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Help me plan a London city break with my young kids, please!

(53 Posts)
LondonTheNovel Tue 22-May-18 23:28:26

Would love some input re a very last-minute trip we are doing next week, please!
Kids are seven and three.
We have four full days.

Some help planning a route/itinerary of top sightseeing stuff would be good, and any other ideas I've missed.
Day One
- Hop on hop off bus tour or a river cruise (or both) - any recommendations for which company? Where/how to buy tickets?
Would expect them to include
•Tower of London
•Buckingham Palace
•Westminster Abbey
•Oxford Street & Regent Street
•Shakespeare's Globe
•St Paul's Cathedral
•Trafalgar Square
and if not, try and get to see these things ourselves. Not sure we'll get off the bus for everything or if just driving by will suffice? Any advice? Is a bus tour good or should we just walk? Both kids are good with walking as long as we do a little cafe stop here and there.

Day Two - Science Museum and Natural History Museum
Day Three - Museum of London
Day Four (or not at all!) Royal Observatory but would easily drop this one as it's a bit of a trek, I think? And ££, I think the others are free. Kids might be done with museums by now.

Would like to mooch around
•Covent Garden/Carnaby St/Harrods/Hamleys

And maybe take them on the
•London Eye

I'd also love to do a theatre trip with them at least once, and if they like it, more! Any tips for getting last-minute tickets? They would like to see Matilda, Lion King, Aladdin.

Is last-minute doable for the things I'll need tickets for (London Eye, theatre etc?).

Downtime would be nice playparks - I've heard some have water fountains to splash in? Any recommendations please?

Many thanks in advance for any advice. We are staying in Camden.

MinaPaws Tue 22-May-18 23:36:40

The river cruise is great. Pick up The Clipper from Beside London Eye or from embankment and take it to Tower of London.

I'm not sure about those hop on hop off tour buses. You can wait for one for hours. Some of the normal buses have great routes. 19 goes through centre of West End, 4 goes to St Pauls etc.

South Bank can be fun - water fountains, loads of street performers, carousel and the Eye. DC can lay on the beach at low tide. They have an artificial beach in summer but may not be out yet. Diana's playpark is good in Kensington Gardens. So is Coram Fields - adults only allowed in if accompanied by children. Battersea Park is lovely - you can row on the lake and there's a petting zoo.
Camden is very near Regents Park and the Zoo. You can get a barge along the canal to the zoo if you want.

mamaduckbone Tue 22-May-18 23:45:27

Unless your dcs are a lot more energetic than mine were at that age I think you might have to lower your expectations of how much you can achieve!
Mine certainly couldn’t manage more than one of the south ken museums in a day without getting bored unless you literally just do the ‘wow’ bits - dinosaurs in the natural history and the hands on bit in the science museum.
Maybe plan in a park or 2 so they don’t get overwhelmed with culture too - the serpentine in Hyde park is lovely, or the Olympic park at Stratford.
Things like the Eye are much cheaper if you pre-book and you can specify a time slot - although still be prepared to queue.

LondonTheNovel Tue 22-May-18 23:55:39

Thanks, both.
Interesting about the bus, I'll reconsider that, thank you. Maybe just do the river cruise. Had overlooked South Bank so will factor that in with the Eye.
mama, this is indeed just a rough plan and everything can be dropped if the kids are flaking. And yes, I'd aim to just do the wow-ier parts at the museums and see how we go.

Surinamtoad Tue 22-May-18 23:59:55

If you're staying in Camden then Granary Square is nearby with great fountains and plenty of decent restaurants/ a Waitrose to pick up a picnic in.

poshme Wed 23-May-18 00:07:21

Get the busmapper app.

You can tap where you are & your destination and it tells you what buses you can catch. Kids are free- you just tap your contactless card as you get on.
I have to say- your itinerary looks very busy for 7 & 3!

notheretoargue Wed 23-May-18 00:08:54

You can get the Thames clipper all the way to Greenwich, and then get off for the observatory! We love it. Especially if the weather is nice because then you’ve got the park as well.

Personally, there’s loads of great stuff to do but I would avoid hamleys as it’s just extremely hyper and not a lot of fun. Likewise, I’ve never seen the attraction of Harrods. I have been on the London eye once and it was pretty dull - views ok but it’s something like 45 minutes of very slow movement. There are loads of people in each pod so unless you fight for it you can’t get to the window. Another good place for views is the new Tate modern viewing platform. It takes a while to get up in the lift but the advantage is it’s free! And there will be lots of good stuff for kids on at the gallery over half term.

