There’s no bad neighborhood to stay in if you’ve got kids, because London is low-rise and manageable. But make sure they’re ready to climb stairs if you’re taking the Tube. On paper, some of London’s museums sound as if they’d be too dry, but in reality, they bend over backward to cater to children—maybe too much, as it’s often at the expense of adult minds. Every major museum, no exceptions, has an on-site cafe for lunch.
Day 1: Double-Deckers & Thames Clippers
Forget expensive open-top tours: Start your day seeing Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and much more for the price of bus fare on an antique, double-decker Routemaster bus with an old-style staircase on the end. Take route 15, every 15 minutes. After visiting the Tower of London, head to the ferry dock and see The City from the river on a Thames Clipper. Disembark at Tate Modern, which comes fully loaded for young exploration with family trails, a learning zone on Level 5, and some very cool video tablets for interpreting the art. Take the Tube to Leicester Square for a West End musical.
Day 2: Covent Garden & Coram’s Fields
Make your way to Covent Garden’s London Transport Museum, where kids can pretend to drive a bus and explore other eye-level exhibits. Then bring your brood on a 15-minute walk north to the British Museum and hook them up with crayons and pads, exploration backpacks, and the special object collections tour geared to young minds. If they’re the daring types, the mummies never fail to impress. Just east you’ll find a city park just for children: The 7-acre Coram’s Fields (www.coramsfields.org), which was set aside in 1739 for an orphanage at a time when 75% of London kids died before the age of 5. Its southern gate is where mothers once abandoned their babies in desperation. Today, no adult may enter without a child, and this once sad spot is now the scene of daily family joy; there’s a petting zoo, two playgrounds for all ages, sand pits, and a paddling pool.
Day 3: The Brompton Road Museums
Today is devoted to exploration of the Brompton Road museums, a trio of world’s-bests for kids: Take the Piccadilly line to South Kensington, where the V&A has hundreds of hands-on exhibits for kids (look for the hand symbol on the maps), such as trying on Victorian costumes or donning armor gauntlets. Next door, the plain-speaking signs and robotic dinosaurs of the Natural History Museum impress kids as much as the airplanes and space capsules over their heads at the Science Museum—both institutions furnish even more kids’ trails and activities for free. Go east on the Circle or District Tube lines to Temple, and you’re at the dancing water jets (transformed in winter to a skating rink) of the Somerset House courtyard (home of the Courtauld Gallery). If the weather doesn’t suit that, the London Eye’s capsules are safe, climate-controlled, and move imperceptibly—the view will stimulate and inspire kids.
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