To prepare for our visit, we talked up London a lot, which for Kate meant all things royal: the queen, the palaces and the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (How convenient that there will be a real-life Prince Will & Princess Kate! You can only imagine how that boggles the mind of a young Kate obsessed with princesses!). We also found a darling book called Katie in London (how perfect is that?) in which a little girl named Kate takes a tour of London on one of the giant lions from Trafalgar Square. That plus a London coloring book helped Kate feel like she knew the city already.
For Will, we took a more boy-oriented route: gore, lots of gore. Will's a big fan of the Horrible Histories series of books -- history with a focus on the lurid, disgusting bits -- and as you can imagine, England has enough revolting stories to fill a whole library. Among the titles we bought: Loathsome London, Awful England, Slimy Stuarts, Smashing Saxons, Terrible Tudors, Terrifying Tudors (a family horrible enough to warrant not one, but TWO books!), Vile Victorians, Barmy Boudica, and Blackout Blitz. Overkill? Maybe... but Will loves it. If you want to know any revolting tidbit about England, ask my son. He's an expert. Even Kate could tell you which bridge sported the most number of severed heads on spikes. (It's London Bridge, in case you're interested.)
So, with the kids properly prepared, we had high hopes of a smooth trip. And? It was great! We didn't take into consideration that it would also be school holidays in the UK, which meant London was mobbed. But other than an hour-and-a-half wait (in the rain, I might add) for the Natural History Museum, we didn't have any problems.
On our first day, we headed over to the Tower of London:
Here are the kids at the Tower, with Tower Bridge in the background:
|Kate is always happy to have her picture taken.|
But then we found a way to make his silliness work. Here he is being chopped:
One of the Tower's famous ravens:
The Lion and the Unicorn (fighting for the crown) is one of her favorite nursery rhymes:
|Did I mention, 90 minutes in line? In the rain?|
It was a clear day, so we could see for miles!
|At the very top!|
|Yikes! That look on her face means she knows she's terrifying her mother.|
After a quick visit to the London Aquarium (where we were packed in like sardines!), we jumped aboard a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour to rest our feet and see the sights. We got off at Regent's Park, one of my favorite places in London.
|Look at all the flowers! Spring is on its way!|
|Kids having a stick battle.|
On our third day, we visited the British Museum, home to an incredible collection of Egyptian artifacts. If you remember Will in the Egyptian section of the Louvre, you can imagine how excited he was to see this:
|The Rosetta Stone|
|The boy only agrees to have his photo taken with Egyptian objects.|
I didn't photograph any of the mummies. But there were dozens of them in various states of preservation (decay?). We also tagged along with a tour through the Japanese section. I'm not sure why, but the kids were utterly enthralled and listened quietly for 30 minutes. Roger and I were tapping our feet and looking at our watches, but the kids loved it. And only five minutes of the tour focused on samurais! I wonder if Horrible Histories has a Japanese series?
Since he's got hieroglyphics down now, Will was very excited to discover the Etruscan alphabet. Again, he made me take a picture so he could use this at home:
Later that day we wandered through St. James Park to see Buckingham Palace. Kate was giddy with anticipation to see where the Queen lived!
|Will, not so much.|
We wrapped up our day with a trip to Hamley's, without a doubt the most incredible toy store I've ever seen. Seven stories of toys! Kid heaven. I gave each of them 20 pounds to spend, and they had a blast. Here's Kate that night, cuddled up with her choice.
|One tired little girl!|
Overall, it was a great trip. Both kids loved it and said they couldn't wait to go back, which I'm happy to do since we didn't even come close to seeing it all. London has so much to offer! And everyone speaks English! ;) A few things that helped to make this trip go so smoothly:
• Preparing the kids with books: Horrible Histories for Will, Katie in London and the coloring book for Kate
• Advance tickets whenever possible: By reserving our tickets online for the Aquarium & London Eye we were able to skip the line for purchasing tickets. We just had to collect them, then walk right into the line, which moved incredibly fast. The whole thing, from the time we arrived to pick up tickets to the time we entered the Eye: 20 minutes! No need to pay more for the "Fast Track," which requires that you specify what time you'll be arriving (who can plan for that with kids??)
• Arriving at attractions right at opening time: We got to the British Museum at 9:45 a.m. (it opens at 10) and walked right in. By the time we left, there were hordes of people. This was our mistake at the Natural History Museum. We showed up at 1:30 p.m., thinking we'd breeze right in. Not a chance!
• The Original Tour Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour. There are lots of choices for bus tours of London, but this one was fabulous. Not only did they have a special kids' channel to listen to that described the sights in a way interesting to kids, but they also gave each child a special booklet to color and complete on the bus. Big hit with the little ones!
• Asking for "family trails" at the big museums. I think all of the ones we visited had special "trails" for kids. You could choose a specific path to follow (for example, the Egyptian or Greek trail at the British Museum), and kids were given a special booklet with activities to complete as they followed the trail. Not only does it keep the kids actively engaged, but it narrows the focus of the museum and keeps the visit to a reasonable time. Really, I don't think we could do more than two hours in any museum, and with the family trails we could hit the highlights that most interested the kids before they wore out. Such a great idea!
• The Children's Map of London: This was the single-best purchase we made, I'd say. It has a colorful map of central London with stickers kids apply after having done something interesting, i.e., learned about mummies, had a cup of tea, rode a bus, visited a palace, etc. Each evening at dinner, we'd look at the map, talk about where we'd been and what we'd seen, and put on the appropriate stickers. The kids loved it, and now we have a nice souvenir of our trip.
We HAVE to remember these tips for our next trip!