Normally, international travel would not be on the top of my priority list after just having our first child, but one of our good friends was getting married in Montegnegro, and he and his future wife insisted on having us AND the baby attend. I didn’t need much more of an excuse to book a ticket. I’m easy when it comes to travel.
To make the trip more manageable, my wife and I took two weeks off for this adventure. We decided to spend the first week in London with some friends, and the second week would be devoted to Croatia and Montenegro. This post will be devoted to our London portion.
Babies and London go together like peanut butter and jelly. It's a walking city, which makes it the best kind of city for babies. We have been to London many times, and have stayed at many different hotels. For this trip, we stayed with a good friend of ours in their two-bedroom in Shoreditch (not the most baby friendly) as well as a friend in Islington (more baby friendly).
One of the biggest insights we had for this trip was to not make baby adjust to the local time zone. We are from NYC, which is 5 hours behind London. We simply kept our schedule and woke at noon and went to bed at midnight. Our little baby was none the wiser, and there was no painful acclimatization to a new schedule. The biggest benefit to this is that we were able to go out late with friends, and we didn’t need to get a sitter because we were still on her sleep schedule. Baby got fussy at times, but I simply took her for a stroll around the block then rejoined the party.
Where to stay:
The Arch Hotel - This charming hotel in Marleybone is within walking distance of all the great shopping near Oxford circus, but far enough away to have a quaint residential feel. Walking into this boutique hotel reminds me of walking into a friends house. A well appointed lobby bar greets you as you enter, and you are quickly offered either sparkling or flat water. In the mornings, they offer a wonderful English breakfast. We were not able to sample the dinner menu, but from the sight and smell, you wouldn’t go wrong. The rooms are a bit small, but large enough for a crib and space to navigate around it. The room has a very cool vibe.
The London Edition - Spoil your baby with this swanky hotel. While I would recommend staying elsewhere for cheaper and simply checking out the amazing lobby bar, you surely can’t go wrong if you have the funds. I never had the opportunity to stay here, but I have frequented the dining room and bar. Both can accommodate babies, but I’d recommend this one for a mom and dad’s night out. They do provide cribs (I called and verified).
The Churchill - This hotel on Grosvenor Square has nothing super modern or special about it, but it is 100% reliable. The amazing staff will remember your name and go out of their way to make sure you and your baby are comfortable. Great bedding and cribs, and large rooms to accommodate the stroller and bags. The central location also makes it possible to go the entire week without taking the tube (although I do recommend you venture out far and explore). One more plus... it's super close to shopping, which my wife appreciated. And as they say, happy wife...happy life.
What to do:
The British Museum - This museum is stroller friendly AND free. The many exhibits and people walking around kept baby visually stimulated and left mommy and me free to gaze at some wonderful works of art. I highly recommend taking baby out of the stroller when walking through King’s library. All of the exhibits are safely tucked behind protective glass, and baby is free to reach out and touch in the direction of her favorites. It was a very special time.
The Tate Modern - I visited this museum on a solo trip, but I know it to be extremely family friendly. The wide aisles and open atriums make this a stroller’s dream, and the exhibits are sure to keep everyone in the family captivated. One tip for museums is to put your Iphone music on low and put it so the baby can listen. This will calm her down if she gets fussy, and ensures she can take in all the sites.
Selfridges - This is a must. Strolling around with the baby while my wife shopped was one of the highlights of the trip. While I am a history buff, I have a background in retail, and Selfridges is one of the top three shopping destinations in London. Harrods and Liberty being the other two, but they are not as baby friendly as Selfridges. Some may warn me that I am creating a very expensive shopping monster by exposing her so early to high fashion, but I’d rather take that risk so that she has a very highly defined sense of taste and style (just like mommy).
One of my favorite moments was when I changed Karina on a couch in between well-merchandised racks of designer dresses. I like the idea of saying I fed you with a silver spoon (I have) and wiped your tush in the company of Miu Miu and DVF. It’s also possible to find a low traffic shop in shop and nurse on one of the many plush couches that litter Selfridges. The only downside was the elevators. We had to wait for a few to go by before there was room to cram a stroller in there. Definitely check out Hemsley + Hemsley cafe for some champagne and scones and a respite from shopping.
