london with teens

Jul 31st, 2003, 06:59 PM
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london with teens

We just returned from 16 days in London. I was with my 14 year old boy, and 19-year-old boy and girl twins. I'd be happy to share the picks and pans of our trip, to help other families with people in this age group. My e-mail address is [email protected].
lilybart is offline  
Jul 31st, 2003, 09:51 PM
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Welcome Home! Why not post a report for all to enjoy?
Calamari is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2003, 05:38 PM
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i'm 23 and would love to hear a report. that might be easier, so you don't get flooded with emails and have to type out the same thing each time.

KingPete is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 11:32 AM
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Due to popular demand, I will post some of our findings here, but everyone feel free to contact me for more details or info.

We had a wonderful 16 days in London, which included side trips to Oxford, Stratford on Avon, and Greenwich. We stayed at a place where we could get two rooms (I had looked into apartments, two rooms at chains, and other possibilities but all were either wildly expensive, too small, or both, and we decided that with kids this age we needed two rooms). The B and B was the Edward Lear, which appears on another thread (Edward Lear Update).

The most important tip is to purchase (you don't have to do it in advance, or have a photo id, except for kids under 15) travel cards for zones 1 and 2 (central London). You can purchase either 1 or 7 or monthly passes. These were the greatest bargain. They are good on both the tube and the bus (buses until 4:30 a.m. the following day). They are also good for a 33% discount on the CITY (not the various tourist boats) ferry to the London Tower, Greenwich, Hampton Court (more about this below). These passes give the kids a great deal of freedom--they went on their own to all sorts of places from a concert in Greenwich to museums and street markets. They quickly mastered the different lines and transfer stations. It seems that pickpockets were the greatest threat (though we never had any trouble with this).

Sights and Activities my teens enjoyed:
Camden Town. This is a center of youth culture, as well as the location of a lot of cultural activity (apparently a lot of artists, media people, etc. like to live here). On Saturday night, this area is such a gathering spot that the tube station is closed. On weekdays, my 19-year-olds enjoyed the shopping--a lot of neat, eclectic record stores (many actually selling vinyl) that you have to really look for--often tucked away on second floors or in narrow little doorways. My daughter and made almost all of their clothing purchases here--funky little boutiques were having great sales and there were several street vendors selling souvenir t-shirts (such as "Guiness Genius" and Beckham=ware--popular with my kids) for much cheaper than other tourist vendors. There were also lots of good restaurants there for a vegetarian and a vegan as well as a little brother who still loves meat and is less adventurous with ethnic food. More on food for teens in a separate post.

The Imperial War Museum: Don't be misled by the name of this free museum. It is one of two museums my kids chose to re-visit twice in one trip, and this one, unlike the tower of London, is free. Not only does this museum have amazing World War I and II exhibits (including a walk-through exhibit of life in a trench, including sounds and smells; original condolence letters to families and artifacts of daily life on both sides of the war; a lot of film and video), but it also has a Holocaust exhibit, art, and exhibits designed to raise consciousness about crimes against humanity and human rights. Some of it I did not consider appropriate (because of emotional demands and density) for my 14-year-old, but most of it was fascinating even for younger kids. And again, it's free! And on the tube!

Covent Garden: As a grown-up, I would have avoided spending time here except for our evening at the Kirov Ballet, but as a family we ended up here again and again because of the street performers--irreverant, multicultural, various in their offerings--this was a favorite with my 14 year old but also the college-age twins lingered here longer than expected (even enjoying the slacker performer making music out of a traffic cone) for the performances and general people-watching opportunities.

The Salvador Dali exhibit: This exhibit is near the aquarium, the London Eye (also attractive to my kids) and boasts the most Dali pieces in one place in Europe. The college-aged twins loved it, and we spent almost 2 hours here (we had gone at my son's request; it's a bit expensive). Even the 14 year old, who grew grumpy, was a little interested in this "craziness."

Stratford upon Avon: OK, not all American teens are fans of Shakespeare, as mine are, but even my 14 year old had a great 8th grade English teacher who got him amused by Love's Labour's Lost and curious about the bard. We took the train from London on a Monday, and although this has been a tourist mecca for hundreds of years, it was blissfully uncrowded. We even got a personal tour of the Nash house. My kids loved the "life and times" aspect, the amazing age of the tilting buildings in the town center, and Hathaways Tea Rooms, where we got fish and chips and could look down on the narrow street from a room which doesn't seem to have changed since the 1930s in a building built in 1610 or thereabouts.

