London is a place where it’s unheard of to run out of things to do. I think sometimes too much going on makes finding the right thing to do in a few days or a week even more challenging. I am a four-time visitor to this city, and it’s still a favorite. The locals are friendly and when you run out of sights to visit, there are a ton of day trips to Oxford, Bath, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, and more.
When traveling with teens to London, here are some of our top picks.
1. Tower of London
The Tower of London is my number one favorite place to visit in London, but especially with a Yeoman Warders (aka “Beefeaters”) tour, which is included with an admission ticket. All Yeoman Warders, a special designation of retired military, live in the Tower complex. They are a proud bunch and will make the Tower come alive with its very dark past of imprisonment and executions, including the story of Anne Boleyn’s beheading. The guides give all the gruesome details to keep teenagers attention.
Also, inside the Tower is an armory museum for weapon lovers and the crown jewels, which are totally legit. Plan for at least two to three hours inside if you have teen/tweens interested in English history, swords, or medieval life. We had a decent queue first thing in the morning, but used the “group” line to purchase tickets. Again, don’t be a sheep was the lesson to my kids. If possible, I recommend buying tickets ahead of time.
2. Greenwich | Prime Meridian
Curious where we get GMT, Greenwich Mean Time? It’s in Greenwich! And there you can stand on the Prime Meridian between the East and West hemispheres. Once arriving in Greenwich, plan to spend at least half a day to visit the Naval Observatory, National Maritime Museum, the Cutty Sark clipper ship, and the town of Greenwich, which has some great places to eat and shop.
The Naval Observatory is the main attraction, and in order to “stand” on the Prime Meridian with that iconic photo, you will have to pay the entrance fee. However, that being said, the observatory is a museum about time, clocks, and how time came to be, and it’s a good museum for older kids. At one time Greenwich was considered the center of the world. I strongly recommend the audio tour which is included with admission. Inside is also a planetarium and a camera obscura. They offer a combined ticket with the Cutty Sark ship so if that’s in the plans, you might consider adding that into the ticket price.
Plan to be at the Observatory by 1 p.m. which is when the ball drops from the roof. This used to officially set the time, but now it’s to entertain the tourists. And yes, this is where the Times Square New Year’s Celebration originated.
Getting to Greenwich takes about half a day, and this was probably my kids’ favorite activity after the Tower. Take the boat from Westminster on the Thames, direct to Greenwich. Along the way, you’ll get a tour of the sights and some history of London. We stopped at Spanish Galleon for a late lunch, and this historic pub had one of the more memorable meals during our trip.
3. Churchill War Rooms
On a recommendation from a friend, we added the Churchill War Rooms, part of the Imperial War Museum, to our itinerary. What an unexpected and fun surprise for us. Now I’m not an expert on Churchill, but my husband is and he thought it was equally educational. The Churchill War Rooms isn’t just a museum, it’s the actual bunker that Winston Churchill worked from during World War II. You get to actually see it! Admission prices are heftier than other, mostly free, museums in London. This one gets crowded and the underground bunker can only hold so many people at one time. I imagine with the recent movies Churchill and Darkest Hour, it will only increase the number of tourists. I recommend going early when the museum first opens. Make sure you get the audio tour or you may miss some things.
The second part of the “rooms” is an interactive museum, and one of the best I have seen. (I have seen a lot.) It takes between 90 minutes to two hours to read through everything, and if anyone in the group is a history buff, it could take longer.
4. Westminster Abbey
We were torn on whether to visit Westminster Abbey on our trip. I wasn’t sold on whether or not to wait in the queue and pay (a hefty fee, too) to go in.
The verdict with kids over 10? Find the time to go, there’s a lot to see and learn. Westminster Abbey has been the center of the British monarchy and the Church of England for centuries, since 1090. It’s old! Still a functioning church so it’s closed on Sundays for tourists, my kids learned the entire British monarchy lineup in the first half hour of the audio tour. One of the most beautiful churches in the world, plan to spend some time either with the audio tour or better yet, a tour guide. We did the audio tour, but in hindsight, I think I would have preferred the live guide.
Inside the abbey is the Coronation Chair minus the Stone of Scone, which now rests safely in Scotland. A story not to miss. More than 3,000 people including royalty and famous people — writers and poets — are buried or commemorated in the Abbey.
5. Imperial War Museum
What impressed my kids the most was the two giant naval guns in front of this museum. The Imperial War Museum often gets overlooked as a top sight to visit. With more than a few days or with older kids, this museum will impress the history and military lovers. The World War I exhibit is impressive, with an actual trench go through. Especially for Americans who get very little World War I history in school. There are several floors of exhibits mostly focused on WWI and WWII, including airplanes and tanks and a holocaust memorial. I would recommend at least two hours to see this museum as there is so much to see and read. Bonus is the museum is free.
6. Borough Market
Arguably one of the best in London, this large open area market — which has a 1,000 years of history — just south of the Thames sells not only fresh produce, meat, fish, and flowers, but cuisine covering nearly every continent. We found French cheese, Spanish paella, Scotch eggs (I didn’t even know that was a thing), German bratwurst, Vietnamese noodle dishes, and Italian coffee. And that’s just the beginning.
The full market is open Wednesday through Sunday, but can be very busy at mealtimes. With hungry teenagers and different food preferences, this is a fun place to browse and enjoy lunch or dinner.
Also note, it’s a Harry Potter movie location site as well. We’re always on the lookout for those in the UK.
7. Walking Tour
Always a favorite for our family, is taking the free walking tours in a new city. Walking tours offer a great opportunity to see the city, learn some history, understand local culture, and in this case get to know the royal family. Bike and segway tours are other options, but I find the simplicity and affordability of walking tours allows us to go at a slower pace and take photos along the way. London offers many tours for different neighborhoods or interests (Harry Potter, Jack the Ripper, WWII, etc.).
8. Globe Theatre
With teenagers, especially those in English-speaking high schools, Shakespeare is likely covered in their curriculum. If not, even more reason to visit the Globe Theatre. Spoiler alert: The current theater is not the original one. The first one burned down, a terrible plight for many places in London. The second theater closed and this one opened in the 1990s. Don’t discount recreations, especially with teenagers who may not yet have the wisdom to imagine this place if just ruins. It’s a good representation on what it looked like.
Performances run throughout the year, and it’s worth finding something to see. As my kids recently discovered, Shakespeare is so much more entertaining when performed live than in a book. Tours run daily and the gift shop is pretty cool with lots of fun things to bring back for an English Literature teacher.