London Advice, Please! (sorry, long)

Nov 30th, 2002, 10:35 AM
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London Advice, Please! (sorry, long)

Thank you in advance for any, and all, advice...

I will be traveling from the U.S. to London with my husband (we're early 30's) and our two children (ages 10B and 14G).

I am the only one who has ever been there and it was 15+ years ago. We enjoy the arts, museums, British culture and spending time together as a family. We each have a quirky sense of humor and appreciate "the little things".

Please suggest not-to-miss attractions other than the obvious (Westminster, National Gallery, etc...). Also, great day trips, too...

We'll be in London for 3 weeks, mid-Jan thru early Feb. My birthday will be spent there as well.

Also, I would like to surprise the family with an overnight trip to Paris...

Would I be insane to rent a car in London, so that we could come and go as we pleased, both in and out of the city? We're flying into Gatwick.

Thank you for your collective expertise!
Nov 30th, 2002, 10:43 AM
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Yes, you would be crazy to rent a car in London.
Nov 30th, 2002, 10:49 AM
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Sounds like an opportunity that few American families have - - especially during what would SEEM to be right smack dab in the school year for your children. Whatever your situation, sounds great.

It seems awfully unlikely that you will get advice to have a rented car IN London. Few people who regularly post here seem to think that there is any advantage to do so. I have rented cars all over Europe in big cities and small, and in other parts of England - - but quite frankly, it would really NOT occur to me to want to have acar IN London. Perhaps for a few days out to nearby environs, like Windsor, for example - - but the public transportation is so good and it would seem that parking is so scarce and expensive - - that I think there will be fairly little appeal to getting a rented car there.

I would hope that you can spoend more than one overnight in Paris. You have probably read the various threads on plane versus train. It's worthwhile pointing out that a short side trip to Ireland or Scotland might have a similar appeal as your planned surprise to Paris.

Best wishes,

Nov 30th, 2002, 10:51 AM
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Let's start with the easy one first:

Yes, you would be insane to rent a car in London. Stay in the city, public transportation, particularly the underground will fit all your needs easily!

An overnight trip to Paris or even two nights since you have 3 weeks would be well worth it. I would normally discourage people who want to just do a day trip to Paris, but taking the Eurostar in the morning and returning late the next day or two days later will allow you to get a nice flavor of Paris.

The kids would definitely like a trip up in the London Eye, and would probably enjoy a trip to Madame Tussaud's wax museum (but many people will call it a tourist rip-off). You can somewhat scatter at the Victoria and Albert museum with something there for everyone. See a couple of shows, even the kids would probably love Blood Brothers -- get half price tickets at the official booth in Leicester Square. Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang would also be fun.

Are you asking about accomodations or are you all set on that? Eat lunch or maybe even dinner at a Wagamama's noodle shop. Have a meal at Belgo (there are a couple of them, Belgo Centraal in Covent Garden, for example).
Nov 30th, 2002, 10:54 AM
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three weeks! wonderful!
here are some general ideas:
You can do with a good guidebook to London which will include easy daytrips. Fodors is one good one.
If you go elsewhere on this website you will find under Destinations, great info for London, also good comments from past customers in the restaurants Rants and Raves comments. Your kids will like the Hard Rock Cafe, for one place, but be prepared to shell out extra cash at the gift shop.

You can also arrange by writing in advance (now!) for tickets to the evening Ceremony of the Keys at HM's Tower of London. There are also tours of Parliament that you can try to reserve in advance, or take your chances by waiting on line when you get there.
Since you have so much time, you might want to think about making Paris a long weekend trip (3 days?) rather than a more limiting daytrip or overnighter.
Believe me, having a car in London will not allow you to come and go as you please. You will spend too much time cursing traffic. If you go to the websites for Tube and bus info, you will find a transit pass that seems to fit your family and your plans best. Most daytrips are easily done with the trains, or you could rent a car only for the express purpose of leaving London for the day.
The Eurostar (chunnel train) also has discounts on rt tickets to Paris bought in advance of the travel.

