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First family trip to London

Santa Clarita...
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First family trip to London

My wife and I have been reading all of the great trip reports and other tips here in TALF. Now with our own trip to London coming up at the end of the month, I thought I'd post our outlined plans and ask the community for comment and suggestions. Thanks for your help.

We're traveling with our son & daughter, ages 13 and 10. We parents went to Germany back in 2003, and it's a first international trip for the kids. That's part of why we decided to spend almost the entire time--a quick week--just in London (plus a daytrip somewhere). We're flying from California a week from Friday (3/30), arriving around 7:30am in Heathrow on Saturday. We're staying at the Lime Tree Hotel upon the recommendation of some family friends, and I see it's well-regarded by the TALFers, too. Our flight home is on Saturday, April 7.

Besides TALF, we've researched our trip through Rick Steves' book, and Frommer's Day Trips from London. Our goal is to make this fun for everyone, which means not letting dad (me) drag everyone through every museum the entire time. We all want to see museums, but I have to remember not to overdo it.

We don't yet have our days mapped out, but will probably do that just to know how everything fits. Not that it has to be done exactly as scheduled, though. We've got tickets to a matinee show of Mary Poppins, and I think that will be our only fixed event on the schedule.

Other sites we want to take in are many of the usual tourist destinations. Our son is taking an interest through his junior high school history class, so this is good timing for us.

Tower of London - Missed ceremony of keys tickets

St. Paul's Cathedral

Westminster Abbey - Son is interested in medieval history

Imperial War Museum - Might be just the boys for this one

Kew Gardens - Maybe just the girls? Depending on time

London Eye - Is this a must-do?

British Museum - Probably two shorter trips rather than one marathon

British Library - Maybe? At least pop in to see Magna Carta

Tate Modern - For a short while, depending on interest

Millenium Bridge - Just for the nice walk, view(?)

Tower Bridge - Just see it from afar, lit at night? Or do we tour it?

Westminster/Parliament - Just look from outside, or would the kids enjoy seeing inside?

V&A - Hadn't thought of this, originally, but have been reading more good reasons to check it out.

Harrod's - Mostly just the see it.

Buckingham Palace

open top bus tour

others, but that's what comes to mind now.

Some of the bigger questions remaining in our mind are what to do about the daytrip, and what to do about palaces. With our time limited, we're pretty sure we want to stick to just one daytrip. But where? Our son is interested in Stonehenge, but that's honestly a site we're less interested in. Sounds a little underwhelming or tourist-y, if that makes sense. Maybe if we combine it with some other site on that same daytrip. Other daytrips my wife & I have considered are Dover, Canterbury, York, Leeds Castle . . . really they all sound interesting. (Hmm, now I see my book lists Kew Gardens as a daytrip, but I don't think it counts the same way, does it?)

As for the palaces, I wonder how much the kids would enjoy going through them, especially if there are lines that make you wait. Kind of a funny concern when I'm ready to take them through multiple museums, so perhaps this also indicated my preferences!

Throughout the week I assume we'll have plenty of opportunities to walk the various parks. Heck, even taking the Underground is adventure for us, one I think we'll have lots of chances to experience.

Thanks again for your help.

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1. Re: First family trip to London

Your plans are looking good to me. One of the things I like is the possibility of splitting the family up for different activities. Not only do you see the things of interest, but you have a chance to report back to each other on the separate experiences.

The British Library has a very small exhibition area, maybe smaller than a typical room at the British Museum. Looking at all of it won't take much longer than seeing only the Magna Carta.

I recommend a guided walk. See if you like a London Walk, www.walks.com , and want to do more. A guide provides a much better experience for me than a guidebook does. Seek out guides at Westminster Abbey, the Tower, and museums. The free Eye Opener tours at the British Museum are great, spending 30 to 40 minutes in just one room. Seeing the museum in two shorter visits makes sense.

My kids' favorite day trip was to to Hampton Court Palace. I don't remember any lines/waits there or at the Tower of London. We bought fast track tickets to the Tower at a tube station. Rick Steves mentioned that Hampton Court Palace was a £15 taxi ride from Kew Gardens in his 2005 book.

I promised myself I would suggest that visitors check out a supermarket for a London vs home comparison.

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2. Re: First family trip to London


A few random thoughts as a parent who took a boy & girl aged 15 & 10 a couple of years ago.

Are your kids Harry Potter fans then if so consider Oxford and nearby for your day trip.

Must visit TOL. both for boy & girl. Imperial War Museum we did as dad & son while mum & daugther prowled Oxford street.

Kids both loved a visit to the Virgin Megastore on Picadilly Circus.

Tower Bridge, walk it while you are nearby at TOL. Harrods, take the kids to the ice-cream section in the foodhall. Mine still talk about it.

Big Bus hop on hop off tour is great , look at taking the Changing of the Guard Walking Tour the next dat on your 24 hour ticket. It was excellent & the best way I have ever seen the Guards Change in 7 visits. Lots of fun and again an experience we still laugh & joke about rather than just waiting outside ogf the gates & we saw more.

Good Luck.

Hampshire, United...
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for Amesbury, London
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3. Re: First family trip to London

Please consider meeting us for a TALF meet on Sunday 1st April. We're having a family-friendly pizza from 5.30pm, with the traditional pub meet from 7pm.

My son is 13, and my daughter 9, by the way. I know another American family is coming for pizza with an 8 yr old.

Full details here:


(well, actually, the full details are within that post!!)

