I love going to London, its a great place and if I was 10 years younger without kids I’d be considering having a few years in London to see all of the sights and explore it more. We have taken the kids to London 3 or 4 times now and each time we go it tends to be over the August Bank Holiday, which then coincides with Miles’ birthday on the 29th. Each time I plan the trip we stay in a different part of London so that we can explore a different area.
We have just come back from a long weekend in London (Fri – Mon) and this time we stayed in the Novotel City South, just a few minutes walk from Southwalk Bridge on the South of the River Thames. We would normally train down to London but even when I was looking way in advance there didn’t seem to be any bargain tickets so we booked flights from Leeds to Gatwick with Flybe as we live about 40 minutes drive away from Leeds Bradford and the flight time to London is about an hour.
Once we arrived at Gatwick we just needed to hop on the Gatwick Express for a 30 minute trip into Victoria, then we took a taxi to the hotel as its easier with kids and suitcases rather than tubing it.
We arrived at around 5pm on Friday at the hotel and were a little tired after travelling but we had a walk along the river and got our bearings before heading back for some food and beer in the hotel bar. We’re lucky that the kids are really well behaved (years of discipline) so they are happy to sit in an “adult” environment and as long as they have their PSP’s or Nintendo DS’s they are pretty content. The Novotels are good as they’re pretty kid friendly hotels and this one had a PS2 in the bar and an Xbox in reception.
Day 1 London
Saturday was Miles’ 9th birthday so we started the morning with the card opening. He got lots of cards this year and netted about £130 in total – he’d brought his wallet ready to fill it up with cash. We got him his first mobile phone but he had it early at the start of the school holidays, but he was very happy with all the cash and just wanted to get to Hamleys!
We set off along the river towards HMS Belfast which I had already pre-booked and on the way we went to the Clink Prison Museum. Have you heard the saying “in the clink”? It originates from the Clink Museum which used to house alot of drunks, prostitutes and debtors who were put in the Clink. The kids enjoyed looking at all the torture items and learning about how people were chained, shackled and punished.
It was interesting to learn that the prisoners had to pay their own way while they were inside (or their family did) and they had to beg for food or have it brought to the prison for them. If they had no one they would survive on rats and mice ..nice! The security wasn’t anything like the prisons today and the prisoners were let out, with their ball & chain on (which are really heavy) to go onto the streets to beg. The funny part in the museum was when Ethan put a chastity belt on his head as he thought it was a helmet!
After the Clink Museum we headed to HMS Belfast, the big war ship that sits in the Thames. Its a huge boat with big guns that the kids loved. You had to be pretty fit and agile as there were lots of very steep staircases to negotiate as you went between decks, including right down to the engine rooms and boiler rooms.
The kids were amazed at all of the controls onboard, and it was very much like a maze. The ship itself when it was at war would have up to 950 men on board and it would have been a really tight squeeze. It was quite a well organised tour of the boat and they probably have done as best they can to help people find their way around, but its such a big ship that it must be difficult to get crowds of people seamlessly through it all.
After HMS Belfast we stopped at the Hays Galleria for some lunch then headed to Tower Bridge and the City Hall. We then decided to go to Covent Garden to see the street performers as the kids are entertained for hours there. Dave thought it would be a good idea to walk there, even though the kids would have preferred to take the Tube some of the way maybe, but we soldiered on. I’m not sure how far it was but I reckon it was between 3 and 4 miles. We did see some great buildings on the way and stopped for an ice cream at St Pauls.
When we finally arrived at Covent Garden we were greeted by lots of music and people. There was various street entertainment going on and one of our favourites is a guy who dresses up as a roman centurion statue, all covered in silver paint, who has his picture taken with passers by. We saw a cool act which was a cat in a basket
who we saw the following day too on the South Bank of the river. We watched a performance which was a bit boring as it was about a talent show and had guys from the audience pretending to be the Village People, but the kids seemed engrossed. After Covent Garden we walked some more from Covent Garden, up to Leicester Square, through Piccadilly Circus and up Regents Street to Hamleys. Hamleys is a pretty cool toy shop, but its spread over 6 floors and is full of harassed parents and excited kids, mixed with hot and sweaty air. I saw Mohammed from the last series of Big Brother on a stall selling magic pens (he’s come a long way!), which beats Dave’s hilarious incident last year with Carole from Big Brother when he goes up to her in a friendly way and says “Where do I know you from” as if he was talking to a long lost friend.