The transport museum is in Covent Garden and great for kids of your ages. So if you’re mooching around there then that’s a good thing to do. I would recommend a morning on the south bank, see if there are any free concerts in at the royal festival hall, then a walk across the river to Covent Garden.

There is also the museum of childhood in Bethnal Green.

Where are you staying?

YoucancallmeVal Wed 23-May-18 00:10:08

That is a huge amount for little legs! Yy to coram fields (mine loved it when same ages as yours) and also the South bank. If you do a show, do a matinee as after a lot of walking it's a nice place to sleep at 8 pm. I would probably split NHM and science museum into 2 days and ditch museum of London. Once in the basement of the science museum, mine never wanted to leave, so you could be there a while.

notheretoargue Wed 23-May-18 00:11:31

Oh wait, just saw you’re staying in Camden!

Central enough, then. Get the city mapper app and get the bus everywhere (just the normal bus). You will see lots of sights that way.

LondonTheNovel Wed 23-May-18 00:16:14

Great tip re Granary Square, I had heard of that but not placed it yet as close to our accommodation, so thanks for that.

Thanks re the app advice, sounds good! Will get that.

Definitely tempted by the clipper, thank you.
Harrods just feels a bit wow! But might well pass on it - these are all just ideas of stuff I would like them to see but of course if they aren't up for it, so be it - will see how they go. We did the Museum of Childhood before, as we were staying in Bethnal Green but didn't do any other london stuff at all that trip.

When is half term in London/surrounding areas please? It is not half term here and I had been hoping it would not be extra busy at the kids' shows I haven't got tickets for.

viques Wed 23-May-18 00:33:25

Half term is next week. So good news for places having activities for kids, but bad news for crowds.

I would definitely put Greenwich on your list, it is a lovely museum, and far less crowded that the NH and SM, though they are unique, while you are there walk through the foot tunnel to the other side because you are walking under the river - though you don't see it , not even a dribble. On the other side you can go to Mudchute City Farm for a bit of a change. And a quick ride on the DLR is always fun, especially if you sit right at the front and drive.

Please don't go to Harrods, it is the most dreadful tasteless dreary shop, though the Food halls are beautiful, they don't even have the very grim Diana Dodi memorial to gawp at any more!

LondonTheNovel Wed 23-May-18 00:37:50

Gah! Well, there is so much to do I didn't need additional activities, I wanted fewer crowds! Well, as fewer as it can be in London!

Foot tunnel where? Sounds right up our street! Thanks!

LOL, ok, looking like poor Harrods is getting scratched off the list! :D

viques Wed 23-May-18 00:39:26

Ps museum of childhood in Bethnal Green is not much fun for kids IMO, more a nostalgia fest for adults, though you do get yummy mummies rollicking around a bit. It's quite a long way from anything else touristy unless you fancy the Flower Market on a Sunday morning, bagels, sourdough bread, coffee, hipsters, flowers......... Oh and a really great Spanish deli /cafe.

viques Wed 23-May-18 00:41:54

The foot tunnel goes from Greenwich to the north side of the river, it's further than you think so I hope you have a buggy handy for the little one!

viques Wed 23-May-18 00:50:51

Also don't forget things like going to see the changing of the guard, I think you get a better view of the ones at Whitehall rather than Buckingham Palace, and they are on horses and look amazing.

Also the Tower of London, HMS Belfast ( though might be tricky with a small one) and Tower Bridge, all conveniently close to each other, though the first two are unfortunately expensive ...........

OlennasWimple Wed 23-May-18 01:14:57

You can do the Science Museum and NHM in one day if you get there early and prepare yourselves for long queues. Pre-book a dinosaur ticket (free) though. The side door to the NHM often has a shorter queue than the main one

There are lots of lovely restaurants in S Ken or the cafes in both museums are decent enough but pricey - if you are watching the pennies, you can take packed lunch (bought in M&S foodhall if no facilities where you are staying) and eat it in the basement of the Science Museum (it's the schools area, so is nicer than it sounds!) Then get a lovely ice cream to help flagging spirits mid-afternoon. I think the Science Museum now charges to into the kids' hands on bit

You can get a river boat from Tate Britain to Tate Modern and down to Greenwich - look up Thames Clippers for times and prices. The 87 bus goes from Tate Britain, through Parliament Square, along Whitehall and through Trafalgar Square

Other useful bus routes are 148 (PArliament Square, Hyde Park Corner, MArble Arch); 10 (Kensington, Royal Albert Hall, Harrods, MArble Arch, Selfridges, Oxford Circus, British Museum) and 414 (Marble Arch, Hyde PArk Corner, S Ken, Chelsea, Fulham, over the water to Putney). It's worth having a Zone 1 Oyster card so you can do your own hop on / hop off, even if it's just going along Oxford Street for a few stops

