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8 Days in London with My 10yo Grandson

Just returned from 2 weeks in London and Iceland with my 10yo grandson. This was his first trip to Europe (since the toddler ones he can recall only in pictures), and the beginning of my plan to stretch his horizons to make him a citizen of the world. I’ve gotten so many good ideas from this forum and hope to share what worked well for us, and our occasional misstep.

A ten-year-old can be a delightful traveling companion. Last summer I took him to the King Tut exhibit and watched him listen to every word of the audioguide. That was my sign he was ready to tackle Europe. He’s old enough not to get homesick and young enough to still think I’m kind of cool. Although we live in the same town, too many of our interactions take place on the way to some scheduled activity, and I rarely have only one grandchild at a time. Having time to focus only on him made this special for us both.

London is an ideal destination with kids. There are endless activities, easy transportation, and no language barrier. It’s the first European city I took my own kids to, and it’s just fun! Have visited here probably a dozen times over 30+ years and still haven’t seen it all. Had no illusions he and I would cover it in a week, so chose some highlights and saved plenty for future trips. My only hard rule: No more than one heavy historical site a day.

Because of his school schedule we had to travel in summer, and I’m a confirmed shoulder season and winter traveler. I shifted our days a little to avoid the British half-term break when I expected kid activities to be packed. (You can google their school holidays.) And added a day when I realized we were scheduled to leave London on the Queen’s birthday, which should be something to see. Early June was busy but not slammed. And the weather was ideal, 70ish and mostly sunny. Thankful for AccuWeather, though I didn’t really believe its forecasts until 3 or 4 days ahead. Maybe it’s global warming, but I was here in June with his mother 30 years ago, and four days into our trip I bought us both a coat because we were freezing!

The Plan:
Saturday
Early afternoon arrival & driver to apartment
Outside in nearby Trafalgar Sq and Covent Garden (to keep us awake)
Early dinner and try to stay up til at least 9

Sunday
LondonWalks Hello, London! at 10AM
traditional Sunday Roast lunch
Peter Pan at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre with al fresco dinner at the theatre

Monday
Churchill War Rooms at 11AM (reserved ahead)
Tower Bridge exhibit during a scheduled afternoon bridge lift http://www.towerbridge.org.uk/lift-times
Pick up Tower of London tickets while we’re there (reserved ahead)
Megabus tour leaving Tower Hill at 4

Tuesday
Tower of London when it opens at 9
selective visit to British Museum in PM
Hamilton! at 7:30

Wednesday
Harry Potter Studio Tour (10:30 reservation)
Beating Retreat at 8PM (part of the Queen’s birthday celebration)

Thursday
Westminster Abbey (reserved ahead; ticket good all day)
Tea at the Portrait Restaurant at National Portrait Gallery (reserved ahead)
Lion King at 7:30

Friday
Science Museum (Wonderlab and Engineer Your Future)
Londonwalks National Gallery at 2:15
Les Mis at 7:30

Saturday
Trooping the Colour parade on the Mall
Flyover from St. James Park
Portobello Road market

I think this is a realistic pace, allowing time for transportation, meals, and a little down time. Yes, I could probably cover more ground on my own, but I want him to enjoy this trip and look forward to returning, not remember it as "the Death March through London with Mimi!"

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Theatre
London theatre was his favorite activity! He liked all the plays, but his order of liking was Hamilton, Les Mis, Lion King, then Peter Pan. (Mine was Hamilton, Peter Pan, Les Mis, and Lion King, but had seen the last two several times already.) Good seats fit in my worthwhile splurge category in London. After I’ve spent all that money to GET to London, I’m not sitting in the rafters. Can economize plenty of other places to justify good seats. Theatre tickets are the first thing I buy after my plane ticket. I’ve had some luck on single tickets for plays at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, but if it’s a popular musical, I chomp the bullet and buy the ticket at officiallondontheatre.com. The price isn’t going down, but the seat selection is.