I have files on London and Paris; if you'd like to see them, email me.
Nov 30th, 2002, 11:02 AM
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Thank you for such wonderful information already...
Nov 30th, 2002, 11:22 AM
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How CAN you take a 14 yr old child out of school for three weeks in January and February?
Nov 30th, 2002, 11:25 AM
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anon: Please worry about only your own children and let Sheila worry about hers. She did not ask for your advice on that.
Nov 30th, 2002, 11:29 AM
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For Sherlock Holmes afficianados, the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street is a great place to visit, perhaps combined with Madame Tussauds. The Frog Tour of London uses old WWII amphibians to hit some of the major tourist attractions before plunging into the Thames for a river cruise and the commentary is fun.

St. Paul's crypt to look at the statues of British military heroes. Note that the statues of Burgoyne, Cornwallis, et al,while detailing many of their campaigns, make no mention of their having been in North America around 1776.

To give the kids a taste of classical music, try the lunchtime concerts at St. Martin in the Field. They're free and usually quite good. There are frequently free concerts in the early evening at Royal Festival Hall. Make sure the children get a chance to explore the Tower Records and Virgin Megastore in Picadilly Circus, too. If opera is among your delights -- or even if you just want to give it a try, The English National Opera performs in English and sometimes has tickets available at the half=price booth in Leicester Square.

Don't miss Covent Garden for the buskers, particularly on weekend afternoons, and stop across the street to visit the Inigo Jones church and see the memorials to all the great British actors.

Neat out=of=town destinations include Cambridge, Brighton, Portsmouth -- all day trips -- and York, which can be done in a day but should really have a little more time.

Of it were my birthday, I'd insist my family dress up and take me to tea at Browns Hotel, in fact, that's what I did last month when we were there. It's festive and traditional and who cares if it's mostly tourists who go there. Tourists go places because they really are neat.

Have a wonderful trip.


P.S. Yes, you'd be more than crazy to have a car in London. We have a Welsh friend who drives professionally and he always takes the train when he goes up to the city.
Nov 30th, 2002, 11:31 AM
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To answer anon's question:

(And I know I'll be flamed... So PLEASE can we not turn this into a ideological education debate...)

I homeschool and we educate year-round, so it offers us the flexibility to vacation (educationally or otherwise) when it best suits us as a whole.

It works for us.
Nov 30th, 2002, 11:38 AM
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Hi Sheila,
You might like a day visiting the shops on Portobello Rd in Nottting Hill.

I'd suggest two nights in Paris, preferably on your b'day, and let the kids give you a present of a night out for adults only.

Have a great trip.
Nov 30th, 2002, 11:38 AM
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a short train journey to Bath and the Roman baths should entertain all
Bus trip to Oxford and Stratford on Avon
the Doll house museum
the Costumw museum at victoria and Albert
*****The Imperial War Museum
Hop on Hop off bus tour
Nov 30th, 2002, 12:18 PM
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Hmmm, I was wondering why Jean put 5 stars by the Imperial War museum. I'm trying to decide between that and a visit to Brighton for one of those day layovers in Gatwick, but can't find much enthusiastic writeups about either.
Nov 30th, 2002, 12:26 PM
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My question was not criticising. It was not meant to ask "how can you live with yourself?"

It was meant to ask "how are you able?"

And the answer was straightforward.
Nov 30th, 2002, 12:28 PM
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Hopefully you are renting a flat. For that long a stay and especially with children, having a nice apartment, full kitchen and a washing machine will be huge bonuses. All of the advice above is good. One night in Paris - or two - would be a great excursion. There are often REALLY good Eurostar specials for weekend trips.

I would also recommend taking a couple of two day trips in England. One to the Cotswolds and Warwick Castle - the kids will LOVE Warwick and if you stay ove instead of trying to do a rushed day trip, you will have time to visit several Cotswold villages and perhaps Oxford.

Another trip would be an overnighter by train to York. There is so much for the whole family there. This could also be done as a day trip, but overnight would be soooo much better since the days are still pretty short in January.

If your budget allows, I recommend you rent a flat for the whole time and "eat" the 3+ nights (in Paris, the Cotswolds and York). That way you would have a place to come home to and not have to take all your luggage on these excursions. An overnight bag would be all you need.