After Hamleys we crossed the road to the Ferrari Store which was full of sightseers rather than shoppers. In the foyer they had the F1 Ferrari car which was getting lots of attention.
We had a look around, but mainly to gorp at the price tags of £5000 watches and baby clothes that were £65 for a little baby’s boys cardigan or £80 for a little girls tshirt type dress. Knowing what kids are like with clothes when they are babies people must be crazy (or stupidly rich) to kit their babies out in clothes like that, when they’ll be on for an hour and be then covered in baby sick or dribble! After the Ferrari store we tubed it from Oxford Circus to St Pauls and we wandered over the Millennium Bridge back to the hotel.
Day 2 London
After a long and tiring day on Saturday we rewarded ourselves with a lie in and a late breakfast before we headed to the tube station to go to South Kensington to the Natural History Museum. Last year we went to the Science Museum which was amazing, and the Natural History Museum was on my list of places that I have always wanted to go. As it was a Sunday the museum didn’t open until 11am, and even though we got there are just after 11 there were pretty big queues already. I love going to museums, if I can spend a bit of time reading some of the information and looking at the exhibitions, but it was busy and it was hot. We went around the Biology section first which was a bit graphical in places for young kids who probably don’t quite realise how they came into this world so I was steering the kids away from certain sections. I then wanted to go into the Mammals section and the Blue Whale room. The blue whale room is pretty awesome
as it shows how big a blue whale, the largest mammal, is compared to the other mammals that we think are big such as the giraffe and the elephant. But again it was really hot and stuffy with lots of people and one thing that we noticed more than anything was that everything seemed a bit neglected and dusty. I can appreciate that keeping the exhibitions clean, while trying to be open all year round is a big job, but there were areas that just seemed really dirty. Some of the displays too looked outdated, and reminded me of being back at school. I almost think that in some areas there was too much on display that you couldn’t take it all in, and if someone was already in front of a particular cabinet then you had no chance of looking inside too. So slightly disappointing for me as I had been looking forward to it. The Earth Zone was better though as it was more modern, and the kids enjoyed the earthquake demo room the best.
After the Natural History Museum, we headed over the road to the Victoria & Albert Museum for some food and were pleased to be in a less hectic environment where they seemed to have a little air conditioning. Once we were refuelled we jumped back on the tube at South Kensington to go to Westminster. We wandered around the House of Parliament and found the spot where many reporters stand interviewing MP’s. We could tell we were pretty much in the right place as all the grass on the green had been worn away.
After wandering around we then headed over the bridge towards the London Eye and along Queens Walk. There we saw some street performers including a guy who could make really big balloons, and some African acrobats who were double jointed. Even though it was another long walk there was lots going on, and we even watched some sand sculptures being done on a beach that was on the edge of the River Thames during low tide. There was lots of graffiti at one point on the Queens Walk where there were BMX bikers and skateboarders doing their stuff which the kids thought was amazing.
We called in at the Tate Modern on the way past as I wanted to show the kids the big Turbine Hall, but they didn’t seem impressed, and they walked around a few of the galleries saying how boring it was. To be honest most of the art on display I just didn’t “get” either – or perhaps I was just worn out by that stage.
On the way back to the hotel we saw an ice cream van with a wheel clamp on, which we later saw getting towed. Lol, how funny. As we were up early the next day to travel home we had a reasonably early night, well I did … everyone else stayed up in bed to watch a movie but I think I was asleep by 9pm.
On Monday we were up early, and after breakfast we taxied back to Victoria Station to catch the Gatwick Express to fly back to Leeds. The worst bit about flying regionally in the UK is the wait at the airport, and you are normally on smaller planes that are prone to turbulence. It was bumpy coming back into Leeds … but not as bumpy as on the way to London when I managed to spill lots of hot chocolate nearly over Ethan and the plane jumped about.
All in all it was a really enjoyable trip to London, and one thing that you really need to do before you visit any city is to plan where you are going to go and what you are going to see to make best use of your time there. I have a really good London Guide and map book which is looking a little worse for wear now but it’s really brilliant for planning a weekend away, especially if you have kids to entertain.