Saturday 11 January 2014

Our first family trip to London

We've taken Harry to London a few times in the past, but had never braved a trip with both children in tow. At the end of the Christmas holiday, and with an inset day for Harry, Ram managed to find us a cheap night in a Travelodge and so we set off on the train with small child and toddler.

A first family trip to London

Our first stop was a river cruise. Again, always one to spot a good deal, Ram found us tickets for a cruise with City Cruises that ended up being free! It was a cold morning, and the boat was pretty empty, but we sat up on the open top deck so that we could see around. We travelled from Tower Bridge to Westminster, and there was an interesting live commentary to explain the sights that we were passing.

Then we headed to Covent Garden and the London Transport Museum. It really was excellent, and I'll be posting a detailed review in a couple of days. The children loved the chance to board some real London trains and buses, and we were all fascinated by the history of the London Underground. It's a fairly compact museum, so good for those little legs, but there is plenty crammed in and we learned a great deal. It was also very well organised for younger visitors, with activities to keep them occupied all the way around.

A first family trip to London

We finished the day at Hamleys. Not for purchasing, as it's far too expensive, but there is lots to see and you can have a look at the larger sets that you don't see in smaller toy shops. There are also some toys out to watch and play with, and we spent some time watching the Hexbugs running around in their plastic mazes. The children are still playing with the tiny Hexbug robots that they got for Christmas, and I see some Hexbug maze inspired crafting coming on.

A first family trip to London

We stayed overnight in the Covent Garden Travelodge, which like all hotels in the chain was very basic, but it did all that we needed to and was very conveniently located for the Underground. We paid a bit extra for the buffet breakfast the next morning, as we have more luck getting the children to eat if they can choose from a buffet, and there was plenty there to suit all of us.

The next morning we began our day at the Natural History Museum, arriving early to try and beat the crowds. Over Christmas we watched David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive on television, and Harry has been watching it continuously ever since. He was delighted to find himself in the museum, and was excitedly showing us all the exhibits that were featured. He has been to the museum several times in the past, but he definitely enjoyed this visit more, now that he has more awareness of the things that he is seeing. We visited our favourite areas - the dinosaurs are always popular even though both children are a little nervous of the animated T-Rex at the end of the exhibition! We had to find the dodo as well as that features in the programme.

A first family trip to London

Then we crossed over to the Science Museum, another favourite. The Garden area in the basement is aimed at children aged up to age 6, and Harry has spent a lot of time there in the past. We introduced Mia to the fantastic water table, and we spent some time here playing. Then we headed upstairs to Launch Pad, where there are interactive science exhibits aimed at slightly older children. It's a shame that this area is always so busy, because it can be difficult to have a proper detailed look at anything. The favourite area is the Big Machine, where children can move plastic pellets about using pulleys, lifts and so on.

A first family trip to London

There is also a nice, quieter area at the Science Museum where there are lots of old models on display. It's in the main room on the ground floor but it's accessed by a staircase/lift so it's easy to miss. There are some model trains, with buttons to press to make the wheels go around, and a really interesting collection of unusual educational models.

Travelling around the London Underground with a pushchair is not easy, and I'm not sure that we'll attempt it again. Although things are improving, and several of the stations that we used did have lifts, it is not easy to keep track of a folded pushchair, luggage, toddler and a small child in the crowded stations. Both children need to be helped on the escalators, and sometimes the trains were so busy that we had to really cram ourselves on, not comfortable for any of us. It was a real contrast to our experience in Berlin, where the U-Bahn was much more family friendly.

We had a really lovely couple of days up in London, and I'm glad that we gave it a go. There are some good deals to be had on cheap hotels if you look around, and once you are in London there is so much there that you can do for free. It might seem a bit of a mission with young children, but I'd definitely recommend taking them if you are able to get to London!

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