We knew it wouldn’t be the same as the trips we had done to London previously both separately and together, but we had no idea how different. We had studied all the places that are great to take kids in London. we had so many great plans. Travelling with kids made us slow down so much.
We were all a bit tired after Dubai and the time change again to London. We were also just getting used to being on holidays together, without the routines of work and school.
After another early morning and a “short” 7-hour flight, we managed to get through customs at Heathrow faster than the wait for the shark tank in Dubai. This was a record for us, but it was because we were kindly ushered through to a separate line as the staff could see our kids getting antsy.
We then had to negotiate the London Underground with 4 people and 8 bags. ( Note for next time try to reduce further and try to get bags that allow the girls to do more of the carrying)
The London Underground station is quite simple to get to from Heathrow airport. Despite it being 15 years at least since we used it the underground remains the simplest way to get around. Everything was familiar but strange at the same time. The London Oyster Visitor cards we had organised before departure was great and meant that we had one less step before finally getting on the train.
We studied the map well to minimise charges and finally made it to Monument Tube station. Then the fun began as we didn’t realise that it only had stairs from the platform up to the exit. I would suggest investigating the tube station closest to your accommodation so you can see if there is a more accessible station only slightly further away. We didn’t have that option so we had to manoeuvre 2 large bags and a child with a backpack each up to street level.
The Premier Inn London Bank was fantastic. We weren’t sure about it as we had never stayed at Premier Inn before and coming from the Atlantis we weren’t sure what to expect. Premier Inn was recommended by a workmate and so we gave it a try. We chose this particular Premier Inn as we had pre-booked tickets to the Tower of London and this was close by.
We loved it. Very clean and surprisingly spacious family room. We had 605 which was on the top floor and had a view of the Monument and the “walkie-talkie” (20 Fenchurch Street) the girls had separate beds. Nice clean bathroom and walking distance to the Tower and Tower Bridge. The breakfast we discovered the next day was great. No chocolate fountain, but a very respectable breakfast with plenty of options including bubble and squeak which I love. For those of you who aren’t familiar it is a mixture of vegetables usually potato and cabbage fried up together. The price was very reasonable as we paid in advance in Australia. Very reasonable for London and obviously far cheaper than our stay in Dubai. We would stay there again and definitely recommend it.
After a walk over London Bridge trying to get the girls excited about the iconic sights like Tower Bridge, we caught up with a friend for brunch at Southbank. We had coffee and pancakes at Giraffe café then we found a great playground almost under the London Eye. Something we have noticed about the playgrounds is they seem to be made from natural fibres like wood and rope, not the plastic ones we often see at home. The girls had a great time climbing around.
We then did a combination of public transport trying to get us to Picadilly Circus going around and about using our Oyster cards. A boat up the river then a bus over Tower bridge, then a heritage double decker with a conductor to St Paul’s and then the Tube. Technically this was the slow way but the girls seemed to enjoy it.
We walked to Leicester Square and the Lego store that the girls were hanging out for. If you asked them about London I think they would tell you this was some of the best. We ended up there twice in 2 days. We are a Lego loving family and don’t have Lego stores near us let alone huge ones like this.
There were great models like an underground train and Big Ben and a Mural of London itself. If you could avoid buying something this could be a great free way to spend time. We “had” to get more minifigures that they were able to personalise and a mini London Bus.
We headed to Covent Garden and the girls enjoyed the buskers but unfortunately, we were too late in the day to visit the London Transport Museum. I have been on a previous visit and really enjoyed it and have heard it is good for kids too. Oh well, next time! I enjoyed walking down the spiral staircase at Covent garden. There were signs with warnings all the way down to say only climb it in an emergency as it was so many.
The next morning we walked around to the Leadenhall Markets which is apparently where Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley was filmed. There is a map of other sites around London that are linked to Harry Potter and there are special walking tours as well. ( Some free and some paid. We got a map with 3 walking tours on in from a local shop for a few pounds) Our girls have only seen the first movie and I have read them the first book. They are still a little young for it so we haven’t focused too much on it at this stage. As they get older hopefully they will appreciate it more.
