A family day in... London
For the first in our Travel Tuesday series we get an insider peak at London. Sarah is the creative genius and owner of The Cool Gang Thang and distributor of the incredibly tactile Crayons Rocks and this is her guide to London.
Hi Sarah tell us a bit about yourself and why you know so much about London.
Hi, I'm Sarah a mum of two to Sadie, age 8 and Frankie age 5. Originally I'm from London although we now live in the deepest, darkest Essex countryside. London is a huge part of our family's life. ... My partner Ashley's family business is in Old Street, and he commutes there every day. He thrives in his city which has transferred onto our children.
What’s your favourite way to spend a day with the family in London?
We love ALL the museums. My personal favourite is the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. It's free (although they ask for a £5 donation if you can give it). As well as amazing displays of toys from around the world and throughout the ages, they also have regular new exhibitions. We once visited when they had a Judith Kerr and The Tiger Who Came to Tea exhibition on, and the children got to explore Sophie's house! It's brilliant for the grown ups too, serving a lovely dose of nostalgia when we recognise toys from our childhoods.
At the moment after a school topic ignited an interest in the Egyptians in my eight year old daughter, we are enjoying the British Museum too. When we went a couple of weeks ago, they had a historian in the Enlightenment Gallery with a table full of artefacts the children could touch and learn about. We all ended up holding a Stone Age scraping tool with ancient finger grooves along the side. A perfect day for us is a couple of hours in a museum, followed by a lovely late lunch and a stroll to walk it off afterwards.
Ok, we’ve got 24 hours with our kids in the city what are the TWO things we have to do?
1. It's an oldie, but a goodie - a mooch in Covent Garden. If you find the right street entertainer (and if you're lucky, a seat on one of the benches inside positioned around the performing space) and the children can be kept entertained for ages! My two love Fandango Flute & Strings, a dancing group of classically trained musicians who know exactly how to work the crowd! We were there not so long ago we discovered Morelli's Gelato. A fabulous ice cream parlour in the heart of Covent Garden which serves sundaes, milkshakes, coffee and (my favourite) prosecco!
2. A walk in a park is always a great part of a day in London, we love to take in the sights of Buckingham Palace (lots of discussion about whether the Queen is at home or not, what she might be up to etc!) Followed by a wander through Green Park where you can find the RAF Bomber Command Memorial. It's magnificent and very moving, and a great talking point for older children.
Tell us honestly, what’s it like to get around with a buggy and little legs?Buggies are always going to be tricky on the Underground and on buses, but in all my time of having a buggy, there wasn't an occasion when someone wouldn't help me with it. My two always loved the train and as they get bigger, they cope better and better with walking. Walking around London doesn't have to be too daunting - places are often nearer than you think!
What’s the best FREE thing to do in London?
A stroll in a vibrant and buzzing part of the city can be so entertaining for little ones. When my daughter Sadie was little, we'd often go up to Columbia Road Flower Market at the weekend. It's always super busy, so baby carriers and slings can come in handy. It's so vibrant and colourful with plenty to see and take in there. Follow it up with a wander down Brick Lane for the best bagels in the world!
Eating out is always tricky when you factor in BF friendly and changing facilities. Where would you recommend for:
A coffee: Next to Ashley's shop is a coffee shop/bicycle shop called Look Mum No Hands. They serve great coffee, breakfast and lunches, have outside seating and can fix your bike whilst you eat. All the staff are lovely in there and it's an interesting place to take the kids. If they love their bikes they can watch what goes on in the repair shop.
Lunch: My Old Dutch in High Holborn, a fantastic family-friendly pancake house. I love the savoury pancakes they do, I suspend normal rules for the kids and let them have nutella and cream pancakes for lunch in there!
Dinner: We adore Da Mario's in Kensington. It is the BEST Italian in London for us, they are SUPER child-friendly. They even reserve a huge area downstairs in the restaurant for children's parties in the afternoons, complete with a little disco. The food is amazing! My two who can be fussy clear their plates in there.
When you bring friends to London, what are they always most surprised about?
How easy it can be to walk around. We recently took friends to the British Museum, spent a couple of hours in there and then walked over to Covent Garden for lunch within twenty minutes. I also think it can be surprising how little money you need to spend to have a lovely day. We recently visited the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and there was so much for the kids to do in there that was absolutely free. If its a hot day the fountain area next to the stadium is brilliant for the children to play in.
Where should we head for creative fun?
The Southbank Centre its aim is to make arts accessible to everyone. They have a constant programme of activities and exhibitions on there, including ones for families.
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The best views of London are from - the ArcelorMittal Orbit a recent find for me and the views from there took my breath away.
Don’t go home before you’ve - taken the kids to at least one museum, sorry to go on but they are all amazing!
If you leave the kids at home make sure you check out this bar/pub - it's not a bar or pub, in fact it isn't licensed so you need to bring your own alcohol if you want it, but Tayyabs in Whitechapel serves the best curry in London, authentic Punjabi cuisine, that is great for grown ups who like their spicy food!
My favourite shop is - you need to brace yourself before you go in there but a visit to Hamleys is rather special with the children. Especially at Christmas when all the lights are decorating Regent Street too.
The best park is - Victoria Park. It has two great children's playgrounds to choose from, lovely walks and paths for cycling and a huge lake with boat and pedalo hire.
And finally….what is your insider top tip…..
Don't just look for typical family activities. Wander and see what your children are interested in. Even a walk along the river can be amazing to them, when you point out the bridges or the Tower of London or show them St Paul's Cathedral in the distance. I also think when you visit places like the museums or the Southbank Centre, stay for just an hour or two so they don't get bored-don't try and see everything in one go. They remain interested for next time then!
Hope you enjoyed our first Tuesday Travel post. Let me know what you think and where else we should check out. Or if you have some travel tips you'd like to share please get in touch.
**This is not sponsored :)