Saturday, April 24, 2010

London with Kids Part 1

A few years back, we traveled to England and Paris with the kids. That's us on the London Eye with our niece, Melanie, whom we took along as an extra set of hands and sometimes evening babysitter. I've shared this itinerary with several friends who have copied portions of the trip with equally successful results. I've even had folks who I didn't share it with tell me they got it third-hand and loved my suggestions, too!

We flew nonstop to London Heathrow and took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, then the Tube (underground) to Victoria Station in search of our hotel. We stayed a few blocks away at The Elizabeth on Eccleston Square. I had reserved one of their 2-bedroom apartments on the 5th floor complete with full kitchen and laundry facilities. The husband and I shared the double room, our daughter and niece shared the 2 twin bedroom and the boys slept on the fold out couch in the living room. Breakfast was included each morning in their cheerful basement dining room. It was basic but comfortable and enough room to spread out for the week.

Our uncles stayed at the Rubens on a recent London visit and were very pleased. It's more upscale than the Elizabeth and ideally located next to the Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace's stables. That's where I want to stay on the next London trip with the husband but without the kiddos.

Victoria Station is a large train, taxi, underground and bus station. That first afternoon, we picked up an Original London Tour double-decker bus there for a loop around town to get the lay of the land. Unfortunately, the kids all fell asleep by the time we got to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, so we hopped off for a quick bite to eat. Afterwards, we hopped back on the double-decker bus, completed the loop and made our way back to the hotel for naps and dinner at a nearby pub.

Our first full day in London, we took the Tube from Victoria Station to Tower Hill station to visit the Tower of London.

I had prebooked combo tickets for Hampton Court Palace and the Tower. Tower of London is not to be missed. There are Beefeaters, crown jewels, coats of arms, ravens and more! It was a great introduction to ye merry old England. I wish I had known to apply ahead of time for admission to the Ceremony of the Keys.

From the Tower of London, we made our way across town via the Tube to the Baker Street station. From there, we walked a short distance to Madame Tussaud's wax museum. It was incredibly crowded, very expensive (~$90), quick (45 minutes) and the thing my kids enjoyed the most was the virtual soccer exhibit, not the wax celebrities! My 15-year-old niece enjoyed it, as did my want-to-be rocker husband.
Our third day, we had tickets for the London Eye. Built as a ode to the millineum, it was initially sponsored by British Airways. It was conceived as a temporary attraction, but was so well received it became permanent. You don't need to prebook your "flight," though we did. As it turned out, we discovered long lines as we rounded the corner from Westminster Bridge.
Because I had bought our tickets ahead of time, I inserted my credit card into the machine, it spit out tickets and we walked on board. The flight takes about an hour and you can see an unimaginable distance (if you luck out on a clear day!)

Following our London Eye flight, we walked up to Buckingham Palace to view the changing of guards. It happens daily at 11AM, but you have to get there pretty early for a spot in front of the palace. We opted to grab a curb spot on the Victoria statue circle facing Buckingham Palace. We saw the arrival and departure, plus heard the goings on behind the gates. It wasn't great, but less intense than if we'd tried to squeeze our way in. Afterwards, we walked back to Trafalgar Square for lunch at the National Gallery café and a quick visit to Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

That evening, we had tickets to see Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre in the West End. Did you know they let you eat ice cream in the theater seats?!?

The next day, we took the train from Waterloo Station a half hour west to Hampton Court. Henry VIII took Hampton Court from his courtier, Thomas Wolsey, in 1525 and many of his infamous weddings and divorces are tied to the palace's history. Costumed docents lead house tours and the grounds are amazing.

One memorable sight for my kids was the palace kitchen. Just today, upon entering an early California adobe residence on a field trip, my daughter exclaimed, "It smells just like the kitchen at Hampton Court!" Do not miss the Garden Maze. It's a great place to burn off some energy before heading back to London on the train.

To be continued...

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