London in 50 hours with a 4-year-old
Last weekend we fulfilled our daughter’s wish and traveled with her to London. In the last year she has had to put up with so much and take care of the little sibling, so we thought it was a good idea that our girl may have her parents for herself for a weekend. After our ‘parents only’ weekend two weeks ago in Paris, I felt this was a need. Since I will go back to work again as of April, it was important to me to do this trip in advance.
The little brother was allowed to enjoy the full attention of his grandparents all for himself for a whole weekend, which he liked very much (also grandmother and grandfather had a good time). I’m always happily surprised when I receive the lovely status reports via SMS from my mother in law and I read how well and how long the little boy slept and how great he had eaten (this must be due to the silence and peace in the grandparents house and the tasty maccheroni made to great-grand mother’s recipe of course).
I chose the flight times carefully (from Düsseldorf to Heathrow) so that we were able to have a relaxed start on Friday morning. As per usual, we handed over our little boy after breakfast to my parents-in-law, who luckily live only 20 minutes away from us and are always looking forward to visits of their grandchildren (including overnight) – a win-win situation!
For our trip to London, I ordered in advance a London coloring book, a London city map for children with stickers, a London picture / reading book and the TipToi English book. The coloring book was used immediately on the outward flight.
The reading book was wonderful to review the experiences in the evening and to prepare for the sights the following day. We did not use the map until the return flight. We spent almost the entire hour trying to stick the right stickers to the places we visited. There was no need for the TipToi book. But we will check it out next week. Since October of last year, our daughter has English lessons once a week in Kindergarten. I’ll write a separate post about this topic soon. In any case, she has really fun learning a new language and learned a lot in a short time.
We are very fortunate that one of my husband’s nice cousins lives in London. We were allowed to stay in his house – right in the middle of Kings Cross Tube Station. A bit like in the movies: the cousin Philipp originally comes from Berlin and then fell in love with the French exchange student Alice from Paris. Now they are married and live in a super-modern architect’s house in the middle of London (he’s investment banker, she’s a lawyer …). Unfortunately, we could not spend time with the two of them, as they had to go to Paris for a family celebration this weekend. We had the whole house for ourselves.
On arrival on Friday noon it was really snowy. We were glad that the air plane was able to land at all, because a snowstorm was predicted.
Accordingly, we had also wrapped up nice and warm with thermal laundry, etc. From Heathrow we went by underground – called the tube – with the Piccadilly Line to Kings Cross. Takes a little longer than the Heathrow Express, but is much cheaper and for the kids already the first highlight. Second highlight: ride the black London taxi (“looks exactly like in the book mama”) to the house of Philipp and Alice, unload luggage and then go in search of food. We landed at ‘Honest Burger’ near Kings Cross because we were very hungry and did not feel like chatting in the snow for a long time. We were surprised about the high quality of the food. Very good meat, super tasty, hand cut fries – ups, I mean chips – and great service. If there are free pencils, paper and a mango juice for the child, everyone is already happy. By the way, we found the little booklet about the story of ‘Honest Burger’ so well done that I stole it and took it with me. There were also vegetarian dishes on the menu, and the burger buns could be ordered gluten-free for a £ 1 surcharge.
Then it was finally time and we took our daughter for a double-decker bus ride to the London West End. Of course we sat up in the front row and tried to see as much as possible despite fogged windows. At Piccadilly Circus we got out and walked around. That was a very special atmosphere with all the lights, the snow and the street musicians. Enough impressions for the first half day. We bought some healthy take away food at Pret A Manger and had dinner at home.
We all enjoyed sleeping in, because normally the little one is awake at 6 am latest. After breakfast we dressed up warm again and drove to the southeast end of London to visit the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.
Our daughter was more impressed with the soldiers guarding the tower than with the crown jewels inside the Ringburg. For children, the story of the tame ravens is fascinating to look after. If there are no more ravens around the tower, he would fall according to legend. The yelping Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters and disguised knights at the station theater have deterred our daughter. Therefore we quickly turned down and had a proper lunch in the neat self-service restaurant of the tower. Everything was cooked fresh and looked very appetizing. We had classic fish and chips with fine peas. After lunch we walked through all the rooms and towers.
For us parents it would have been enough to just enjoy the beautiful view of the Tower Bridge, but our girl wanted to be ‘on it’, so we did that too. Then it was time for an indoor activity to warm up.
A colleague had recommended the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden, which deals with the transport history of the city and exhibits many historic vehicles that you can explore – perfect for children as of 3 years and really well put together. At the entrance, each child receives a card with numbers / stations on which they can collect hole stamps throughout the museum. For such a thing, the little ones are always enthusiastic, and we could not leave before all the stamps were done. The entry is free for everybody under 18 years.
