Not normally one to write travel posts, but I’d forgotten how much I love London and I’m feeling inspired. It’s 15 years since my last visit for pleasure rather than business, which is unbelievable, but this time around we were taking our son for his first visit. A whole week away from my desk, no upcycling, no social media, just pure tourist, family time. I can’t tell you how much we all needed it.
Previously as a couple, we would visit art galleries, museums, restaurants, walked everywhere and we weren’t sure how it was going to work with an eight year old in tow. We wanted to show him the things we loved about London and help him experience it for himself. He had his own tick list of things to see and do which included Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the London Eye and after that he had no clue what to expect.
I thought I’d share a few tips from our trip incase you’re wondering about London with your family.
Train – Virgin East Coast First Class is definitely worth the upgrade, it felt like a real treat to start the holiday. It was also our first trip away in 9 years where haven’t taken the car so the train was a lovely treat. If you’ve never considered first class then do it! First Class station lounges, all food and drink included, larger seats, guaranteed windows, definitely worth it. Depending on when you travel it’s also not as expensive as you think.
Hotel – We stayed in the Premier Inn St Pancras, a five minute walk from Kings Cross. Lovely, clean, tidy hotel that was a perfect base for our trip. So close to Kings Cross we used the tube from there every day. It was an average of £110 a night plus breakfast but kids eat free. You could always skip breakfast as there are so many places to eat out but we chose to eat there to give us a good start to the day.
The London Underground – I was nervous about the tube, thinking it would be so busy I’d be in a panic about losing him in a sea of people, but honestly it was brilliant. He’s used to the Metro in Newcastle so not that different for him. We used our contactless bank cards to pay each day and kids under 10 are free. Underground staff were great and advised that we just walk through the larger ticket gates that you would use for pushchairs and take him through with one of us. The cost is capped each day so will never go over £6.60. Each adult will need their own bank card though.
Science Museum is a must for kids of all ages. It’s free and huge! There is a charge for the Wonderlab, a bargain at £15 for all three of us, we booked in advance. Science Explainers give talks, demonstration and experiments and really know their stuff.
Natural History Museum is going through some changes this year with Dippy moving and with Hintze Hall closed for redevelopment you can’t use the main entrance or access the main hall at all. Get there early and if you want to see the dinosaurs then use the Queen’s Gate entrance. It opens half an hour earlier at that entrance too. But if you can, I’d advise you wait until this summer when it reopens in it’s full glory!
The British Museum is one of our favourites but have to say it was a little bit old for our eight year old. Apart from the Egyptian section most of it went over his head. It was also by far the busiest place we visited.
Tower Bridge Museum was an unexpected find for us. You can walk to the top and across either side along the glass floor if you’re feeling daring! The views were amazing and the only place I’ve ever found family tickets for 2 adults and 1 child on offer, rather than the usual 2+2. Around £20 for all of us and you get to visit the Engine Rooms too.
The British Library was a final day visit as it’s so close to Kings Cross. The Magna Carta, rare music manuscripts and very early religious books on display in their free exhibition. Not too interesting for the little man but he loved the stamps and money collection. If I lived in London I would bring my laptop and work in here every day, an amazing building.
Tate was a highlight for me as my favourite piece of art is in there. Degas’ Little Dancer of Fourteen Years is just so beautiful. As designers we both love art so it was great to see our son forming his own opinions. He loved this Bridget Riley below, Dali and Rothko but didn’t think much of Miro!
National Gallery was the gallery for him, he said it was ‘real art’ and loved the Turners most and he spent a while looking for the Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo! Ask at the desk for a children’s guide and activity book to keep them amused while you soak up Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh and Vermeer.
London Eye – I can strongly recommend booking the first slot of the day and going for fast track. We turned up 30 minutes early and walked straight to the front and got on 30 minutes earlier than planned.
The Southbank was a great place for a stroll and a bit of fresh air by the Thames, with great views, restaurants galore and a tube at either end.
Borough Market is a taste of real London with some amazing street food and quirky shops, we went on Easter Monday and a lot of it was closed, but will be back next time.
Hamleys is exactly what you think it is, a big toy shop. Not as grand as I’d remembered as a child and nothing in there that you can’t get in Smyths Toys really.
The Cinema is a firm favourite of ours at home, and as we didn’t book a theatre show at all, we went to the Empire Cineworld Leicester Square. Good old fashioned cinematic glamour with our screen being the tiniest screen with just 4 rows, in the attic I think judging by the number of stairs. Nice to see a film in a grand old place.
Harry Potter Shop Platform 9 3/4 was probably the most lucrative place in London per square footage. Ridiculously busy with long queues to take your trolley picture. Top tip, we went at 8am before breakfast and found no queue and an empty shop! Worth a visit for Harry Potter fans though.
Where to eat
You will never struggle to find somewhere to eat in London, every other building is a restaurant or café and there are street food vendors everywhere too. We ate in a few chain staples such as Wagamamas and Pizza Express as they happened to be the closest places when we hit meal times, but we also tried a few others we came across. We also treated ourselves to Gaucho for the most amazing steak. They have two children’s menus – mini gaucho and young gaucho for older children with bigger appetites. We treated it like an event, it cost the same as the London Eye but it lasted longer and we got fed!
We walked an average of 7 miles a day with stops in-between for coffees, cakes, lunch, photo opportunities and food. When we stopped for coffee we let him play on our phones or his 3DS, he was getting so much culture and aside from giving us a break, it was his holiday too.
He loved hailing a black cab, riding the tube and spotting the sights. All in all, one of our favourite family holidays so far. We came home shattered with aching legs and well and truly cultured out, but with rested minds away from work. Perfect. Can’t wait to go back.
As for me, I spotted so many ideas for future projects, blog posts and interiors ideas that my creative juices are all fired up and ready to get back to work. Even a fast paced change can be as good as a rest.
Note: none of the above is sponsored, it was a family holiday and all our own opinions.