Monday, 26 December 2016

Family fun in... London

 In October half-term we spent a few days exploring London.  We took them a couple of years ago, and decided it was time for another trip following our successful city-break to Venice at Easter.  Here are my suggestions for great things to do as a family in London, based on our trip and trips in the past.

Depending on your budget there are lots of options for accommodation.  Last time we went to London we took the caravan and stayed in an excellent site near Maidenhead (Hurley Riverside Park) from where we could visit Windsor and Legoland as well as catch trains into London for daytrips.  The time we went to London before that we stayed at YHA London Thameside at Rotherhithe, which offered an en-suite family room at a very reasonably budget.  This time around we chose a serviced apartment on Commercial Road.  This allowed us a good base to stay with the children, allowing them some space and freedom, us the option to self-cater and space to sit up and chat later into the evening which we wouldn't have if we were all sharing a hotel or hostel room.

Here are just some of the activities that we've got up to on our trips:

  • Bus trips - lots of them!  We've previously done one of the open-topped hop-on, hop-off bus trips, but found that the children weren't really in to listening to the tour guide, so it's a bit of a waste of money.  Instead we found the Number 15 bus from just outside our apartment on Commercial Road went right past Tower Hill, and St Pauls Cathedral to Trafalgar Square.
  • Boat trip - we went on a boat trip on the Thames from Tower Hill to the London Eye, which was pretty awesome!
  • The Emirates Airline Sky Ride over the Thames was also a great addition to our day.  We had been to Greenwich so it was a short hop to the sky-ride and then back on the DLR to Shadwell to get back to our apartment.
  • The London Eye is a favourite for our two.  Over three trips to London we have been during daylight, in the dark, and this time at twilight.  It's nice to get a broad overview of London.  I'm convinced that C and Bug spend more time looking at the touch-screen interpretation computer thingy than actually looking out of the window, but I quite enjoy the space to admire London from above.
  • Museums and Galleries - we have been to: the Natural History Museum - great for budding geologists and naturalists, and of course dinosaur and fossil enthusiasts.  We went on our last trip, but not this time, which was a disappointment for C who has been studying Mary Anning at school and was keen to see the Icthyosaur fossil that she unearthed on the Dorset coast; the Science Museum - we went here for a good look at the Space stuff and enjoyed an IMAX show about the view from the Space Station, and a moving theatre experience about the shuttle trip to the moon.  Disappointingly you have to pay extra to get into the interactive exhibits and the queue was phenomenal; the British Museum - it's such a huge place that it's a good idea to have a specific theme in mind.  We aimed for the areas that we knew would fit into the History Topics that C will be studying this year - namely Stone and Iron Age and the Ancient Egyptians.  The Audioguide picks out highlights and explains them; I visited the Horniman Museum when C and I were much smaller, there's an interesting collection of artefacts, and a small aquarium in the basement; the Docklands Museum - another one we did when they were toddlers, quite an interesting look at the history of this part of London with a great interactive gallery for the kids with plenty of things to play with; the National Gallery - we didn't spend long in here, having already been to St Pauls and the British Museum on this day, but we again had a specific plan - Bug wanted to see Picasso and C wanted to see Van Gogh.  We went for those areas, admired a few other paintings on the way in and out and then left.  The AMAZING thing about all these museums and galleries so far mentioned is that they are all FREE ENTRY - only asking for a donation.  Of course, they won't be able to stay free unless people donate - so please do.  Finally, Greenwich Observatory, where we went on this occasion with cousin Rachel - a great place to learn about clocks, navigation, longitude and latitude etc.  I don't think the kids got it all that much, but there were just about enough interactive bits to keep them busy while the grown-ups did some learning.
  • Other great buildings - St Paul's Cathedral - You'd think that a Cathedral wouldn't be a great place to go with children, but ours quite like the huge soaring spaces, the paintings and statues and especially the audio guide.  They were very taken with the crypts, where Bug was delighted to find the memorial to Edwin Landseer who sculpted the lions in Trafalgar Square where she had been sitting the previous day.
  • Camden Market, Covent Garden Market, Portabello Market, Spittalfields Market - Portabello Market is great for antiques but not for children, only go if you don't have them in tow.  Spittalfields Market and Covent Garden Market also not that great for little ones, though there are plenty of places to stop for coffee and cake.  Camden Market on the other hand is a wonderful place to lose track of time and spend lots of money.  I particularly like the clothes on sale here, and C and Bug both managed to spend a large proportion of their pocket money.
  • Other spots - we didn't go into the Cutty Sark, but walked around it admiring from the outside; Trafalgar Square - a place to climb on the lions of course!  I love the signs - not forbidding you to climb, but warning you not to fall off!
  • A Show!  This time around we thought that the children would be old enough to see a show,  We looked into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion King and Matilda, and eventually settled on The Railway Children at Kings Cross Theatre.  It was wonderful, with a real steam train playing a leading role and chuffing into the stage at several points in the performance.

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