Please sign in to post.

London with a Teenager

We get the honor of taking our eldest grandson to Europe for his high school graduation present in August. We are looking forward to it so much! We are spending one week in London and one week in Paris. We gave him a Rick Steves book for each and told him to mark his top 10 places to go. I need a few suggestions from you guys. Here is a little bit about him...He has never been out of the country, has not been on an airplane since he was 4 and never travelled without his parents. He has been sheltered pretty much. We want him to experience new things but don't want to overwhelm him. We WILL be taking him to the theater, which he has never been. I thought School of Rock might ease him into the experience. I want to take him to either Windsor, Hampton Court or Bleinheim (which do you guys suggest). Each has it pros and cons. Which would you do? What would be your top 5-10 that you would take a 17 year old guy?

Thanks for your input.

Posted by
1943 posts

What are his interests? I'm going to London in September with a friend and she is going to the Harry Potter 9-3/4 train stop that is in the books- it's on the King's Cross line I believe. I'm going with her for the photo op. She wants to send the picture to her granddaughter who is in college. If your grandson is a Harry Potter fan, you might consider this. Also, I believe there is a Harry Potter studio tour, about which I have no details but someone else will. Did you know Harry Potter the Cursed Child, winner of a number of Olivier Awards, is playing on the London stage? Tickets are very difficult to get but we are trying for Sept. Every Friday they release 40 tickets online I think. On the day of the show, you can walk up to the box office and possibly buy a cancelled/returned ticket. It happens! Sometimes.
If he has scientific interests, he might like Greenwich, easy to reach by boat on the Thames or trains. My friend is going in a couple weeks in June. It might be interesting to him.

He is a lucky guy to go on this trip with you!

Posted by
85 posts

Hi again Nancy! I just put a response on your Paris thread (21 yr daughter & 15 yr son). We also spent a week in London before the Paris portion of our trip. My son's favorite thing was a food tour we did in the East End with Eating London food tours. He still talks about the great food we had. And the grafitti art we saw was also interesting. Even without a food tour, a trip to the East End to walk around, try the great food & see the street art might be fun for your grandson. I'm sure a visit to the Tower of London is on your/his list. We actually went twice on our visit (once on our 1st day & again later in the week as our daughter joined us on the trip a few days later). My son enjoyed both visits. Be sure to join a Beefeater tour while you're there!

While not a top sight, my son also got a sense of accomplishment out of learning to navigate the Tube & Metro. We don't have any occasion to use public transportation here, so this was a good learning experience for him (& us!). He enjoyed helping plan our routes around the cities & we were all pretty proud of ourselves that we didn't get lost our whole trip!

Have fun! Would love to hear a little bit about your trip when you return. Maybe write a short trip report?

Posted by
5629 posts

This trip will be an eye opener for him.

1.) first suggestion is budget for Heathrow Express tickets. The 15 minute train ride from Heathrow to Paddington Station. If he's not used to train stations getting off the express and walking into the hustle and bustle and largeness of Paddington will definitely open his eyes.

2.) and again budget for this but at Paddington take a Black Cab to your accommodation. Explain to your grandson that these drivers spend a few years getting their cab liscenes as they have to past a lengthy test, The Knowledge. Engage in conversation with your cabbie. Your grandson will get to hear a new English dialect, and if you ask the cabbie for a restaurant, cafe, etc recommendation all the better. They know the ins and outs of the City and are great resources. And a black cab is about as traditional as you can get for London. Have your grandson Google their history.

3.) must sees: Parliament Square ( Parliament, Big Ben, Westminister Abbey), London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Museum of London, if he has any interest in mummies and Egyptian artifacts, the British Museum, glass covered Leaden Hall market to search for the door to Harry Potter's Leaky Cauldron ( and to see the last glass covered market in London, next to the futuristic Lloyds Of London building) Brick Lane, Portobello Market on a Saturday ( get there by 8 am) Camden Lock Market, a boat ride on the Thames, Liberty department store, Carnaby Street, Imperial War Museum, Tresures of the British Library in the Sir John C Ritblatt Gallery, tour of the west side of Highgate Cemtary ( need to pre book tour) and all of you should enjoy one or more of the London Walks: Ghosts, Jack the Ripper, Beatles, etc.