M5tothesouthwest Wed 23-May-18 06:25:06

Emirates airline (cable car across the Thames) is good and cheap.
Olympic Park at Stratford (excellent play area)
London Transport Museum at Covent Garden is awesome and loads to amuse kids
Coram fields park
Play park in Kensington Gardens - walking distance from Science Museum

KindergartenKop Wed 23-May-18 11:24:45

Olympic Park is great as are Kensington Gardens and Coram's field. The latter two are the best parks I've ever been to.
What about taking a trip to Hampton Court (30mins from Waterloo), the magic garden there is amazing!

LondonTheNovel Wed 23-May-18 13:05:32

These tips are all appreciated, especially interested in the bus routes!
Thank you all.

Yokatsu Wed 23-May-18 13:51:58

The on off bus is sloooow, and not necessarily good at showing off the best of london. We found it absolutely dull as ditch water.

Google maps is your best bet for getting round london. It will show you the bus routes underground routes and walking and let's you compare options easily

We love the London Eye and it's a fab way to get an overview of London.

On the first day instead of the hop on bus or river boat tour if your 7 year old is up for walking and the three year old is in a buggy, I'd consider a bit of a grand tour. Start at Buckingham palace early for changing of the guard, walk down the mall to trafalgar square and Nelson's column, packed lunch in trafalgar square then one of two options:
1) walking down to big Ben catch the boat (just regular commuter boat is fab) down the river to Greenwich seeing tower of london tower bridge globe theatre from the boat on the way) . (do stuff in Greenwich) come back via boat, DLR or tube, finish the day in covent garden (boat or DLR and tube) or Southbank (tube or boat).
If you finish the day at covent garden (or any day) walk through to Leicester Square and china town after dinner (or do dinner in China town), do the lego and m&m shops.
2) play fountains and packed lunch in Somerset House (check their running) bus to St Paul's, walk to bank DLR, front row ride to Greenwich, back via boat to South Bank or covent garden seeing tower bridge tower of london and westminster enroute .

I've done variations on this with both the kids this as it gives a fantastic west to east overview of London AND travels on lots of londons transport system.

If you get a I spy london book here it's a gIves them a way into engaging with their enviroment.

You can easily do museum of London and St Paul's the same day. They are an easy walk apart and good if the tie them into a great fire of london theme (you can also walk down to pudding Lane monument)

There is the poshest paddling pool you're probably ever encounter at one of the courtyard gardens in the V&A (opposite the science and natural history museum) Princess Diana Play fountains is about a 10-15 minute easy walk from the museums. Both are good options if you want a break or to cool down. There's also some play fountains in Leicester Square. One of the best things I ever bought when the kids were little was some miniture travel towels that pack really small. The Somerset Gardens fountains are truly spectacular.

LondonTheNovel Thu 24-May-18 20:12:42

Yokatsu, that was really great, thank you!

TheMildManneredMilitant Thu 24-May-18 20:25:50

I'd second Granary Square if you're in Camden and the weather's nice. Take a towel and change of clothes for the kids. Nice to do late afternoon after a museum.
A lot of the things you have on your list like Covent Garden/ Trafalgar Square I wouldn't bother with unless it's a must do for you or the 7 year old. It will be so crowded and might end up a bit fraught. As an alternative the Zoo is great and not far from Camden.
Hope you have a great time!

highlandcoo Thu 24-May-18 20:40:28

Definitely visit Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens which is one of my favourite places in London. The Princess Diana memorial playpark in Kensington Gardens, just off the top of the Broad Walk, is excellent and kept my little ones happy for hours. Then walk past the Round Pond and head for the Memorial Fountain where they can paddle round it (it's more like a shallow stream). You can pass the famous Peter Pan statue on the way if you walk via the Italian garden. You're allowed to climb on it too!

Hamleys is a nightmare; I would avoid it personally.

The NHM and Science museum are great, and I think someone mentioned the lovely courtyard of the V&A which is just next door.

LondonTheNovel Thu 24-May-18 22:33:32

Thanks, Both.
Already packing bathers and towels - my two love a splash park.

And thanks for wishing us a nice time!

MrsMarigold Thu 24-May-18 22:44:51

Also a nice coffee in Primrose Hill is always good if you're in Camden, it sounds like they'll be really tired by the evening. Good luck and I'd just use your debit card on public transport, it's capped so you won't be bankrupted.

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