Monday, October 7, 2013

London with Kids!!

As the Hotel de Davis has had a load visitors the past 20+ months and I get numerous people messaging me about coming to London, I decided to put together a list of fun things to do with your kids in London and the surrounding areas. A few things about the list:
  1. Some of these suggestions are obviously the top things to do in London on the tourist meter and others are things that may be off the beaten path. You will notice that Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey aren't even on the list. I assume you will see those.
  2.  The list below is long and some we have experienced and others we have yet to explore (which is a great list for me!).
  3. Most of these suggestions are appropriate for bigger kids and not the little guys.
  4. The list is in no particular order but just a brain dump of ideas from me and other people I have asked for input.
  5. Remember you can't do it all on just one visit-as Pete would say, "Pace yourself and don't over schedule". Ha Ha, you would think he would know me after 20 years together? Over schedule is my middle name!
Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle

  • Gary Egerton/Diplomatic Guide Services ~ Gary is a Blue Badge guide who is great with kids! Gary picked us up in an air conditioned van and drove us all over London. He timed the Changing of the Guard at Horse Guard Parade and Buckingham Palace to the second and without any crowds. He was great with the kids and knew when to speed things up when they were getting fidgety. He is a former high level police officer for the Royal Family and various Prime Ministers. He had great stories! He arranged our Ceremony of the Keys tour at the Tower of London. He also does a grown up only tour of the Tower of London at night which includes a couple of pints at the pub inside the Tower of London with the Yeomen and then the Ceremony of the Keys. We have not done the pub night but seems like it would be super fun . 

  • The Attendant ~ A public restroom turned cafĂ©. Tables are old, converted urinals and the food is pretty good.

  • Imperial War Museum ~ Newly reopened after a year of being closed for remodelling. Not to be confused with Churchill War Rooms.

  • Any West End play ~ We have seen Wicked, The Lion King, Stomp, Book of Mormon (definitely not appropriate for kids but AWESOME for adults), and Once. On our list with the kids is Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For the big shows you need to order tickets in advance and they are expensive. If you can go on the fly, hit up the TKTS booth in Leicester Square and you can get some of the less popular shows at a discount on that day.

  • Covent Garden/Trafalgar Square street performances ~ Always some fun and interesting performances and the kids love them

  • Hyde Park ~ Rent boats on the water, get a Barclays bike and ride thru the park, there is always something going on in Hyde Park

  • The London Eye (do not recommend the London Aquarium) ~ The kids loved this but the wait in line can be long. Some friends bought the fast pass and said it was worth it. Never done it at night but apparently it is excellent!

  • Harry Potter Studio Tour ~ We did this tour with the Taylors this summer and it was a hit for all of us! All Harry Potter fans should check it out! Really well done. You need to buy tickets in advance for a specific time-you can not get tickets the day you want to go! It is north of London by train about 20 minutes from Euston Station and then a shuttle takes you to the studio lot.
    The Great Hall at Hogwarts

  • Windsor Castle ~ Windsor Castle is my favourite tourist attraction in London! It is a great audio tour, you can see the changing of the guard (better and less crowded that Buckingham Palace) up close, Windsor and Eton are charming villages to explore and it is a working castle - the Queen is there a lot of the time. Make sure to check the website to see if the Changing of the Guard is scheduled (they skip days in the winter/spring months) and to see if there is anything else going on (kitchen tours, climbing the main tower, etc). The Royal Guard's Band marches through the streets of Windsor about 10:50 AM and then into the Castle so make sure you are inside the castle well before 11 to get a good spot. Make sure you do the audio guide as it tells the fascinating history of the castle, St. George's Chapel, and the Knights of the Garter. Windsor Castle is easy to get to from London and takes about 25 minutes.
    Order of the Garter with Prince Charles, the Queen and Prince William

  • Stonehenge ~ I had low expectations about Stonehenge (just a bunch of rocks) but was pleasantly surprised by the experience and the audio tour. Lots of good people watching (always some nutters floating about the stones with staffs and crystals). We drove there and then went to Bath but I know there are bus tours and trains that take you to Salisbury from Waterloo Station in London (90 minutes) and then you take a cab from the train station to Stonehenge.

  • Hampton Court Palace ~ Another beautiful place outside of London on the River Thames. It is known as King Henry VIII "party house" back in the day and has gorgeous gardens and a cool hedge maze. I think you can take a boat along the Thames from Westminster (although it can take up to 4 hours depending on the tides) or the train from Waterloo station is about 35 minutes.
    Hampton Court Palace

  • Regent Park ~ A pretty park with gorgeous gardens and near the London Zoo. We went there the first weekend we were here but have not been back since nor to the Zoo (hard to do the zoo after Africa :-)
    Regent Park

  • Portobello Road/Notting Hill ~ a cute little hood west of Hyde Park with the famed street market on Saturdays. Some of the shops are open other days of the week but the best day is Saturday. Our kids thought it was cool but might be more fun to do on your own...they liked getting a crepe the best.

  • Science Museum ~ I think we did this when we first got here and the kids weren't in school yet. I remember it was crowded because it was Easter break but that's all I remember-not a great endorsement huh?

  • Natural History Museum ~ We did this the same day as the Science Museum and it was too long a line to get in the dinosaur exhibit but the kids did like the hands on exhibits and the gift shop.

  • Princess Diana Playground ~ In Hyde Park near Kensington Palace and super fun for the younger kids. My kids were way too old (11 & 12).

