The English summer was the perfect opportunity to make a London family trip. With its long days and now that the kids were older, 11 and 14, we thought it would be an appropriate time for a family holiday to the United Kingdom. So, we packed our bags and headed off to the airport for a London adventure with side trips to Paris and York.
Touch Down to the British Museum and Covent Garden
A 13-hour flight and 30-minute ride along the Piccadilly tube line brought us to Kings Cross where we were staying.
We chose to stay at the Kings Cross area because of its good transport connections, not just within London, but also to Paris and York which we’d be visiting.
Being the “glorious” British summer, of course it had to be raining on the day of our arrival. Thankfully, this was the perfect weather to pay a visit to the museum, and the British Museum was just two tube stops away.
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The British Museum is a showcase of world history. Thus, our London family trip got underway with a walk through time, visiting room after room filled with sights like Assyrian temples, Roman mosaics and other ancient treasures.
The size of the collection at the British Museum can be overwhelming, just like the crowds.
We decided to focus on star exhibits like the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles and Egyptian mummies – more than enough to take in during one visit.
An hour-and-a-half of museum-walking worked up our appetite. For lunch, we took the tube to Covent Garden.
Covent Garden has a mix of small traders (be sure to visit the Jubilee Market where smaller stalls are setup throughout the week) and big name retail brands.
Covent Garden also draws many entertaining buskers who enliven the atmosphere with music and antics. The London Transport Museum can also be found at Covent Garden.
Off on a Paris Side Trip
The next day, it was time to leave London, at least temporarily, as we took the 3-hour EuroStar from Kings Cross to Paris’ Gare du Nord train station.
Read more about the Paris leg of our family trip here.
Back to London & To the Tower
Returning to London from Paris and checking back in to our hotel at Kings Cross felt like a homecoming. We didn’t waste time getting out and about and paid a visit to the fabled Tower of London.
The Tower of London attracts scores of visitors. As we had booked our tickets online, we skipped the queue at the ticketing counter and went directly to the entrance.
The best introduction to the Tower is on a Yeoman Warder’s tour. This starts at the top of the hour from the moat.
Our Yeoman Warder guide regaled us with stories about the Tower of London. Tales of murder, treason and executions, all told with dry British wit, and a few jibes at the French, vividly brought history to life.
After the tour group was dismissed by the Beefeater, we explored the Tower of London on our own. From Henry VIII’s armour in the White Tower to the Crown Jewel at the Waterloo Block to the torture instruments at the Wakefield Tower to the Ravens’ pens, history is everywhere in the Tower.
Crossing Tower Bridge to HMS Belfast
From the Tower of London, it was a short stroll across the iconic Tower Bridge. Not to be confused with London Bridge upriver, Tower Bridge is the Victorian-era span with neo-Gothic features. Crossing it led to the South Bank of the Thames and HMS Belfast.
A warship of World War II vintage, HMS Belfast saw action on D-Day and the Korean War. Nowadays, civilians like ourselves can visit the ship. We paid the fees at the dock, walked up the gangway and stepped aboard.
There are nine levels to explore on board the HMS Belfast. With steep, narrow ladders to ascend and descend, it isn’t suitable for very young children. For families with older children, particularly those who have an interest in military-related topics, it is countless corridors of adventure and discovery.
We explored the gun turrets and made our way along the ship gallery and sick bay, imagining what everyday life on board must have been like. We snaked our way past the hammocks which regular seamen called home and visited both the admiral’s and captain’s bridge. (HMS Belfast had served as the flag ship and hence there were separate bridges for the ship’s captain and the fleet admiral.)
With energy to spare, we headed down to Oxford Street for a spot of shopping before ending the evening with a meal of duck rice at Golden Dragon in Chinatown.
Discovering Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum
A plus point of visiting UK’s capital are the city’s many free (and world class) museums. On the next day of our London family trip, we made our way to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.
Unsurprisingly, the most crowded rooms at the Natural History Museum was the Dinosaur gallery. From the skull of a T-Rex to the fossils if a stegosaurus, there was plenty that impressed around the Dinosaur gallery.
Other interesting galleries which we visited included the large mammal gallery where there was a life-sized model of a blue whale.
Next door to the Natural History Museum is the Science Museum. The museum has exhibits on the modern world, including several flight simulators on the top floor. However, not finding the exhibits particularly engaging, we headed off after only a short while.