New Globe: We did the tour with a guide who was knowledgable and amusing. The 19-year-old twins and I came back for a performance of Richard III as yardlings (standing for 3 hours 15 minutes in the area in front of the stage). My youngest wouldhave been interested in coming if he could have sat down.

Greenwich: We took the City ferry roundtrip to Greenwich (you could also go on the Tube--not as scenic--or on a tourist boat--very expensive). We got a 33 % discount with our tube/bus passes. Although there is no official guide on the boat, the two times we took it on separate occasions (to the Tower was the other trip), both times the ship's officer pointed out sights along the way. On the return trip from Greenwich on the last boat of the day, the young ticket taker gave a side-splitting, wildly irreverant but clever commentary which had my teens (who love the Daily Show and South Park) remembering his jokes for the rest of the trip. Greenwich--with the amazing, multifaceted, visually delicious Maritime Museum (also free), the Prime Meridian, and the Royal Observatory was a great hit with the kids. My 14 year old actually bought and started reading Longitude, the history book about the search for a way of keeping time accurately on a ship.

NOT RECOMMENDED: THe London Dungeon. This is hyped as an attraction which teens will love, but mine went by themselves and once they saw what it was (basically an amusment park style haunted house) and the price, they decided not to go in.
This is long! I will post information in separate messages on this thread, with separate headings (Sights, Food, etc) so people can figure out what is of interest.

lilybart is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 11:50 AM
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Eating in London with Teens
I have a vegetarian son, a vegan daughter, and a son who is not very adventurous beyond pizza and hotpockets. Our few moments of tension and contention were about food, but by the last night we were able to have a long, laughter-filled meal at an Indian restaurant in Bayswater known for its vegetarian offerings and everyone was happy.

All of the kids liked Pret a Manger, the fresh sandwich chain which seems to be located every 7 blocks in London. We also had several hotel room picnic dinners with food from Sainsburys, a grocery store. For my 14-year-old, the kebab stands were a good choice (little take-away places). The number of Indian and Middle Eastern and Asian restaurants with good veggie choices are limitless--and most were reasonably priced, once you had accomodated yourself to the dismal exchange rate. We are in good, cheap ethnic restaurants in the East End, Bayswater, the Marble Arch area.
NOT RECOMMENDED: On one of our duo excursions, my youngest and I were hoodwinked into believing that a place called "Pizza Express" that was part of a chain would be fast and cheap. It is neither! In fact, I recall that one family on this list or ended up spending 80 dollars for a pizza dinner in one of these places.

Each family must come to its own decision, but I allowed my 19-year-olds to have a pint with one meal a day--as a cultural experience. I'm sure that there were other pints that I didn't know of, but my kids are responsible, and never did any pub crawls or anything like that during the trip, though we were amused by the lively pub life we saw spilling out into the streets during our stay, especially in the City area. I had wanted to go have a high tea at some classic spot (Browns, the Ritz) but the boys were not interested and my daughter, the Vegan, would be so limited in what she could eat it wouldn't be worth the price.
lilybart is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 11:51 AM
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Money Saving
I told my kids to always have their student IDs on them, as most places offer at least 3 tiers of discounts--child (usually under 15), student, and adult. Before we left, I saw there were companies offering international student ID cards for a fee, but at least for our trip I don't think that it would have saved us money, as most places either accepted the eyebal estimation of my children's ages or they showed their school ids. We not eligible for most "family" rates at museums, the aquarium, and other sights because they considered a family two adults and two children under 14. However, we did get family rates for our trains to Stratford, Oxford, and Walton on Thames.

We got the British Heritage Pass before we left. There was a sale where you got a 7-day pass for the price (35 dollars) of a 4-day pass. There are not many eligible sites in London (St. Pauls is one; part of Westminister Abbey is another--but not the main part--and I didn't see anyone asking for separate tickets at the Chapter House, to which we would have gotten free admission with our pass and the other included part was closed for renovation or something). But our savings from St. Pauls and the Stratford on Avon houses made us come out ahead. We would have gone to Hampton Court, but that was another day trip (on the ferry) and time prevented us from doing it within the 7-day window. I still would recommend the passes though, especially to families who were more organized about scheduling the out-of-town trips.

