Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabit, Alice in Wonderland, Thomas the Tank Engine, The Hobbit, Gulliver’s Travels, Roald Dahl, Harry Potter: Britain’s canon of children’s literature is unrivalled. With such an impressive lineup of heavyweight British children’s stories in the distant and more recent past, you might imagine that Britain would be a warm and welcoming place for travelers with children.
However, as is sometimes the case in Britain, the reality doesn’t always match what you might imagine from films and books about the country. As you walk with your children around streets and parks in some areas, you find that strangers rarely interact with children. Indeed some people go out of their way to avoid them! There is a fairly low tolerance of children’s antics in some parts of Britain and children are expected to adjust to the adult world, not the other way around. Some hotels, pubs and restaurants may not welcome younger children, but others are more geared up for children, with play areas, child seats and small cutlery etc. You just have to see and ask where other parents go. In many cases the specially-equipped places will be avoided by those who seek a quieter stay.
The particular problems you might face with children in Britain are:
Toilets: Public toilets are harder and harder to come by. You often have to hijack some shop toilets (risking the ire of the counter staff) or walk miles to the one and only public toilets in the town. Railway and bus stations generally have toilets but they may be locked at weekends or at night. You may also need a supply of 10p and 20p coins to pay to use the toilet in stations. Most towns or villages have a public toilet, often at the main car park. Many petrol (gas) stations also have one, usually there is a sign outside but you can ask. Also the larger supermakets usually have both toilets and cafes and can be a good stopping off point.
Streets and cars: Many streets are very busy, and playing outside can be problematic. Residential areas and streets usually have pavements (sidewalks), but people are increasingly using these to park their cars on. There are parks in most towns and all cities. Most hotels have car parking but some do not and it is worth checking, in common with other countries, before you travel.
Doctors: If your child is ill you may not be able to get a doctor’s appointment quickly especially at the weekend. In extreme or emergency situations you should go to a hospital and you may also find your local pharmacy can give you helpful advice for everyday illnesses. However there is a 24/7 phone line called NHS Direct. You may have to wait for someone to call back. Big cities also have emergency surgeries available. Your hotel should be the first point of contact if you are visiting.
Lack of childcare: Britain has worse childcare provision than some of its European neighbours, and it is dramatically more expensive as well. When looking for childcare contact your local council Childrens Information Service, You can check to see whether there is an inspection report for your chosen childcare place on the OFTSED site
. If you are coming for a holiday this should not concern you.
There are some positive points to mention. There are many excellent admission free museums, geared to provide an imaginative and educational experience for children. There are parks everywhere, even in central London, which are a good place to take a break when the children are tired and irritable. Even small towns have shows for children especially around Christmas or during the summer vacation. And Britain's famously beautiful countryside really is beautiful, with thousands of miles of footpaths to explore.
So in summary, whilst you need not worry about bringing your children to the UK, and there are lots of things to see and do. But you should also be prepared for some additional frustrations that you might not face elsewhere. The best bet is to plan ahead. Research plenty of kid friendly attractions so that you'll have a selection to choose from. Look for listings in Time Out
(for local events) or NineBlue
for child friendly ideas.