Tuesday, October 19, 2010

London Calling


In my previous post I recommended avoiding big European cities when traveling with very young children, but I make an exception for London and Paris.  C’mon . . . ferris wheels, sewer tours, really high elevator rides, and parades of soldiers wearing tall, black, fuzzy hats?  What’s a kid not to like??  For parents not to like are the usual big city parental-anxieties:  crazy drivers on busy streets, impatient subway trains (mind the gap!), pickpockets, considerable distances, and noisy hotel rooms.  But if mom and dad vigilantly hold on to the kids (in my case it’s me, the mom, hanging on to the kids because dad’s too busy looking at his GPS device) and wear a money belt (in this case it’s dad, not me, wearing the money belt because who needs extra padding around the waist in all those vacation photos?) then really, London and Paris are quite doable. 


London - Part I
I chose London as the very first stop on our very first trip to Europe with the kids.  They were 6 and 9 years old at the time.  The most practical reason for this decision was simply that London is the shortest non-stop European destination from North America.  (I know there are Reykjavik and Dublin and Glasgow but we’re not going there right now.)  Obviously, the less time one has to spend on an airplane and at airports with children, the better.  Another plus for the city of London is, of course, the English language.  Why not lessen the culture shock for your little ones by dipping their toes in a foreign country where they can at least be understood?  (Frustrations may still arise, i.e., “Mommy, I said I want french fries, not chips!!”) 

Even the phone booths
are just big toys for kids!
But the sights and sounds of London are really the best incentive to take children there.  Toddlers can be entertained just by riding around on a double-decker bus while mom and dad rest their legs and enjoy the view.  The changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace is free to watch and the pageantry, brass and drums, cannons, horses and carriages delight all-aged visitors.  At the Tower of London my little princess adored seeing the Crown Jewels and Star of Africa diamond while my young knight stood in awe of the very cool royal armor and weaponry, all included in the standard admission ticket price.  And, of course, the relatively new London Eye ferris wheel is not only an e-ticket ride for kids but provides an exceptional view of London, night or day.

The many, many other traditional sights in London will appeal to older children as their maturity and attention span progress – it’s a city for families not to miss.  Several guidebooks like “Fodor’s Around London with Kids” by Jacqueline Brown and “Frommer’s London with Kids” by Rhonda Carrier cover these attractions quite well, so I’ll leave St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, Covent Garden, Legoland, The British Museum – where do I stop? – to these very good and comprehensive guidebooks.

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