Again, the Tube/Bus 7-day passes were the greatest bargain. They allowed us the freedom to jump onto a passing double-decker just to see where it would take us (and do it the Londoner way, despite my maternal trepidations, leaping on the back while the bus was already moving, unsure if all family members would be able to make it) and on our last day we only had to pay an additional 1 pound for the kids and 2 pounds for me to extend our trip to Heathrow (which is in the farthest zone. Our passes were zones 1 and 2, which covers just about all of central London, even Brixton, which is the Afro Caribbean neighborhood at the end of one of the lines).

lilybart is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 12:04 PM
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Street Markets
My teens loved the street markets. I had wanted to go to Portobello road, known for its antiques and books, but we never made it there. My boys went to the East End Petticoat Lane and Spitalfields (sp?) markets on a Sunday (the only day these are open, I think) and found all sorts of things, including the kind of cap my skater son had been looking for in the states for months. We also all enjoyed the Brixton Market (Saturdays, and maybe Sundays) which was full of Afro Caribbean and Asian fare from Jamaican Barbeque to natural handmade soaps to African clothing, music from the diaspora and discounted "stuff" from shoes to toiletries. My boys found a huge book market along the Thames on the South Bank one day, but when they tried to bring me back to it we couldn't find it. Maybe it was only a one day of the week thing as well.
lilybart is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 12:13 PM
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I've already mentioned some of our theatrical adventures. I wanted them to get a taste of Fringe, off-West End, and Dance. I was naive--I didn't realize that even with an abundance of theatrical possibilities, in July many shows are sold out, and all theatres have one and sometimes two "dark" nights. I also didn't realize that the discount brokers at Leicester Square seemed to only have tickets for the big shows that you could see in the states.

I used Time Out to find a fringe performance--in a tiny space over a pub in Camden Town. But the listing was inaccurate and we ended up seeing a lame play with an obscentity in the title with about 18 other people. This went down in the books as a "cultural experience" and my 14-year-old reminded me that it was appropriate for him becuase it wasn't as bad as South Park in its nasty humour.

All of my politically progressive kids enjoyed the anti-war update of Dr. Strangelove, The Madness of George Dubya in Leicester Square. They had all become avid daily readers of The Guardian, so they got all the references to Cheri Blair's real-estate adventures as well as the send-ups of Bush and his crowd. Sometimes a bit puerile and too earnest, it was, however, one play that all members of the family could sit through with some degree of entertainment.

My daughter and I saw the Kirov Ballet at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, and got as much pleasure out of the red velvet curtains and the little pink shaded lights and the leisurely intermissions as the remount of a 19th century warhorse performed with the impeccable Russian ballet technique.

I regret that my lack of foresight didn't let us see what we had wanted to: the revival of Jumpers, the Cuban ballet at Sadler's Wells (sold out for weeks in advance), and quality fringe (our one night for fringe was a dark night--Sunday--for many of the smaller theaters). My advice: PLan ahead!
lilybart is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 12:34 PM
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Other Activities the kids enjoyed:
Hyde Park speakers corner: Within a few minutes, my husband and I were ready to go--we hear too much half-cocked opinions on talk radio at home. But the kids loved it,and even got into some debates themselves.

The London Eye: Of course.
The London Zoo (I spent the morning with the boys --14 and 19--, 45 minutes in the reptile house alone--and then they spent another 2-3 hours there after I left, and couldn't stop talking about everything from the mini-monkeys to the kangaroos. Harry Potter alert: The scene from the first movie where Harry talks to the snake was shot in the reptile house.)

The Dining Hall at Christ Church, Oxford: Also a scene from the Harry Potter movies. Yes, I know this is for teens, but my 19 year old daughter as well as my 14 year old son have read all the books, and were working on the Order of the Phoenix while we were in England.

Trafalgar Square: The lions, the views, the traffic, the "houses", and the National Gallery.

Buckingham Palace (outside only) and the Changing of the Horse Guards, a few blocks up the Mall (after lingering with a couple of hundred other people wondering if the other guards were going to change)

Running in two local races: My daughter, the cross-country runner, contacted runners in England before we left so was able to do a 10-k in a charming village called Walton on Thames just outside of London, and a 5 K in Hyde Park.

