London Calling

Now that long-haul travel is back on the cards, where better to whet your cultural appetite than London, baby? We have rounded up the best outings to enjoy as a family that won’t break the bank. 

Words: Charmaine Yabsley 

After many, many months in lockdown, the world is on the move once more. In fact, 56 percent of Australians are planning a long-haul overseas trip this year, with the top destinations landing in the UK and Europe. With the poor exchange rate, your bucket-list trip may seem out of reach. We hit the London streets to find out where you can enjoy the best of London town without it costing the earth. 

How to get around 

There is no better way to view London than from the river. You can opt for guided boat cruises (which are expensive) or do what the locals do and travel on the Uber boat. Use your Oyster card (the Underground travel pass, which can be downloaded to your wallet) and buy a Family River Roamer pass. A family ticket is valid for two adults and up to three children, aged between 5 and 15 years (4s and under travel free). Boats leave regularly from twenty-four piers, including the new Battersea Power Station (a great place to entertain the kids if it’s raining), London Eye, Embankment, Bankside, Tower, Greenwich, and North Greenwich. You can use the ticket for 24 hours from the time of purchase. Or buy online for a further 10 percent discount (Visit https://booking.thamesclippers.com/). 

Walking is free 

Discovering the backstreets filled with nooks and crannies is one of the greatest delights of London. If you have had your fill of the Thames, then head to solid ground and start exploring. Remember, London covers more than 1500 square kilometres, so it is best to choose an area or borough and take your time to wander and soak up the sights. 

Tower Bridge

The history and culture of London greet you at every corner, which is why you should try to cover as much of the capital on foot. Use your boat pass to deliver you to your riverside destination, then go exploring. Most of the large museums are free (some special exhibitions involve a cover charge). Your can’t-miss list should include The Tate Modern: take the time to enjoy tea and cake overlooking the city; it is a terrific way to break up the enormous rooms of art. There are also many kid-friendly exhibitions and areas to entertain and engage the younger family members. (www.tate.org.uk) 

Hop back aboard your boat, head down to Greenwich, and stand on the Prime Meridian Line. You do need to pay to visit the Royal Observatory and Planetarium, so if your funds don’t stretch that far, just soak up the atmosphere and view over the city from the lookout. Head down the hill to the National Maritim Museum; admission is free, and there is also a stunning art and sculpture exhibition in the extensive gardens. Meander through the cobbled streets to the market before finding your way to the Cutty Sark ship. (Hint: if you plan ahead, you can purchase a Family Royal Museums Greenwich Membership, which gives you access to all museums and the ship. Visit www.rmg.co.uk. If you are feeling energetic, head over to The Tide (North Greenwich Pier), near the O2 entertainment centre, for free activities, fitness classes, riverside dining, and Damien Hirst sculptures. (www.greenwichpeninsula.co.uk) 

Maritime museum, Greenwich

Disembark at Embankment and head up towards Leicester Square. Just behind Nelson’s Column, the famous fountain, and the four stone lions guarding the space, sits the newly renovated National Portrait Gallery. Beautifully curated, you will lose hours here. If your children are fans of story time, you can sign them up for the Little Explorers interactive adventures. (Admission is free, but book your tickets on www.npg.org.uk.) 

If you have found yourself in Kensington Gardens, then take a left towards Harrods. For budding astronauts, designers, scientists and history buffs, you can’t miss the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the V&A (www.sciencemuseum.org.uk, www.nhm.ac.uk; vam.ac.uk). Easily accessible in a day- but get there early – all three breathtaking buildings are located in South Kensington. All visitors to the museums are free, but you will need to reserve your ticket ahead of time. The museums also hold sleepovers, silent discos, and special events, so sign up for their newsletter to book your spot. 

The area of Spitalfields is just next to the City of London; it has had a facelift over the past several years and now boasts an impressive market, ideal for souvenirs, indie clothing brands, eco-beauty products, food trucks, and treasures such as vinyl, books, and photographs to rifle through. For an impressive (and free) view of the city, head to the Sky Garden. Found on Floor 37 of 20 Fenchurch Street, known as the Walkie-Talkie building, it is free to visit if you book ahead online. Take the lift and find yourself deposited amongst several storeys of greenery, overlooking the city. It’s free to visit, but if you want to enjoy a drink or dinner at one of the restaurants in the building, you’ll need to book ahead (skygarden.london/sky-garden). 

The Columbia Road Flower Market is one for the early birds; enjoy the kebabs, breakfast baps and coffee, served alongside the heady scent of flowers. Or, if you are heading south of the river, Borough Market is a foodie’s delight – there’s hundreds of food stalls to tempt your taste buds, plus a brewery, pubs, and wine bars to watch the world go by. Portobello Road Markets are always worth a visit, and who knows which celebrity you may spot? Get out early to avoid the crowds, wear comfortable shoes, and make a loose plan of the spots you want to hit throughout the day. 

Horseguards Parade

For a free royal visit, take a stroll down Pall Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Then head towards Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. There are free art exhibitions in Hyde Park (in the Serpentine Gallery) to enjoy, plus an impressive playground in Kensington Gardens. 

Other worthy places to put on your itinerary are Richmond and Kew Gardens, the riverside walks through Regent Parks to Camden Market, and the beauty of Bloomsbury. 

To plan your visit to London, visit www.visitlondon.com for information on tickets, opening hours and suggested itineraries. 

Where to stay 

There is no denying that London accommodation is expensive and small. However, the Apex City of London Hotel is perfect (and affordable!) for families, with family rooms, suites, and deluxe apartments. Each room is spacious, with large and comfortable beds and room to relax, watch television, or soak in the tub, using the luxurious Antipodes toiletries. The hotel also has its own fitness centre and infrared sauna – the perfect way to chill out after a day of exploring. There is a delicious on-site restaurant, The Lampery (the conservatory is especially Instagram-worthy with a gorgeous floral roof), and bar; do not miss the opportunity to enjoy a meal here. The service is impressive too. During our stay, staff members remembered our favourite coffee orders and were extremely helpful with our day’s itinerary. The hotel is the perfect size and location – it is within close proximity to the Tower of London yet is tucked away in a quiet street, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

From the Apex City of London hotel, it is just a short walk to the Tower of London pier, where we easily purchased tickets on the clipper boat. Another morning, we crossed the Millennium Bridge for a wander along Southbank and its literary markets and aquarium. One sunny morning, we headed north along the riverfront, enjoying the brutalist architecture and hidden tunnels and parks of London, before popping out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

The hotel is only ten minutes from the West End, making it ideal if you are planning to take in a show or theatre performance. The Apex offers guests Friday night tickets to a West End show (we were lucky enough to enjoy Wicked; don’t miss it!) Plus,  if you choose to stay two nights, you will enjoy a three-course meal at The Lampery on Saturday and a complimentary breakfast each morning to perfectly round off your stay. Visit www.apexhotels.co.uk. 

 

 

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