Harrods and a Wickedly Musical Evening
Harrods is one tube stop away from South Kensington where the museums are located. This made it convenient to stop by to pick up some gifts and to ride the world-famous Egyptian escalator.
The plans for the evening were to catch a musical, Wicked, at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. We had booked tickets online the day before and were thoroughly thrilled by the spectacular performance by the amazing London cast.
Calling all Potterheads to Platform 9 ¾
After the late night at the theatre the day before, the next morning of our London family holiday got off to an intentionally slow start.
First stop was Platform 9 ¾, the Harry Potter Shop at Kings Cross station, just a short walk from our hotel.
The Harry Potter shop, located at the public area of the station, attracts legions of fans who queue up for a chance to have their picture taken with the half-disappearing trolley. A professional-taken photo can then be purchased from inside the shop.
Even without posing for a picture, we had fun browsing through the shelves of Harry Potter merch. It also left us contemplating whether we needed a personalised luggage trunk and an acceptance letter to Hogwarts.
Visiting the City of London
Once we had our wizarding fill, it was off to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at Fleet Street. The pub dates back to 1667, a year after the Great Fire of London.
While there are countless pubs all over London, we specifically headed to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for its historic setting (where we dined in its cellars) and its proximity to our next destination, St Paul’s Cathedral.
St Paul’s is a symbol of the City. When we had last visited it, entry was free. Nowadays, it costs 48.50 pounds to enter the cathedral.
Rather than pay to enter St Paul’s, we made a visit to a more unlikely destination, the Bank of England. We had some old pound notes which were no longer legal tender and headed to the central bank to exchange the old paper notes for the new plastic versions.
Crossing to the South Bank & Borough Market on a London Family Trip
Crossing the Millennium Bridge, we headed past the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe towards Borough Market, one of London’s oldest markets. Borough Market is situated just next to London Bridge, once the main entry point to the City of London.
This made it a natural location for traders to setup a fruit and vegetable market, which still exists today.
Traders selling hot food, fresh produce and cheese tempted us from every corner. A bag of cherries and some truffle honey later and it was time to leave the bustling market.
Day Trip to York
York is a two-hour ride north of London with the train departing from King’s Cross. We chose to make a day trip to this northern city because of its history and general feel. Its ancient walled city still has timber framed houses and traces of it Viking past.
The first stop of the day was the Jorvik Viking Centre, a 15-minute walk from the York train station. The highlight of the Centre was a dark ride around a recreation of an ancient Viking village.
This ride came with not only the sights and sounds of Viking Coppergate but the recreations of the smells too!
A must-visit in York is The Shambles. This narrow alleyway is lined with quaint medieval-looking timber framed houses.
It is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series of books. Unsurprisingly, there were many shops cashing in on this with names like The Shop That Shall Not Be Named and plenty merch to keep visiting Potterheads happy.
Lunch was at The York Roast Company where scrumptious carved meat was served up on a giant Yorkshire Pudding.
Post-lunch, we visited York Minster. A minster is a large, important church and York Minster is an outstanding example of one. Its Gothic architecture comes complete with flying buttresses and stained glass windows.
Entry for adults into York Minster is ticketed but free for children under 16 with a paying adult.
We decided to do the Tower Trip, a climb up the top of the 72-metre Central Tower. Children must be at least 8 to attempt this climb. We started our ascent from a narrow door and commenced our spiraling clockwise climb upwards.
Midway up, there was an outdoor passage that took us across the roof, giving us an unexpectedly up-close look at the flying buttresses.
275 steps later, we arrived at the top of Minster and were greeted by a commanding view of York and its surrounds.
What better way to reward ourselves after the Minster visit than to head over to another attraction, York’s Chocolate Story.
Little did we know that some well-known chocolates like Smarties and Kit Kat have its origins in York. These were among the facts we found out on the guided tour at York’s Chocolate Story.
The one-hour tour started with an interesting look at York’s links with chocolate. We knew the tour was going to be good when they started handing out chocolates in the first room.
The York’s Chocolate Story visit concluded with an explanation of the chocolate-making process and a chance to decorate chocolate lollies. A fun experience for the whole family.
Next, it was back to The Shambles for scones and tea before ending off our visit to York with a walk along its historic walls.
It was a fun day trip to York and a nice way to cap off our family travel adventure to the United Kingdom and Paris.