challenge is to get yourselves and your children through the entry barrier in one go, so be ready to move quickly.

Getting Away From London

As you would expect, London has several major train stations, so heading back home at the end of the trip or getting to the airport should not be an issue. 

One word of warning, if you are planning to travel to the North of England on a Sunday afternoon, make sure you have booked your tickets and seats well in advance as the routes are bustling at this time. 

When we tried to travel back from Euston to Manchester, the Euston to Glasgow train had been delayed meaning there were in the region of 500 somewhat annoyed people waiting at the station. Fortunately, we had reserved our seats on the train, but trying to get to the platform with two young children and baggage was not ideal.


London is one of those cities where you can spend £10 or £1000 on a meal for 4. If you are on a budget, then you can find a small supermarket like Tesco Extra or Morrisons Local in even the most touristy areas (there is one a 4 min walk from the Tower of London!). Here you can pick up everything you need for a reasonably priced meal on the go. 

If you want something more extravagant, you will find everything from that classic British staple Greggs through all the typical chain restaurants like Zizzi and Pizza Express to the Michelin-starred Launceston Place. 

London also has some great, independent restaurants at a reasonable price as well. We had a fantastic meal at The Blues Kitchen (deep south cuisine, think brisket and ribs) for not much more than we would expect to pay in Manchester.

Of the entire trip, our favourite dining experience was Camden Market, where there is just about every type of food you can imagine on offer for about £10-£12 a dish. It was great to have a family meal where everyone got exactly what they wanted to eat!

Our Highlights

In classic Spencer style, we tried to cram a lot into our weekend in London, here are the highlights as chosen by Georgia and Eva:

Camden Market

Cost: Free to enter.

Probably the coolest part of the capital, Camden Market is the place to go for the kitch and kooky. Located a few stops up from Euston on the Northern Line, it is a fantastic trip out for all the family. From the minute you enter, you will be captivated by the hustle and bustle of this unique and vibrant marketplace.

Kirsty and the girls with the Amy Winehouse statue at Camden market.
Amy Winehouse is one of Kirsty’s favourite artists and we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

You can dive right in and explore the quirky streets filled with hundreds of different stalls and shops. A huge array of artwork is on display, from one-off pieces by independent artists at Camden Art stall to ‘pop culture’ prints in The 43 shop. The girls were also fascinated by the lady from Koko Art, who was hand-painting custom shoe designs.

There are vintage clothing boutiques, retro trinket outlets and the mesmerising Cyberdog store, filled with trance music and fluorescent clothing. As with most tourist areas, there is a selection of London souvenirs for the children to collect. We found these to be reasonably priced compared to other places we visited.

The vast offering of food stalls will have you drooling within minutes! You probably won’t be able to resist the vast selection of eateries for very long. Even if you have the pickiest of eaters, there is something for everyone. International cuisines include offerings from the Meathead Mexican, Street Greek, and Hidden Curry, to name a few. We succumbed to hand-stretched pizza from Orfeo Italian Street Food, loaded fries from Funky Chips, a protein salad box from Asador Argentine Steaks and Dutch pancakes from Seven Heaven. However, we wish we had taken a little longer to explore the mouthwatering delights before deciding! We honestly had full-on food envy for hours!

There are plenty of bars to take five, have a drink and watch the world go by before heading back out to explore the nooks and crannies.

Eva and Georgia sound asleep after a long day.
We managed to break them on the first day!

Tate Modern

Cost: Free to enter, recommended donation of £5

As our family artist, Georgia was excited to visit a gallery. The iconic Tate Modern is one of London’s most child-friendly art galleries and is sure to fire up their imagination.

From the spectacular turbine hall, which often has interactive exhibits, to the carefully curated displays on the upper floors, this is well worth a visit. 

The whole gallery is easily accessible to those with children or pushing a pram, and the staff were very happy to answer any questions we had about the artwork.

The girls were fascinated by the uniqueness and the crazy ways that even the simplest things could be considered art. For Eva in particular, she realised that ‘art’ isn’t just boring paintings hung on a wall!

Our word of advice is that any gallery can be overwhelming for kids, and we decided only to spend an hour or so there. In an ideal world, we would have loved to come back for an hour every day we were in London and explore a different part of the gallery to take in the artwork with fresh eyes.

Once you have finished at Tate Modern, it is a short walk to the Millenium Bridge and cross over to St Pauls. Getting close to such an iconic building as St Pauls was a great way to appreciate the cathedral’s grandeur. You can purchase tickets for a sightseeing tour from £12, but we opted to stick our heads in for free for a quick look as the girls were getting tired.

