London day trip river train and tram - Bubbablue and me

A London day trip featuring a City Cruises river tour

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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’d been invited to do a City Cruises river tour, so we headed up for a London day trip.

London day trip river train and tram - Bubbablue and me

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.

embankment tube

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.

London Bridge

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.

City Cruises boat

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.

view from a City Cruise

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.

View of the shard from the thames
view from the river thames
St Pauls from the river
buildings along the thames

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.

Big Ben and St Stephen's Clocktower
My Sunday Photo - London Shard and lamppost Aug 2016
World War memorial London

Horse Guards Parade

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.

changing of the guard
horseguards parade building

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.

Household cavalry museum
interactive quiz at Household cavalry museum
Household cavalry museum shopping

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.

Covent Garden

Covent Garden artwork
Covent Garden flowers

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.

Covent garden walk
pretty coloured buildings in London

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.

Covent garden string quintet

London Transport Museum

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.

London Transport museum

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.

Inside London Transport museum
how the tube was built
omnibus at London Transport Museum

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.

Enjoying playing at London Transport museum
Looking at the London Transport museum
Signs at London Transport Museum

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.

driving a tube

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 for a London Day Trip?

Why not take a look at these other visit ideas:

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  1. We have just got back from a week in London. When we went on the City Cruises we went from Westminster all the way to Greenwich, our guide was not recorded, so we had the little jokes etc.

    Loved all of London, and can’t wait til we can go back (its two and a half hours by train).

    1. Ah, I think that’s the cruise we did as kids. Glad you had a great trip. I’m not sur e could hack a week in one go, but there’s certainly plenty you can do in that time without rushing around.

  2. I was actually planning on do a canal boat ride from Camden and taking the kids to Covent Garden this summer hols – we seem to be running out of time. We’re not too far from central London really, we can be there in 25 minutes on a fast train – we don’t make the most of it. Your day looked fab! Sarah #CountryKids

  3. Wow! You must have been tired at the end of that! We live in London an the river cruise and transport museum are two of my children’s favourite things to do. We also love Regent’s Park, and you can’t beat a stroll down the Southbank.
    Love the photos on this post.

  4. You picked a gorgeous day for it! I think going down the Thames is a great treat – we went to Greenwich last year and loved it. And there are always so many things to do in London, you can’t really get bored….

  5. The boat trip sounds like a really good idea and we love London but have not seen it from that angle. I can’t stand rude people who push in the way when you’ve been waiting or have no consideration for when you are trying to take pictures. And we have never seen changing of he guard. Sounds like you had a great trip.

  6. Its just so amazing in London. Just so full of energy and bustling with life! One day we will do this too! On our bucketlist! Hopefully we can go soon! #countrykids

  7. One day I would love to visit London but it seems so far to travel for me when I live up here nearly on the border to Scotland…..
    It looks like you had a fantastic day. You certainly fitted a lot of things in 🙂 x

  8. What a great day for you and N, there’s always so much to see and do around London that you’re never really bored. That boat tour really does seem like a great way to see the city from a totally different angle. You really did pack your day full of fun and exciting trips for N, I’m sure he’ll be looking forward to your next adventure in London soon!

    Thanks for sharing with me on #CountryKids

  9. Wow you packed in so much and I enjoyed your honesty throughout this post and your ability to motivate your son to keep going when he was tired. The photos are wonderful and it looks like the kind of trip your son will talk about for a long time. You did so much and I felt like I was riding along on your tour! What a rich, sensory experience of various modes of transport, entertainment and history.

  10. I love London. I used to work there and every lunch time, I’d make the most of exploring it. Wow, you packed a lot in. I love the cruise tours, and the bus ones too. I wonder if they are all moving over to recorded commentary. #CountryKids

  11. Sounds like you fitted a lot into your day! I’ve never seen the changing of the guard and I didn’t know there was a Household Cavalry Museum – will have to try and make sure we see these at some point when we have a trip into the city. River cruises are such a good way to see the city – we’ve taken the river bus a few times and the girls have enjoyed it. Glad N enjoyed the Transport Museum too – I remember the Tube train driving simulator from my last visit there (I was rubbish at it!) 🙂 #countrykids

  12. Wow sounds like a fabulous day – you crammed so much in! So much we haven’t done yet too….

    1. There’s so much to see in London, it’s getting the itinerary just right with enough to see and get around. I’d love to have done the Roald Dahl trail but N would have got bored, and they all seemed a little too far to do /took up too much time for other sights. Just a shame to fit in so much we have to get in early pre-peak times

    1. It’s definitely a great way to see the city – the longer ones are really good,and you can do a return if needed. I do have a tendency to drag N around, but he seems to cope pretty well.

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