Travel – London (Activities)

Have you picked up the hints I’ve made recently about traveling?  Well, the boy and I took his girls on their very first overseas adventure and to make it as easy as possible (and for a few other reasons), we decided to make London our trip.  We both love the English countryside, and it would have been terrific to take the girls out to see what a beautiful country it really is, but when there’s so much to do in London itself (and the idea of losing a day or more to repacking, travel and unpacking in a second location)…we decided to stick to the city.  I’m glad we did, because there are so many terrific things -many of which I’ve never done before – that we were able to explore during our time.  I’ll get into a few more specifics about our two day trips, and the places we ate in later posts, but for now, here’s what we did in London – the good, the bad and the ugly.  (All entry costs will be in pounds, but how much it will actually cost you will likely be in flux in the next weeks/months/years)

Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park – Do you have kids who like to run around?  Do you like large scale public art?  Gaudy gold monuments to dead prince consorts?  Do you like to feed waterfowl?  Stroll through beautiful green spaces that make you feel like you’re not in the city despite being a short walk from the traffic and whatnot?  Get thee to the gardens.  We loved Queen Caroline’s Temple, which is currently serving as a spot for displays of art about modern summer houses.  (FREE, Tube stop: High Street Kensington, Gloucester Road, South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate, Queensway)

Natural History Museum – We made our visit on a very rain London day, and it was packed, but rightly.  There are all kinds of interesting exhibits.  We knew we didn’t have a lot of time, so we saw one on Volcanoes and Earthquakes, one on Gems, Jewels and Minerals, and the Dinosaur exhibit (with a quick trip to see the Blue Whale, which is crazy big).  I would have loved to listen to the Mary Anning interpreter talk about fossils, but we didn’t have time/didn’t time it right.  (FREE, Tube Stop: South Kensington)

Museum of London – Obviously London didn’t just happen – there was a lot of history involved, even before the Romans got there.  This one surprised us with how in depth it was.  There were also a lot of digital supplements to the exhibited items and text, which made it very kid-friendly indeed.  The girls enjoyed most the section on Victorian London where they got to take a quiz to see if they would be a good apprentice in any variety of jobs.  We were only accepted to make ladies shoes, so that’s where you’ll find me from now on (j/k).  So much cool stuff, free wifi, and this beautiful carriage which once belonged to the Lord Mayor of London (still does?  Not sure!) (FREE, Tube Stops: Barbican, St Paul’s)

Shakespeare’s Globe Theater – I’m sort of shocked that I hadn’t been to the Globe before.  It’s a super cool venue, with a terrific exhibit that’s available to peruse before your tour (we didn’t get there soon enough before the tour started, so we had to abandon reading about some really neat things).  But the tour is great, and you get to go in and see the theater which is amazing.  I loved it.  The girls loved it (lots of funny stories about what theater was like back in Shakespeare’s day).  All around a success.  The Boy and I are now desperate to go back to see a show in either of their theaters, because the non-outdoor one is lit by candlelight. #soromantic (£41 for a family, Tube Stops: Blackfriar’s, Mansion House)

Tower of London – One of the most fun days we had during our trip.  This is a bit of an expensive outing, but the amount that there is to do at the Tower is staggering, so you really feel like you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.  We started at the Crown Jewels, saw the Tower where the Princes were kept, got up close and personal with ravens, saw the super cool armory, and had our Beefeater tour with the Tower’s first and only female yeoman warder!  (£63 for a family, Tube Stop: Tower Hill)

British Museum – We love a free museum.  And there’s so much to see at the British Museum – things that you’ve heard about and probably wanted desperately to see.  It would probably take at least two days to give everything a proper going over, so we only did the things that we were particularly wanting to do – a special exhibit on Sicily, Egyptian mummies, some early British archaeological items, and the Parthenon marbles.  (FREE, special exhibits £10 for adults, Tube Stops: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn)

Kensington Palace –  This was probably the biggest surprise of the trip.  We had planned to go out to Hampton Court Palace, but because of the threat of rain, and the distance to travel when we weren’t even sure if the weather was nice, we ditched it, instead visiting the palace near where we stayed.  It turned out to be terrific – the exhibits were kid friendly and fascinating (Queen Victoria – woah, man).  I especially loved the “Fashion Rules Restyled” exhibit with pieces worn by Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Princess Diana.  Plus, it has lovely gardens immediately in front of the palace, which spill out to become Kensington Gardens.  A terrific outing.  (£18 for adults, under 16s free, Tube Stops: High Street Kensington, Notting Hill Gate, Queensway)

BONUS near Kensington Palace – Diana Memorial Playground – This beautiful Peter Pan-themed playground is a stones throw from the palace where Princess Diana herself used to live.  It’s a fun adventure spot for kids up to 12 years old, and in a move to keep out too many looky-loos, the only adults allowed in are those who are accompanying children.  If you don’t have kids and want to sneak a peak, there’s a time in the morning before it opens.  (FREE, adults must be accompanying children under 12, Tube Stop: Queensway)

London Walks Thames Beachcombing – We discovered this unique tour by reading a guidebook before leaving, and the girls were super excited to do it.  I’d done the London Walks a couple times before and they’re terrific, so I was curious to see what this one was like, since it was more archaelogical than tour-y.  You meet your guide (ours was…Grier?) outside a tube stop, she explains a few things about the history of London (our Museum of London trip feeling very apropos), and then you go down to the shore, put on some gloves, and start finding stuff.  Take it to your guide, she explains what it is, and you either toss it or keep it as a souvenir!  We kept one bit of 18th century clay pipe, one bit of medieval roof tile, and one bit of Roman Roof tile.  So cool!  (£10 per adult, I think £4 for kids, rec’d for kids 8 and up, Tube Stop: Mansion House)

Greenwich – Royal Observatory & Cutty Sark – Our last big event was taking the ferry out to Greenwich for the day.  We climbed the hill to the Royal Observatory, where we saw the Prime Meridian, and my father was pleased to hear that I learned all about the development of accurate time-keeping on the seas.  The Observatory has a terrific audio-guide, so it was even interesting for little girls who might not find all of this quite as fascinating.  What was super cool without an audioguide was the Cutty Sark, restored clipper ship which made many trips around the world, and was most famously the fastest ship to bring tea back from China.  Very kid friendly, we stayed far longer than I thought we would.  (£43 for a family for both venues, Ferry Stop: Greenwich Pier)

So that was our trip.  Yes, we saw Big Ben.  We saw St. Paul’s, the London Eye, Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace.  But none of those are places you necessarily need to go in to say you’ve been there and seen the sight.  But I hope that you can see we had a good mix of free and pay events, and even the pay venues aren’t that bad for what they are.  Most gave us hours and hours of enjoyment, and were well worth the cost of entry.  I know there are a few major places we missed, and we’ll just have to go back in the future.  But have any of you been the London and been to the major tourist destinations?  What did you think?  Any that I didn’t mention here that are worth it or not?

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