Can a young person truly appreciate a city of quirky bookshops, World War history, “zebra crossings” and narrow, Leaky Cauldron-esque streets? In other words, can a kid enjoy London? A recent New York Times article affirmatively says yes. Here are three ideas to get you and your young Anglophile started on a lifelong love affair with one of the world’s most fascinating cities.
Bookstores like no others in the world
Hatchards, founded in 1797, is the oldest bookshop in London. Though now owned by the mega-chain Waterstones, “Hatchards retains the stubborn texture of an independent,” reports The Times. “A wooden staircase, buffed by the ages, winds up multiple floors, past displays featuring an idiosyncratic selection of literary fiction and fustily British subjects. And there is no café.”
The children’s section on the third floor may be smaller than that of the average Barnes & Noble, but its shelves are meatier. British bookstores tend to stock a richer inventory of history books, rather than the watered-down social studies and photographic collage that often passes for nonfiction here. They’re also particularly strong on fairy tales, geography, folklore and mythology — particularly appealing to a young Percy Jackson fan.
And as an added bonus, Hatchards is but a short stroll off Piccadilly Circus and conveniently close to Fortnum & Mason, whose Food Hall is “a wonder to behold, an irresistible display of gourmet pleasures. This is the finest food of its kind,” boasts its website. After books, go for a bite!
Daunt Books in Marylebone is not only an excellent general bookshop, but specializes in travel and world literature, with shelves organized by country. Marchpane, an antiquarian children’s bookseller in Cecil Court just off Charing Cross Road, opened in 1989 but feels as though it’s been there since the Victorian era. Its owner, Kenneth Fuller, a rare books dealer since 1983, sits at a high desk perched over his wares.
Enter the fantasy world where Harry Potter was filmed
If you’ve a Harry Potter fan in the family, a trip to the Warner Brothers studio where the films were shot, 20 minutes outside London, is a must — no, a requirement. Here in all its Hogwartian splendor is the Gryffindor common room, along with Diagon Alley and those life-size chess pieces, guardians of the Philosopher’s Stone. To be on the safe side, book your tickets to “The Making of Harry Potter” tour before setting out.
You also cannot miss the Harry Potter walking tour conducted by London Walks, led by a gifted actor with the Dickensian name of Richard Walker. You’ll make your way over the Millennium Bridge (destroyed by Death Eaters!), scope out film locations for Diagon Alley, see where Harry, Mad-Eye Moody, Nymphadora Tonks and their friends fly in The Order of the Phoenix, and along the way, take in classic London landmarks such as the Bank of England, Mansion House, Leadenhall Market and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Only-in-London excursions for a truly memorable visit
For spectacular panoramic views of the city, you and your child will both love the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames, also known as the Millennium Wheel.
Another fun, kid-friendly activity is a double-decker bus tour. “For a child, the rooftop view offers tangible evidence of just how different big cities still look, despite the cross-Atlantic proliferation of Whole Foods and Starbucks,” says the article.
London’s museums can be particularly fun for kids, especially when you follow their “family trails” — activity-filled booklets for children 6 to 10, typically free or for a minimal fee. The British Museum offers a guide that follows the history of written communication from ancient Rome to the seventh-century Quran. Another, “Hunting for Dragons,” highlights fantastical creatures from China to Mexico. Any one of them is likely to send Harriet the Spy-types tearing through a museum, pencil at the ready.
The Churchill War Rooms, the UK government’s underground bunker and offices during the Blitz, are just around the corner from 10 Downing Street. Its hallways, map rooms and bedroom nooks are so eerily preserved and smartly presented, even people who aren’t Churchill enthusiasts or World War II obsessives will enjoy themselves. (Interesting fact: During World War II, Germany bombed London every night for almost two months straight and children had to be sent to the countryside.)
The Globe Theater’s 30-minute tour with its gritty details about inaccessible bathrooms, thatched roofs and rudimentary special effects is spellbinding. Who knew Shakespeare could be so much fun?
The daily changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace can’t be beat and you might just glimpse a royal!
And what trip to London would be complete without high tea? There are as many places to find this quintessentially English gustatory tradition as there are bobbies in uniform but the ultimate in indulgence can be found in The Tea Room at Harrod’s. Celebrate the best of all things British with crumpets, light sandwiches, tempting treacle tarts, butter brioche buns, finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream and sweet English fancies, all complemented by an extensive menu of fine world teas. Then when you’re stuffed to the brim, all of Harrod’s is there to entice you, your child and your wallet!
So off to London you go, where a kingdom of fascinating experiences await. Cheerio!
To make your long flight across the pond more comfortable, may we suggest the Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow™ with 360 degree head and neck support for quality sleep, Ultra Soft Fluffy Socks to keep your feet warm and cozy, Midnight Magic™ Sleep Mask to block out light and help you sleep, and especially our children’s BlanKid Buddy™, a 4-in-1 blanket, neck pillow, animal buddy and backpack. To learn more about our entire line of comfort travel products, please visit our website.