Eva taking in the artwork at Tate Modern
Eva coming up with ideas on what to draw on her bedroom wall.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

The highlight of our trip! 

Georgia’s Favourite Bit: Butterbeer!

Eva’s favourite Bit: The Forbidden Forrest

Kirsty’s Favourite Bit: The model of Hogwarts that took over a month to build

Adrian’s Favourite Bit: The Hogwarts Express

A spectacular dragon greets you at the start of the tour.
We managed to break them on the first day!

Getting Tickets

The tour is hugely popular and at the time of writing and is fully booked seven weeks in advance. If you want tickets at a reasonable time then you are looking 12 weeks in advance, even longer if you want a Saturday or Sunday tour. You can see their availability here, and a family ticket will cost £160.

Another (pricer) option is to book a hotel and ticket combo. These combos have much more short-term ticket availability, but some hotels are on the outskirts of London and are nowhere near the tour or where you would want to stay if you want to explore the city.

Getting There

The studio tour is quite a way out of London; it was about 45 mins on the overground to Watford Junction from where we stayed near Regents Park.

When you arrive in Watford Junction, a free coach service takes you to the studio and the drive is about 20 mins. We arrived at the train station at approximately 10.30 am for an 11 am tour and did not have to wait long for the coach. Speaking to staff members, the tour gets busier later in the day, especially on weekends. If you arrive around 1 pm, you can easily wait 30 mins at the train station for the coach to the studio.

What to Expect

Harry Potter Studio Tour is one of those attractions that is as enjoyable for parents as it is for children. For the kids, it is all about the magic of Harry Potter. For Kirsty and I, seeing the astonishing care and detail that went into the movies was fascinating. From handwriting 1000 labels for Snape’s potion room to making 15,000 orbs for the Hall of Prophecy (that were not even used in the movies!), the time and energy that went into the productions to create the authenticity is incredible.

The tour is worth a full day with lots to explore. We lost count of the times we said “wow” as we moved into a new area. After the grand cinematic opening, you get to explore The Great Hall before moving through to a studio lot where you can see first-hand many sets from the films, including Dumbledore’s Office, Hagrid’s Hut, and The Potions Lab. 

This first section of the tour is easily worth an hour or more. Once ready, you can wander through the forbidden forest for the rest. There are several more big set pieces to explore, including Gringotts Bank, The Hogwarts Express, and the most meticulously constructed, intricate model of Hogwarts, which took over a month to build.


On the tour, you can take part in a number of paid extras, including a video of you flying a broomstick to your very own “Most Wanted Wiches” poster. These are great fun, but be warned that the costs are not obvious until you get to the till. As you would expect, they are somewhat overpriced. The price for the pictures and videos for us as a family was £60.


About two-thirds of the way around the tour is a large dining area with a fast-food-style diner and sandwich shop. As with the extras above, the food on site is overpriced (£13.95 for a very average hotdog and fries), and the queue when we wanted to order food was over 30 mins, although it did arrive quickly once ordered.

We recommend bringing your own food in if you expect to be there over a meal. There are several large covered areas to sit near the food stands, and you can look out over Privet Drive and the Night Bus.

We had to try butter beer! The best description we can come up with is a creamy cake you can drink.

The Harry Potter Shop

As you would expect, the shop is stuffed top to bottom with just about every bit of merchandise you can think of. That said, it is not cheap and the quality is pretty awful. We bought Georgia a satchel bag for £40, which fell apart less than 24 hours later. The store offers free post returns, but it should not be required at those prices!

We managed to break them on the first day!

Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross

Platform 9 ¾ Cost: Free to visit, and you can take your own pictures at no charge.

If you are trying to cram as much Harry Potter in as possible then no trip to London would be complete without visiting Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station.  A tiny bit disappointingly, the “platform” is not actually between 9 & 10 but out on the concourse of the main hall of the station. You don’t need to buy a train ticket to access it. The filming location is actually between platforms 4 & 5.

We visited at about 9.30 on a Monday morning expecting it to be reasonably quiet and astonishingly there was already a queue of about 20 mins! If we had done more homework, we would have learned that around 2 million people visit the King’s Cross Harry Potter shop every year, so this should not have been a surprise.

Talking to the staff, long queues of over an hour are common all day, especially in summer. Arriving early is recommended.

If you go during shop opening hours then there are props on hand such as scarves and wands you can use free of charge as part of your photo. The staff members will also give you tips on how to pose and will even waft your scarf to give a sense of movement. 

Happily, you can use your camera or phone to take pictures and you don’t have to buy the ones the shop’s photographer took. The staff won’t use your camera, but we asked someone else in the queue who looked trustworthy!   

