5 Layover Activities in London
Flying to Europe? A long layover in London is a distinct possibility. Unless you're doomed to sit at the airport because of visa issues or have just-enough-time to do nothing, consider a quick trip into Central London on the Paddington Express (allow 30 minutes for the long walk within the airport and then 15 minutes on the train) and by jove, you've made it to the heart of the city. Four of London's most popular museums and attractions are a short cab or tube ride away. While you are in the neighborhood, reward yourself with an ample high tea at Harrods before heading back to the airport. You'll need about 6 hours to visit a museum and relax at Harrods.
Afternoon Tea at Harrods
London SW1X 7X
According to Henry James: "There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." We concur. Delicate sandwiches of ham, cream cheese and cucumber, and potted salmon; scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream; a variety of small pastries and of course, an excellent pot of tea compose this afternoon tradition. While only the most expensive places require patrons to dress for tea, it is fun to dress up anyway. Some of the best places for traditional afternoon tea are the main hotels--Savoy, Ritz, Brown's, The Langham as well as Harrod's department store. Any of the museums offer a casual and cheaper alternative, perhaps just a plate of scones and a pot of tea. The Victoria and Albert museum offers a self service afternoon tea in one of the magnificent William Morris rooms, or in the lovely courtyard. Take a break from sightseeing and enjoy this elegant and civilized period of relaxation all over London.
Victoria & Albert Museum
London SW7 2RL
Founded in 1852 and presented as the world's best museum of art and design, The Victoria and Albert Museum is strong on style, from furniture to haute couture frocks, modern design to doll houses, architecture to ancient glass and contemporary crafts. A major renovation has updated the galleries and visitor facilities. It's impossible to cover the entire museum in one visit, so choose carefully, and perhaps attend a lecture or join a tour to make the most of a visit. Kids are welcome and free backpacks offering a number of fun activities related to the exhibits are available for their entertainment. Free admission (donations welcome).
London SW7 2DD
No dry, crusty lectures here: interactive elements, contemporary themes and a sense of humor reign, especially at the Science Museum. Ogle Eskimo fire drills, the world's first airmail stamp and the original "Big Ben" bell. The 300,000-strong collection best highlights artifacts from medicine and the Industrial Revolution. Launchpad is a special section designed for hands-on brains-on exploration geared for kids aged 8-14 years. From firm favourites to world firsts, Launchpad is packed with over 50 interactive exhibits, plus electrifying shows and lively demos, all from the wonderful world of physics.
Free admission offers a break for families reeling from London prices and its proximity to two other major museums (Natural History and the Victoria and Albert museum) allow the young and restless to flit from one venue to the other without parents paying the price. Special exhibits and the IMAX theatre are extra, but plan ahead for special 2 for 1 offers and discounts online.
Natural History Museum
London SW7 5BD
Three of London? best and most famous museums -- the Natural History, the Science and The Victoria & Albert -- are clustered together near the South Kensington tube. The Natural History Museum is a London landmark and masterpiece of British Romanesque style. Founder Richard Owen wanted a grand space to house the glories of Victorian exploration and discovery. The Waterhouse building is designed with large, open interiors to display the museum? impressive collection. Architectural touches abound, from the heating vents to the magnificent fossil designs on the columns, inspired by flora and fauna from around the world.
Its collection includes dodo bird remains, Martian meteorites and a blue whale skeleton, as well as nine million fossils and 55 million animals. A culture-for-all policy means free admission (although donations keep them going). Picnics are encouraged, both on the front lawns and in the designated indoor area.
The museum can be overwhelming for the under 10 set so the best thing to do is break it down into a few different topics. The museum offers just the right tools ?passports and red backpacks complete with pith helmets and binoculars. Explore topics from monsters to primates and encourage your child to discover the mysteries behind the specimens on display.
From November to mid-January the front court yard of the museum is transformed into a winter wonderland with fairy lights on the trees and a lovely skating rink, including a mini rink for those just learning how to skate. Skate rental is included in the booking fee. Sessions last 45 minutes.
For the four weeks leading up to Christmas, there is a Christmas Market where vendors sell everything from hand knitted socks to environmentally friendly gifts. A Merry Go Round is also set up in the midst of the market as well.
Kensington Palace and Gardens
London W8 4PX
10 AM to 5 PM
Summer (March 31 to October 31)
10 AM to 6 PM
Best known as the birthplace of Queen Victoria and the home of Princess Diana, Kensington Palace, designed by renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren, offers a manageable visit without overdosing on period art, furniture and costumes. Princess Di fans will enjoy the exhibit of her outfits. Enjoy the free walk through the grounds of the Italianate gardens, pausing to admire the sculpture of England's longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. Not to be missed is the statue of Peter Pan in the gardens, as well as the Orangery, a high ceilinged and beautiful, if expensive, venue for afternoon tea.