My friend Val is getting excited about her upcoming family trip to the UK. I don’t blame her, she’s going to see one of my favourite places in the whole world – London.
Of course, I don’t feel quite as excited for her about their plans to go camping in the notoriously chilly English ‘summer’.
But as a help I’ve gathered together a few ideas of things to do and see beyond the obvious attractions – Her Maj, the double-decker buses, The Tube etc.
This guide is for BIG KIDS ie/ tweens and teens even though I know that Val has a littlie aged only three.
Of course teens and tweens are notoriously difficult to amuse and fickle little blighters at the best of times. Throw in jet lag and tiredness and you could have a very tricky situation. London is an exhausting place to visit, especially when you don’t know your way around, all those cobbles have a dire effect on your feet and all those people jostling and bumping can be overwhelming.
A few survival hints – Take a bottle of water with you (the Tube can be claustrophobic in summer), wear track shoes, take a jacket (yes, whatever the seaon) and factor in pit stops. Finally, don’t forget to load your purse full of 20 pence coins in case you need to ‘spend a penny’.
If all else fails, feed them.
If you’re sitting comfortably let’s begin.
1/ Hamleys – Hamleys is a fabulous place for kids, even Big Kids will find something to smile about in this multi-storied toyshop on Regent St in London’s shopping district. Staffed by indomitably cheerful young folk blowing bubbles or flying toy aircraft you can almost get away with visiting Hamleys without buying anything as there’s always something to see and be entertained by. Almost. But if little whiners get to you, there’s a sweet shop with a variety of little things that won’t break the bank. It’s worth buying something if only for the cute ‘I’ve-been-there’ Hamley’s shopping bag.
2/ Forbidden Planet Megastore – If your kids are into anything science fiction or fantasy, or are Whovians or Trekkies this is the holy place. The London store is on Shaftesbury Avenue within coo-ee of the Tottenham Court Road Tube station. They often have signings so fangirls and fanboys can hob nob with their heros. Stocked with every book, model, poster you can think of. There’s even stuff for middle-aged Big Kids with posters of the David Tennant’s Doctor. Yum, yum.
3/ Tower of London – This is a great place to take kids, our three absolutely loved it. Do take a Beefeater tour, it really is worth it to hear the stories and history behind the ancient fortress. It really adds to the atmosphere to know that poor Anne Boleyn stood on this very green contemplating her fate all those years ago. The Crown Jewels are wonderful but I think the Armoury is better. So THAT’S what a rack looks like! Full of all the blood-thirsty implements of war, and some fine examples of defensive armour for man and beast, the Armoury should thrill every teenage heart.
4/ The London Dungeon – Warning – this is not suitable for little kids. Maybe best to take them on a bus tour around London whilst the Big Kids scare the bejesus out of themselves. The new (improved?) London Dungeon is now sited next to The London Eye which ensures it is firmly on the tourist circuit. Educational as well as entertaining the London Dungeon will appeal to kids who love the grimmer versions of Horrible Histories.
5/The London Eye – I was fortunate enough to enjoy a London Eye ride at sunset when the trip was stunningly beautiful, but if it came to a toss up between The Shard and The Eye I cannot say which is better as The Shard hadn’t opened before I left England. One thing going for the London Eye though is that it is not a static experience, the capsule does literally gently propel up to the top of the enormous ‘ferris wheel’ and then back down. All in all the flight takes about 30 minutes.
Of course I don’t have space to mention the brilliant parks, the lovely National Art Gallery, the Tate Modern, or any of the other brilliant places that make London so very dear to me. Irrespective of whether I was in London for work or pleasure I always got a tremendous kick out of seeing places I’d previously read about or seen on TV. I’ve been to Harry Potter’s King’s Cross (It looks a bit different these days and the train to Hogworts wasn’t running…), I’ve seen Baker Street from Sherlock Holmes and I’ve caught trains at the brilliant Waterloo Station where the sexy spies from modern TV drama Spooks got their man.
But oooh maybe I could just squeeze in a mention of The Science Museum … which you must see. Because it is utterly brilliant!
London is not a cheap place to visit, particularly when you’re paying in another currency so take every opportunity to save money. Grab an Oyster card for travel on The Tube and buses and save shoe leather, pack lunches from a local Sainsburys or Tescos and don’t forget the bottles of water. A coffee will set you back about £3.50 (or $NZD 7.00)! Lunch for a family of five could easily cost well over $100!
Be prepared well ahead of time and look online for discounted attractions from places such as Visit Britain!
Where do you like to go when you take your kids to London?