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I love visiting London. I’d hate to live and work there, but to visit, I’d happily go and explore every corner of the city given half the chance. I try to take N each year because it reminds me of the trips my mum used to take us on a couple of times a year.
We’re only an hour away on the train – although during the week it’s a disgusting price if you want to get into town at a reasonable hour before the tourist spots begin to get busy. I debated driving down to Amersham to then get the train in from there, but that would have meant an hour+ in the car each way, plus the half hour journey in before we’d even got to the first location. Even though it would have cost me £25 for the 2 of us (or my Oyster card in) compared with over £100 now I have to pay for N I decided going from Banbury was more practical and less tiring.
The main reason for our trip was to review a City Cruises river tour. I remember going on river tours as a child, with a man at the front with his microphone, enjoying his tour guide spiel and laughing a lot at his jokes. Now the tours all seem to be with a recording (presumably to help with all the foreign translations they need to provide), which is a little bland, and doesn’t always help tell you what exactly you’re looking at as they talk to you.
I decided we’d leave from Tower Pier and head to Westminster on the first cruise of the day. It was going to be tight going, and certainly was thanks to N deciding that he needed to go to the toilet, so us rushing back to the Tower of London to use their public facilities. We then ended up going towards London Bridge instead of walking straight down to the pier, so our detour meant we missed the planned cruise. So we did a ‘quick’ stop at Starbucks to have a drink and cake before catching the next tour. We nearly missed that one as well, thanks to the slowest service I have ever experienced in a coffee shop before.
But City Cruises were very efficient in pointing you down to the correct boarding point, answering the questions I had about the timetable, and then being cheery as you boarded the boat. I was surprised at how long the queue was to get on when we arrived, but I needn’t have worried as everyone got on (I think to the top open deck).
After N had said numerous times that he wasn’t going on a boat ever, thankfully he didn’t moan about getting on it and did enjoy it. I think the river cruises are great because you seem to get so much closer to the architecture and sights than you do on the ground. The only hazard if you want to take pictures is obviously everyone else trying to do the same without any regard for anyone else’s photo-taking.
The ‘tour guide’ was easy to hear over the sounds of chatter and the boat, and it was a reasonable speed in order to keep up with the movement going past each site. The only issue I see is that with it being a recording you do miss out on the ad hoc more personal anecdotes that you’d get with a real person.
We didn’t use the facilities because we’d chosen a fairly short 20 minute cruise. But there are toilets, and refreshment kiosks serving drinks and snacks on the bottom deck. I think the City Cruises are definitely worth checking out if you want to get out and see the sights from a different angle. With the rover tickets you can hop on and off, so they’re an alternative to getting stuck in traffic on the open top buses.
After the cruise, we took a brief look at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster before walking over to Horse Guards Parade, past the Ministry of Defence building, with the police guard outside. Both the armed policewoman and the grubby looking statue above the building front both gave N a lot of concern and meant I had to answer some quickfire questions.
I thought we’d missed the changing of the guard which happens on Whitehall at 11am. We’d missed the outside sentry changes, but managed to see changeovers back at the buildings, having to fight our way to maintain the spot we’d claimed in front of adults who should have known better than to shove and stand right in front of a child already in place. I do find it funny watching the different tourists and trying to work out what countries they’re from because they do barge and act in different ways.
It’s certainly a spectacular sight and my photos don’t do it justice. Afterwards we went into the Household Cavalry Museum and N was the first to do their new children’s trail. We decided that was preferable for him than us trying to listen to an audio tour. The museum is interesting and has enough exhibits to inform, including a cool area in the stables where you can do interactive quizzes on the screens, and get dressed up in various horseguards uniforms. N never does dressing up, but there were other families enjoying trying them on.
You can also see into the real stables, and after changing of the guard the men were a hive of activity removing saddles and getting their horses sorted out. The glass was really grubby so you couldn’t see much – I’m not sure if that was intentional, but I had thought we’d be able to see a bit more than we did.
Trail completed, N then decided to spend some of his money, followed by tripping up on a delivery trolley. So the lady behind the till gave him a postcard to say well done for doing the trail which he was chuffed about. The museum then forgotten, lunch was top of mind.
It was back up Whitehall, and Trafalgar Square direction so we were in the right place for the afternoon activity. What I love about London is that so often you think it’s quite a walk but most of the time it’s not far to walk to the next location. I’d printed off quite a few lunch offers, but N just wanted the nearest restaurant so we went to trusty favourite Pizza Express. A successful lunch later and we headed to Covent Garden.
By that stage N was moaning he wanted to go home. I do have a tendency to cram in a lot, but he’s capable of it, and I know he moans a lot more than he means. This was proven by the excitement at Covent Garden. Yes it’s way too busy with tourists, but I love the buzz and hustle and bustle of everything going on.
We watched a street performer for a while, totally forgot to look out for the Roald Dahl jars on the trail – we only spotted one the whole day and that was by accident at Tower of London. Then it was inside the market hall to watch the string quintet perform. N loved the music – I couldn’t drag him away until he was ready, and he was all for me parting with my money to buy one of the group’s CDs.
Our final stop of the day was the London Transport Museum. I’ve only ever been to the café but we do love a transport museum. I’d thought I’d be using my railways 2 for 1 vouchers, but with children going free I didn’t get any savings. It was £17 for adults and that can get turned into an annual pass which is worth doing. I don’t think we’re likely to return, just because I like to visit somewhere new each visit, but you never know.
The transport museum is over a couple of floors and is full of different types of transport used in London through the years. The building of the tube and progression from trams to underground trains obviously makes up a good part of the exhibits, but there’s plenty more to explore as well. Children can follow the trail round and get stamps, but we had problems getting the card in the right way, and following the right order of the trail. Instead we just wandered as we wanted to.
There were also plenty of play areas for under 7s – role play areas with different transport to go on, dressing up gear, and more. As with everywhere, it’s chaos in these areas, with lots of children running around the museum, but it’s not as busy as the Science Museum which was horrendous the last time we visited (admittedly on a slightly wet day). N loved playing in them, even though he had to wait patiently for some pieces.
The highlight for N was driving a tube train. It made me feel a little sick, but was great to see what the drivers see…essentially just dark ahead of them.
By the time were were finished at the transport museum, we were both ready to get home. It was earlier than I expected, but we missed the Friday rush out of London and were home not long after normal tea time. It was a lovely day, plenty seen and experienced, and hopefully a day to provide N with lots of memories. For a little boy who gets driven most places, just the train journey, tube and boat ride made him really happy.
Our London day trip itinerary:
- Marylebone to Tower Hill tube – see the Tower of London and London Bridge
- City Cruises river tour from Tower Millennium Pier to Westminster. See Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
- Walk to Whitehall to Horse Guards Parade, see Changing of the Guard and the Household Cavalry Museum
- Walk to Trafalgar Square. (lunch)
- Walk to Covent Garden to watch the street performers and classical musicians, London Transport Museum.
- Covent Garden tube back to Marylebone.
How often do you visit London? Where are your favourite places to visit?
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