St Pauls: deemed worthy of two trips by the college-aged twins

Cleopatra's Needle close up: After seeing it from the ferry and hearing the interesting story behind it, our 14 year old wanted to track it down after dinner one night.

Shopping for food souvenirs at Fortnum and Mason rather than Harrods, for the red-carpet atmosphere, larger variety of foods and teas, and the morning-suited clerks.

Oxford Street sales for older teen, young adult woman's clothing--my daughter found some dresses for 5 pounds on the clearance racks at trendy chain stores.

The ferry--just for being on a boat. We took round trips to Greenwich and to The Tower of London from the Westminster pier.

People watching. A lot of the children's conversation about their experiences focuses on people and characters they saw--from the old woman on the tube swapping a toddler with her cane and shouting, "Git off me clothes boy!" to the really good accordian player who was only about 11 ("Mom,we've GOT to give him money!) to the Arabs smoking their hookahs on streetside cafes in the Marble Arch area.

Car watching: Perhaps because of the exorbitant anti-congestian fees, there seemed to be many amazing luxury sports cars driving around London--my sons spent a lot of film on them

lilybart is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 02:39 PM
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Lilybart, SUPER trip report!! Thanks for sharing your good times,

I think the London markets are a great place to explore and people watch. The book market you were referring to is (I'm pretty sure) the Riverside Market....On the South Bank not far from Gabriel's Wharf and in front of the National Film Theatre. Runs on weekends late morning to late afternoon.
obxgirl is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 05:53 PM
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Great trip report. Sounds like you have terrific (and sophisticated) teens.

You mentioned Camden Town on a Saturday night. Did you go there in the evening? If so, any comments about the atmosphere?

Was surprised to learn that your kids enjoyed the Dali exhibit. It is one of the many quirky places in London, slightly out of place next to the more "touristy" Aquarium and London Eye.

Thanks again for the good report.

Dave White
[email protected]
KidsToLondon is offline  
Aug 5th, 2003, 09:56 PM
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Lilybart, What did you think of the Edward Lear? Thanks, PC
Pumblechook is offline  
Aug 6th, 2003, 08:11 AM
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What we thought of the Edward Lear:
I have cut and pasted my response to an Edward Lear thread on There are also other detailed responses there.
I would recommend it for families on a budget. The location is great--just a block off of Oxford Street and the Marble Arch station of the Central Line and several bus lines. There is a laundrette two blocks away, a Sainesburys supermarket about another 3 blocks away, and two 24-hour food/wine/newspaper shops a block away.

We stayed in a family en suite and one double with shower. What some people might perceive as negatives: no elevator--it was a three flight hike to our family room--difficult with luggage. We were awakened more than one night to a family arrival that sounded as if they were on the floor above and every piece of luggage and toddler humanity was falling down the stairs as they made their Sisyphean mount. The TVs are 13-inch--in one room there was something wrong with the cable and we never got good reception or many channels. The furnishing in the double was charming--high windows with flower boxes overlooking Seymour Street. The shower is in a corner of the room, not a separate room. The furniture in the en suite was like leftovers from a garage sale--two tiny study lamps by the single beds on the wall, a miniscule globe light over the fireplace, and a broken-necked architect's lamp by the double. The linoleum in the bathroom (the en suite room did have a separate room for the toilet, bath and sink) was broken, the bathtub sides in need of repair, and the shower was a hand shower. Breakfast is your choice of cereal, coffee, tea, toast, eggs scrambled or fried, bacon, sausage and beans and tomatoes. For my vegan daughter, this was very limited--fresh fruit would have been nice. The beds were also piecemeal--the full bed in our family en suite was actually a fold out (though I found it comfortable). No air conditioning--and even our room at the back was a bit noisy until 11 or so, but we slept very well.

Positives far outweighed the negatives for us, but I must confess that my husband, used to American conference hotels on an expense account, was very uncomfortable when he joined us for five days. As I write, and when I saw it through his eyes, its charms seemed limited. But it is so conveniently located, and for the length of our stay it was such a relative bargain. My oldest son was also against staying at a chain ("Why go all the way to England to stay in a Holiday Inn?). So the shabbiness, the narrow, uneven stairs, and all that didn't matter, especially since we spent few waking hours there.

