London for Children
London is one of the most accessible, compact, child-friendly capitals in Europe. Served by three airports, London is a major travel hub, so access to the city couldn't be easier. Britain's historic sites are managed by two organizations, the National Trust, and English Heritage. Both ensure that all sites have activities and displays geared towards children, making London a wonderful city of both modern and historic sites that will inspire children's imaginations and engage their interest, as well as cater to their sense of fun.
Activities in London could easily fill a week, but if you've only got a day, don't despair. London's compact layout favors short as well as long trips. Start at the breathtaking Tower of London for the required dose of English history. This thousand-year-old limestone castle housed both royalty and criminals in its time, and today is peopled by guides in costume as well as Beefeaters in uniform. Regular tours are conducted explaining events over the Tower's history, some ghastly, some ghostly, but always highly entertaining. Places of interest will include Tower Green, and the Raven Lodgings. Legend has it that the Tower and the Kingdom will never fall as long as six ravens reside there, so children will enjoy watching the black birds as they go about their daily business of protecting England.
If you're lucky you'll encounter a guide in full period costume in the Medieval Palace, who will gladly challenge your child to an ancient game of Nine Men's Morris. A Royal Armory is nearby, featuring suits of armor from all periods of English history, including one worn by King Henry VIII. Don't forget the Royal Jewels; they are still housed and protected in the nearby Jewel House to this day. An automated walkway will convey visitors past glass cases holding the sparkling treasures still worn by the Monarch for State occasions.
After the Tower, wander down to nearby iconic Tower Bridge, and catch the boat going up the Thames to Parliament Square. This twenty minute boat ride will be a hit with the kids, as well as a good way to take in London from the water. It's easy to spot a glimpse of the Globe Theater on the Thames's banks, rebuilt since Shakespeare's time and still offering performances of his classic plays. You also can't miss the enormous London Eye, one of the world's largest ferris wheels, as it slowly rotates above London's streets. If you're so inclined and have the time, head over to the Eye for a ride once the boat reaches Parliament Square. If not, head on the few steps past the stunning buildings of Parliament, to London's most famous landmark, Big Ben. The giant clock chimes every fifteen minutes, so if you want to enjoy the sound of the historic bells, you only need linger for a moment. Nearby Westminster Abbey is another trove of history; not to be missed are the graves of some of the most famous poets and writers of the English language embedded in the floor.
If you've had your fill of history, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum offers wacky fun, allowing children wander around and admire wax figurines of current pop stars, actors, sport legends, and royalty, as well as a few faces from the past. London also has the world's oldest zoo, with excellent exhibits that include an aquarium, a butterfly pavilion, and a bird safari. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, Herrod's famous department store has a stunning food hall in its basement. Jaw-dropping variety and exquisite artistry combine to create a supermarket like no other. Kids will enjoy watching fresh doughnuts being made, as well the incredible variety of seafood, fruit, vegetables and desserts. Pick up a few premade things for lunch if you're hungry, and have an impromptu picnic in one of London's gorgeous parks, for a hassle-free restaurant-quality meal.
For the family on a budget, London offers more parks than any other capital city in Europe. The city's green spaces are a wonderful and inexpensive way for kids to get the wiggles out while enjoying a taste of the English countryside. Try Hyde Park, London's largest, for wide open spaces, and a chance to see some of the elegant English swans gliding across the ponds. Nearby Kensington Gardens has a bronze sculpture of Peter Pan resting directly on a spot featured in one of the books. Families on a budget should also have a look inside the British Museum. It's free to guests, although it does have a small receptacle for voluntary donations. It would be easy to spend a day there, but if you're in a hurry, don't miss the Egyptian exhibit, which houses some of the world's finest antiquities, including the Rosetta Stone. Another London museum that's free is the Horniman Museum, with kid-friendly exhibits focusing on the natural world.
Whether your trip is for a day or a week, whether your budget is large or small, whether your kids are young or in their teens, London promises to offer attractions that are fun, educational, and sometimes inexpensive, making memories that will last a lifetime.
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