By Shandley McMurray
The trip is booked, the brolly is packed and the children are too excited to sleep. Now what? Whether you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the Games or merely sip tea in closer proximity to the Queen, our local’s guide to London will tell you where to eat, sleep, play and shop in this year’s Olympic city.
Home to celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jaime Oliver, London boasts some of the world’s best restaurants. Here are some of our favourite, kid-friendly places.
Dim t (www.dimt.co.uk) Fuel the kids with a bento box while gazing at Tower Bridge at this delicious Asian fusion restaurant in More London Place. Then, let them run off some extra energy in the sprinklers located just outside. (Pad Thai £8.65, kids’ bento box £4.95)
Pizza Express (www.pizzaexpress.com) Yes, it’s a chain, but we promise you’ll love it. With affordable prices and truly tasty pies, this pizza joint is a kid’s dream come true. It’s bright, airy and tailored to kids with colouring pages, books to borrow and an option to make your own pizza at some locations. (American pizza, £9.10, kids’ Piccolo menu including dough balls, a main course and ice cream, £6.45)
The Tree House Family Café (www.harrods.com/visiting/restaurants) Located on the fourth floor of Harrods, right next to the toy department, this restaurant is a great place to enjoy somewhat affordable food at the infamous department store. Kids can play with the giant, magnetic wall puzzles or color while you munch on a tasty goat’s cheese quiche, £10.95 (kid’s baked macaroni and cheese, £11.95)
The White Horse (http://www.whitehorsesw6.com/) Eat like a local at a famous pub in Parson’s Green. The White Horse is a great place to try English faves like fish and chips and sausage and mash. Aim for a lunch-time meal or early dinner to beat the drinking crowd which files in after work.(Beer battered haddock and chips, £12)
Babylon at the Roof Gardens (http://www.roofgardens.virgin.com) This Richard Branson creation sits one hundred feet above the bustling Kensington High Street. The food is delish, but it’s the gardens you should go for. They’re often pre-booked for events, so call first to see if you’ll be able to wander through before or after your meal. With 70 full-sized trees, a stream and resident flamingos, the kids won’t even notice the amazing city view. (Sautéed Fillet of Seabass, £26.50, Young diners’ menu £6 for two courses or £8 for three)
Tamarind( www.tamarindrestaurant.com/) The English love a good curry. Find out why at this London staple. In the heart of trendy Mayfair, this award-winning restaurant offers delicious food that looks almost too good to eat. Gosht Dum Biryani, £24.50 or a go cheap with the set menu on Sundays £32 per person – Kids under 9 eat free on Sundays with two paying adults.)
As the Brits would say, “t’would be a pity to skip high tea in London.” Most high-end hotels and department stores offer a traditional English tea service (which includes enough food that you won’t need dinner). Try the Ritz (http://www.theritzlondon.com/), Claridge’s Hotel (http://www.claridges.co.uk/), Fortnum and Mason (http://www.fortnumandmason.com/c-4-restaurants-fortnum-and-mason.aspx) or Harrods (http://www.harrods.com/).
It’s never easy to find your way around a big city. Hopefully these tips will help.
It may sound cheesy, but one of the best ways to see London is on a Hop on Hop off bus tour. It stops at all the major sights and most offer a free Thames River Cruise as well. Plus, the kids will love sitting at the top of the double decker bus. Try The Original Tour (http://www.theoriginaltour.com/).
The Tube (aka Subway or Underground) is another easy way to travel. It’s cheap, fast and best of all travels way below London’s crazy traffic. It’s not stroller-friendly, though, so you might want to opt for a bus if you don’t like hauling your buggy up and down stairs. http://www.tfl.gov.uk/
Hail a taxi
Black cabs are spacious and comfortable. But they’re also pricey, making this a better option for short journeys.
WHAT TO DO
So many things to see, so little time. Here are a few of our favourites.
There are loads of fantastic museums in London. These are the ones our kids like best.
V&A – The Victoria & Albert Museum (http://www.vam.ac.uk/)boasts a gorgeous courtyard and cafeteria in addition to its numerous halls. Kids love the adventure backpacks, which are available to borrow for free. Each one is themed to go with a different exhibit and contains games, puzzles and information to help kids learn more about the artifacts they’ll see. Bonus: free entry
The Science Museum (http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/) With tons of hands-on-exhibits, this museum is one of the most kid-pleasing in the city. From wiring an alarm to building a huge arch, there’s plenty here to keep kids active. Younger tots will enjoy the basement garden where they can play with water tables or work on a construction site. Bonus: free entry
Natural History Museum (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/) Visit one of the best dinosaur exhibits you’ll ever see, complete with an enormous (and somewhat scary-looking) animatronic T-Rex. Bonus: free entry
London Transport Museum (http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/) Climb aboard a horse and buggy, drive a subway car or sit behind the wheel of a double decker bus. This Covent Garden institution will not disappoint.
National Portrait Gallery (http://www.npg.org.uk/) Situated at the heart of Trafalgar Square, kids can clamour around the stone lions and throw a penny in the fountains before entering this spectacular museum. Once inside, you can try to book in for story time, listen to a family audio visual guide or maybe even attend a family art workshop.
HMS Belfast (http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast) A definite must for boat-lovers, this floating museum is housed on a warship. Find out what life was like on this ship during the war, how the 950 sailors, slept, ate and entertained themselves, all right here.
Here are a few of London’s don’t miss sights.
Buckingham Palace(http://www.royal.gov.uk/theroyalresidences/buckinghampalace/buckinghampalace.aspx) Home to Queen Elizabeth herself, this palatial spot is made even more majestic during the Changing of the Guard. Pre-book a visit to see the State Rooms or The Royal Mews, where you’ll catch a glimpse of some of the royal horses and carriages.
Westminster Abbey (http://www.westminster-abbey.org/) Whether you want to relive the Royal Wedding or wander atop the graves of famous writers like John Dryden or Charles Dickens, a visit to the Abbey is a treat for everyone. The children’s guide has a fun quiz to help kids learn about some of the things they might have just walked by. Plus, they get a treat once they hand it in.
Hyde Park (http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park) Pack a picnic to truly enjoy the 350 acres of green space in this public park. Have a swim, play in a playground or go for a horse ride – the options are endless.
Kensington Gardens (http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens) Really just an extension of Hyde Park, the kids’ most-loved section of this garden is the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. Complete with a life-sized pirate ship, wobbly bridges and an enormous sand pit, your little ones will love you for taking them. While you’re there, visit Kensington Palace, the place Princess Diana once called home only a short walk away.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/ukvisitors/bigben/) Big Ben is actually the name of the bell within the famous clock tower that adorns the Houses of Parliament, so you won’t actually see him. But you can book a tour to climb up the tower and hear him toll the time up close.
The EDF Energy London Eye (http://www.londoneye.com/) Enjoy a 30-minute flight on England’s tallest Ferris Wheel. The sunnier the day the better to truly appreciate the captivating view. (£111.98 per family of four)
The Tower of London http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/?gclid=CPXE5_3Sza8CFVEjfAodpjiXaw Take a step back in time with a trip to the Tower of London. See the Crown Jewels, climb through the towers and get a close up glimpse of ancient torture devices. The kids will love it. Tip: Don’t eat in the over-priced, tasteless cafeteria. Instead, choose Wagamama (http://www.wagamama.com/), a cheap and tasty noodle place which is out near the entrance. Plus, you’ll get a spectacular view of Tower Bridge while you dine.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotels are expensive and cramped. We suggest renting a flat or house in town. That way you can cook your own meals and save on your lodging. Try homeaway.com or onefinestay.com. Try to get one that’s near a tube station or a bus stop to make travelling around a bit easier.