London is constantly evolving, just look at the skyline and you’ll see more cranes than building tops these days. The varied architecture represents the wide spectrum of British culture, from the Royal Family, to the art and music scene, and everything in between. One thing you can’t escape is the gentrification of central London. What was previously underdeveloped, ten years later would be a thriving part of the city. This is what we found when stayed in London’s South bank with kids one weekend.
The last time my husband and I strolled through Southbank, there wasn’t much to see.
London’s South Bank with Kids
The London Eye had recently been built and the lines were much more manageable back then. Little did we know we should have taken a ride because today the queue can be over an hour just to get tickets. When we walked by the Eye, we passed a grassy area, a few street artists, and went back across a bridge, not finding much to hold our attention. On our recent visit however, we saw no reason to leave.
Our boys couldn’t get enough of the Jubilee Park playground. There were plenty of restaurants, albeit mostly chains, right along the Thames, loads of street performers, and easy access to some of the city’s most popular attractions. Having done zero research about the area, I had no idea what to expect.
My son told me he wanted to see Big Ben. I found a hotel right across the Westminster Bridge and we got so much more than we bargained for.
South Bank Hotels
Park Plaza Westminster, 200 Westminster Bridge Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7UT, UK
I’d done a massive search for hotels via Booking.com, and finally settled on the Park Plaza Westminster. This hotel has a sister property, the Park Plaza County Hall, just across the street. Select rooms have a brilliant view of Westminster Bridge, Parliament and the clock tower that houses Big Ben. My son couldn’t have been happier.
We were in a Studio room, which provided plenty of space for our family of four. My husband and I slept in the bedroom portion of the studio while our boys were on the pull-out couch in the Living Room. The bathroom took up the middle section of the room, which afforded us a little privacy, even without a door between us. At least we could watch TV after they fell asleep.
The Park Plaza is a member of Club Carlson, which means club members and those paying an additional fee could gain access to the club lounge. In hindsight, I wish I had upgraded us to club access. It would have covered breakfast, afternoon tea and happy hour hors d’oeuvres. Joining would have saved us a lot of money and time, especially at breakfast. I also love a good afternoon tea!
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Things to do in South Bank with Kids
While we opted to be pretty lazy on this trip to London, there are plenty of things to do on the South bank with kids. You can also walk to a number of other attractions located just over the bridge.
It’s hard to miss the London Eye when you’re on the Southbank, as it’s the largest attraction in the neighborhood. Sunset is one of the best times to visit the eye… on a clear day. You will want to make sure you get your tickets ahead of time and queue at the right time. Check ahead with companies like Viator.com who sell London Eye tickets. This can save you time and money at the ticket counter.
The entire park surrounding the London Eye is Jubliee Park. Here you will find food trucks, a carousel, street artists and performers, several restaurants and a performance venue open spring through the fall months.
There is also a great playground your children will beg you to let them play at, if only for a few minutes (trust me, they will not leave after a “few minutes” so plan on giving them at least 20 minutes to blow off some steam). An enterprising food truck will set up shop right next to the playground one day and serve coffee and donuts. I hope they are there next time we visit.
Jubilee Park Playground
My boys favorite part of South bank had to be the Jubilee Park playground. This is where they could run free and play with other kids. My husband and I grabbed coffees at Starbucks on our way over, sat down on a ledge and watched from the sidelines. In a way it was a nice break for us as well.
The massive playground was a huge hit with other kids in the area, and all of the parents we met seemed quite pleasant. I got chatting with a mother who now lives just outside of London, but was originally from Prague. She had brought her son into the city for the day. We saw a Malaysian wedding party wandering by and chatted over how jealous we were that the bride got to wear a gorgeous gold sari-like dress. It’s those little interactions that make playgrounds in other cities and countries so much fun.
Southbank Centre Food Market
My very favorite part of the South bank neighborhood transformation is the Southbank Centre Food Market. It is located just behind Southbank Centre, and runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This is where you will want to eat, people watch, have a drink (yes, they serve alcohol) and try a few things you never thought you would devour. Indian, Ethiopian, Italian, English and Greek foods are just a few of the offerings at the outdoor stalls at this year-round market. If your kids can’t find something to eat here, even an ice cream, then there is no help for them. Grab a seat at one of the tables, squish in next to people you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to say hello.
Walks from South Bank with Kids
If you’re interested in visiting Hamley’s toy store, it’s an easy 20-30 minute walk from South bank. Walk across the bridge, over to Trafalgar, up to Piccadilly and onto Regent Street. Personally, I don’t recommend it. Someone will walk out crying (probably mom due to fatigue, or a kid because you won’t spend double the price because of the currency exchange rate on a LEGO set).
You can also walk through St. James Park, over to Buckingham Palace, through Westminster Abbey, by Parliament and through the Kensington Gardens. Yes, you could also take the London Underground to all of these places. If it is a sunny day, don’t bother. When the sun is shining, take advantage of it and WALK around London. You will always find little treasures along the journey.
South Bank Restaurants
Most of the South bank restaurants are chains and meant for tourists, but there are still decent spots to sit with the kids and enjoy a nice meal. The best reason to come eat in this part of the city on the weekends is the Southbank Centre Food Market.
- Wagamama, Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8XX, UK
- Pizza Express, Unit 3, The Whitehouse, 9c Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8YP, United Kingdom
- Locale, County Hall, 3B Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7GP, UK
- Co-op Food, 170 Westminster Bridge Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 7RW, UK
- Le Pain Quotiden, Festival Walk, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8XX, UK
Grab our guide to Southbank Restaurants Guide
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