We haven’t been visiting London regularly for a while, but there’s so much to do and see for all ages, it’s a great place to visit for older children. It also helps that older children will walk further and are easier and faster to get around the city, meaning you can see more. This visit I’d pulled together a London day trip itinerary that focused around Tower Hill – Monument – Borough Market, with visits to the Tower of London, foodie heaven at Borough, and cool graffiti at Leake Street Arches.
So our day out over half term, we took one of N’s friends with us. It always helps keep N more interested in what we’re seeing if he’s got someone else his age along. And gives me more chance to take photos while they’re keeping themselves entertained. The itinerary had some history that linked to work they’d recently studied so it wouldn’t be totally new, they both love the idea of trying lots of foods, there was something cool with the street art, and some views with a walk up Monument.
Travelling in London with older children
Travel in London as a visitor is easy as an adult – just use your contactless card. But for children over 10 it’s harder unless you’ve got a young persons railcard. We’ve looked before and bought a pre-paid visitor card which you can then get set up as a young persons one once you’re in London. But that defeats the object of being able to use it to get there.
Thankfully travelling by train with railcards off peak works out reasonable value, and gives 2 for 1 options on attraction entries as well. For us it was £30 for an adult and child travelcard, and only £1 extra for adding on an extra child. We all had tickets to use through the tube stations, so it was by far the easiest way to do it….and they loved racing each other through the ticket barriers with them!
We did also do a lot of walking (about 18k steps) but we also used the tube a lot, so made the most of having the travelcards.
The Tower of London
We bought our tickets in advance (family ticket for 1 adult and 2 kids turned out not much more expensive than 2 for 1 plus another child ticket, but paying the extra was worth not having to queue for ages in the ticket queue). Unfortunately the boys decided they didn’t want to follow the Beefeater tour, so we just made our own way round in our own time. The tours are free, you just join the next one when you arrive.
Instead we worked our way around the walls and different entrances and towers, to see what we fancied at the time. There’s plenty of information around the site telling you about the history of the kings, queens and everything else. If you want more indepth you can hire the audiotours, and there were plenty of people with those.
It does get busy in school holidays, especially the White Tower with all the interactive displays. Although we were on half term, London wasn’t, so there were several school trips going round that we ended up getting caught up with in the White Tower. So either arrive early, or much later in the day. We also didn’t queue to see the Crown Jewels. It would be nice to have a board saying how long the wait at various points in the queue, but as we didn’t know how long it would take, the boys decided they didn’t really care about seeing the crowns or not.
There were several exhibitions and displays in towers in the castle walls. We enjoyed finding out about the strange habit of keeping zoo animals at the Tower of London and the dangers that brought.
We found out about some of the people who were locked up in another tower.
But probably the one they enjoyed most was looking at the photos of the training camps held at the tower for soldiers signing up to fight in the world wars. Some photos were also overlaid by modern versions from the same regiments or modern youngsters or businessmen creating quite haunting images.
Rather than seeing the crown jewels, we stopped in at the Fusiliers museum to find out about the royal army regiment. We saw uniforms, photos, all the different medal types and weapons bringing us up to soldiers of the modern era.
Our final stop was the White Tower which is where you can see the 350 year old exhibition of the Line of Kings showing tournament armour from kings including Henry VIII, Charles I and James II. The Royal Armouries collection is also in this tower, as well as a lot of interactive displays perfect for families.
While walking around the walls of the Tower of London, you can also see great views over the River Thames. On leaving we decided to walk get some lunch nearby before heading onto our next place to visit.
There’s quite a few chain restaurants nearby, as well as a few cafes to choose from.
St Dunstan’s in the East garden
After lunch we decided it was easier to walk on to Monument rather than backtracking to Tower Hill for just one tube stop. The boys were moaning their feet were hurting but when we came across somewhere I’d wanted to see for a while, they took it all back.
Just off Great Tower Street/Eastcheap is St Dunstan’s in the East garden. A former church which was bombed in the blitz in World War 2, it was turned into a garden and really is a peaceful contemplative space to sit.
Who’d have thought it, but the boys loved it. The peacefulness, and relaxing sitting while watching the water in the water feature. They weren’t the only ones sitting and relaxing while I took photos and explored the ruined walls and arches.
