We have just returned from an exhausting but exhilarating first family trip to London. The kids have been asking for years to go and Henry, four, has been obsessed with Big Ben since he saw it on the TV so they were very excited to be visiting the Big Smoke. We had the best time and so if you are planning a trip with little ones to the capital here are a few quick tips…
London can be a big place for little legs – jumping on a tour bus is a good way to see all the sights, or if you have a clear day The Eye gives you a bird’s eye view of the city. We only saw Buckingham Palace from the air but to be honest that was enough – next time we will do the whole Changing of the Guards thing but this time waving to HRH from the air was good enough for us.
Using the tube is a big adventure but it’s still tiring. Kids love trains so going on the underground is very exciting. Who needs the fairground when you have long escalators, loud trains and buskers? But be warned, there’s still a lot of walking to do when you get under ground and if the escalators are broken, the novelty can soon wear off.
Not everything costs a fortune. If you have a dry day head to the South Bank and just walk. There are loads of street entertainers (and we found them a lot friendly than the ones in Covent Garden), there’s play areas, market stalls, musicians and even the park benches are a work of art. You also get to see a lot of the famous sights wandering along and the kids will be so distracted they won’t have a clue how far they’ve walked.
It’s worth buying Corn Flakes – or whatever else you can find that has a buy-one-get-one free offer for the main attractions. You often see vouchers for the Shrek Experience, Madam Tussauds, Aquarium and the London Eye. If in doubt just cut them out and keep them. The attractions are fab but they cost a lot of money so any help you can get is well worth it. Blue Peter badge winners can also get in free (with a full price paying adult) to lots too.
Fill your bag with snacks and puzzles. If you are planning on doing the main attractions you will end up queuing. Even if you want priority tickets you have to queue to get them before joining a (smaller) queue to get in. Anything you can take with you to keep the little ones happy whilst you wait is a must. Mine were, on the whole, really good but when the inevitable moaning started I told them it was good practice for visiting Disneyland in a few years!
Learn to say ‘no’ to photographers. Most of the family attractions have photographers dotted around making sure they capture the moment as you pose in front of a blue screen backdrop. On your way out, they then attempt to sell you all the shots in various formats for a lot of money. If you like these posed cheesy shots then great – the photographers are very good at what they do but it doesn’t take long for the money to start adding up. The other issue is you can get stuck in queues waiting to have your photo done. When we went to the aquarium we were in a bit of a rush (train due and kids desperate to see the penguins) so I just told the lady in charge that we didn’t want our photo taken pretending to swim underwater and she ushered us through to the main attractions. It is nice for the kids to pose with characters but the blue screen thing can get a bit dull and expensive so don’t be afraid to say ‘no’!