Before we came, he read Who Was Alexander Hamilton? by Pam Pollock, and had to explain some history to me. I got Hamilton tickets the night they opened the last block, even though I was in the queue half the night! For London’s Hamilton there is an elaborate procedure to prevent ticket scalping requiring you to produce at the theatre the credit card you purchased with, but this has kept the prices way below the outrageous ones in the US! If you “like” their FB page, you will get advance notice when tickets are going up for sale. It was as good as all the hype!

Before Les Mis, we talked about grace, and how it fits with right and wrong. He got it. At intermission I told him Les Mis was a lot darker than I remembered. His answer: “Oh it’s going to get a lot darker, because of the foreshadowing!”

I knew the elephant and other animals parade down the left aisle (stage right) in Lion King, so made sure his seat was right on the left aisle. Mind blown. And all kids love ordering ice cream at intermission!

Peter Pan was a limited run musical and may be over by now. Extremely creative staging in a not-just-for-kids story heavily weighted with WWI references. Starts as a hospital filled with young soldiers who later become the Lost Boys. Their nurse will be Wendy. It’s not a large venue, and I doubt there’s a bad seat in the outdoor theatre. If you’re in London and there’s something interesting playing here, go! Ticket prices lower than traditional theatre.

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Museums and historical sites
In off season London I’ve had great luck buying cheap RT British Rail tickets, printing out my vouchers at home, and taking advantage of the 2-4-1 offers. In summer, with a child, I really didn’t want to waste time and energy standing in lines. And there were lines. If you buy the War Rooms, Abbey, and London Tower tickets online, you get some discounts and skip the lines. Probably true of many other tickets. Win!

At the War Rooms there was ALWAYS a line for those without reservations. Audio guide is very good. Tuesday morning at the Tower was supposed to be one of the least crowded times, and it was. Did the Crown Jewels first, without many people. The free Beefeater tours are huge, but they project their voices well and they’re entertaining. We missed the early morning slow time at the Abbey, but made the lunchtime slot and there was no line outside and not too crowded inside. The free Abbey audioguide is excellent, audio plus photos. My grandson’s favorite: “Not too long.”

This website is helpful. http://londonist.com/2014/12/the-best-times-to-visit-londons-attractions

The British Museum is so enormous, you really need a plan. We chose the Egyptian/Babylonian galleries on the first level, then DH took him to the mummies while I went to the special Rodin exhibit. (Expensive ticket, limited Rodin sculptures, but a good explantation of the influence of ancient Greek sculpture on Rodin’s work.)

The National Gallery is one of my favorites but with 3000+ pieces, overwhelming. I have a lot of art history background, and it kills me to watch people get lost in the lesser works (and every art museum has them) and burn out before seeing some stars. I hoped the Londonwalks tour would hit a highlight from each period so my grandson could see something of how art progressed through history. It was a little heavy on the Medieval and early Renaissance for the casually interested, but the historian guide was very knowledgeable. We ended in the easy-to-like post Impressionists, and I was running around trying to show him details of some of my favorites. He had been a trooper throughout, and his reaction now: “You get really excited about all of this!” Yep, and I”m hoping it will rub off on you!

The Science Museum is a real star for kids. In about two hour gulps I could return here day after day. In our one visit we focused on Wonderlab (with all the school field trips!) and the much calmer, hands-on Engineer Your Future exhibits he loved, especially the chance to design a moon rover and set it loose on screen. There are also IMAX movies and some probably stomach-churning 3-D experiences for an additional ticket. I would love to visit the medical exhibits floor. Next trip.

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London Bus Tours
Over the years I’ve tried several. The HOHO is too expensive for what you get. Too much waiting if you get off, and too little chance of getting a good seat on another bus at a popular stop.There are better ways to connect London sights.

The Megabus is one of London’s newest 2 hour circular bus rides, and it can be very cheap. I think they guarantee you a seat up top. Our 3 tickets for a weekday tour leaving at 4PM from the Tower Hill stop cost a total of 11 pounds! The commentary is recorded, the traffic was heavy, and the commentary and sights never seemed to quite match up, which was annoying. But it is an inexpensive option.