My children enjoyed Westminster Abbey much more than I thought they would! Be sure to pick up a free children's trail. Gets them looking for things around the abbey.

Tower Bridge: view from the Tower of London (which is a good visit, even if you have missed the ceremony of the keys). You can walk across the bridge if you want; it's right next to the tower. I took the children up it last year. So-so in my opinion.

Consider visiting the Globe (Shakespeare's Theatre (built about 10 years ago!)) which is next to Tate Modern, and then walk across the Millennium Bridge. Do it this way around, and you walk right into St Paul's Cathedral (it seems). Much prefer that than the opposite, when you're facing the Tate Modern (a disused power station)

Day trip: Consider Warwick Castle. I've just looked at their website in response to another poster, and happened to read out loud to my son (who is heavily into Roman warfare, but warfare in general) what they've got on over the Easter holidays. We shall now be heading off to Warwick during the Easter Weekend! Not seen him so excited for ages! (I believe the trebuchet may well be there during your timescales...)

Gosh. 3 'considers' in one post!! Happy holiday planning!

Cincinnati, Ohio
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4. Re: First family trip to London

I took an Evan Evans tour with my 14 year old son. It went to Oxford, Stratford Upon Avon and Warwick Castle. We went to Hampton Court on our own.

Highlights for the 14 year old

In Oxford he bought a rugby ball since at the hotel he'd been watching the SkySports channel that is all rugby all the time.

Stratford: the people painted to look like statues that move when

you put some money in their collection tin and the McDonalds

(the only American fast food restaurant we went into in England)

Warwick: the dungeon, the costumed swordsmen fighting, going to the top of the tower. I think he liked Warwick better than Hampton Court since Warwick was livelier the day we were there. At times they have jousting so check before you go.

Don't overlook the ordinary London experiences that southern Californians may not have: riding the tube, riding the top of a double decker bus, taking a black London cab. Definitely go into a grocery. So many things are different.

Read the currently running thread on milkshakes/food so you can manage your children's expectations.

San Diego...
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5. Re: First family trip to London

I just got back from a week in London with my family. I have a set of daughters, ages 11 and 14 y/o. I had quite the large plan of sites to see beforehand as well, and probably wound up at only about 1/2 of them. Our only day trip was a "quick" jaunt to Paris on the Eurostar.

One thing that hits harder than you expect (especially with the younger ones) is jet lag. Be prepared to commit more time to recuperating than you plan. And trying to get the whole gang out in the morning early is a real challenge!

The kids really liked the boat tours on the Thames, Harrods (You HAVE to go to the food court. The candy section will cause your 10 y/o to weep with joy), and nightime at Picadilly and Leiciester square with all the neon and excitement is a kick.

Don't be suprised if the kids don't share your zeal in exploring the more historic sites. They don't have quite the same apprecaition that we old fogies do. And palaces = just another big building to them.

Since we live in SoCal and don't use much mass transit, they really enjoyed riding the tube. "MIND THE GAP". And after a long day of walking it was a welcome ride. Best money invested was the 7 day travelcards for the family.

Oh, and be sure to walk ALL 565 stairs to the top of St. Pauls Cathedral. I don't want to be the ONLY sucker who did it - and my legs STILL HURT!!!


Los Angeles
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6. Re: First family trip to London


I am traveling with my daughter the same day you are and it sounds like the same flight! If I notice a family with a couple of kids. I will say hello :)

If not, have a great trip, we should compare notes!


7. Re: First family trip to London

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8. Re: First family trip to London

Hamleys toy store is fun as well...

MY 11 year old loved it.

Manhattan, KS
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9. Re: First family trip to London

BGTB - we were just in London two days ago. Being a librarian, I wanted to go see the Magna Carta in the British Library. At the British Museum, we were told that the library is currently closed in preparation for some celebration ( I can't remember what it was.) Maybe some of the London locals can find out further information for you so you know whether or not it will be open.

A couple of notes - be sure to find in the address of your hotel on the Landing Card that you get on your airline flight over. Our passport lady was unhappy that we only had Tothill Street, London written down as I couldn't remember the exact street address. I knew exactly where it was ( one block from the St. James's Park tube stop) but that didn't satisfy her. I had to get our my Expedia.com reservation slip to show her that there was no address on the reservation slip. So, save yourself some trouble and make sure you fill out that line that asks for your address in the U.K.

Also, if you do decide to take a daytrip to York - make sure you make a reservation. We just took that trip yesterday and let me tell you - we were lucky to get a seat on the train even though there were actually two trains leaving at about the same time from King's Cross. The station was extremely crowded with people queueing up in various lines waiting to board the trains. We ended up having to make a run(well, ok - a very quick walk!) for another train as the one we were trying to board was full. The way you tell that the seat is available is that it does not have a little slip of paper sticking up from the seat. We walked through at least 5 cars on the train before we found two vacant seats together. By the way, in 2nd class, there is a refreshment cart that comes down the aisle. You can buy sandwiches for around £3.50 each. They also have crisps (potato chips) and Cokes and things like that.

San Jose, California
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10. Re: First family trip to London

I've been reading this forum for over a year, and I guess there's always another great tip to be gleaned! Thanks everyone!

* RulesBrittania: "the Fifth Earl of Boredom"...cracks me up!

* dandiego: did your girls walk all those stairs? I think my 9 & 7 year olds may bail.

* Konza: *great* tip about the address where you're staying in London. I'll be sure to have our apt address handy.

Still 3+ months to go and I can hardly stand it!