{itineraries} 3 Days in London – Off the Beaten Path (With or Without Kids!)

Having been to London quite a few times, on a recent trip I decided to try some activities and itineraries that are decidedly off the beaten path. It was so much fun to avoid the crowds of Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, and Buckingham Palace and get into some spaces and places that were less clogged by tourists yet even more enjoyable.

london off the beaten path cutty

I wanted to share my three favorite trips as a suggested agenda for you to use as a jumping-off point, in case you’re interested in giving any of them a try. A note: these are great activities for adults, but I did them all with a 3-year-old in tow and they mostly worked well for families, too. I have added my thoughts and suggestions about bringing kids to each of the itineraries in italics at the end.

Regents Canal

Peace and quiet in the middle of London? A canal network with views to rival Bruges or Venice? All this can be found along the magical Regents Canal – a secret pathway that meanders along London’s old canal network.

london off the beaten path regents canal

If you’re in London on a Sunday, there’s no better way to start than to eat a proper Sunday Roast for lunch and then walk it off on the canal path. Take the tube to Camden Town and check out the vibrant, funky shopping scene. The once-quaint Camden Market has now blossomed into a massive network of loosely connected outdoor markets, with stalls offering everything from fried Oreos to vegan, gluten-free cupcakes – and everything else in between.

london off the beaten path camden town

You can eat well here, but if it’s Sunday I would advise walking a block or two past the market area to The Lock Tavern for a Sunday Roast in the back garden. (The pork belly is especially good.)

london off the beaten path sunday roast

With a full belly, follow signs to the Regents Tow Path and take a few steps down towards the canal. Within a few moments’ walking, you’ll find yourself along a peaceful canal, peeking into posh backyards and spotting the long, skinny skiffs that navigate the canal. You’ll pass through the middle of Regents Park Zoo—we even saw a couple of animals through the backside of their cages—and much of Regents Park and Primrose Hill.

london off the beaten path canal

As to how to end this jaunt, you have a couple of options. At one point, you will have to go up a set of stairs and walk along the city streets for a few blocks before you’re able to continue with the canals. If you keep going until the bitter end, you have the advantage of seeing the full length of the canals, but you also get stuck under a maze of traffic-laden overpasses, which can kind of kill the tranquil mood you’ve spent the last few hours cultivating. You may want to just end your canal tour when you get up the stairs. At that point, you’ll be in St. Johns Wood. You can head into Regents Park and keep up the nature stroll. And if you time things well, and plan in advance, you can try to catch a cricket match at the famous Lord’s Cricket Ground. (Or with a lot less planning, you can at least get a drink at the pub on the cricket grounds.) Another option is to continue on a bit farther into Maida Vale for a drink or a bite at the Warrington, a grande dame of a pub owned by Gordon Ramsay. (If you skipped your Sunday Roast on the front end of the trip, the Warrington can help you out there, too.) Maida Vale’s leafy little streets are fun for a wander, and have some cute shops tucked here and there.

london off the beaten path boat ride

For Families: I would not recommend doing this trip with an unsteady walker, as there are no barriers between the canal waters and the towpath. A child in a carrier or one who can safely walk and follow instructions should be no problem. There are a few ups and downs, and Camden Town and the market can get pretty crowded, so a stroller might be more trouble than it’s worth – but it’s doable. If you’re worried about bringing kids but want to see the canals, you can take a boat ride. The Lock Pub is kid-friendly for all ages, especially in the back garden.

Greenwich

Have you ever wondered what “Greenwich Mean Time” exactly means? Here’s your chance to learn all about it, while visiting a super-charming London neighborhood.

Take an overground or Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich station. Pick up Royal Hill Road and stop in at Union Pub for a glass of the local Meantime brew – made right in Greenwich. (They have pretty good food there too, if you’re hungry.) If it’s brunch or breakfast time, you can find a seat in the tiny Royal Teas for a bite and a great cup of tea or coffee, or try the nearby Buenos Aires café for a sweet and a drink. You’ll also pass a fantastic little cheese shop if you want to pick up picnic provisions.

london off the beaten path greenwich

From there, walk down the Greenwich High Street into Maritime Greenwich. Meander the streets and stroll through Greenwich Market. You’ll hit the refurbished tea clipper Cutty Sark, the old Naval college, and the Maritime Museum. It’s all fronted by Greenwich Park, a vast, open space with lots of space to picnic, play, explore, and see panoramic views of Greenwich and the London skyline. Up the hill atop the park, you’ll find the Royal Observatory, where you can learn about how precision timekeeping was developed and stand right on the Greenwich Mean Time line – the one that, at least time-wise, divides the world into East and West.

london off the beaten path cutty sark

Once you’ve had your fill of maritime history, head down to the Maritime Greenwich dock (beside the Cutty Sark) dock and get a boat cruise back up the Thames for a pretty and informative tour back into central London (which includes, among many other things, finding out where Ian McKellen lives and seeing the oldest pub in London.) And yes, you will get a glimpse of Big Ben on the way.

london off the beaten path thames cruise

For Families: If you have little ones – there is a massive playground in Greenwich Park that’s definitely worth a visit. School-aged kids will enjoy the Cutty Sark and parts of the Royal Observatory and Maritime Museum. For a kid-friendly lunch you can stop at Zizzi for pizza or pasta just by Cutty Sark, or if it’s warm out, grab an outside table at the Gipsy Moth pub just behind it.

Hever Castle

You might be amazed to learn that a journey of less than an hour on the train from central London can bring you to a gorgeous historic castle and grounds that makes for a fabulous introduction to the English countryside. Hever Castle in Kent is the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and the gardens around the castle are full of fun activities for folks of all ages.

london off the beaten path hever castle

You can tour the castle and the extensive gardens. There are geese and ducks to feed and lots of gorgeous waterways and bridges – even a moat!

london off the beaten path hever

Be sure to walk over and check out the water maze—the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. You navigate a maze of stones and if you go the wrong way, you get sprayed with water. It’s great fun on a hot day.

london off the beaten path hever 2

Pack a picnic and a blanket and get a Southern line train from London Bridge to Edenbridge station. At Edenbridge, grab a cab for the 10-minute taxi ride to Hever Castle (around £7-9 each way.) The journey offers the chance to get a peek at the Kentish countryside and villages.

london off the beaten path

For Families: This is a fabulous place to bring kids of all ages. The place is very well set-up for children, with an adventure playground, water maze, hedge maze, and loads of green space to run around. Bring a picnic and sit by the water to feed the ducks.

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