  • Hop On Hop Off Bus tours ~ This is a great way to see all of London in a couple of hours and hear the history of the different neighbourhoods and tourist sites. What I like is that you can hop on and off at the different sites, check them out and then get back on. Usually the tickets are good for 24 hours too so you can use the bus the next day if needed. There are lots to choose from but Rick Steves (my go to guy) says the Big Bus Tour is the best and make sure to get a live guide and not the recorded guide.

  • Kings Cross Train Station for the 9 3/4 platform for the Hogwarts Express ~ If you are close by at St. Pancras Station hop on over to Kings Cross Station and see the trolley that Harry pushes thru the wall to get to the 9 3/4 platform. There is an orderly queue and an HP scarf to borrow for a fun photo op. My friends that visited this summer actually got a glossy 5x7 pic taken by a professional when they were there-we never saw that perk when we visited!
    Photo op at Kings Cross Station

  • National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park ~ We have not done this yet but it is suppose to be a great day out that the kids love. Going to hit it for sure this fall.

  •  Cutty Sark ~ Recently redone it is the last surviving tea clipper and a tribute to the great history of British sailing. Near Greenwich Park

  • Tower of London ~ A definite must do to see this amazing building and hear the history of the Tower! Crowds are huge but worth the visit- the Beefeaters/Yeoman (the Royal Guards who guard the Tower daily) give narrated tours every 20 minutes or so with the history of the tower or you can wander around with an audio guide. The Crown Jewels are here as well and the queues are usually quite long to see them - are they worth the wait? I say yes but don't do it if you are not the queuing type!

  • Tours of Parliament ~ For those that are wanting to get the history of the British government and see where all the action takes place. I went last week and it was fantastic! Super cool to see the Houses of Commons and Lords and find out how the Brits work their democracy! They have different tours you can go on to see the politicos in action. You can even go watch the Prime Minister David Cameron get drilled with questions every Wednesday. Definitely something for older kids.

  • Ceremony of the Keys ~ We did this amazing tour this summer with my sister in law. It is a very rare tour that most people don't even know about (most of my British friends had never heard of it).  The Ceremony to lock up the Tower of London has taken place every night for over 700 years ~ there is a Yeoman who swings a spooky lantern as he brings the Tower keys to the Royal Guard on duty, it is dark and eerie, and the Royal Guards do a big march off accompanied by the lone bugle player. Apparently it is very hard to get tickets too and it starts at 9:30pm and lasts for 7 minutes. The link here will take you to the page that tells you how to get tickets for FREE and how far in advance you need to apply to get them. or the Blue Badge Guide I recommend above can get tickets as well.

  • Tower Bridge ~ Easy to get to this from the Tower of London and walk over the bridge. Photo op! Apparently you can climb to the top of the bridge as well although we have yet to do it.
    Tower Bridge at night

  • Leadenhall Market (Harry Potter Daigon Alley fame) ~ A beautiful, semi-covered market with shops and pubs that was used in Harry Potter as Daigon Alley.
    Daigon Alley

  • Tate Modern ~ There are so many great FREE museums in London but my kids are not museum lovers. I have found that modern art is more their speed so the Tate is a fun one for them to see. And we saw Phil Dunphy there last April!
    Look it's Phil Dunphy!

  • Harrods, Selfridges and Liberty stores ~ London fashion is unique and nothing like I have ever seen and shopping is a must here. Harrods is fun to check out for the pure iconicness of it-the food hall and the toy section are great but very crowded! Prep yourself! Selfridges oozes poshness and lots of rich Russians and Middle Eastern women floating around. Liberty is sweet, flowery and is full  of British charm. A must do!

  • Borough Market ~ This open-air market kicks Pike Place market's butt! Borough Market is London's oldest food market. It was established on the south bank of the Thames when the Romans built the first London Bridge and has occupied its present site for 250 years. Bustling with crowds, delicious international smells, lotions and potions, this is the place to be on a Saturday (although it is open other days too - less crowded). Close to the Tate Modern, it is a great day trip to see the museum and then have lunch at one of the food stalls...I highly recommend the duck confit sandwich with a glass of Proseco! There is a cute side street with a bunch of hanging umbrellas across from the Black and Blue restaurant (Stoney Street and Rochester Walk) in a yard off of Park Street.

  • Boat ride on the Thames ~ There are lots of options to take a boat ride down the Thames from Westminster to Tower Bridge and points in between. It is a fun way to see the city for sure but can be a tad expensive (but it all is really). If you want to do it James Bond style than check this high-speed option out:

  • London Transport Museum ~ Another thing we have not done but is on our list! The history of transportation in London, most importantly the London Underground!

  • British Museum ~ Another great FREE museum that houses art and artifacts from all over the world like the Rosetta Stone and a petrified mummy/bog man. The building itself is a sight to see-amazing modern architecture mixed with old British style! It seems like there is always something going on at the British Museum.

  • National Portrait Gallery ~ I love this FREE museum as well because of it's amazing collection of all the past Kings and Queens of England in their official painted portraits. It can be done quickly and you can breeze in and see Prince William and Kate's portraits as well as Diana and Prince Charles.

  • National Gallery ~ Right next door to the National Portrait Gallery is the National Gallery (right in the middle of Traflgar Square). This may not be a great kid museum but another great FREE museum that you could take the kids in and out quickly after doing a hot lap!

  • Local Walking Tours ~ London Walks comes highly recommended and they have a walk for every interest - rock n' roll, Harry Potter, Olde Victorian and Plaque and Pox Walks. Some look so good I want to go on one! May is particularly interested in the "mudlarking" one on the Thames during low tide. It is basically beachcombing the Thames and apparently Roman pieces of pottery have been found! Jack the Ripper Walks given by Tower of London Yeoman

Also here is a fun book I saw that you could order for kids. Haven't read it yet but it looked good.