Lastly, definitely enjoy a pub grub meal. The Blackfriar across from the Blackfriars station is a gorgeous Art Deco pub.

I'd opt for Windsor out of the 3 you listed.

Have a wonderful time

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks Judy B. I had thought a little about Harry Potter (since I love the books). Didn't know about the play but that may be great. I will look into it. Thanks for the ideas.

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks Halloween 829,
Those were great ideas. I have been to London several times but never focused on the East End. Something new would be fun. I am so looking forward to seeing London through his eyes and excitement. I think that may be the best part. I have not been to the Tower of London for about 20 years so it better be on his list 'cause it is on my for him to experience.

Posted by
1171 posts

We are going to London for 1 week and Paris for one week as well! Although my kids are younger ( 12 and 9) here are somethings we have on our list:

  • Tower of London
  • Hampton Court Palace -Churchil's war rooms
  • we are going out to the Harry Potter studio tour -A play ( most likely School of Rock)
  • cruise on the thames
  • Changing o the guard at Buckingham
  • Speaker's corner at Hyde Park on Sunday
  • Kensington Palace and Diana exhibit
  • Markets

What a wonderful graduation trip

Posted by
2624 posts

Claudia gave you some great ideas. I agree with Windsor out of your list. Have you consider going to see The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London? Tell him it's taken place everynight for the last 700 years, not even the wars didn't stopped it.

Posted by
2778 posts

What date do you arrive in London? If August 14 or later, you can get a good deal on Heathrow Express tickets by buying them now---90+ days in advance:

If your trip is earlier in August, you can still get a discount by buying 30+ days in advance. These are tickets you print at home.

The Harry Potter Track 9 3/4 is not a stop on the train, it is a sign in Kings Cross Station. People line up to get their photo take, usually posing like they are about to be whisked away.

Posted by
679 posts

I LOVE the Ceremony of the Keys. They are booked a year ahead of time. I went 7 years ago and it was amazing. That was the first place we checked when we got the go ahead.

Posted by
5629 posts

Well instead of the Ceremony of the Keys you could try the Tower Bridge exhibition as long as you don't not have a fear of heights.

I forgot to include Wilton's Music Hall. Check on line to see what might be scheduled during your travel dates. If you go there then don't miss visiting the Princess of Prussia pub a few blocks away. So far, hasn't been turned into a Gastropub. Very traditional looking.


Posted by
216 posts

The Harry Potter Studio is a must for any fans of the movies.
The Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross is 1/2 a luggage trolley embedded in a wall. You can take a picture "passing through the barrier". There is also a souvenir store.
The Cursed Child tickets are usually available a week or two in advance for £199 or £250 each for two plays.

Muggle tours walking tours are well done and enjoyable.

Posted by
1173 posts

Is he interested in WW II history? Perhaps a visit to the Churchill War Rooms.

Any interest in code breaking and computers. Bletchley Park can be a day trip.

I'm not sure how you feel about alcohol, but a pub meal with a supervised pint would probably be a big hit. Of course you should discuss this beforehand with his parents.

A walk through the food stalls at Borough Market and lunch if you find anything interesting.

Posted by
8889 posts

A drink in a pub, I was about to add that. Will he be 18 by the time of this trip? If so, he can buy his own pint in a pub (and buy you two your preference of drinks as well).
British 18-year-olds would never consider asking their parents if they could buy a drink, or do anything else, they are adults.

One of the best things he can get out of this - big eye-opener - is to see that things aren't necessarily the same as at home. There are other ways of doing things, and other cultures have different standards about what is normal and what is not acceptable. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. He will experience "culture shocks", which will be good.

Posted by
37 posts

Hi Nancy,

I like Claudia's ideas, especially about making an occasion out of a black cab ride.
I just saw an item that can add to that experience – it's about the little green sheds. You could get breakfast at one to round it all out.

Thinking about more active, outdoor kind of things, here are some suggestions.

Hampton Court Palace for sure. It's more interactive than the other two, has lots to explore indoors and out, and you're still in Oyster Card territory, not travelling very far.

