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London with the Kids

London is sprawling, irresistible, and expensive. It’s also surprisingly family-friendly and those reeling from London prices will be relived to hear that many major museums are free of charge. If you can’t face traveling on the underground with children, walk across a glorious park, or take the bus and spot the sights. Here’s a London weekend itinerary that works for families exploring this great city. Kick off a child-friendly London day by taking the kids to watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the London residence of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. The traditional 40-minute ceremony takes place at 11.30am daily in summer and on alternate mornings the rest of the year. Walk from the palace through St James’s Park to Hungerford Bridge and cross the River Thames to Sea Life London Aquarium for tropical fish, stingrays, turtles, and sharks in million-gallon tanks. A few steps down the Embankment is the Coca-Cola London Eye; book ahead online to skip the lines and see London mapped out below the world’s tallest observation wheel. A 4D movie of aerial London is available free of charge in the ticket office. From the Eye, sail down the Thames to the iconic Tower Bridge on a hop-on, hop-off cruise boat – the price is included in the value-added London Pass – stopping off at HMS Belfast to discover nine decks crammed with World War II secrets. From there it’s a stroll to the Tower of London; entry is not cheap but as this complex of palaces, museums and towers oozes British history, it’s worth splashing out. By turns a palace, fortress, traitors’ prison and scene of the executions of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey, the Tower has its origins back in 1078 and has expanded down the years into a fortified mini-village behind defence walls. Three sights must not be missed: the cawing ravens, the colorful Beefeaters, and the blinging Crown Jewels. On Sunday, dip into London’s trinity of venerable Victorian museums clustered around South Kensington tube station. They are all kid-friendly, all have picnic facilities and cafés and – best of all – are free. The Natural History Museum is an architectural landmark housing an impressive collection of 70 million plants, fossils, minerals and creepy crawlies. Highlights include stuffed dodos, dinosaur skeletons, Martian meteorites and 3D journeys across the Barrier Reef; there are children’s trails through the museum as well as workshops, storytelling and mini-safaris. The Victoria & Albert Museum presents the best of art and design and its fabulous Museum of Childhood has the world’s finest collections of toys, doll’s houses, games and costumes and lots of hands-on stuff for kids. The Science Museum also has plenty to occupy youngsters: Pattern Pod is a sensory section designed for hands-on exploration for toddlers, and a new Interactive Gallery for older kids is set to open in fall 2016. Throw in the science center, a 3D IMAX cinema (extra cost) and Red Arrows simulator flights, and it’s perfect for young, enquiring minds. From there, walk up to Hyde Park; London’s royal parks are a joy and the 350-acre Hyde Park includes a boating lake, horse riding, tennis, playgrounds, cafés, and swimming at the Serpentine Lido in summer. Perfect for letting off steam. Treat the kids to an evening trip up The Shard as lights flip on over London. This Renzo Piano-addition to the skyline opened in 2013 and is the tallest building in Europe, its 72 floors standing an imposing 1,016 ft high. The rooftop observation deck is 800 ft above street level and the 360° vistas take in London’s key sights. By: Sasha Heseltine

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