If you haven’t been to London you haven’t lived, and you have saved significant amounts of money….
We have been to London as a family in 2010, me and Tommy in Christmas 2014 and again as a family in Summer 2015.
Our first trip was a quick overnight stay on the way back to the UK from the UAE. It was Gay Pride weekend, so we met up with Auntie Di and Auntie Linda for day of high camp and rousing marching.
Although there were loads of people everywhere the atmosphere was pretty relaxed and there were enough costumes on display to keep the boys happy. If you do go with older kids be prepared to explain what’s going on, which can take some time, especially explaining whether the transgender parent is a mummy or a daddy.
Still, although there is a party atmosphere do be prepared for lots of standing up, and bear in mind it’s not a kid’s festival per se…
Me and Tommy do the town
On our boys trip to London (on the way to catching a plane back home) me and the Tommy boy packed in as much as we could and had a great, if tiring time.
We started with a train journey in first class from Nottingham to London, which can be bought for the same price as a regular ticket if planned far enough in advance. It’s still not exactly the Orient Express, but you do get a bit more room to stretch out.
We also did the obligatory trip to the London Eye which involves a 40 minute wait (and that’s with buying your tickets in advance), to spend 3 minutes going round in a circle.
You get to take loads of photos and you can check out some of the buskers nearby as well as get good views of Parliament, but it’s not cheap and I think if you asked Tommy if it was the highlight of the trip he’d probably say no.
Another cheaper (free in fact) alternative is the Science Museum, which gave Tommy the chance to turn loads of handles…
See himself in heat…
And gurn splendidly into a magnifying glass.
The staff are helpful, there’s loads to do and you can take your time, again London’s museums prove to be a world class act….
In between all this we found ourselves walking…
And sailing in the Golden Hinde.… OK not the last one, but the point is that moving around London is an adventure in itself, kids love the underground and coming across the unexpected like the Golden Hinde or the England team coach.
I think we did fall into the trap of trying to see it all, which felt like when you stuff your face at an eat-all-you-can buffet and end up feeling sick. I think the highlights for me were probably the free things, like checking out the street performers in Covent Garden or the museums. And of course the stuff involving stopping in for a pint and pie in a pub by the river, or getting stuck in to a full English next to the train station.
We capped the trip off with a trip to another wonderful and kid friendly museum, the Imperial War Museum.
The museum was undergoing a facelift when we were there so parts of it were closed, but all the more reason to include it on our our itinerary next time we’re in London.
Not only does the museum have loads of stuff that boys love, it also has some loads of stuff on the social history of Britain, which gives kids the chance to understand what life would have been like in the blitz for example. Once again the museums were the winners and without a doubt on our next trip will take pride of place in our kids tour of London.
Our third trip to London
Well we just got back from our third trip to London, this time a two night stay for the four of us at the Southwark Travelodge, in possibly the biggest family room I have ever seen (ask for room 210). I think we learned some of the lessons from trying to do too much last time, but even in the really reduced area we covered just South of the river the boys were still buggered by the end of it. Oh and while I’m at it if you do stay here, be sure to go over the road to the Lord Nelson for some great grub, with plenty of kid type options and a pint of London Ale.
As well the massive room (at a decent price it has to be said), it was within walking distance of the Golden Hinde, HMS Sheffield, The Imperial War Museum, Borough Market, the Tower of London, The South Bank, The Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge and the Scoop for some free theatre. So basically, we did as many of these things as we could over two and half days plus and a tiring wander around Covent Garden.
So fast forward from our last trip to London and the Imperial War Museum’s face-lift was finished. And the result is superb. I stand by my earlier blog comments that (to paraphrase a bit), the IWM is the most interesting museum for young boys. If it has any drawbacks it’s that it’s simply too much, the WW1 exhibition alone is worth a couple of hours and the overall effect of so much stuff is a bit overwhelming or it was at least for Danny. For kids Tommy’s age and above (he was 9 when we went), it’s better as they can engage with the text more and understand the historical events that shaped the various conflicts. Also don’t forget all of this is free (although we did but a £5 brochure on the way in)
Also as promised in the last post about London we did a tour of the Golden Hinde, which I would say came in at about a 7 out of 10. I say that because on the upside the trip was good value at £20 for a family of 4, which is a cheap two hours in London I reckon. And the guide was very knowledgeable and the ship itself is an impressive reproduction. What the visit was missing was a bit of swash buckle for the kids (although there was bit), and there was a feeling you were being rushed through the tour to get the next lot on, although it should be noted you can wander round the boat to heart’s content once the tour is over.
So I guess if you’re in this part of the city and have a penchant for sailors and what not then you could do a lot worse.
To complete the nautical theme of this visit we went to the HMS Belfast, which in case you haven’t noticed is a bloody big WWII destroyer parked (is that the right word) in the Thames just by Tower Bridge.
Again it was a really impressive museum run by the Imperial War Museum, You get to wander around the ship and really get a feeling for what it must have been like for the seamen. It’s not cheap and £48 for a family of four, but given we visited the main museum for a fiver it all seemed to square out at the end.
So now onto the non-nautical stuff. As I said we stuck largely to the area between London Bridge and Tower bridgeish and avoided a lot of time on the underground. We did use public transport a couple of times though, and one the number 12 bus is worth a recommendation.
After a 15 minute stroll from Imperial War Museum we got to the Elephant and Castle for some seriously delicious Ecuadorian food. Probably not too many people know about this gem, but basically the Elephant and Castle is home to many of the city’s Latino community and they have set up businesses under the railway arches (and the street as well). This is where Latinos go to eat, so expect plentiful grub and an authentic vibe, DON’T go expecting kitschy Latinness, these are places to get a good fill, buy some goodies from home and bugger off. In fact there is not even a menu, it’s whatever the lady has cooked that day and is served by her daughter (at least during the school holidays). Still if you want to practice your Spanish and enjoy eats from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and the like then it’s worth a look.
So from there we jumped on the number 12 after buying the obligatory day pass and went over the river to Trafalgar Square. It’s worth noting the day pass for two adults is £12 each and kids under 11 go free, making £24 for a family of four, compared to £73 for a tourist bus. The Square itself is now bereft of pigeons but not the tourist hordes, but when I put seed on my hands they didn’t come pecking. So the message is if you are a true devotee of Lion Statues or you want to visit the National Gallery then take a few minutes to look at the Square if you’re not then meh.
Still one thing Trafalgar Square is is free, as are (at least kind of ) the buskers in Covent Garden only 10 minutes walk away and the Scoop free Theatre (more of which in a minute). The reason I say Covent Garden is kind of free is that you would be pretty hard-hearted not to give a couple of quid to really high quality street performers, like Charlie here, but of course being surrounded by horrible designer shops and chain stores does take the edge off the proceedings a bit. The Scoop theatre was mercifully chain free, although they do try and get a donation out of you. But again it would seems churlish to give nothing as the show on offer was good if not great, and on a nice afternoon you get to sit in the sun and watch some dedicated individuals put on a professional show for nothing, we even tried to flog Tommy as a possible slave to the company, they put him through his press up paces but decided not to take him in the end…
The other two places we tried by the river were both worth a look and a bite. The Tate Modern is housed in an old power station and is worth a look just for the building alone. There is always stuff for kids on, just check out the website. On the say we went the kids enjoyed doing some touch screen art which went on the Tate website.
And a final word for our trip to London goes to Borough Market the place to go near the river for a great variety of food, that can stray a bit into hipster territory but mom can tuck into oysters, the kids into organic hot dogs (I suppose they were organic anyway) and I can tuck into pig done every which way.