Greenwich, whether by DLR or by boat, is another cool experience, with the option of walking through the tunnel under the River Thames, and also walking to the top of the hill to see the fantastic view and the Observatory. Even if you don't go into the Observatory, you can stand on the Prime Meridian. (There's more to see at Greenwich, I'm just tacking on a few things your grandson might enjoy as part of the mix.)

Camden Market isn't my favourite place (I don't like really busy places that much) but it's a spectacle just riding the bus up the street. Of course lots of people love the market, I'm not saying don't go in. I like walking around the lock and alongside the canal. Canal boats will probably be a new thing to see, and there's almost always one going through the lock.

At Covent Garden there is an ice cream place I like (Venchi) because the ice cream is tasty and you can look down at the musicians on the lower level while enjoying their performance. Outside the Punch and Judy there are often performers entertaining the crowd for donations.

The view from the top of the tower at the Tate Modern is quite something (new and free).

Edited to add: I am not a sports fan but if your grandson is, maybe you can go to a match of whatever's playing when you're there.
If you can contrive to see cricket, even just on a green, that is probably going to be new. On Sundays you can get a lovely roast lunch at a pub and then with luck see the locals in their white outfits out on the cricket pitch.

It's so wonderful that you're taking him. Lucky lad to have such nice grandparents.


Posted by
679 posts

I love all your ideas. I copied and pasted so that I can digest easily and later... I have not taken a cab ride so that is a definite. He will not be 18 (misses by a couple of months) but I have no issues with ordering him a beer. I will check with good old Mom and Dad. I seem to remember doing that for his Dad during a St. Patrick's festival in the States. I don't think it will be a case of what happens in London stays in London. I like the idea of compare and contrast with places and activities in Paris (our second week). He is into history and going into the Air Force upon his return. His great grandfather was in WW II, his Grandfather in the Air Force and his Dad is currently in the Navy. I have a feeling we will be going to many military museums. Thanks for all the ideas. I am still keeping notes so it is never too late.

Posted by
1943 posts

In view of the fact he likes WWII history, he will love Churchill's War Rooms! A must see, a highlight of my trip in 2013.

Posted by
216 posts

The Imperial War Museum is then a must. I thought it was excellent.

Thank you, Jill for the Bletchley Park suggestion! I ran it past my daughter and she wants to go. She just finished a project about coding (the process formerly known as ”computer programming”) and read about the Bombe. Might have to save it for another trip as the National Museum of Computing (a separate entity from but adjacent to Bletchley Park) is closed on the day we would go.

Posted by
425 posts

Agree with Sarah. My teenage kids really liked the Imperial War Museum.

Posted by
908 posts

I would include Windsor, Churchill War Rooms (I think he would definitely like this), and show him the London Walks schedule and see what appeals to him. Taking one of the Thames boats as public transport on one of the days is a great way to see how things look from the river.

With all due respect to Harry Potter fans, the 9 3/4 platform thing takes 2 seconds to see. Unless you're going to be near King's Cross, I don't know that I would bother.

Have fun--what a great graduation gift!

Posted by
216 posts

For Harry Potter fans who don't have the time or money for the Studio Tour, Platform 9 3/4 is definitely worth it. The staff offer you your choice of House scarves, then fling it and take a photo with your camera. The result is a photo that looks like you are going through the barrier. It's 100% hokie, 100% FREE and fun. If ll you do is walk by and look at the trolley embedded in the wall, then, yes, not worth looking at.

The souvenir shop (the raison d'être for the scarf largesse) actually has more of the cheaper items than the shop at the studio. Good for little pressies for the kid's and their friends.

There have been line ups when we went. It was actually amusing watching people ham it up and enjoy themselves. We will go again - admittedly, we are staying in Bloomsbury and taking the Eurostar so it's not out of our way. But I'd cross the Thames for it. Might even cross three Tube zones. : )

As they say, YMMV.

Posted by
206 posts

There's also the RAF museum at Hendon. The closest tube station is Colindale and then it's a short bus ride or walk from there. Have a google for the museum for more specifics.

It's free to enter but a couple of the galleries are closed for refurb right now. I'm not sure which planes are in those galleries; if you were really interested they'd probably be able to email you details.

Keeping on the military theme, there's the National Army Museum in Chelsea. They have just reopened following their refurb and while I haven't been since, I did go before they closed and I found it interesting. It's free, too.

And for something else, there's the Household Cavalry Museum at Horseguards on Whitehall. If you do go to this one, try to be in the area around 4:00 as that's when the horses get put away for the night and there's a bit of a ceremony that's popular to watch.

Edited to correct spelling and AC mistakes!

Posted by
3 posts

Hi Nancy

London is full of attractions as I can see you have Windsor Castle on your priority list, which is a place which make you wonder. The 17 years will cope just okay if you get him busy with most effective attractions. Location of Windsor is closest to Central London where you may stay around for a few days. The place is full of Victorian Art and its be best place to be this summer offering traditional heritage.
Since it's located on a steep hill you need to have adequate footwear and plenty of time to explore the vital historical impact. There are different arrangements for visiting groups or individual travelers who can have a good time by the lake surrounding the Castle. The Castle has been in use for over 1000 years, offering a place to reside for British Kings and Queens who still use it as official resident.

Posted by
235 posts

My son is 18 and is looking forward to the London Eye. I think the Tower of London for sure and Hampton Court Palace would be interesting for a teenager. What great grandparents! Travel is such a wonderful way to open our eyes to the world. Good for you! One suggestion, I'd have some interesting facts on hand to tell him before going about Henry VIII, etc. so it will "come alive" more. The Churchill War rooms are cool too. Check them out if he is a WWII buff. At last, you can't miss Westminster Abbey. So much history there and famous people from history buried there and where one day Prince William will almost certainly be crowned King!

Posted by
3533 posts

I've just come back from a visit to Bletchley and offer two reactions:
1.) It's great that the public can now see how vital code-breaking was for winning WW2. The recognition has come late, belated in part because the vows of absolute secrecy were taken very seriously for 50 years. The park is still developing, with side displays on short-wave radio (still in operation), stories about some real-life double agents, and especially the giant code-breaking machine, generously considered the first computer despite being entirely mechanical. Your son could check to see when the museum's replica operates, complete with a guide's explanations. It's about an hour by local train, which he can do by himself, and less than a hundred yards walking from the train station.
2.) Oh, to see London through an 18-year-old's eyes. I first visited at age 22, a half-century ago, and I have never been the same.
PS: Lots of theatre info at, including evaluation of seating in various theatres. One counter-suggestion: You can use that site to pick out a British comedy, or even drama, rather than an international musical which he can see at home.

Posted by
2625 posts

Your grandson would enjoy the Imperial War Museum Duxford near Cambridge.
It houses nearly 200 aircraft. During the Second World War Duxford played a prominent role during the Battle of Britain.
One of the volunteers in the museum told us this is the largest air museum in Europe.
There is a second museum located here, The American Air Museum. Admission to it is included in the price of admission to IWM Duxford.

Posted by
2625 posts

How to get to Duxford.
We took the train from London, got off the train at Whittlesford Parkway. Walked west along the A505 to the museum. This is not for everyone, because the A505 road has a lot of traffic.

Another way this could be done is to take the train to Cambridge, then taxi to the museum.

Yet another way would be to take the train from London to Stansted Airport (north of London) and then catch a taxi there to the museum.

Here is the "Plan Your Visit/Visit Us" page from their website:

The museum is not far from Cambridge. It would be my suggestion that you may want to visit Cambridge after you do the museum. Cambridge is lovely, and you could take a ride on one of the small boats that are piloted by Cambridge students using a stick. They call it punting. Cambridge has beautiful architecture on campus and great pubs where you can get a pint and lunch or dinner before heading back to London. Personally, I'd be tempted to spend the night in Cambridge.

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks Rebecca,
I will put the Imperial War Museum up for his vote. Also thanks for directions, 'cause that was going to be my next question. I love Cambridge and my 2 male escorts have never been there so that is a definite discussion. It will be sooooo interesting to see what Zach (my grandson) picks.

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks Southam,
I know I was trying to decide. This is one of the few things I am insisting upon in London. He has never been to the theater (which makes me want to cry) and I thought what a perfect time to introduce him. His reaction when I indicated that we WERE going to the theater was to moan and say "Will it be a Shakespeare thing?". Obviously, no Globe this time around. I had already thought a English comedy like the classic "Mousetrap" or something like "The Play that Goes Wrong". But then I got nervous and thought "School of Rock" might work. I also thought maybe the Harry Potter play. What would you guys vote for? I go back and forth on this. I know Zach would vote not to go at all, but this is suppose to be an eye opening experience so I think I am going to insist. I am not pushing classical music concerts (even though I would love to) so he just has to bear with his ol' Granny.

Posted by
2625 posts

Hello Nancy! Here is a recent thread in which Forum members discuss London theatre and which shows to see:
Perhaps this will help you to choose one to see.
Here's another thread in which The Mousetrap is discussed at length. Apparently some liked it, some did not.

Tell Zach that Cambridge is a university town and maybe that will appeal to him. He will see a lot of young people his age or a year or two older in the pubs and while walking around campus. He may enjoy that more than stodgy old London with mostly adults around.

You can leave London to train to Cambridge from London Kings Cross Station. The fastest journey time is 1 hour 3 minutes. On an average weekday, there are 96 trains per day traveling from London Kings Cross to Cambridge Station. The journey time may be longer on weekends and holidays.

You can also leave from London Liverpool Street to Cambridge. The journey takes slightly longer. Approximately 1 hour 23 minutes.

You can travel cheaply by coach (bus) from London Victoria Coach Station, but this will take longer than the train.

If you go to Cambridge, don't miss the Fitzwilliam Museum, which has paintings and artifacts, but also some finds dating from the Roman Britain period such as weapons and Roman coins.

Posted by
2625 posts

Two museums in London that I think Zach and your family will find interesting are The British Museum and The Museum of London.

What Zach may find interesting is the story of how England was always being invaded by some enemy: the Romans, the Vikings, the Saxons and the French (Normans). From a military standpoint, they were always fighting with invaders. The invaders named above conquered England or a region, and stayed, becoming residents.

The British Museum has many artifacts, but one of the most interesting is the Sutton Hoo helmet (in Room 41), which was worn by one of the Anglo-Saxons.
The British Museum has weapons, ancient swords, and axes on display, which may interest Zach, as he is going into the military. The Museum of London has similar items and tells the story of how London was settled in the very beginning, and how it changed as different groups of people arrived over the centuries. Quite interesting.

The amazing Celtic Battersea Shield (in Room 50) is at the British Museum. It dates from the time of Julius Caesar's crossing of the Thames during the 54 BC invasion of Britain, as the Celtic people lived where London is now, and attempted to defend themselves from the Roman invasion. It was fairly recently found while workers were digging in the Thames River to build one of the bridges in London.
A replica of it can be seen at the Museum of London.

Zach may find it interesting that many battles were fought in ancient times all around London. He may also be interested to know that some of the streets in London were ancient Roman roads that led out of town to the other towns the Romans built while they occupied England.

If you happen to be standing on the south side of St. Paul's Cathedral, walk due east on Watling Street for 2 1/2 blocks until it dead ends into another street. Watling Street is a Roman road. It has been paved over many times.

Be sure and see the sections of ancient Roman city walls near The Museum of London. Also see the Roman walls near Tower Hill tube station entrance. A section of Roman wall is inside the Tower of London.

Posted by
623 posts

If you go to Cambridge, you could visit the Cambridge American Cemetery (WWII), not far outside town.

It's a US military cemetery, which occupies land donated by the University of Cambridge. I visited in 2010; it's beautifully designed and maintained. I was really moved to see all the names on the Tablets of the Missing. Since my visit, they added a visitor's center in 2014. From their website:

The cemetery contains the remains of 3,812 of our military dead; 5,127
names are recorded on the Tablets of the Missing. Rosettes mark the
names of those since recovered and identified. Most died in the Battle
of the Atlantic or in the strategic air bombardment of northwest

Posted by
908 posts

I saw The Mousetrap when I was in college (first time to fly and first time overseas). I'm a Christie fan, but at the time I thought "eh." What I remember the most was that the theatre had ice cream at intermission--something I'd never seen in the U.S! I would probably enjoy The Mousetrap more now that I'm older.

If he has never been to a theatre (wow!) then I would pick something light, fun and creative. Nothing too long or serious. Don't want to scare him off for life. :)

I definitely recommend a punting tour on the Cambridge backs. I did a tour with Scudamore's and it was great.

Posted by
216 posts

Harry Potter play is phenomenally expensive if you can get tickets on website. Check 1-2 weeks before dates. Think £200/ seat for two plays. He would probably want to see both plays - parts 1 & 2. It's a whole day or two evening commitment.

Play that went wrong is supposed to be funny and not at all "heavy". Mousetrap is very much of it's era and likely would appeal on more levels to someone who is familiar with Christie or with British mysteries in general.

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks for your input Sandra... Not sure what play we will see but there will be a play, by golly.

Posted by
5629 posts

Rachel, et al, the serving of ice cream, during intermissions in London theatre is one of those
" differences" that endeared me to London in my 20's, many years ago. Still makes me smile.

For his first ever theater experience I believe School of Rock, Kinky Boots or even Stomp would be fine.
Lots of eye candy, music, song and dance. All of it will open his eyes.

I'm laughing as I write this remembering my first theatre experience was a play called " Hair." Oh my!

Alas the age of Aquarius is long gone.

Posted by
679 posts

Thanks for the theater input. I am leaning towards School of Rock. I know it is a American musical; however since he has never been to the theater before I think he will enjoy that. By the way, the Age of Aquarius is NEVER over. LOL

Posted by
2 posts

Following! I am taking my 18 yo son to London in 2 weeks for graduation as well. Just the 2 of us so I am SO excited! Some things we are doing:
1. Churchill War Rooms - came very highly rated for teens! Esp boys!
2. FREE Jack the Ripper Tour via Strawberry Tours If that one doesn't appeal there are quite a few others to choose from. Gratuity is only payment which is a nice change!
3. Changing of the Guard via Fun London Tours - excellent reviews and sounds like you are really on the go the whole time in order so see everything so be prepared!! :)
4. Imperial War Museum - he is most excited to see the Holocaust Exhibit. The WWI galleries are supposed to be amazing as well.
5. Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum - eye roll from me but he will probably get a kick out of it
6. Harry Potter Warner Brothers Tour - takes most of the day but this is one of the things he is most excited about doing (along with Jack the Ripper!)
7. Tower of London - Arrive at 930a for the 10a opening! Must do the Crown Jewels 1st then a Beefeater Tour
8. Phantom of the Opera at my insistence but I think he will love it. After reading your post may add Wicked as I am a HUGE Wiz of Oz fan and he was at a younger age.
9. He is VERY interested in law and government so we will definitely do Houses of Parl - hoping to get a guided tour but none have shown up on the days we are there yet.
Throwing in the London Fire Monument, St Paul's Cathedral for Evensong at 5p and the HMS Belfast if we have time!

We are in Paris the last few days and have the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower at night, Notre Dame and a tour at The Louvre to hit the hotspots. Will continue to watch here if you are doing anything different there. I bought as many tickets on line in advance as I could to avoid lines and sold out tours, etc. Have fun!!!

Posted by
12 posts

Here's my 2 cents. I'm taking my 18 year old to London in June for her graduation gift as well. We visited London for her 16th birthday and didn't get to see everything so she asked to go back! My daughter is a art museum fanatic so we hit as many as we could last time. I don't know if that would suit your grandson but it is something to consider.

Her favorites from first trip: National Gallery, Tower of London, Oxford, Bath, British Museum, Courtauld Gallery, Covent Garden, Westminster Abbey, Windsor, shopping for used books, the beautiful parks, Kensington Palace parks and gardens, Borough Market...I could go on. We did do the Churchill War rooms - definitely a good choice for a teenage boy. We searched out all the food we had seen on various blogs and had a great time at Borough Market trying different foods.

My daughter has been to many musicals but we decided on Les Miserables because she knew the music but had never seen it. She absolutely loved seeing this one in London and said to this day, it's still her favorite.

This time around, we are going to York, HP Studio Tour, Cambridge, Bath, British Museum, V & A museum, Natural History Museum, Borough Market and we will be searching for book stores again.

Posted by
2 posts

Oh I love that she likes to shop for books Jennifer!! I may look for tickets to School of Rock as well. My son LOVED that movie and was a drummer for quite a will so that one sounds great...thanks for the tip!!!