Things to Do in London

We won't try and write our own guidebook to London on this page. However, in no particular order, we and our kids enjoyed…

  • Hamley's on Regent Street is one of the world's largest and by far coolest toy stores in the world, much less London. It has a royal warrant, meaning it sells to the royal family, so when Great Grandma the Queen Mum (slogan: I'm Older than Yoda) bought a Power Ranger for her grandchild Prince William, it likely came from this store.

    There are entire floors full of stuffed animals, huge bears, fluffy everythings, excellent Paddington Bears and a zoo full of other creatures. The model shop has too cool for school kits from all over Europe, as well as Thomas the Tank Engine stuff to crowd a floor. We once saw Brian May, guitarist for Queen, and Eric Clapton, Guitarist for the Millennium, buying toys in Hamley's. Harrod's also has a nice toy selection, but to our minds with a bit less, well, whimsy.

  • More shopping is found at Selfridge's department store on Oxford Street. If you can, go see them at Christmas for beautiful lights and an excellent, patient, Santa, despite our daughter's efforts otherwise.

    Even during the other eleven months of the year, Selfridge's exhales old, classic style, like some department stores in the U.S. used to do before everyone moved to the mall and parked next to a Sharper Image stores (“electric golf balls, we swear by them!”).

    We had a great time pretend-shopping, say for white gloves one would need if invited to tea at Buckingham Palace (the palace is open for tourists part of the summer, absent the Queen who departs for the time). Things are priced as you might expect, so buy that extra pair of socks across the street at Marks and Spencers. The basement of Selfridge's was also used during WWII for some early computers, used then to break the German codes. There's nothing of that left to see unfortunately, but the history is there.

  • The Royal Parks are pleasantly scattered throughout London, and one could make a full trip out of nothing more than comparing the parks, trying to see if watching the King's Own Royal Horse Artillery tromping on horse back through Hyde Park (early in the morning) was a better treat than a free summertime Sunday afternoon band concert in Regent's Park. Aw, heck, do both.
  • Regent's Park was a favorite for us. It is contiguous with the London Zoo (our youngest daughter's comment: it is not a sad zoo), has a rowboat rental place, is home to a zillion birds who enjoy being fed and offers wildly entertaining pickup football/soccer games on weekends.

    A word on the birds: they'll eat bread, cookies, crackers and the like, though this is not always a good thing. If you have very little ones, be advised that the birds can get aggressive and frighten your child. They also poop alot (the birds, I mean) and you'll need to be careful your child does not step into the greenish goo. The feeding has caused the bird population to grow, though this is not always a good thing (the poop problem again).

  • In the summer the Park hosts outdoor theatre. The house of the American Ambassador to the Court of St. James is literally in the Park. You can't tour it, but you can get a peak over the fence of your tax dollars at work.
  • We also enjoyed Green Park as a quiet place with tall trees. Overlooking the park are many apartments and expensive hotels worth a peak. The park is also across the street from Buckingham Palace, and makes a nice place to have a picnic lunch after watching the changing of the guard in the late morning at the Palace.

    (When they fly the flag over the Palace, that means the Queen is inside that day; learn more at the Official Royal Web Site).

  • Hyde Park is also quite nice, with horse back riding trails (bring your own animal; no rentals I'm afraid), paddle boats to rent and of course, the famous Speaker's Corner. The picture of our oldest daughter with the flowers on our touring page was taken in Hyde Park.
  • St. John's Wood is a quick tube ride (Jubilee Line, ST JOHN'S WOOD station) from central London and worth a stroll if the weather is nice. It is a real, living neighborhood, albeit a generally well-to-do neighborhood.

    Within a few minutes walk from the Tube stop, you can find a wonderful high street with individual shops for the butcher, fruit, dry goods and the like, interspersed with a couple of nice pubs. Lords Cricket ground, the home of cricket, is nearby and Regent's Park is about 10 minutes away.

    You can also walk from the tube to the Abbey Road crossing where the Beatles shot their album cover for “Abbey Road”. The recording studio is there, with Beatles graffiti written all over the front wall (the studio is still active, and we saw David Bowie go in one day; they also recorded Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album there, along with many, many pop albums and movie soundtracks).

  • Of interest to parents with older children are the London Walks tours. You can pick up a brochure advertising the tours in most hotel lobbies. Conducted by out-of-work actors and generally loquacious and gregarious sorts, the tours walk you through themed treks on, under and around London. For those comfortable with the subject matter (and definitely not for young kids), the late night Jack the Ripper walk is not to be missed. They have daylight tours aplenty, many with quite clearly family oriented subject matter, to include Dickens, Shakespeare, the Inns of Court and much more.
  • While you might be the one person in this galaxy unfamiliar with Harry Potter, chances are you and your kids will recognize the name. If you've also enjoyed the Harry Potter movie, you might want to visit some of the real places in the UK where parts of the movie were filmed. Follow this link for the way to Hogwarts!

In their imaginations, children travel the world when they read such books as Madeline and A Bear Called Paddington. Make these imaginary journeys a reality for your children with visits to the actual settings of these and dozens more of the best-loved tales in children's literature. Storybook Travels is the ultimate guide for book-loving parents in search of vacations the whole family will enjoy. Let Storybook Travels be your family's companion on unforgettable excursions, including a magical walk through London looking for the mysterious spots young Harry frequents in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

  • A new place we have heard about but not yet visited ourselves is the Discover Story Garden in Stratford. The park is open from from midday to 5:00 pm and is aimed at children 2-7 years old. The park is free and will be open every Saturday and Sunday afternoon throughout the year. In the Discover Story Garden, children can play and have fun in a safe, secure green space. They can slide down a monster's tongue, climb the alphabet wall, play with boats in the stream, make music on the trellis and creep the willow tunnel. Details on line.

User Feedback

The highly sucessful ‘Pixar:20 Years of Animation’ will be opening at the Science Museum in London from April 1st 2006 for an exclusive 10 week stay – so if you want a ticket, I would advise booking early! For more information, please go to www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/pixar

Leila Schembri

Hi!I am a Londoner, and would like to suggets you add Hampstead Heath as a great place to take kids. It is a beautiful expansive park in North West London, that is cultivated to be ‘wild’, so although you will not find the flower gardens or rowing lakes of the royal parks there, you will find fields to picnic in, woods to wander through, trees to climb, hills to roll down, ponds to swim in (one mixed, and one each for men and women) and a wealth of wildlife to gawk at. Kenwood House is a stately home on the Highgate side of the heath, which houses a fantastic art collection, including works by Vermeer, and hosts open air concerts with fireworks throughout the summer. The heath is bordered by Hampstead and Highgate, both lovely, wealthy neighbourhoods with great cafes. Hampstead is also good for shopping, and seeking out those blue plaques of the literatti who have lived there for centuries. A wonderful place to visit in all seasons.

Helena

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