London with Kids in Tow
By Nina Zapala
London evokes images of great majesty, the royals, upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Big Ben, trench coats, rain, Sherlock Holmes and more. Traveling to London with a "little one" is an eye-opening experience allowing you, the adult to see the city through the eyes of a child. With the Euro dropping, London is a bit more affordable, making it the perfect time to pack-up the family and book a trip to one of the most fascinating cities in the United Kingdom.
London is a direct flight from New York City, Atlanta, and Miami, with an estimated flight time of five-hours, so do pack in-flight activities for toddlers, tweens and teens; Kindle™, Nintendo, and know that many in-flight movies offer a selection of G or PG movies. Don't forget healthy snacks, as sugary treats don't bode well on a long flight.
My family, husband and nine-year-old son visited London this past spring and discovered a plethora of family-friendly activities. Listed below are our top seven picks. The list includes iconic and new attractions alike. Don't shy away from the popular "talked-about" attractions, especially if this is your first visit to the city, as these attractions provide a rich flavor, an historic perspective and more often than not you will encounter a local or two. Of course, we recommend a return trip(s) to explore the cities off-the-beaten path destinations as well.
1. The London Eye – The London Eye, a modern landmark launched 10-years ago as the Millennium Wheel, and was supposed to be in place for only a few years. This idea was soon shelved as the popularity of the "Eye" boasts more than 35 million visitors a year, and is one of the top "must-do" attractions in London. Guests can watch a preview 3-D movie, ride the London Eye, and during the holidays and throughout the year enjoy a variety of events. Visit www.londoneye.com to inquire about pricing, hours of operation and upcoming activities.
2. Big Ben – Did you know, Big Ben is actually the name of the bell that resides within the Big Ben Clock Tower. The bell weighs more than 14 tons, and takes its name from the gentlemen that first ordered the bell, Sir Benjamin Hall. Big Ben is used to ring in the New Year, and has been operational since September 7, 1859. Big Ben Clock Tower adjoins Westminster Palace that was constructed in the Victorian age and today hosts British Parliament Sessions, which are free and open to the public. This attraction is easily accessible and can be seen from the London Eye. This iconic clock is a must stop, and a wonder for children and adults alike. www.aboutbritain.com/bigben.htm
3. Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) – This museum is located in South Kensington and is the world's greatest museum of art and design, representing over 3,000 years of creativity from jewelry, fashion, furniture, glass, architecture, ceramics, print books (comic book and great works of children's literature), sculpture and more. Be advised this is a huge museum with much to see, but teens and tweens will appreciate (depending on the gender) many of the museums most coveted exhibits; The William and Judith Bollinger Jewelry Gallery is a most stop for moms and daughters while dads and sons will enjoy the Medieval & Renaissance culture that discusses Robin Hood, swashbuckling films, and more. Please visit www.vam.ac.uk for hours, and upcoming events. The museum is family friendly providing restaurants, changing stations and pushchairs. Admission is free.
4. The V&A Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green – Located within the V&A South Kensington Museum complex, this museum hosts a national collection of childhood-related objects and is one of the finest in the world. Spanning the 1600's to present day, the collection features interactive exhibits and a variety of toys, dolls, games, puppets, children's clothing, furniture and more. Admission is free please call +44 (0) 20 8983 5232 in advance to confirm what is on display or visit www.vam.ac.uk/moc/index.html.
5. Hamleys – The largest toy store in London is a must stop as this 250-year-old, six story enclave is chockfull of the latest and greatest toys of today and yesterday. If your child is outgoing and friendly, (like mine) they may even recruit him/her as an in-store demonstrator allowing your child to try a trendy new toy. Visit www.hamleys.com.
6. Harrods for Afternoon Tea – The Terrace Bar is ideal for families, and much to my surprise, many locals also enjoy the commanding view of London in this mezzanine conservatory setting. The Terrace serves a sumptuous lunch of afternoon tea sandwiches, scones and a wonderful Champagne cocktail. Of course, kid-friendly drink options are available well. The Terrace is the perfect setting to introduce children to the tradition of afternoon tea, and it's more casual and not as expensive as the main eatery, The Georgian Restaurant. Harrods is known for shopping so make sure you fuel-up the kids first. www.harrods.com
7. The Natural History Museum – This is the "reality version" of the Hollywood movie Night at the Museum released in 2006. The Natural History Museum is renowned for its study of the natural world and more than 300 scientists work at the Museum to tackle a diverse range of global problems. The museum's research is organized around six major challenges covering such topics as biodiversity, evolution and the ecosystem. Enjoy a day of fun and of course, admission is free. Visit www.nhm.ac.uk to learn more.
Like any big city, London is a place to be discovered and even more so with children. We recommend more than one visit and to adopt slow travel, a new genre of travel experience. Slow travel is the best way to see the city with children. By moving slow, smaller children can keep up, and for adults this allows us to experience the sheer joy on your children's faces upon discovering a new something. Pace yourself, enjoy and remember life is in the details!
Nina Zapala is a writer and PR professional niched in tour and travel. She has written for AAA Magazine, Cayman Airways in flight magazine Skies, and is often quoted as a travel industry expert. She lives in Winter Park, Florida with her husband, son and their two rescued standard poodles.
©Copyright 2011. The Beacon Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.