A trip to London was definitely in order. I lived here for nearly 7 years in my late teens and early twenties and I couldn’t wait to bring Aria down and do some of the tourist stuff I never got round to even after all those years living here. I think when you live somewhere and don’t have children it’s harder to justify the high prices for a lot of the tourist activities and I definitely ended up making excuses and never really getting around to a lot of things I wanted to do.
We stayed in a lovely Airbnb apartment that was perfect for our needs, a friend came and stayed with us so it ended up being £70 each per night which isn’t too bad relatively speaking as London is pretty pricey for accommodation. I love having the freedom an apartment gives especially with a small child; she went to bed and I was able to stay up and watch the Eurovision Song Contest with my friend, which is great compared to being trapped in a hotel room in silence next to a sleeping a toddler! The apartment was 5 minutes from a tube station that was on the district line, this took us to all the major tourist destinations that we wanted to visit including the London Eye, Shrek’s Adventure Land, a fabulous play park in Kensington and the Natural History Museum.
A lot of our destinations were chosen because we were lucky enough to be given Merlin Passes by a friend of mine last year, so I wanted to try and get some benefit from these and visit a few Merlin Attractions (have a look at the website for more details, but included in this pass are some pretty well known attractions in the UK such as Alton Towers, Legoland – Windsor, Madame Tussaud’s and The London Eye).
Our first stop on the Friday daytime was The Natural History Museum , the nearest tube station is South Kensington and the majority of the museum is free. There are paid exhibitions on all year round which are usually worth a visit but it is free to see most of the permanent exhibits such as the ever popular dinosaurs. There is also free bag check in and plenty of cafes and food available in and around the museum. Aria is completely Space mad so we went see the paid Otherworld’s exhibition which featured some truly breathtaking images from the various spacecraft we’ve sent off into the depths of outer space. I think Hubble is the biggest contributor. Jupiter is my daughter’s favourite planet and this is an image of her ‘meeting’ Jupiter. It’s definitely one that will make me smile for many years to come. We also visited the ‘Sensational Butterflies‘ exhibition as discussed in an earlier post.
On Saturday we head out to meet a friend and travelled to Tower Bridge and The Tower of London in the morning; the bridge can be found at Tower Hill tube stop. I’ve driven over this bridge so many times when living here but never really properly visited the area or the castle. It’s probably one of the most iconic views you’ll see of the city though. Some interesting information about the bridge is that when a large ship is passing under that requires the bridge to be raised, it takes priority over all other traffic. This meant that on a visit from president George W. Bush, his motorcade happened to be on its way to cross the bridge when it needed to be raised and he was made to wait. Apparently this caused a bit of diplomatic situation as he accused people of putting his life in danger but the laws of the bridge and the water even applied to him! There is an exhibition on at the bridge but we didn’t go there this time and simply headed for the Tower of London instead. If your whole group travels here by rail as opposed to the underground it is possible to get 2 for 1 tickets; as it costs £25 per person these are a pretty good deal. My train ticket from Manchester from the previous day and my friend’s ticket from that days travel were both valid for the offer.
I would say that The Tower of London is best for the 8+ age group, particularly maybe the 11+. Although Aria was great and loved running around and seeing the castle and the armoury etc, she didn’t really get the full educational benefit. We enjoyed seeing the crown jewels and the changing of the guard, and she loved meeting Keeper the armoury dragon; however, there is much more to be had from this experience for older children and adults. There are plenty of guided walks and a huge amount of historical information available to read. One interesting fact I learnt which I never knew was that not only was Sir Isaac Newton a philosophical and natural science genius, he was also the Warden of the Royal Mint when in his fifties! This was a position he actively sought out.
After we had roamed around the tower for a while we decided to reward a very patient Aria with a trip to what is listed as one of the best play parks in London. The was the Princess Diana Memorial Play Park in Kensington Gardens. There are a few nearby tube stops such as Notting Hill Gate and Bayswater and i think at least 3 different lines head in that direction so it’s very accessible. The park definitely lived up to its reputation and didn’t disappoint. Aria had enormous fun charging around the pirate ship, splashing in water and utilising all the swings and slides. There’s something for all age groups here and Kensington Gardens and Palace are also nearby. The play park is free and has some really decent free toilets as well, which is a huge bonus when travelling with children. There’s food and drink for sale, bikes to hire and it’s well worth visiting this little gem. Even though it was busy it wasn’t uncomfortably so and everyone seemed to help out keeping an eye on the kids.