Positives: The breakfast is substantial and served until 9 on weekdays and 9:30 on weekends. Our teens, sleepy as they were, usually made it down just before the room closed. Staff is polite and friendly in a very professional, not chatty way. There were a variety of guests from many nations--sharing a table with strangers was pleasant. Again--location--we could take the bus and tube wherever we wanted, including Heathrow, with one change max. The front desk staff was very professional and courteous, though not much help with typical concierge type questions, or even mailing postcards for you. And I loved the atmosphere--the kids got a kick out of all the Edward Lear memorabilia (placemat tiles with limericks on them, which we always read aloud while waiting for breakfast, Lear books in the computer room). The computer was very handy for checking e-mail, train schedules, and sightseeing info, though usually there were other guests waiting so you need to stick to the 15 minutes even though the dial-up connection is super slow. New paint, wallpaper, and carpet seems to have been installed in some rooms and places since the people on Fodors complained and the hotel lost its rating from them. It was very clean, pleasant, and the price was so convenient--there is no way we could have found two rooms in this price range, and the miniscule studios, apartments, suites, and standard hotel rooms I checked out were more WAY more expensive and would have been very stressful (2 19-year olds, a 14-year old and their mother packed into a dollhouse sized room.,,)

Now that I'm more familiar with London neighborhoods, I would probably stay somewhere like Bloomsbury or Bayswater--a little less central but near a tube. But for a first-time pied a terre for a family on a budget, I'd highly recommend the Edward Lear.
lilybart is offline  
Aug 6th, 2003, 08:18 AM
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thanks for the detailed post; greatly appreciated.

i have added the Salvador Dali exhibit to my list of things to do. thanks.
KingPete is offline  
Aug 6th, 2003, 08:30 AM
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To KidsToLOndon: Camden Town on a Saturday Night
We were in Camden Town as a family on a Sunday evening (the night we saw the fringe play). While the kids were eating, I went searching again for the theatre (which was over a pub and had no external signs) and a man very aggressively tried to sell me marijuana, which amused the kids when I told them (we figured out that because it took me so long to understand the drug dealer--he walked along with me for half a block--and because despite the fact I was wearing my middle-aged expression of obliviousness, kakhis and goofy shoes, the fact that I wear my hair in locks must have sent him the wrong signal). My son went one Saturday night by himself, and found it too crowded to stay long. It seems that he got his taste of it and then left. He also reported people trying to sell him drugs. Frankly, I was surprised and relieved that he came back so early. Camden Town on a Saturday night was one of those things I didn't want to forbid my 19-year-olds to experience, but I was hoping they wouldn't find it interesting long enough to get themselves into trouble there (I'd heard about the excessive drinking and party stupidity rampant in the streets). Looking back, I realize that their staying away from the night scene was probably a small deference to my concerns. My kids may be unusually sophisticated in their taste for Dali, but in their appreciation of a party they are typical college kids.
lilybart is offline  
Aug 27th, 2003, 11:28 AM
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We recently returned from London with our two daughters ages 19 and 20 and found lilybart's tips to be very helpful. We were there on the historic occasion of the hottest day on record for London and have a picture of people splashing around in the fountain at Trafalgar Square to memorialize the occasion. Since we had previously been to Greenwich and Stratford and because we only had a week, we elected to go to Cambridge on our out of town day and found it very enjoyable. The girls could relate to the college environment and had a number of questions for the student boat pilot/guide while punting on the river Cam. Generally I agree that going to Greenwich via Thames boat is a great outing. In addition to lilybart's recommendations, I would add:
1. Royal National Theatre on the South Bank. It is a terrific complex of three theatres with a very well deserved good reputation.
2. Portobello Road market has an area along side the Ladbroke Grove Tube Station with inexpensive sylish clothing and accessories which appealed to my girls. Camden Lock was good for observing the local scene but not so good for actual shopping as far as they were concerned.
3. Tate Modern, reputed to be the world's largest modern art museum. Exhibits are arranged thematically rather than chronologically and it is fascinating.
4. National Portrait Gallery, much more interesting than the name suggests. It is one of the best museums we have ever been too. It succeeds on artistic, biographical, and historical levels.
5. Buckingham Palace interior tour, only open August and September.
Of course, the best part of being in London was just to be in a place where everything that is said and done is just a little different from home. We had a great trip!
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