Miranda Avis, convinces Country Child that a day trip to London with our children is possible. Plus some top tips on where to head for…
“With half term just around the corner and, dare I say it, Christmas on the horizon, thoughts turn to how we can entertain our children during the school holidays.
Whilst the prospect of a day trip to London may seem a little daunting, exhausting and expensive, there are ways of making it an enjoyable experience for all concerned and not too hard on the wallet…honestly!
At the end of the summer holidays, I took my four-year-old boy up to London for a day out. I’d previously seen a poster on the Underground advertising ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ at the Lyric Theatre and thought this would be a great show to watch for his first trip to the theatre. There are lots of websites out there offering discount theatre tickets to London’s shows but I’d recommend www.lovetheatre.co.uk as a good starting point as they frequently seem to have genuine offers. For example, on this occasion I found a 2-4-1 deal, making the show less than £20 for the pair of us.
Southwest Trains often have deals on their fares during the holidays so keep an eye out on their website (www.southwesttrains.co.uk) as the festive season approaches. It’s worth bearing in mind that up to two children under the age of 5 can travel free of charge on any train with each fare-paying adult. And, when it comes to taking public transport in London, children up until the age of 11, who are accompanied by an adult, can travel for free. If, however, you decide to drive, travelling to London on a Sunday is well worth considering as parking permits are often not needed on many of the city’s residential streets.
When it comes to finding fun, interesting and inexpensive things to do in London, the list is lengthy, and there are many attractions vying for your attention, but here are a few family favourites:
* Head to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard as children (and adults alike!) love to watch this colourful spectacle. Get there early as it can become very busy and keep a close eye on your handbag as it’s a popular spot for pickpockets. In the winter months, the changing of the guard happens on the following alternate days at 11.30am:
October 2014 – even days (ie 2, 4, 6, etc.) November 2014 – odd days (ie 1, 3, 5 etc.) December 2014 – odd days (ie 1, 3, 5 etc.)
* The West Piazza of Covent Garden Market plays host to street performers every afternoon. My son was absolutely glued to the spot as we watched jugglers, contortionists and unicycle-riding knife throwers entertain the gathering crowd. All acts must go through an audition process before they’re given the chance to perform here, so as a result the standard is high and well worth a watch.
* You can’t beat a visit to the Natural History Museum. Referred to by many as the Dinosaur Museum, this beautiful building houses some extraordinary gems. Checking out the fantastic ‘kids’ section of Natural History Museum website (complete with a Parents Survival Guide!) http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/whats-on-kids/index.html means you can plan ahead and ensure your children get to see the exhibitions most relevant for them. Why not make the most of the free ‘explorer’ backpacks on offer and while away an afternoon in this great British institution.
* Taking a Bus Tour around the sights is a fantastic way of introducing your children to the capital city…as well as giving the legs a rest from the inevitable walking around! Lots of tour operators offer a range of deals, some including entrance to other popular attractions within the ticket price, so it’s worth shopping around. However, Golden Tours (www.goldentours.com) will take some beating; both on price and customer feedback.
* China Town is such a vibrant part of town; a bustling hive of activity with colourful buildings, delicious aromas, reasonably priced cuisine and plenty to keep a small person entertained! It’s a just a hop and skip from Leicester Square, which is often decked out with a fairground during the festive season. Last year, a big wheel gave wonderful views of the city.
* For kids wanting let off steam, look no further than the Diana Memorial Playground. Situated next to Kensington Palace, the playground is a wonderful, safe place for kids up to 12 years of age to run about. There is a sensory trail, teepees, a play tunnel and sand beach surrounding an enormous pirate ship. Slides, swings and a climbing frame make this an excellent place to retreat to.
* During the festive season, it’s really worth battling the crowds and stopping off at Hamley’s toyshop on Regent Street. Throughout the day, Hamley’s staff demonstrate a whole host of fun looking gadgets and gizmo’s, which will have the children transfixed. Whilst a visit to Hamley’s may leave your wallet a little light, the kids will be talking about it for weeks…or, more likely, months to come!
Time Out London http://www.timeout.com/london/kids is a great resource when it comes to planning a trip to London. This easy to use website offers advice on everything from museums and Christmas theatre schedules, to restaurants and river trips. For those travelling with a buggy, it’s worth downloading the app Mumderground as it tells you how buggy friendly (or unfriendly!) the Underground stations are, with information on the number of steps involved or whether there’s a lift etc.
If you’ve any tips on London that you’d like to share, Country Child would love to hear from you! So, please do get in touch and, in the meantime, have a great holiday.”