And lastly - of my recommendations, the only place you need or want a car is for Warwick/Cotswolds. Public transport in London will get you anywhere faster than driving, and parking is impossible to find and horribly expensive when you do. Everything in York is walking distance so no car is needed there either.
Nov 30th, 2002, 12:39 PM
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Contrary to everyone's advice, it is not insane to rent a car in London. However, you should rent it for only 1 day to visit places that are not too accessible by public transportation.

For example, if the children or your husband want to visit the air museum, the largest in Europe or the UK, a drive to Duxford (half way to Cambridge) is a lot easier than taking the bus or train+bus. Parts of north London is also convenient by car. However, most areas of central London are easier to visit without a car. If you are buying a lot, taxi might be easier than fighting traffic and finding a parking space.

This advice is given by someone who likes to drive and frequently rents cars for other cities, but usually not for London.
Nov 30th, 2002, 02:22 PM
Ben Haines
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I agree with the others on Fodors forum that a car is pretty useless.

To the e-mail copy of this message I attach notes on London places that writers on Fodors forum have praised as pleasing to their own children and others that are out of the way.

Please write if I can help further. Welcome back.

Ben Haines
Nov 30th, 2002, 02:32 PM
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I think you and kids would enjoy the Globe theatre. Also read 19th c.novels or those set in the 19th/ 18th c. set in london and retrace the places the events took place. ie The Quincunx (a very drpressing but atmospheric novel). I second the imp. War museum! Nip down the little alleyways & mewsin the City and other places to get a flavor of the old London. Take 'em to the hopuses of parliament and discuss the diff. between UK and US politics. What a great education this will be for your kids!!!
Nov 30th, 2002, 03:52 PM
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An auto is useless or worse IN London, but is invaluable for touring the countryside.

I took my kids to the UK for 3 weeks when they were 13 and 15. We stayed in London for the first and last weeks; during the middle week, we toured the coutryside, spending two nights each in Stratford, Hay-on-Wye (we're book lovers) and Bath.

What a wonderful opportunity for homeschoolers! For a sense of London and immediacy of its history, including museums that aren't just canned exhibits in cases, I'd recommend the Museum of London, the Cabinet War Rooms, the National Portrait Gallery, the Globe Theater (surprisingly extensive museum attached), Greenwich Observatory, and Kew Gardens. If you do venture afield, the Roman baths in bath and Warwick Castle would top my list for kids this age. In Bath, do not miss theBath Glassworks place on Walcot Street. They let my son try glassblowing!
Nov 30th, 2002, 04:32 PM
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Forget the car in London, it's more trouble then it would possibly be worth.

Get tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London - it's great for kids and adults alike. Do the London Eye, again great for kids and adults!

Stay a couple of days in Paris, at least 2-3 if you can. The day trip is a total rush, and with kids I'd try and take it a little slower by staying overnight.

Do day trips out of London by train, you can easily go to Warwick CAstle in 90 min. Canterbury is another good day trip, again about 90 min. Windsor is so close in that you can do a 1/2 day out there. Hampton Court is another great place for adults and kids alike and only 30 min. by train.

Take the family to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. The kids will enjoy standing on the prime meridian with a foot in each hemisphere. The boat ride down to Greenwich is fun too as is the Docklands Light Railway (go one way on boat, back via train).

I think your 14G would love Camden Market - every teenager in London seems to be there whenever I've been there. All of you will enjoy the food court at Harrod's!! Food to die for. The museums are wonderful, but only you can assess how much museum time is enough for your kids. I'd combine heavy duty sightseeing with lighter stuff, like Picadilly Circus (Tower and Virgin records giant stores).

We go to London every year and while we have no kids I have seen kids really enjoying themselves at the places I've mentioned. Somerset House and the Wallace Collection are two other very interesting places and not as jammed packed with tourists as many others. Geoffrye Museumn is also marvelous,it's a serious of rooms with furnishings of other eras. The Museum of London is a fun place for kids too.

I'd recommend Hampstead Heath as a place for the whole family to get out onto the grass and walk around "in the country" without being out of the city! Wonderful place!

Enjoy the trip!


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