My favorite so far is the yellow London Night Bus tour which leaves from the Ritz Hotel near the Green Park tube station. My friends and I used 2-4-1 vouchers for an April tour. It was cold up top, and there weren’t a lot of riders, so we got on without much of a wait. They have a live guide. I’ve read a number of recent criticisms of how they treat people using vouchers, making them wait until last to board, and sometimes making them wait for another bus completely. I don’t think the ride would be very special from the downstairs seats. Don't think I would try to use a voucher if high season.

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Other entertainments
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is extremely well done and a lot of fun, and I know almost nothing about HP. Made me want to watch all the movies now. There are opportunities to spend some more money, buying the video of their broomstick ride, or in several gift shops, but the quality is very high. Get the audioguide! It has many additional videos and explanations of how things are done. I would have watched every one of them, but the lure or what fantastical thing is waiting around the next corner pulls kids along faster than I could watch!

There are some big bus tours to get you there, but it’s extremely simple to make the trip on your own by tube. We first took the tube to Euston Station, then used our Oyster cards to take the British Overground line to Watford Junction where the colorful, unmissable Harry Potter shuttle bus stops right outside the station. I think the charge on the Oyster card was only about 5 pounds each way. You pay a couple of pounds for the RT shuttle. Trains run frequently, and this way you can stay as long as you wish at the studios. Very easy. Promise.

Both Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden were short walks from our apartment, and the street entertainers were often very good. We were at Trafalgar Square on a Saturday when a large colorful and peaceful Sikh protest march took place, something he had never experienced in the US.

Londonwalks Hello, London! is a fun intro to London. In all the times we’ve been here, I’ve never had the desire to wade into the crowds for the guard change at the Palace. This is kind of a “best of” option. The guard change itself isn’t all that exciting, but with this walk you get a nice walk through the park and a good spot on the Mall to see the parade, then an opportunity to go closer to the Palace to see the other parade coming from the barracks. Plus, there’s a local to show you some tidbits like Charles and Camilla’s house and explain some of the royal traditions foreign to us. And a very close up look at the simpler horse guard change on Whitehall.

Saturday morning at Portobello Road market is always on my list. Go early if you're serious. I have found a treasure or two. Gets crowded later in the morning. Food vendors are always fun. Grandson loved it.

Being in London for the Queen’s birthday celebration week was memorable. There were opportunities earlier in the year to buy tickets to several of the events. On London friends’ advice we passed on the actual Trooping of the Colour itself, which involves a long, hot sit in a fancy hat, and chose the shorter, more informal evening Beating Retreat with Bearhats, horses, bands, bands ON horses, and fireworks. Takes some patience to get through security and then wait for things to start, but worth it. The British band played all the US service anthems, and the US Army Europe Band marched and played. There was a theme of unity throughout the narration that gave me hope.

The highlight of Saturday was the parade to and from the Trooping the Colour. We decided to catch the parade on its way back to the Palace. The crowds may have been a little less then, and the parade itself seemed headed home at double time. Waiting for it to happen gives you time to talk to your neighbors. Big smiles at watching the Queen’s open carriage pass just before us, then Princess Anne in uniform on her horse, and Camilla and Kate in matching pastels, and the biggest roar of all for Meghan and Harry. Our new neighbors told us to be sure tostay for the flyover, which we watched from canvas sun chairs on the green in St. James Park!

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Where to Stay
We used to save Marriott and Hyatt points for London to avoid the high hotel prices, but now prefer an apartment. Have had good experiences with London Connections twice recently. They also have a driver for the airport, which is so much easier when you're tired and jet lagged. Can pack much lighter when I have a washer, especially with a kiddo. And it makes breakfast easier. And we have space to get out of each other’s space.

I’ve tried staying on the south bank twice, in a hotel and in an apartment, but it really does add an extra layer of transportation connections to get to most of the sights. Our apartment this trip was on Cambridge Circus on Charring Cross, a short walk from the Leicester Square tube station. This is the intersection where the theatre for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is. Great location. Close to Soho, Covent Garden, and Trafalgar Square. Many taxis and buses pass by. Lots of food choices in walking distance. Party central at night on weekends, but thankfully, there were double windows and blackout shades, both necessary.

