Perhaps the most important thing to remember when you are travelling with young kids is that if you try to pack too much in, someone’s going to end up in tears – and it’s just as likely to be you.
With so much to see, you can easily get carried away with your planning. With three days to explore London, two young children to entertain and a hearty dose of jetlag, we eagerly rushed to a Tube station one morning and stumbled slap bang into rush hour. A commuter crush is far from fun, and we vowed from then on to set off early and get back to our hotel in time for afternoon tea.
Aiming to reset our body clocks with a dose of sunshine, our first stop was Kew Gardens on the outskirts of the city. Our kids really enjoyed the new indoor Climbers and Creepers exhibit – a fantasyland of giant plant models, which allowed them to climb into a flower to “pollinate” it, be “eaten” by a pitcher plant and crawl through a blackberry tangle. There’s a good playground outside, too.
After lunch in a local pub, it was back into the city centre for some seriously fun shopping. First stop was Hamleys on Regent Street, one of the largest toyshops in the world. We were greeted by demonstrators sending the latest gadgets flying above our heads, miniature trains careering under escalators and mountains of soft toys. With some 40,000 different toys for sale, it took two hours to get back on to the street.
Aiming for some culture of sorts the next day, we headed to the Natural History Museum, expecting the usual stuffed animals and birds. The big family attractions, though, were the dinosaurs, a life-size model of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling, and a Creepy Crawlies gallery teeming with leafcutter ant colonies and countless spiders and centipedes. The highlight was the Kobe Supermarket Earthquake machine, where the floor shook and the shelves rattled in a simulation of a Japanese earthquake.
We trooped over to The Rainforest Café on Shaftesbury Avenue for lunch, an amazing restaurant with moulded tree walls dripping with waterfalls, animated elephants and jungle creatures, and an atmosphere made all the more fun by fake thunder and lightning. The food was good and the kids snacked from a fabulous children’s menu.
From here, we went to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. The real-life castle was fascinating and the Beefeaters made for good pictures. The crowns and jewellery even caught the attention of our toddler, who burst into tears when we refused to snatch a tiara.
Day three, and so much more to see! We started off at Buckingham Palace, wandering around the gardens before watching the Changing the Guard. Then it was off to The Toy and Model Museum, with its massive display of antique dolls’ houses, early wooden toys, Dinky cars, plastic planes and tinplate soldiers.
With older kids, we could have visited the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, or introduced them to some of the world’s best art at the Tate or The National Gallery. But just raiding a newsagent for Smoky Bacon crisps and unusual lollies, and feeding the swans and ducks in Hyde Park, ranked high on the treat scale for our littlies.
As for the evenings … Well, in summer it’s light until nearly 10pm, so an outdoor table, some pub grub, and a few beers for the adults, made a day with the kids seem even less arduous.