If you have been to the studio tour, then the shop will not offer anything you have not already seen, but it is worth a moment to peruse.

Regents Park and Primrose Hill

Cost: Free

A great place to wind down at the end of the day, there are several well-equipped children’s play parks for your kids to burn off any energy they have left! We spent nearly an hour at the Gloucester Gate Playground, with swings, slides and a flying fox.

At sunset, we then took the short walk up Primrose Hill (not really a hill by the North of England standards!), and the view of the city from the top is incredible.

The only word of warning is that when we visited the park, all the toilets were locked, meaning an emergency tree wee for both the girls.

With all the glitz and glamour of London, sometimes the simple things are the best.

Tower of London

Cost: Adults £33.60, Children £16.80

The Tower of London is the best value ticketed attraction we visited while in London. Although it cost just over £100 for the four of us, the ticket price gives you access to multiple attractions, including The Crown Jewels, The White Tower, the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Battlements, and the Royal Mint exhibition. Honestly, it is probably too much to do in one visit! 

As you walk through the gates, you come face to face with centuries of history. Tucked behind the tower walls is a self-contained town, and you could happily spend a whole day here exploring it with children.

Interestingly, The Tower of London was at the bloody and brutal end of British history for many years, yet this has been largely sanitised. From the collections of weapons to the purpose of the spikes above Traitors Gate and the fate of The Princes in the Tower, it should all be very “Game of Thrones”, yet somehow these displays of murderous intent have become family-friendly after enough time.

The highlight of the visit is undoubtedly the Crown Jewels. Ignoring the dubious circumstances of how The Crown came to own some of the diamonds, they are a spectacular triumph of craftsmanship and a joy to behold. There was a short queue to gain access to the exhibition, and the full tour took about 30 minutes. When you get to the main display, you stand on a travelator designed to keep the crowd moving; however, you can easily double back and see them again if you want. 

Aside from the crowns, the girl’s favourite exhibit was the aptly named “Grand Punch Bowl”. This gigantic trough can contain 144 bottles of wine and is quite big enough to have a bath in!

The White Tower was also a family highlight. The tower was built by William the Conqueror, who was keen to stamp his authority on his newly acquired territory, and it is easy for children to picture what life was like behind its walls.

As you weave around the spiral staircases, it showcases some incredible armour, weaponry, and artefacts from the medieval period. It also has plenty of hands-on exhibits and interactive displays to fire the imagination. Georgia and Eva had many questions about the exhibits, and there was always a knowledgeable staff member to help.

The Royal Beasts also got the girls talking. Over the tower’s history, it was used to home the many exotic animals given as pets to the monarchy, including lions, elephants and even polar bears. A little part of me can’t help but think that giving someone, even a king, a polar bear is, as the French would say, “cadeau empoisonné” – a poisoned gift! Imagine having to feed and look after it.

And finally, (Accidentally) Seeing the King and Trooping the Colour

Cost: Priceless

This will go down as one of the more unexpected Spencer family adventures!

We had decided to head to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard, and using this great post by Roam the Gnome as a guide, we set out to arrive early. As we got off the tube at Green Park, we were surprised at how busy it seemed, and as we walked down towards the palace, we noticed that there were news crews from all around the world set up and recording.

This all seemed a bit much for the Changing of the Guards, which while impressive, happens four times a week during the summer. After asking a few onlookers, we realised we had unintentionally arrived just in time for Trooping the Colour! Not just any Trooping the Colour either, King Charles’s first since being crowned.

If you are unfamiliar with this tradition, Trooping the Colour is a military parade that has marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years. The procession involves most of the Royal Family, 1400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians in a grand display of military precision and fanfare.

How, in all our research, we missed this is beyond us, but what a happy accident!

As you would expect, we couldn’t get anywhere near the Victoria Memorial but instead took a short walk up The Mall and soon found a great position to watch the parade. The pomp and ceremony is something to behold, and the girls were beyond excited to see the King.

It has been a running joke for years in our family about going to London to see the King, and it has finally happened! I managed to capture some bits while we were there, and in the video below, you can see King Charles first on horseback, followed by Camilla, Kate and The Household Cavalry:

Quite the unexpected treat!

Our Next Visit

Sadly we couldn’t do everything we wanted on this trip and there were some big highlights we will be sure to do next time. These include:

  • Natural History Museum
  • British Museum
  • Covent Garden
  • Afternoon Tea on Classic Double Decker
  • View from the Shard
  • Royal Observatory Greenwich
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Cutty Sark
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Kew Gardens

In fact, just writing that list makes me think we should get another trip to London in this summer!

We hope you have found our post above useful, if you have any tips or think we have missed anything let us know in the comments below.

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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