Where to Eat
Since we always blow the budget on theatre tickets, fine dining never makes the cut. Our grandson is a fairly adventurous eater, but length of time from ordering to service affects his rating system. The only thing I never talked him into trying was Indian, my fave in London.

Here are his London picks:

Wagamama for noodle bowls and raw salads. Covent Garden has a pretty new location, no longer in the basement. This chain is all over London. Quick service and good value.

Poppies. An authentic London chippie in East London near Spitalfields. Fish & chips!
http://poppiesfishandchips.co.uk

Princi for Italian. Sit down and order from the menu or go through the line...and probably choose too much Good pizza, pasta, salads, desserts.
https://www.princi.com

Mother Mash. Tiny Soho eatery where you choose a mashed potato, a sausage or meat pie, and gravy. Thought he might lick his plate at this one.
http://www.mothermash.co.uk

Afternoon tea at the Portrait Restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery. His favorite food experience! Servers are friendly and the view is rooftops of Trafalgar Square. afternoontea.co.uk often has a 25% off coupon for Mon-Thurs which brings price closer to 20 pounds each, something of a bargain in London tea land.

A tiny nameless noodle shop on Charring Cross our taxi driver recommended. A handful of tables and a chef who stretched the noodles as we watched.

Pret was not his favorite for sandwiches. Since they’re prepackaged, it’s harder to find something without mayo. Breakfast choices there suited him fine. So did pancakes and sausage from the McD’s next door.

Money
Who knew 10yo boys would love to shop! It worked well to let him know the total he had for the trip, then hand it out in smaller increments so all could not get lost. He loved to look at the souvenir stands and find treasures in the 3 pound range. At the Harry Potter Studio he fell for a Gryffindor hoodie, which was not cheap, but wiped out a chunk of his spending money, ending most of the trinket search. Win!

(He did come home from London never knowing Hamley’s exists. My bad.)

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Transportation
We had our Oyster cards from previous trips which we loaded with about 30 pounds then topped as needed. Kids (up to 15 maybe?) don’t need one. They can go through the wide turnstile with you and ride free. Our grandson is very tall for 10, so we carried the ID card he received with his passport as proof of his age but were never questioned.

Love London buses, though it took us years to figure out the routes. We took many short rides, upstairs whenever possible. (I think Emma finally broke the code for me somewhere on this site!)

He liked the tubes, buses, and London taxis, especially the taxis.

If you’re traveling with a child without your last name, go online and find the document giving you permission from his parents and get it notarized. We were asked for proof of it leaving Heathrow for Iceland.

Communication
IN CASE we got separated, he had an iPhone with our phone numbers. His parents got him the unlimited international plan from Verizon for 2 weeks, which I thought was expensive, but then we didn’t have to worry about him going over a limit.

Best travel accessory
Anker PowerCore II Slim 10000 Ultra Slim Power Bank. Charged it every night then kept it in my purse, and it was constantly charging somebody’s something.

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Epic Fails
I booked us on a late night direct flight from ATL leaving at 10PM, arriving at 11AM, in hopes we would all sleep. We were in Delta Comfort to increase our chances. DH, one of the original road warriors, slept the entire time. I took an Ambien and got maybe 3 restless hours. Grandson watched two and a half movies and fell over asleep when the landing gear dropped down. Life lesson: this is jet lag.

The main purpose of the iPhone was for taking pictures. The main usage of the iPhone was for playing video games. Reality: we all need some down time, and he would always put it away if I asked him to.

Journaling. Just didn’t happen. I read Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids and put together this cool packet of art supplies, with an envelope of prompts to encourage creativity. Let him pick out his own special travel journal. He would write something if I asked him to, but at the end of 4 days, had a total of about 8 sentences. We were having a lot of fun, and we were tired by night. I was getting behind on my journaling too. We were having a successful trip, which was the point, so I decided to just let it go and get on with our fun.

