While in Scotland, we got cheap flights down to London, and spent a few days exploring the city.
The airbnb where we stayed was in a central (if somewhat sketchy at night) area of London. It allowed us to walk nearly everywhere. Here are some of the places we visited:
The National Gallery
The National Gallery was a short walk from our place and free, so I knew I wanted to check it out, but knew the boys would get restless very quickly at the huge, crowded gallery. I decided to bribe them (but of course – is there another way to travel with children?!), and gave them “points” they could redeem at the end of the trip, for finding, describing and drawing paintings by famous artists, including Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Renoir, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Donatello and Michealangelo. See what I did there? Who says I would never use my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles viewing for anything useful later in life?
Anyway, we spotted a bunch of paintings by the TMNT, including Leonardo, Rafael and Michealangelo in one room as a special exhibit they had. They were good to see, but we were happy to move onto the Impressionists and their lighter subjects.
We didn’t stay long, but I’m glad we took the time to visit. Our next stop, located right behind the museum was…
Here are some other places we visited:
The Tower of London
We went early one morning to see the Tower of London and it did not disappoint! There was a surprising number of things to keep us entertained. When we first arrived, we headed to see the ravens. The ravens are famous guardians of the Tower, and it is said that if the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall. The keepers clip the flights feathers in one wing, so they can’t fly far.
We were there before the ravens were released for the day, so the boys got to see them all in their cages.
After the birds were released, we spotted them on the grounds a few times.
One of the places we toured was the White Tower. It is an amazing, well maintained tower right in the center of the complex.
We walked through the inside, where they had a lineup of past kings’ armor, among other things.
One of the star attractions is the Crown Jewels exhibit. I didn’t take any pictures inside, but we got to see a film of the Queen’s coronation (which was awesome a few days later when we went to Westminster Abbey to see the actual church where it occurred). There were many pieces of jewelry and other fancy cups, spoons and scepters to see. There were replicas of some of the more famous jewels.
From inside the Tower of London, we caught tantalizing glimpses of the Tower Bridge. An icon of London, it is often what people think of as the “London Bridge”, but in reality, the actual London Bridge is a different, less spectacular bridge that replaces an older bridge that in turn replaces another bridge from which the song is based (and we see why it always seems to be “falling down”). The Tower Bridge is actually fairly new (built between 1886 and 1894), but was built in a style to complement the Tower of London.
I made the boys walk over the bridge, with some vague promise of something exciting on the other side, but there wasn’t really much, so we just walked back over it again.
Miscellaneous Bits of Awesome
In addition to the typical big sights of London, we also had a few cool experiences. First, we went to Chinatown (actually very close to where we were staying), and ate at a delicious Chinese food restaurant one night, and had a wonderful, inexpensive (relatively speaking) Japanese meal another night!
A and C were so excited to attend a Premiere League soccer match featuring their favorite team, Arsenal. A has been to some pretty awesome sporting events in his 9 years (in addition to the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta United games, he also got to see a Euro Cup match (Italy v Spain) in Paris last year, and a World Cup qualifier match – Scotland vs Malta, plus we have tickets for an ATP tennis tournament in Switzerland soon), but I think in some cases, C is just happy to have someone else to take to these events. In any case, both boys were super excited!
While the big boys were at the Arsenal game, I took the little guys to see a West End show (which was walking distance from our place – we really did have a good location!). Based on prices and availability, plus what would hold the attention of a 5 and 7 year old, I decided to take us to see Stomp.
It was a winner for us! There are no words or singing in the show. Just music and rhythm made by the performers using every day objects like brooms, shopping carts, newspapers, lighters, and yes, even the kitchen sink! When the performers left the stage briefly before starting a new routine, I might hear a whining “can we leave?” from one of the boys, but as soon as the performers were back, the boys had their eyes locked on the stage!
The other day (weeks after we got back), N had a stick and started rhythmically tapping it and pretending to sweep – just like in Stomp. Isn’t that the sincerest form of flattery? Especially for a 5 year old. We recommend it – thumbs up!
We didn’t get out of London without visiting Hamleys, the oldest and largest toy shop in the world, not once but twice! (and technically a third time when we stopped at their store at the airport on our flight back to Scotland). I thought it was fine, but I personally would much rather shop online. However, the boys were totally loving it. We wandered around all seven floors so the boys could pick the exact toy they wanted. Twice 😉
Westminster Abbey, the House of Parliment and Big Ben
We spent one morning touring Westminster Abbey.
I don’t have many pictures of the inside of the Abbey, because photography wasn’t allowed – which I found out AFTER taking the photo below! Oops! But alas, my camera wasn’t confiscated, so I will share the photo with you!
It was pretty neat to see where some kings and queens were buried, particularly Queen Elizabeth I and her sister, the queen known as Bloody Mary, as well as Mary, Queen of Scots. We also saw the Coronation Chair, where monarchs have sat since the 1200’s for their coronations. We had seen the video of Queen Elizabeth II sitting in that chair at her coronation the day before, so it was cool to see it in person.
I have another photo from after we left – once I was allowed to take pictures again. This is still part of the Abbey, but not part of the tour. You can see some of the cool ceiling, and plaques along the wall commemorating famous people who had died, going back hundreds of years. Lots of history here.
After visiting Westminster Abbey, we headed to the House of Parliment and Big Ben. We didn’t go inside, but just walked over the Westminster Bridge to get a nice view.
Of course, seeing Big Ben, reminds us of that classic scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation where they try to manage a London roundabout. On the more-often-than-you-would-expect occasion where we are circling a roundabout more than once, C and I will inevitably say “there’s Big Ben! there’s Big Ben!”. We can’t be the only ones, right, fellow children of the 70’s and 80’s?
The British Museum
Free + Cool Artifacts = Awesome. We had done some research and a few home school activities focused on artifacts found at the British Museum, so we (or maybe just me?) were raring to go when the time came. We each picked out a few objects we really wanted to see, so the boys were excited to find those objects. Mine was the Easter Island Statue (or the “Dum Dum Gum Gum” guy) as A calls him.
I could have stayed at the British Museum much longer, but alas, my fellow visitors didn’t have quite as much museum-stamina as I did, so we left and went to a playground. The end. No, really, it is the end. I have covered all the details of our trip. After this, we just flew home. So…