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
Changing of the Guard
London, United Kingdom
The official residence of Queen Elizabeth II is a short walk from Victoria Station. Its state rooms are used to welcome dignitaries from around the world and are furnished with artwork from artists such as Rembrandt and Rubens, as well as the finest of French and English furniture. Throughout the year, visitors will enjoy the tradition filled 40-minute Changing of the Guard at 11.15am daily during the summer and on alternate days the rest of the year. Please check the website for schedules.
London SE1 7PB
Right next to The Merlin Entertainments London Eye County Hall is the former headquarters of the Greater London Council. The offices in this vast monstrosity of a building have been transformed into a hotel with a state-of-the-art aquarium underneath. There's a vast array of marine life, from tropical fish, stingrays, and turtles and sharks in million-gallon tanks, as well as delicate seahorses, catfish, and terrapins in smaller exhibits. Kids love the daily feeding times, when they get to feel the velvety skins of the rays (11.30am) and offer fish to flesh-eating piranhas (1am) or sharks (2.30pm). The building also contains Dalí's verse, dedicated to the Spanish Surrealist artist, with over 500 of his works on display. Here you'll find iconic works like The Lobster Telephone and his erotic Mae West Lips Sofa as well as rare sketches, jewelry, and timepieces. A bonus is a collection of paintings, drawings, and ceramics by fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso.
The London Eye
London SE1 1GZ
Nothing presents London in a nutshell better than a "flight" on the Eye. At 443 feet, it's the world's tallest observation wheel, and offers unbeatable panoramas from its glass bubble cars. The revolution takes 30 minutes, and pre-booking is necessary for all flights. Options include evening twirls, those sweetened by champagne and the Discovery flight (a guided aerial tour of London). This aerie is particularly stunning at sunset.
The Tower of London
London EC3N 4AB
Mon, Sun: 10 AM to 5:30 PM
Tue to Sat: 9 AM to 5:30 PM
November through February (November 1 to February 28)
Mon, Sun: 10 AM to 4:30 PM
Tue to Sat: 9 AM to 4:30 PM
Few historical monuments are as compelling and evocative as the Tower of London, by turns a castle, fortress, prison and palace - and one of the true must-sees here. So perfectly preserved it feels like a stage set, the Tower is really a collection of towers and other buildings contained within fortress walls. History and legend unfurled here, from the beheading of Anne Boleyn to its omnipresent ravens and colorful Yeoman Warders. Whiz past the bling of the Crown Jewels, or visit the armory to inspect royal armor, including that of rotund Henry VIII. Plan to spend more time, rather than less, as there's a lot to see (justifying that rather steep entrance fee).
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.
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 W2 2UH
London? royal parks are a joy: leafy, expansive and full of people winding down from the metropolitan rush. Hyde is the big daddy of them all. The 350-acre central oasis includes a boating lake, meadow, horse riding, tennis, playgrounds, cafes, and swimming at the outdoor Serpentine Lido and Paddling Pool from late June to September. Here also is the controversial Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, which has divided Londoners since 2004. Watch for the Household Cavalry, its soldiers and horses exercise out of nearby Kensington Barracks. London attractions such as Knightsbridge, Marble Arch and Kensington Palace lie at the corners of the park.