I’ve never seen the Tower Bridge exhibit. I carefully studied the bridge lift schedule and found a time when we were likely to be up top when the bridge lifted. Thought he would like. When he heard the phrase “walk out on the glass floor,” he had absolutely no interest in doing this. We did watch a bridge lift from the Tower of London. Or at least I did. He was at the ice cream stand and missed it! But he loved the ice cream.

Biggest Disaster, Averted
On our last full day in London, slurping noodles at Wagamama in Kensington, he realized he had left his (actually my new lightweight travel backpack) in the taxi. Totally distraught. How could he do something so stupid. And all his souvenirs were in it.

I’ve lived long enough to believe a problem that can be fixed with money is not a real problem. His Arsenal cap and Harry Potter hoodie were safely back at the apartment, and all his lost treasures were easily replaceable ones, for not much money. Convinced him to finish his lunch then we would take a taxi straight to Portobello Road where I was sure we could find everything. He really lit up when I told him the replacements would not have to come out of his money. (Grandparent privilege.) Within two shops and fifteen minutes on Portobello Road, we found new and improved versions of the lost patch, keyring, tiny soldier, and stuffed bear for his brother, and he was thrilled.

The take away. It was an accident, and this time you lost some replaceable souvenirs. You’ll be very careful to never make this mistake again. And next time that backpack may have your laptop and passport and money, and I know you will check to be sure you have it before you leave that bus or train or hot air balloon!

The bottom line
This was a wonderful trip. Making memories is money well spent for me. Spending this block of time with a special child was priceless. Just hope someday when our positions are reversed, he might be willing to bring me along.

Biggest LOL, almost forgot!
Last Saturday afternoon of trip, chilling in our apartment after the Queen’s parade and hear cheering from the street below. Looked out the window to see hundreds of naked riders on bicycles! Grandson takes one look, rolls eyes, and returns to video game. I, on the other hand, know I now have the best FB video clip of the entire trip!

Iceland adventures to come later....

Posted by
86 posts

Wow, GREAT trip report. I am taking notes, as we have two boys ages 10 and 13 that have been asking for a trip to London. I'm looking forward to your notes on Iceland, as we are heading there with them next month.

Posted by
1217 posts

What a wonderful trip report! Your grandson sounds like a very smart kid and a great travel companion. I can tell that you put a lot of thought into this trip so that it would be enjoyable for him. He will have these wonderful memories of your time together for the rest of his life.

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68 posts

Loved this review! We're travelling to London with our ten year old plus two teens next month, and so much of this is on point. Thanks!

Posted by
1863 posts

Fantastic report! So, so good that I printed it out and put in my excellent trip report file for future trip!
Wish my grand’ma had taken me to London! Or anywhere in Europe for that matter!

Posted by
4450 posts

Excellent trip report, you really maximised your time in London but without making it too intense and therefore forgetful.

Absolutely love the Science Museum and the medical exhibits are superb so definitely something to look forward to for your next trip.

Posted by
2904 posts

Thanks for lots of useful ideas. You really did a good job planning your trip and maximizing your time! I don't see how you could cover more ground on your own-this itinerary is quite busy! We just got back from Scotland and England. Like us, I bet you're really missing those cool temps when it's 90 at 10 AM here!

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8625 posts

What a fun trip! I know you spend many hours planning it and it sounds like it really paid off.

I am sure he will remember Best of London with Mimi and Papa when he is taking his kids and grandkids on the same adventure!

Score!

Posted by
1984 posts

Fantastic report, Ruth! I enjoyed all your pictures, too. Look forward to seeing you this Sat. and sharing your stories in person.

Posted by
981 posts

What a great trip and you’re one awesome grandma! I’ve been to London a few times but you’ve given me ideas for future trips!

Posted by
2182 posts

What a lovely trip and trip report. Can't wait till our grandsons are old enough for a trip like this. We are patiently waiting till they reach the 10 year mark. Hope iceland was just as much fun.

Posted by
2692 posts

A superb trip report. What kindness to compile all of this for forum readers.

Posted by
11275 posts

What a great trip report, and what a great trip you and your grandson had!