We then headed to the Diana memorial playground in Kensington Gardens this is a wonderful area and I think if we had let them they would have stayed there all day. We had wonderful weather and there are so many different hidden spaces to play. So much fun to climb and explore and also some water play areas. This is how playgrounds should be.!!!!! Also, it helped that the weather in London whilst we were there was lovely as well.
We visited Paddington station to see the statue of Paddington Bear and then Kings Cross Station for a photo at Platform 9 ¾. You don’t have to buy the picture they take for you. If you had someone to take a photo with your camera you could do one for free. There was a bit of a wait so my tip would be to get there early. Or I guess after the shop shuts and take your own picture.
That afternoon was a few hours at the famous Hamleys toy store. For the number of amazing toys, we were able to resist and didn’t spend too much. At certain times of the day you can do toy testing and there are people demonstrating other toys. There were toys that aren’t available in Australia yet and the girls and I got glitter tattoos and ladybird nail polish from one of the demonstrations. It is 5 stories high so as you can imagine it took a long time to convince the girls to leave.
Then back to Lego store and Mand M’s world. Probably if it had been just the two of us we wouldn’t have devoted hours to these but as it is their trip so we wanted them to have some say in what we do.
On day 3 we finally got to the official “sights” We had pre-booked our tickets to the Tower of London and saved 15 %.
We walked over and were there just before opening. As it is just after peak season we only had a short queue in front of us. Everyone else must have read the same advice as us to head straight to the Crown Jewels. These were as impressive as I remember, my favourite was the punch bowl that could hold 144 bottles of wine. I also loved all the crowns and sceptres and the fact that the crown that Queen Elizabeth 2 wore at her coronation had pearls from Queen Victoria’s earrings on it.
There were great interactive areas for the kids to learn about old style weaponry and what a castle needs to survive 1000 years. The hall of kings in all their armour was fun to see as well.
We left there to continue our royal day at Buckingham Palace. We had booked to visit the Staterooms. These are only open over the summer, so it was the first time I had been as well as the girls. Also, it changes a bit each time it is opened so Mr Our travelling clan had no issue going back again.
I was surprised how family friendly this was. We arrived a bit early as we were looking for a lunch option nearby but couldn’t find one. The greeter let us go through before our “official” time. Which was great as when they are hungry the girls are not at their best.
After airport-style security check, we went through and got our included audio guides. There was a family version available and this kept both our girls enthralled and exploring far longer than we thought they would.
Their favourite part was the “secret passageway” in the Blue drawing room where the royal family could go to their private apartments behind. They even saw someone open it (not royalty). I really liked the sculptures.
Afternoon Tea/ Lunch in the café was also kids friendly it was one of the best value kids meals we had come across. For £4.95 the girls got a sandwich either Ham in fingers or Jam cut into a crown shape. A bag of carrot and cucumber sticks, Raisins, a packet of Hula hoops ( crisps) and a bottle of juice with crayons and paper bag that they could draw on with activities.
There was also a family play pavilion with dress ups, colouring and books. We ended up spending about 2.5 hrs there, great value for money.
When we left we hoped to go to St Paul’s Cathedral, but it was too late in the day again. On the way home, we discovered a ruined church with a garden. St Dunstan’s in the East. It was so peaceful in such a busy city and the girls loved that it was hidden away.
Before we left the next morning we managed to go to see All Hallows by the Tower. It is the oldest Church in London from 675 AD. It had a children’s scavenger hunt that they could tick off to keep them amused.
We found with this trip the children forced us to go slow. They were not excited by the same things we were. It took them a long time to get ready and initially we felt like we kept calling them to move to the next place rather than let them just be. It is so hard to travel “slowly” when there is so much to see in a limited time, but we need to keep telling ourselves it is probably not the last time we or the children will come to London and a lot of what makes London great is just “being there” and that won’t change.
Exploring and discovering the great playgrounds and hidden gardens was much more fun than trying to see the Museum that was “great for kids”. They just want time to play with their Lego and just be and this is something we are hoping we can implement more for the rest of the trip.