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Trip Report 3 days in London (with kids)

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I’m not sure how interesting or helpful this will be, but I’ll have a go. For photos and commentary, please see my blog:

http://ukfrey.blogspot.com/2012/02/london.html

And now for some background and hopefully helpful tips.

Who: Family of 4, DW, DD12, DS9. American ex-pats living in Derby (East Midlands).

When: 3 nights, 16-19 February, the back end of the February half term. I’m sure London is busy all the time but I’m also sure that there were places that we visited that were more mobbed than usual due to it being half term. Oh well, that’s when we can travel.

Why: Well, it’s London after all. Despite being here almost a year this is our first trip since moving here. It's been tough for us to get away for a weekend and we've tended to go elsewhere on the longer breaks.

We visited friends in Windsor a few years back (Windsor Castle, Tower of London, Les Miserables) but this was essentially our first real visit. Plan to be back so didn’t try to do it all (not that we could) and tried to find a mix for kids and adults.

How: Different than most in the “audience”, we were able to take an East Midlands train from Derby to St. Pancras (£86 return for 4 with railcard). 1.5 hrs down; 2.5 hrs back (more stops). This makes us eligible for the 2for1’s (as intended!).

We purchased Pay-as-you-Go Oyster Cards with £20 each. For the 12 y.o., we purchased 4 £2 off-peak 1-day travel cards and the 9 y.o. is free on the Tube.

Where: Holiday Inn, Mayfair. Excellent use of Priority Club points (normally £175/nt). Great location. Close to the Green Park Tube (Jubilee, Piccadilly, Victoria) and generally walkable to many sites (though we did use the Tube quite a bit). Decent size room for 4. Close to Starbucks for breakfast and M&S for snacks/sandwiches.

What: General itinerary
Thursday: arrive, dump bags, hit TKTS, Natural History Museum, Harrods, Billy Elliot

Friday: London Walks (Royal London & Westminster), London Eye, Hamley’s, Chinatown

Saturday: TKTS, St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk through The Temple, London Walks (British Museum), Stomp

A fairly full plate that tried to hit the main items for each family member. We don’t tend to do “kids” things all the time (e.g. zoo, aquarium, wax museum, etc.) but we did try to honor their requests (London Eye, Hamley’s) and pick some items that would please the whole family (Natural History, Stomp).

DW and I really like a nice, compact tour and London Walks was perfect for us even if neither was much of a walk. The kids were a little bored with some of it but they are used to it. :) The Royal London was good for seeing parts of the Changing of the Guard without squeezing up / waiting for the actual guards. We got a nice bypass entry into Westminster as well.

The British Museum “walk” was just the highlights which was fine for the 1st time visit to the museum. It was absolutely packed on the day we went.

Enjoyed both shows though I had really high expectations for Billy Elliot and it didn’t quite measure up to Les Miserables IMO. Stomp was a great family show. Doing 2 shows in 3 nights does limit your eating options (earlier or quicker). Totally mis-calculated how busy it would be in the theater district before the Saturday show and had to eat at McDonalds (not happy).

Discounts: We saved £80 total for Billy Elliot and about £65 for Stomp by going to TKTS. TKTS is a little challenging to reach with all the construction in Leicester Square. There are plenty of other options, but I felt safer going there.

We got 2-for-1’s for the London Eye and St. Paul’s. For a family of 4 you either get both kids free or 1 adult free (not 1 adult and 1 kid). Still a nice savings though. London Eye was a neat one-time thing but we don’t need to do it again.

Misc: Hard to take photos! None allowed in Westminster or St. Pauls. Quite crowded on the streets and other places but I did manage a “few” for the blog.

For the Tube, it was a good choice to just go with PAYG for the adults (I felt so well informed on the topic from reading all the info here). For DD12, it was a tougher call. With our railcard we can purchase £2 off-peak day passes for her so that’s what we did (4 days). However, I’m not entirely sure how the afternoon peak works. It would appear that they aren’t valid from 4-7 pm M-F. However, price capping for PAYG is based on when you tap in in the morning. It wasn’t an issue this time, but if returning home at the end of the day doesn’t count, then another option might be better. The teen PAYG card requires a £10 fee and photo so I didn’t want to bother with that. I may just have an extra adult PAYG to handle the evening peak time if necessary next time.

Note: for 10 and younger, use the wide (handicap) entrance/exit so you don’t get squashed in the gates (learned that the hard way). You tap in after you pass through in some cases. DW forgot to tap-in once in the beginning but she went to a service desk at the destination station to have them tap in before she tapped out.

That should do for now. Plenty left to see and do for next time. Hope you enjoy the blog.

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