Sunday arrived and it was our final day in London, and we headed off to visit the London Eye and Shrek’s Adventure World; both of which can be found on the Embankment and Embankment tube is of course the nearest stop. Around this area you’ll find The Houses of Parliament, The Tate Modern, Jubilee Play park (also free) and it’s also just really nice to walk along the river have a good nosey at everything going on. I never went on The Eye, despite living here when it went up so I’d was really excited about this. Our passes got us on for free which was a bonus – it’s pretty pricey at around the £25 mark. I’ll be honest, the queues are a pest and I’d recommend arriving before the 10am opening time to queue for the tickets and then queue again for the actual Eye. Don’t bother with the extra £6 for the fast track queue as it really didn’t appear to go that much quicker when we were there. The queues move pretty fast despite me saying it’s a pain but I still felt a bit flustered by the time we finally got on as Aria was whinging and my back was hurting from the bags etc. I wasn’t sure at this point if it was going to be worth it! But don’t panic, I can honestly say it was one of my favourite things. If you get a blue sky sunny day it really does give fabulous views of the city and the Thames. I loved it! I’d possibly even do it again as it was such an fab perspective of the city that you don’t normally get. If it’s raining and grey however I’d probably say don’t waste your money and just wait for a nicer day if you can, as you’ll be a bit disappointed I think.
Next stop was Shrek’s Adventure: I had no idea what to expect as I only booked it as it’s free with our Merlin passes
I should probably take this opportunity to say that I am in no way sponsored or affiliated with the Merlin Group and have not received any freebies from them for this post – we simply received a pair of passes from a friend and I’ve been trying to get the best value I can out of them! If you struggle for money but could afford the one off purchase I would highly recommend them as it really does give you some great value experiences for the year if you make the effort to visit all the attractions.
Anyway, Shrek’s adventure is pricey if you pay to get in and it was suggested for the 7+ age group. Aria is 3 and I’ve got to say I was pretty impressed. It was good fun and was an actor led ‘walk through’ experience. Aria loved it and I’m glad we went. I can’t decide how I would have felt about it if we’d have paid to get in, but I’d say it’s probably still a fun day out if you can afford it. They don’t allow photography throughout, but they do get you to pose for a lot of pictures taken by them and at the end of the experience you get presented with a pretty cool book with all the pictures in – however they wanted £30 for this which in my opinion was too much. I’d have gone for it had it been about £15-20 maybe! As with most Merlin Group stuff there is a very large capitalist element to it as you have to walk through the shop at the end which is filled with expensive tat (hard with a toddler who wants everything). But if you can ignore this then you can have a great day out here. At the end of the experience there is an opportunity to pose with various film characters form different Dreamwork’s films and take photos for free which was nice. Aria liked King Julien a lot!
After this we headed to The Real Food Market at the Southbank Centre Square, which is just behind the Eye. This place is really excellent and open Fri-Sun, I’d fully recommend it for some delicious food and drink that’s unusual and well made. You can definitely do some hipster spotting too… It’s possible to get a decent lunch for a fiver or a really great lunch for a tenner. I had duck fat fried chips and some Lebanese mezzo. There are alcohol/cocktails and lots of home bakes and bread to take away too. After food we headed to Jubilee park behind the Eye for Aria to run some steam off before we headed to get our train home – one thing to note about this area is there is nowhere you can check your bags in which is a pain. I had to lug a big rucksack around which got in the way a lot when queuing etc. I had assumed Shrek’s adventure would have a check in but I was wrong!
Obviously our trip has just covered a small part of what’s on in London but I hope you’ve found some useful information and maybe enjoyed the pictures. London is still one of the best cities on the planet and it really is a must see destination for any traveler. It’s possible to have a budget trip with kids especially if you plan in advance and maybe get the London Pass or if you live here and have a Merlin Pass you really must get the benefit by visiting as included in this is The Eye, The Dungeons, and Shrek’s Adventure. The tube system is excellent once you get to grips with it and you can get anywhere pretty easily. But really do get an oyster card as at £12.50 the day travel cards are super expensive these days as opposed to just £2.40 a trip with the oyster card.