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Taking kids to London by Carolyn

London with kidsFor many Australians heading to Europe, London is their first port of call, and for first time travellers and particularly those with children, it’s a great place to start. The United Kingdom allows you to ‘ease into’ a European holiday as there are no language barriers and the English drive on the same side of the road to us, so the transition from life as they know it back in Australia isn’t too difficult for most kids. Add in the fact that your kids will already be familiar with lots of London’s major attractions and it makes for a perfect place to begin your European adventure.

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Big Ben, LondonA great way to get your bearings in London, and in any new city, is to buy a ticket on the Hop On Hop Off bus.  These buses operate around a circular route stopping at major points of interest along the way, allowing you to hop off where you please and hop back on when it suits you.  The Original London Sightseeing Tour, one of the most popular operators in London, offers passes valid for 24 hours and provides a full commentary service.  Children are well catered for – a special ‘Kids Club’ commentary is provided as well as kids’ activity packs.

Once you’ve got an overview of London you can then plan your sightseeing itinerary and decide which attractions you would like to visit (or return to) …. and in London, there is no shortage of sights!

The London Eye, Tower of London, Big Ben and London Dungeon are all popular with kids of all ages. Older children may be familiar with the original Monopoly streets such as Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Mayfair and Park Lane, and it always creates a buzz to actually stand on the real street.  Sports fans will enjoy visits to famous sporting arenas such as Lords, The Oval, Wimbledon or Wembley Stadium.  All offer tours to the general public but you may need to book ahead.

Tower Bridge, LondonOn rainy days, museums like Madame Tussaud’s, the British Musuem, London Science Museum and the London Planetarium offer endless options to while away a few hours, whilst the whole family will get a kick out of visiting Harrods, the most famous department store in the world.

Arrive early if you want to watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.  The changeover takes place every day at 11.30am (during summer) and is free, but as one of London’s most popular attractions, it pays to be early to get a good viewing spot.  The whole ‘parade’ takes around 45 minutes and may be a little tedious for younger children but many visitors leave after 20 or so minutes.  The ‘changeover’ takes place on alternate days during the rest of the year, so check the schedule in advance if you are visiting outside of summer.

Younger children will be in heaven at Hamley’s Toy Store, a seven storey toy store said to be the biggest in the world.  Open 7 days a week (with reduced hours on Sundays), even Mum and Dad will find something to amuse them at Hamley’s.

Beefeater guards, Buckingham PalaceIf you plan on visiting a number of attractions in London, it may be worthwhile purchasing a London Pass.  These passes allow entry to over 55 attractions and come with guidebook full of information, maps and directions.  Many of the attractions also allow London Pass holders ‘fast track’ entry, meaning you don’t have to queue up at the ticket office on arrival - just swipe your pass and skip the queue.

When you’re ready for a rest or the kids need to burn off some energy, head to Hyde Park. With over 600 acres of parkland, a huge man-made lake, and Kensington Palace within its boundaries, this is the place to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

There’s no denying that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and finding reasonably priced accommodation isn’t easy.  Many hotels (and B&B’s) in the UK and Europe only accommodate a maximum of three people in a room, so families inevitably need to book two rooms or rent an apartment.  Fortunately there are lots of apartments available and these provide the added bonus of being equipped with cooking facilities, allowing you to prepare your own meals and save on the expense of eating out.

London really is one of the world’s great cities, so start planning your holiday and show your children the fantastic sights on offer.

Carolyn  is the owner of www.holidaystoeurope.com.au

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