Hyde Park - There is something extremely British about a day in the park. Yes, New Yorkers have Central Park, but I just feel like the Brits have mastered the art of park lounging. Picnic baskets and familes will dot the park. Clotted creams, champagne bottles, nice dresses and happy babies are a common sight as you walk through the great lawns of Hyde Park.
We recommend purchasing a pre made picnic basket (offered at the Arch hotel) or assembling your own from one of the many bodegas that can be found as you enter the park. Pick up some prosecco, biscuits, meats, cheeses and some food for baby. Don’t forget an extra long bedsheet or picnic sheet so that you can spread out and baby can crawl around. My wife and I took turn taking naps. Also don't forget a jambox or other portable music device.
High Tea at Claridges
Our friend’s thought we were crazy to bring a baby to such an English institution. But babies are something Claridges have prepared for expertly. The high chairs are some of the finest we have ever seen, and they are very accommodating for baby's dietary needs. We brought our own baby food, so we simply ordered the tea and champagne course. Mommy felt more than comfortable to cover up and nurse in the middle of the tea room, and the Brits did not even bat an eye. Many patrons came up and introduced themselves and wanted to know what baby’s name was.
Baby did get fussy from time to time, so I simply excused myself from the table and took her for a little walk around the beautiful hotel lobby. When she was calm and rejoined the tea party, we stayed at tea for 3 hours, and at one point a steward came up to me when he saw that Karina was starting to fidget and asked if he could bring anything over for her. Karina has a penchant for playing with spoons, and upon hearing this, he brought over 10 SILVER spoons for Karina to play with. Claridges earned a fan for life with that move.
Where to Eat:
The Earl of Essex - Sunday Roasts, like the queen, unpredictable politics and big Ascot hats, are a London institution. Most of the best are in unassuming pubs that have zero problems with a baby. Some of them wouldn't even notice if the baby started crying, especially if there is a soccer game on.
Our buddy who we were staying with lived within walking distance of this great spot. Only about ten tables, this intimate pub has an amazing array of beers on tap and the roast chicken was incredible. I had to take Karina on at least 3 walks during this three-hour affair. I needed to burn off the calories so I didn't mind.
Dishoom - Like Indian? Who doesn't? I'll tell you, people with weak stomachs. Luckily, my family doesn't count among those types. Dishoom is a London chain restaurant that is miles away from chain food. The Chicken Tikka and Naan are litmus tests for good Indian food (at least for my bland American taste buds), and these two were the best I've ever sampled. The array of chutneys are impressive, and the multiple selections of daal are mouth watering.
Each location is designed in its own unique way. I've visited the locations in Shoreditch, Covent Garden and City Center. Shoreditch is the most baby friendly layout and to my knowledge is the largest location. Be sure to get there early as this place fills up fast. First come first served... but they will serve you tea while you wait in line. A nice Brit twist on Indian fare.
Day and Night Trips:
Soho Farm House - Being a member is nice, but not necessary. At least during the weekdays. This hotspot in the Cottswalds is the closest thing that us non-aristocrats will get to the royal treatment. The Cottswalds are named after the type of wall that line the many tiny roads in this area. After what seems like an eternity of staring at picturesque walls, lawns, houses and farms you arrive at Soho Farmhouse. We chartered a car for 200 pounds and left the stress of the drive to a professional. It also left us free to enjoy the scenery.
Upon arrival we were greeted by very young, and very good looking reception staff. They loaded our gear into a very cool vintage bus and drove us to our cabin. If you travel with baby, I highly recommend you get one of the cabins. The Farmhouse also offers teepees but in my opinion these are for the young and single or young and married without children. I like a little bit more than cloth to separate my baby from the elements. Give me oak and cedar! Besides, the cabins offer record players and vintage vinyl, fresh bread, a mini bar for the ages and amazing furnishings. Most open up to a balcony overlooking a man made pond. And yes, they spray for mosquitos.
The landscape is incredible and the pool, set amongst lilies and a very picturesque pond, is perfect for a dip with the baby. The Farmhouse offered up a baby floaty that Karina and I took for a spin. The heated water was perfect, and the bartender made some amazing drinks that were served poolside as I did not want to remove Karina from the pool.
The piece-de-resistance was the bar at the main house. A converted barn serves as the central gathering place for all patrons. Many parents with kids gathered around and approached you when you entered with a stroller. It seemed like a band of brothers for those that ventured there with kids. We made some great friends and great memories.
Did I also mention they have boats on premise?