You can hang out at Covent Garden itself for quite a while.
There are many pretty shops, cafés and a beautiful market hall. The most diverse street artists perform there. Some of them are fools, but others are really fun to watch and deserve applause. At the end of the day we drove back to the West End and showed our daughter what I think are the most beautiful department stores – Liberty and Selfridges. I could easily spend a whole day in each, but with tired child there was not much time to shop. At least, at Liberty – the luxurious Tudor Revival-style department store – I’ve again increased my supply of exceptionally beautiful greeting cards. If you’re interested in visual merchandising, like me, Instagram can showcase my best snapshots of inspirational merchandise presentations.
On the rooftop of Selfridges there is a very good Italian restaurant. There we went for dinner. Pizza and pasta were homemade and of the best quality. Highlight for our girl was a kind of tunnel with many, small lights through which one enters the restaurant area. We danced through it at least four times – because the music was like in a club there.
On Sunday morning we went to Buckingham Palace in the sun to witness the famous Change of Guards. The snow had melted, it was much warmer and I dressed way too thick. If you wait at the barracks at St James’s Park for the soldiers to march to the castle with a music band, you can check the nice playground for the kids.
There is also a kiosk with snacks and drinks. In the middle of the park is a large lake with two islands. From the bridges you have a beautiful view of the London Eye on one side and Buckingham Palace on the other side.
The change of guards is a big spectacle with mounted police as well as policemen on bicycles, which keep the road to the castle free. Some of the friendly police men and women made High Fives with our daughter and waved to her.
My husband found it somewhat absurd that the guards are guarded by so much police during their march, because they are actually the guards themselves …. as per usual he’s right.
After this event, we drove to South Kensington to visit the Natural History Museum, one of the largest natural history museums in the world.
Admission is free for all, but donations are requested. I remember very well how impressed I was during my first visit of the museum. The building itself is a sight. Every animal can be seen stuffed or reproduced there. For example, you really get a sense of the size of a whale that hangs under the high ceiling.
Below him are placed i.e. an elephant, a hippopotamus etc., which one thought are big animals. Spectacular for the children is also the dinosaur exhibition with many skeletons and a replica T-Rex that moves like a real animal (remember Jurassic Park).
I was afraid our daughter might be scared, but she wasn’t at all. Her receptivity though was no longer great after lunch at the museum restaurant (T-Rex Grill). Dad just had to carry her on his shoulders for the rest of the day since she refused to walk any longer.
At Harrods, we bought fresh flowers for our hosts and pistachio nuts in a cocoa coat for the grandparents. In the basement of the noble department store, by the way, is the most cheesy monument I’ve ever seen: a Princess Diana & Dodi Memorial in the form of a fountain with photos of the deceased and a life-size bronze statue of the two lovers.
For Lady Di fans certainly a reason to stop at Harrods. I was a bit annoyed that all shop windows were taped – two days later and we could have admired the elaborately decorated “Peter the Rabbit” windows.
The upcoming movie about the cult-rabbit from England is being promoted everywhere – perfect for Easter. As a VM fanatic and old Beatrix Potter fan (the creator of Peter Rabbit), I really should have seen this storefront live (my daughter’s nursery theme is Beatrix Potter characters). Here you can see at least the drawings / designs for the decos of Peter Rabbit Harrods Windows.
Our return flight departed in the evening from London City Airport, which we have comfortably reached by train (Docklands Light Railway). For our daughter that was exciting to ride the overground tube for a change. Fortunately, we were able to sit in the front of the first compartment right behind the windscreen so that, like the simulator in the Transport Museum, she had the feeling of steering the train herself. We went home with a small Dash 8 propeller machine. Although it was quite noisy and wiggled properly, our girl has not complained and fell asleep in her seat just before landing. My husband then carried her back and she did not wake up until the next morning. When I asked her on Monday what she liked best in London, she said, “All Mama. I liked everything the best “. Of course, the kids were allowed to put on their new longsleeves with the double-decker bus and tube socks for kindergarten – a very nice souvenir from the London Transport Museum Shop (made of 100% cotton) 😉
The season was well chosen to travel to London. The city is not crowded then (no long lines at the sights and museums). I find it remarkable that we got along without any cash for the whole weekend. In Germany, that would be impossible. The use of public transport is simple and fair: you do not need paper tickets (as for the metro in Paris) or Oystercard anymore. If you are in possession of a credit card with the wave sign, you can pay anywhere contactless and fast by holding the card to a button. There is a maximum amount that the system deducts per day. So you do not have to worry about whether you could have saved money with another ticket – great! It is good not to do too much, because London is always worth a trip. When we come back, there are new, exciting highlights to discover. Maybe buying a London Pass would be worth it then to save entrance fees.