A little down time before we walked on to Monument.
The boys recently studied the Great Fire of London, and the Monument is a commemoration to the fire, and celebration of the rebuilding (designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The square looked pretty spectacular with the Monument rising above alongside the glass office and commercial buildings, seeing some great reflections and architectural textures going on.
Don’t arrive over lunchtime as it closed and reopens again at 2pm. Again, if you travel by rail you can use 2 for 1 vouchers. In fact we only paid for myself, the boys went in free. Large bags have to be left at the bottom of the climb. I hadn’t realised N’s friend didn’t like heights but he agreed to climb.
Not for the claustrophobic, getting to the viewing platform means climbing the narrow staircase of 311 steps. And they seemed neverending. There are places to stop and sit on the way up (also good for passing places if people are going the other direction. But it does get very narrow in the last few spirals of steps.
The views are definitely worth the effort. I felt bad for dragging N’s friend up there, but he did look out at the buildings and across the river before heading back down, while I made the most of the 360 views.
You can see the Walkie Talkie building and the Shard in one direction (with it only abit across the road), from the other across to St Paul’s cathedral. Then down the river towards Tower Bridge, with HMS Belfast nearer on the water.
I was pleased with the bright blue skies too. My last attempt at seeing views from on high (at Sky Garden) were scuppered by quite a bit of fog.
On getting down to the bottom again you all get given a certificate for reaching the top which is a nice touch, telling you a bit more about the history.
After all the steps, it was back on the tube for our next stop.
The original plan had been to do lunch at Borough Market, but we ate earlier as we knew we wouldn’t last the wait.
I love a market and the hustle and bustle, and Borough Market certainly has that. With the lights and variety of stalls it’s a really interesting if busy walk around. We were looking for desserts or ice cream to have as follow up to lunch although the street food in Borough Market Kitchen was obviously more savoury on offer. From unusual fruit and vegetables, to huge monkfish peering out at us on the fishmonger’s stall, the boys were thrilled with all the treats.
As it was quite a warm day, we decided not to bother with the queue for Humble Crumble, instead opting for ice creams as the sweet choice was fairly limited that we could see.
If you’re eating from the street food stalls there’s an area of steps/benches and tables at the top that you can sit and eat your food on. All the while watching all the market traders and customers below.
On our way out again, the boys gawped at some amazing looking chips and burgers they spotted being sold. Maybe we’ll have to go back again another time earlier, and have lunch properly.
Although he enjoyed the food, N wasn’t keen on how busy it was in the market. It does get really busy, so it’s either going earlier before the lunch rush.
Leake Street Arches
Not quite within our immediate area, my final idea for our itinerary was Leake Street Arches. Heading to Waterloo gave us chance to sit for a while. The boys were impressed with the size and look of Waterloo station. It was a bit disorientating finding the right exit to the arches, and it should have been much easier if we’d seen any signs through the immediate door out of the station to them. Instead we walked a long way round via York Street.
My tip is heading to Waterloo station’s The Sidings which are the bars and restaurants outside, and you’ll find Leake Street Arches straight along from there.
Leake Street Arches are 8 former railway arches joined to make a tunnel, which has been turned into art. Legal graffiti, which means every time you go it’ll look different.
If you’re lucky you’ll see people there painting – we saw 2 panels being worked on. But be warned the initial hit of paint odour is really strong. There’s always people around, although it can feel a little unnerving with the darkness and not being able to see people clearly as they’re walking or cycling past.
The artwork is amazing, and it’s definitely a great place to take older children. They had a great time looking at the graffiti, choosing their favourites and taking photos of each other.
It was a fun end to the day before we headed back to Marylebone with sore feet.
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London day trip (and nearest tube stations/lines)
- Tower of London – Tower Hill (District/Circle)
- St Dunstans – Monument or Tower Hill (both District/Circle)
- Monument – Monument (District/Circle) or Bank (Central, Northern, Waterloo & City)
- Borough Market – London Bridge (Jubilee/Northern)
- Leake Street Arches – Waterloo (Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern), Lambeth (Bakerloo) or Westminster (Circle/District/Jubilee)
What else would you add to this London day trip itinerary?
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