WELCOME TO LONDON
Although, on first sight, London may seem a frantic, overcrowded and overwhelmingly grown-up place to be, the city is a rich chocolate box of attractions and activities for children. Each of its distinct neighbourhoods offers a broad spectrum of both educational and fun things to do, indoors and out. Some will be iconic, known to visitors all over the world (even those popping down on a day trip from Mars) but you’ll find there’s a secret, tucked-away, off-piste world waiting to be discovered by families of all ages.
Why go? Samuel Johnson once said that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, and who is to argue with this paragon of literary achievement? London is undoubtedly one of the most exciting cities purely for the quantity and quality of things to do whether visiting a museum, gallery or site, enjoying one of the many green urban spaces and the activities within them, burning a hole in your pocket on the high streets, at the markets and in the boutiques, or eating in one of the many class restaurants that show this city in all its diversity.
Who’s it good for? Families who like the hustle and bustle of city life: London’s biggest success has been its own branding, which helps to draw in around 30 million visitors a year in search of that good old British tradition. Central London can therefore be quite overwhelming, but with a little careful planning you can get your fill of the crowds and then find nice quiet corners of the city which the Londoners enjoy.
London is lauded for its museums and galleries, many of which offer free access to their permanent collections; try theNational History Museum and the National Science Museum (both in South Kensington) for their hands-on approach to family learning; or, for your slightly older children: TATE Modern (South Bank) or the Victoria and Albert Museum(South Kensington) will get them inspired.
Shopping is fun here: you don’t have to walk far to explore the high street, the vintage, the designer or the boutique. Oxford Street is the main shopping street, around which are the major flagships for TopShop, the Apple Store, Burburry and Hamley’s toyshop. If you want to treat your teens to something designer, Mayfair is just a stone’s throw away where you can dream your way through Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. The illustrious Carnaby Street is great for the boutiques, and walk through Soho and Covent Garden for some great vintage stores – Bang Bang, Rokit and Blackout II.
There are some great ways to get about – the tube, the bus, or, if you are feeling brave, the Boris bikes (named after the current Mayor). One way of avoiding the roads on two wheels or two legs is along the canals from Little Venice to Camden, and from Angel to Victoria Park. There are lots of places to stop off, like Broadway Market on a Saturday morning, or Kingsland Road from where you can continue down to the teen-friendly Shoreditch and Brick Lane.
Theatre is the pride of Britain, and London is the place to see it. Visit the West End for a musical, or, if you require something more high-brow, try the National Theatre, The Globe – a reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse, or Sadler’s Wells, all of which do targeted family events.
The iconic sites your family must see, and will recognise, are Westminster Cathedral and Big Ben, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Walk along the South Bank for some great activity – there is always something going on whether it is a Christmas market, an art installation or a food fair.
Visit a market while you are in town. There are some great choices like Borough Market for food or Spitalfields for just about anything you could think of.
The restaurants are good too, and some that really should not be missed – try the Bluebird Restaurant in Chelsea for something upmarket, it has a great kids menu, or for the unfussy trendy teens why not try Burger and Lobster (Mayfair, Soho, Knighsbridge, Farringdon and the City).
£££ THE LANGHAM, REGENT STREET
For a luxury stay in London, the Langham is a great choice. The lovely Classic Family Room sleeps five. But they are also good to provide family offers such as half price second rooms for the under 16s, and VIP tours of Hamley’s toyshop.
Price: From £348 per night (Classic Family Room)
££ GEORGIAN HOUSE HOTEL AND APARTMENTS
These gorgeous apartments, situated in the Victoria area, are really great value for such a handy location. No frills attached though – you will be looking after yourself.
Price: Apartments from £145 per night
£ THE VICTORIA INN, PECKHAM
A number of local pubs are now renting out their rooms, and this is a great example. The Family Room is cosy, the pub is friendly, and the street Bellenden Road is a haven for new trendy mums. For breakfast try Anderson’s or Petitou.
Price: From £130 per night (based on the family room that sleeps 4)
When to go: You will have a good time at whatever time of the year. If you plan on going to the major sites, and would like to avoid queues and crowding, we would suggest avoiding the high tourist season of summer. Top tip: Always take an umbrella.
REASONS TO GO
- Hamley’s toy store
- Shop designer boutiques
- See the sites on an open top bus
- Famous food markets