Family Vacations to London, England
|Ride the London Eye, the largest observation wheel in the world, for a bird's-eye view of the city (courtesy, www.visitlondon.com)|
Buckingham Palace and Beefeaters at the Tower; Harry Potter backdrops; choice theater; and slick, alternative shopping make London a city you can enjoy with young kids, gradeschoolers, and teens.
A good way to start is with an overview of the mother country's capital. For a panoramic spectacle, ride the London Eye, the largest observation wheel in the world. On a clear day from one of its pods you can see as far as 25 miles. Night flights show the city ablaze with lights and a Discovery flight comes with a host to point out landmarks.
For another fun run, board a reconditioned WWII amphibious vehicle on a London Duck tour. You rumble past Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park and other icons before splashing into the Thames River for a short cruise.
Buckingham Palace impresses. Normally closed to the public, the official royal residence opens for tours for two months in the summer (this year, July 28 to September 25). You walk through the state rooms, decorated with fine furniture and priceless paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Poussin, and other artists. To keep young kids interested, download the audio tour from the palace's website, or think of games to play such as counting the number of double doors. You might want to consider skipping the Changing of the Guard ceremony because the crowds can make this bit of British culture hard for kids to see.
Instruments of torture and priceless gems are sure kid-pleasers. The Tower of London, built as a fort by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, features both as well as a prison. You can even see the spot on the green where Henry VIII had two of his wives and Sir Thomas More beheaded. Yeoman Warders, called Beefeaters, known for their white neck ruffs and scarlet uniforms worn on state occasions, guard the Crown Jewels, a dazzling collection of diamonds, rubies, and sapphires.
In a city with several world-class museums, good choices include the British Museum, the Tate Modern, and The Science Museum. Of the two-and-a-half miles of galleries at the British Museum, kid favorites often include the masks and regalia of the African exhibits and the hieroglyphs and decorated sarcophagi of ancient Egypt. Six trail maps, geared for ages six and older, turn the visit into a search for dragons, a time-travel trip back to Britain's beginnings, or other treasure hunts.
The Tate Modern, sister museum to the Tate Britain, presents 20th-century art in a cleverly transformed power station, featuring lots of light and an entrance atrium big enough for monumental pieces. Works by Dali, Matisse, Warhol, and other modern masters hang in the galleries.
At the Science Museum hands-on exhibits teach kids about energy, transportation, the principles behind building, and lots of other things.
In London, the play's the thing, as the Bard would say. See a Shakespearean production as William would havein the re-created open-air Globe Theatre. London's also known for its contemporary theater. Among the current choices: "Mary Poppins" through January 2008, "Billy Elliot" through March 2008 and "Monty Python's Spamalot" through November 2008. For engaging kids' plays, check-out the Unicorn Theatre.
'Tweens and teens can connect with London's more off-beat history paced out on walks. On Ghost Walks, listen to tales of London's spectral spots. Mystery Walks also showcases haunted havens as well as fiendish facts about Jack the Ripper.
For shopping, visit the craft stores and boutiques at Covent Garden and on Saturday morning browse the flea market at Portobello Road.
For more information, go to www.visitlondon.com.
Tip: Harry Potter fans can book outings with British Tours that visit King's Cross station, the London Zoo, and other movie locales. All-day and overnight tours take in locations in Oxford, too.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication