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Family of five , commuting 1 hr into London for (4) Day Trips

Day Trip 1 (arrive London Waterloo East -approx 9am): "Big Bus" Tour: off/on at these stops: Portobello Rd Mkt (2 hrs), London Zoo (2-3hrs), Trafalgar Sq w/ dinner at "Café in the Crypt" in St. Martin in the Fields (2-3 hrs), Waterloo East (for train back) Day Trip 2(arrive Charing Cross-approx. 10:45): Churchill Museum/Cab. War Rms (for guys) and Tate Modern (for girls) 2 1/2 hrs, Globe /Museum for all of us (1-2 hrs), Cross over Millenium Bridge for view of St. Pauls (outside only), Science Museum (for husband, kids) and Kens Grdns w/Afternoon Tea for myself & my mom (2 ½ hrs), dep on time, either Westminster Walk or Waterloo East for home train trip. 2 Day Overnight Trip (arrive Sun 9:00am Waterloo Eas) Sunday: Buckingham Palace-Tour Royal Mews Only, Changing of the Guard at 11:30; St. James Park (picnic possible) and check out views from Blue Bridge; Horse Guards Dismounting Ceremony 4pm; Westminster Abbey Organ Recital 5:45pm; Jubilee Walkway & dinner at a Pub; London Eye at sunset; Retire to Hotel THEN Monday: Tower of London first thing (see Crown Jewels, Beefeater Tour, White Tower); Madame Tassauds; Covent Garden Area w/Dinner; taxi to Hotel near airport for last night.

Posted by
768 posts

The bus stop schedule does list London Zoo on it? Same stop as Madame Tassauds? I may drop London Zoo and replace with the cruise anyway - easier on Grandma. I want to finish the entire Big Bus Tour, that's why I have us finishing where we started; but yes, if we want, we can go to Charing X for train home. This day will likely be a Saturday or Sunday, I thought the Portobello market was all day up to 6:30??? If not, we'll have to add something else here too. Any suggestions welcome.

Posted by
768 posts

I didn't have room to give the following info in the above post. I'm looking for critique of my plans, but please note the following: Because we are not staying in the city, we do have to keep in mind the commuting time; also I am travelling with my two kids (daughter 9 and son 13) my husband, and my 69 year old mom who has diabetic neuropathy in her legs. I'm trying not to stress anyone out with these itineraries. We do have a lot we want to see, but I'd like it to be at a easy pace. It's our first time to London, so I could certainly use any input from you experts!

Posted by
9363 posts

Your pace isn't bad, but you're packing in an awful lot of walking for someone with leg problems (not familiar with diabetic neuropathy so I don't know what issues that causes). On Day 1 you have 4-5 hours of walking right off the bat with the market and the zoo. On the second day you have 3-4 hours at museums plus your other plans. You'll need to be sure that you stay aware of your mom's limitations and adjust accordingly.

Posted by
768 posts

Hi Nancy; I figure when my mom gets tired of walking, she can find a nice place to sit & relax (a cafe or something) in the zoo, while we satisfy the kids appetite for the zoo animals. It's really tough to plan itineraries that will work for everyone. Plus, the bus tour will be relaxing. Unless we forget about the zoo and do the cruise that comes with the bus tour? That is a possibility. I'll check to see what my kids would prefer. The later would be less walking!

Posted by
291 posts

Day 1 might need a rethink. Big Bus doesn't go to the London Zoo and assuming this is a Saturday for Portobello Market you really need to get there earlier. Camden Market, although a much different market is right close to the London Zoo - a more logical combination that doesn't need Big Bus.
St Martin's is directly opposite Charing X station so might better be visited with an arrival/depature at Charing X.

Posted by
28147 posts

Madame T's to the zoo is not close. A link to google maps shows 1.4 miles. Cross country won't be that far but its not close. You have to get across Regents Park. The link didn't work. See if this works in the open, I have to go to bed.. http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=Marylebone+Road,+London+NW1+5LR+(Madame+Tussauds)&daddr=London+NW1+4RY+(ZSL+London+Zoo)&hl=en&geocode=FbAsEgMdPqL9_yGGoD3GxDUhtA%3BFSNfEgMd0J_9_yFFI3eW1ntCkQ&mra=ltm&dirflg=w&sll=51.529655,-0.15001&sspn=0.014604,0.027595&ie=UTF8&ll=51.529118,-0.152307&spn=0.014604,0.027595&t=h&z=15

Posted by
2989 posts

Definitely do the cruise that comes with the bus tour. Your children will love it, and so will all the adults on your trip. There's nothing quite like seeing London from the Thames.

Posted by
1986 posts

Portobello market is best/busiest on a saturday- seems you are there mid-week. London Zoo Main entrance (where shops and restaurants are) is far from madame Tussauds- cant imagine what map you are using. Portobello is a lot of waliking; London Zoo is a lot of walking; Museums are a lot of walking and standing; Changing of Guard at Buckinham palace is standing in one place for over two hours. These all dont seem to make sense if your mother has diabetic foot problems (not too sure how severe hers is). It would be somewhat less tiring if your hotel was in London, and your mother could go back to the hotel when she got tired. Sitting on a bench (if you can find one) to recover is not much fun. Especially if its raining. Much too ambitious- start your day with your priority choice and see how far you can get. You and mother will probably need to cut out many of your selection. Husband can take sons to see the other sights. You need to think seriously about moving to a hotel in the west End to cut down on your travel.

Posted by
970 posts

It's hard to know if the itinerary is too ambitious for your mother. Seeing London usually involves a lot of walking, so the kids may be the first to complain. Just be flexible, and don't be a slave to any schedule. Be aware that there can be a fair amount of walking involved in traversingTube stations. While most stations have escalators that take you into the depths, getting to the right train often involves some hiking and some steps in the large stations. I understand your choice not to buy the ticket that gets you inside St Paul's. It is rather expensive. However, it would be a shame to visit London and not see the inside of a cathedral. There are several to choose from. Westminster Abbey is, IMO, the best, and a little cheaper than St. Paul's. I also suggest taking out a map and tweaking your schedule to reduce the distance you al ned to travel between attractions. Also, when you need to be someplace at a specific time, be prepared to flag down a cab. Cabs do have to deal with traffic, but they take you off to your destination, which the Tube almost certainly won't. Have a wonderful trip.

Posted by
9363 posts

If it were my family, I would ditch the zoo all together. There's nothing particularly outstanding about the London Zoo if you have seen other big city zoos (not sure where Tinton Falls is, so I don't know what big city is near that has a great zoo).

Posted by
113 posts

Depending on where you are originitaing from--you don't indicate but if it is In Kent the high speed line to St Pancras would be another travel option.

Posted by
1986 posts

Changing of Guard at Horse guards (or even the dimounting) is a lot easier (and interesting) than Buckingham Palace, you really dont have to wait long (10 minutes will give you a good front row view), and the shiny breast plates and horses do make it spectacular. If you are lucky, on some mornings they do the full ceremony with mounted bands as well. A "back door" changing is the small detachment that goes off to St James palace and changes the Guard there. No fences between you and them, you get real close with very few other spectators. And afterwards you can stand next to the sentry and have a photo taken. (You can also do that at Horse Guards- they are very understanding).

Posted by
768 posts

Thanks for all your input. I will do some tweaking based on all your comments. We will be using taxi's (not tube/bus) to get around. My mom is not in terrible shape, she just wouldn't want to walk for miles at a time. You are right about the kids, they will problem complain before Grandma has anything to say! We are visiting one of the cathedrals, Westminster Abbey; We will have been in Rome to the Vatican and St. Marks Cathedral in Venice before coming to England (we'll be in Italy for 3 weeks) so I think the kids will be sick of Cathedrals by then. Tinton Falls is in NJ, we are one hour from New York City. My mother is really not interested in Changing of the Guard and I know it's a lot of waiting which we all hate (but can I really skip Changing of the Guard?) If anyone wants to take a stab at adjusting my itinerary, I won't be offended. It was really difficult. I'm trying to please everyone in the family: myself (47),husband (59), mother (69), daughter (9), son (13) willk varying interests!

Posted by
2349 posts

Just because the Changing of the Guard is famous and everyone will ask about it when you get home, does not mean you have to go. You'll see royal pomp and circumstance in the Mews. When you're on the South Bank, consider going to Borough Market. My kids, 12 & 15 at the time, absolutely loved it. They could wonder around, eat free samples, buy more food. There are benches to sit on. It really made for an enjoyable 2 hours, although you could spend less time and just eat lunch. http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/

Posted by
768 posts

Thanks Karen! I'm not familiar with Borough Market, is that indoor/outdoor and what are the hours? If that's a better option than Portobello Market, I'll happily swap it. I've decided that if we are around when the Changing of the Guard takes place, and we can see it, we'll watch it; otherwise we won't wait around to see it. If I make my kids wait two hours to see it; they probably be disappointed.

Posted by
768 posts

Actually, that's exactly what happened when we took the kids to the Macy's Day Parade in nearby NYC. We had to wait for hours and then they really were not very impressed. We've decided it's better on TV!

Posted by
768 posts

Karen, sorry I see you already gave me the web address; I've got all the info I need our the Borough Market. Thanks!

Posted by
687 posts

"I'm trying to please everyone in the family:" - tough, but do you all have to stay together all the time? Maybe your husband can take your son and you your daughter, or vice versa, (although I think all of you will be interested by the War Rooms). Also, have you given your kids input? Maybe let each be responsible for a morning? I grew up in England, lived in London for a couple of years, and have visited several times, and I've never seen the Changing of the Guard, even when escorting visiting Americans. I don't feel I've missed out! On the other hand I don't see the V&A, British Museum or British Library on your list.

Posted by
526 posts

I have been to both, Portobello Market and Borough Market. I enjoyed Borough Market more, Portobello was WAY to crowded for me. Also, if you go to Borough Market you could see Sir Frances Drake's ship, it is nearby. Plus, I do believe, they filmed some scenes from Harry Potter at Borough Market. By the way, I really enjoyed Churchill Museum/Cab. War Rooms, I feel it is one of the best museums in London.
Have you thought about seeing a play? I love London for its theater. You could do that one evening during your 2 day overnight trip.

Posted by
768 posts

You all give lots of "food" for thought. In answer to your questions: We will separate a few times per my original itinerary. I don't really need to ask my kids because I know them better than they know themselves (ha ha). I tried to put in a lot of things that are both child and adult friendly. Most museums do not meet that criteria I think you are right that I would enjoy the Cabinet War Rooms, but my daughter and my mom won't (I know, we've been to many war memorials in Normandy, France). My mother loves art, so myself and my daughter will join her at Tate Modern (her #1 Pick) that day. I, personally, do not like museums in general, and I have access to many great ones in NYC. I'd much rather be on outside on the streets, in a great square, or beautiful park or garden. I love looking at all the architecture. The British Museum does interest me, but the kids will get bored very quickly, it's just not worth it to do it with them. My mom is not comfortable being off alone or just with the kids in a strange city. Borough Market does sounds terrific, I'll definitely try to include it (it's open Thurs, Fri, Sat only).

Posted by
768 posts

Debra, funny you should mention Harry Potter; my daughter wanted me to read the books simultaeously to her; when I surpassed her on the first book, she hid my book on me. I made her give it back. Now I'm on the fourth book and she's on the second. So, Harry Potter stops are definitly a good idea!

Posted by
9363 posts

"I would enjoy the Cabinet War Rooms, but my daughter and my mom won't (I know, we've been to many war memorials in Normandy, France)" War memorials are not the same as the War Rooms. When my parents (70's) took my sister's families (4 four kids ranging in age from 5 to 17), they were all fascinated. And my parents had many tales to tell about having been kids themselves during that time. "The British Museum does interest me, but the kids will get bored very quickly, it's just not worth it to do it with them." I think you are not giving your kids enough credit! The Brtish Museum is wonderful and has something to interest almost anyone. And how can it not be "worth it" when it doesn't even cost to get in? If you get bored, leave. (But I bet you won't.)

Posted by
768 posts

I'm not saying they are not wonderful museums, I'm sure they are and if we had enough time I'd definitey include them. The problem is, what do we give up to go to those museums? Everyone has already pointed out that I have way to much on my four day's itineraries already. If you can arrange my itinerary to include those museums plus everything on my list with the exception of: The Zoo, Portobello Market, Changing of the Guard, Changing of Horse Guard, Millenium Bridge/St. Pauls - I'd be very happy! Remember, we are commuting in for three of the four days from an hour away by train.

Posted by
687 posts

"I don't really need to ask my kids because I know them better than they know themselves" - really? Dream on... Anyway, the point of having the kids plan a day is first, good practice for later trips on their own, second, educational, and third gets them invested in the trip. And now I think about it, have you asked your mother what she wants to do? I've wound up limping around on a couple of my trips, and it really altered some of my itinerary, but maybe she just wants to go for it.

Posted by
1983 posts

Just a suggestion but if you need to cut anything, doesn't Madame Toussads have a museum in New York City. I know it would not have the same figures but is worth a thought to skip it. Would also cut out of the end of the Beefeaters tour where you are to enter the small chapel for about half hour history lecture. We thought it was very boring and not worth the time. Not sure how your mother will do with standing for a while but for changing of the guard at the palace you can wait quite a while, you might skip that as well and just see the dismounting ceremony at 4pm. Might also consider skipping the zoo as you live in NJ and can always visit Philadelphia or Bronx Zoo. Enjoy.

Posted by
9363 posts

As I said before, I would ditch the zoo in favor of the British Museum. And the previous poster makes some great suggestions for paring down the rest of your itinerary.

Posted by
970 posts

Kerry, we all have different interests and tastes. I've lived in London and visited about a dozen times. Here's what I think I would eliminate from your itinerary, since you are presumably first time visitors: 1. The Zoo: Lots of zoos in the world. Nothing unique in this zoo that says, ''London.:" 2. Tussauds: Tourist trap. Why bother?? Rest of the itinerary looks fine. As I've said, I have no problem with your staying outside town, as long as you understand that the trains will be crowded, potentially SRO, when you travel to and from the city. Also, Kensington Gardens is not small. Consult a map. And be prepared for the cafe to be crowded. And, book your taxi in advance for the ride out to Heathrow. They can be hard to flag down in the evening rush. (I'm curious about how what you will do with your luggage during that last day.)

Posted by
768 posts

"No, Karen, I haven't asked anyone what they want to do. I just chose what I like to do and they'll all have suffer through it. I don't want to expose my kids to anything educational, I just bring them on our month's long summer travels to do my bidding. If my mother has to limp through the trip, that's her problem. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? I'm looking for help, not self righteous citicism here.

Posted by
768 posts

Thanks for your input. I know Madame T's is a touristy thing; but everyone in the family seems to want to go to it. It sounds like fun; even R. Steves says it is. There may be one in NYC, but for some reason going to it in London seems more exotic (ha ha).
I am hoping that our hotel will be able to hold our luggage the last day, if not I hear the train station around the corner I believe will. I do have to research that for sure. I know Kens. Gardens is very big, I was hoping to have the taxi drop us off as close to the Orangerie as possible. I'll look into when the Orangerie is most crowded and try to avoid those times. In fact, we may decide to ditch the Orangerie in favor of all of us going to the Cabinet War Rooms since many have said it is really interesting for the whole family. I am taking all you "helpful" comments to heart. Thanks alot!

Posted by
8997 posts

Definitely check out Madame Tassauds, it's a lot of fun! It's much bigger than any of the other locations throughout the world, including the one in NYC. It's expensive but worth it. You can save money and skip the long lines by purchasing your tickets in advance via the web site.

Posted by
768 posts

Thank you Michael. Finally, I did something right!

Posted by
28147 posts

I hear what you say about museums, Kerry, to each their own. You have picked a city with many of the best museums in the world so its not surprising that people here push them hard, especially when almost all of them are completely free to visit. One thing you might think of is that most museums have benches, cafes, and pretty good toilets. Loo of the year is often won by museums, and St Pauls Cathedral used to win for the ones in the undercroft. The undercroft at St Pauls is free to get in - the door is opposite Paul (the French patisserie) on the north side of the Cathedral - and contains a cafe, a shop, and plenty of toilets, as well as an entrance to the crypt. There are vents in the ceiling up to the main nave so if the organ is playing you can hear it (and they can hear you). So if your mother is flagging you can pop into a museum and she can rest.

Posted by
1128 posts

My family is a lot more laid-back than many travelers. We keep a really light schedule: one or two things to do each day so anything extra is gravy. But let me throw in one bit of our experience. We, too, stayed outside London for parts of our past two trips. We commuted into town via train/underground. We had to change trains a few times, which required some walking between platforms. And there was always some waiting for the right train. Anyway, we discovered that the commute itself was tiring. It took time and there was a level of stress inherent in the process. Just my two cents. You may want to be prepared to scale back on your itinerary if you begin to feel like you are really dragging. By-the-way, we stayed in a little town outside of London because we made use of a friend's flat. Despite the commute, we liked the experience. We got to go to the town's grocery stores and shopped in the stores used by locals. My daughter loved the little town and just being there was the highlight of the trip for her.

Posted by
1986 posts

Kerry Dont ditch the Orangerie. It is easy to get to by Tube. Easy to find on the map (off the top of my head- Kensington High street) very near Kensington Palace (west end of Kensington Gardens), easy and pleasant walk from the Tube station through some pleasant gardens. Both the walk and the tea will be enjoyable.
But do check out the need for reservations

Posted by
768 posts

Good advice again. My feeling is that I want to see London, not the inside of London's museums. I do understand that traveling in as opposed to staying in the city makes for a more tiring experience; but we have a beautiful and FREE home exchange in Tunbridge Wells to return too. We will have time to rest in between London sightseeing days by their pool (weather permitting) and also visiting some of their local sights. We'll be visiting gardens and little villages, etc...maybe a trip to Brighton, etc...I too, love a slow pace; that's what's making it particularly difficult figuring out a nice enjoyable itinerary for our London day trips. For instance, before England, we are spending a whole week in both Positano and Venice. I want time to just relax and enjoy those areas. London is posing difficult because of the shear volume of interesting sights and the limited time we have to enjoy them.

Posted by
800 posts

Kerry - I know you've already done some tweaking of your original plans but wanted to offer my two cents on the actual sites you are considering. We took our kids to London the first time when they were 10 (son) and 12 (daughter). Sites in London: Churchill Musueum - this is a FABULOUS museum that you might want to reconsider for all. The older part is the war rooms and you walk through the reconstructed rooms. But it is the new Churchill museum that is so interesting and well done and very moving. I'm not nearly the WWII buff that my husband is and I loved it. St. Paul's - I know you said the kids may have enough of cathedrals but there is the "climb to the top" - something we did on every trip with family - climb up and count the steps. (of course, not good for your mom) Madame Tassauds - my husband was NOT anxious to do this - but the kids really wanted to and it ended up that all of us really enjoyed it. It was a silly, fun thing - but be sure you look into the phone/online reservation thing because when we walked up (VERY early in the am) there was a long line of people looking to get tickets and we just walked in. Westminster Abbey - can't tell if you intend to just sit for the Organ recital or tour the abbey. This was one of my kids FAVorite things! They loved looking at who was buried/memorialized there - so be sure you can spend some time. We had to try 3 times to get in as the lines were quite long when we tried to just drop by in the afternoon - something for you to consider with your mom. London Eye & Tower of London - as good as they sound. Buckingham Palace & Changing of the Guards - we haven't done this (except for walking on the outside of the Palace) and this is still something I'd personally reconsider with the thought of standing and waiting. Have a great trip!

Posted by
96 posts

Some thoughts based on our trip last July with fit 70-year old grandparents, parents aged 50, boys ages 15 and 13. You know your family best but mine would have been exhausted by this pace, especially since if I am reading right you will be at week 4 of your trip. What worked best for us was one big thing in the morning, lunch, one big thing in the afternoon, then late afternoon rest in the apartment. And we had the advantage of being close to everything. On day one I would take out something, probably the zoo, and just do the big bus tour in the morning, then lunch at the crypt (cool setting and excellent food). Getting on and off takes more time than you think and you may have to wait at stops to get back on. I'd do horse guards and not changing of the guard. Less standing, less people. The jubilee walk involves a fair amount of walking so keep that in mind. At the tower of london I suggest skipping the crown jewels and leaving more time for seeing the armor in the white tower. It was slow going through the jewels even though we were there first thing in the morning.

Posted by
96 posts

And a few more thoughts: I second the many suggestions to hit the British Museum. Your kids will not be bored, it was a highlight for mine, and they were not always easily pleased! It has a world class collection of all kinds of antiquities and prompted interesting discussions about the ethics of Britain taking objects from the colonies and keeping them. We didn't go to Madame Tussads but it had a huge line around the block so if there's a way to avoid the line do it. I'm sure that many here will disagree with this, but I've never met an art museum I didn't like, and all six of us were disappointed by the Tate Modern. It is organized in a difficult way and the audio guides were very hard to figure out. If you want a neat small art museum experience take your mom and daughter to the Courthauld Institute gallery. Very small and only had about 10 people when I went there. Check it out online. Have fun!

Posted by
28 posts

FYI....was just in London for the Royal Wedding and they are working on some of the train lines for the Olympics.....Circle line was closed and there are other ones closed too, found more stairs in the stations than "moving" stairs...... Might want to check that out before you go. Enjoy London~ Christina PS...Changing of the Guard, not worth the time or the hassles with the crowds...IMO.

Posted by
52 posts

London with the grandkids was special. They are 14, 12, and 8. This is what they talk about: 1. Tower - the weapons, the chopping block, the chapel (sitting on top of Anne Boleyn's bones), and getting chased by a raven. They hated the jewels - kept giving me "the look". 2. St. Martin in the Fields - the cafe and the brass rubbing. Didn't like the concert after a homeless man joined us for a nap with snoring. 3. Tate Modern's 7th floor balcony, the city's best free view. 4. Their best day was riding all 4 of the hop on/off routes. Each kid could pick only one place to hop off and visit. Oh, the indecision. You would have thought they were picking a college. 5. I tried to talk them out of Madame Tussauds. But, they loved it.
6. We went online and each one chose ONE thing to see in the British Museum. One chose the mummies, another, the Rosetta Stone, and the third chose the gift shop. We honored the choices.

Posted by
28147 posts

Christina of Stuttgart Circle line was closed and there are other ones closed too Not all the time, Christina. Various Underground lines are closed at weekends for ongoing engineering improvements, not actually connected to the Olympics. The schedule is available on the TfL website several weeks in advance so is easy to plan around. The improvements are to safety and quality of ride so we appreciate them. There are also longer term closures such as Tottenham Court Road which are to do with a new line being built called Crossrail. Although this was hoped to be in for the Olympics it has been so far behind for so many years nobody has counted on it next year for many many years.

Posted by
32 posts

Nigel - What is the TfL website please? Sounds like it would be a help to check before we go in a few weeks. Miff - Thanks for the suggestions for kids. Going with a 12 year old in a few weeks.

Posted by
28147 posts

TfL is Transport for London who are the gang running the Underground, the London Overground, and who control the buses and trams, and who are responsible for the roads and cycling, and some riverboats are also controlled by them. They also dictate fares and they do the Oyster Card and the Travel Card. They have a very comprehensive website and a very easy to use planner. The planner is at this website , the main website from which it is very to drill down is at www.tfl.gov.uk .

Posted by
32 posts

Nigel - Thanks so much. The site will be a big help in making our plans for our weekend in London.
Kerry - Have a great trip. Your post has given me lots of help for my trip.

Posted by
768 posts

Thanks everybody. I'm really looking forward to our first trip to England!

Posted by
970 posts

Kerry, if you are willing to put up with the commute into London, staying at a house in Tunbridge Wells has a lot going for it. Especially since it is free. Don't ignore what that town has to offer, as well as the rest of southern and southeast England. To avoid the crush of rush hour train traffic (a very real thing) consider leaving Tunbridge around 10 am and coming back after dinner, say, after 8pm. Also, fares are highest during the rush hours.