Family Friendly Attractions in London

Some of the things we as a family with an 8 year old boy enjoyed doing in London

Trafalgar Square

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on June 19, 2012

London is a city full of squares which are both landmarks and very famous, but I would say, without a doubt that Trafalgar Square is the best known of all. Its setting is wonderful, right in the heart of London. There are fountains, historic statues and art installations. Sometimes they have event screenings here, with the National Gallery as the backdrop. Nelson's Column takes centre stage right in the middle of everything.

We explored some of the side streets that lead off the main square with our 8 year old. We had a closer look at Admiralty Arch as well, before venturing back into the square.

When I was young, I remember Trafalgar Square being so full of pigeons you could hardly move. People fed them and the birds alighted on them - this freaked me out so much, I never wanted to venture into the square itself. The whole place has been significantly remodelled over the last 10 years however. Some parts have been pedestrianised and (thankfully) most of the swarms of pigeons have been sent on their way. There are signs everywhere saying it is illegal to feed them.

Trafalgar Square has been the main focus for political demonstrations for over a century. Our son was fascinated by the fact that a police phone box was built into one of the stone bollards in the southeast corner of the square. It has a direct link to Scotland Yard. In the southwest corner is the world's smallest police station - it has room for just one police officer.

Nelson's Column sits right in the centre of the square. It is huge - 170 feet. It is made of granite and topped with a statue of Horatio Nelson, one of the UK's most celebrated naval heroes. He had only one eye and one arm, but is known as the admiral who defeated the French in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and died in this battle. Lord Nelson is a bit high up to be able to see properly, but children love climbing on the yawning black lions at the base of the column. This proved to be such a source of amusement for our son, he was reluctant to leave.

The square also has a statue of Charles I on horseback. It is from this point, that all distances in London are measured. Also there are 4 plinths around the edge of the square - 3 of them have statues, but the 4th has temporary and unusual artworks displayed on it - again our son loved what is there at the minute - a golden figure on a huge rocking horse.
Trafalgar Square
Northumberland Avenue
London, England, WC2

Hamleys Toy Shop

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Joy S on June 20, 2012

It is a couple of years since we visited Hamleys in London, but our 8 year old was so excited that we were going to go there. He did not remember his last visit, but had great expectations for this one.

Hamleys is a very famous toy shop with its flagship store on Regent Street. It is said to be one of the largest toy shops in the world, and is a tourist attraction in its own right. As we walked down Regent Street, we saw lots of children holding Hamleys bags, and our son's excitement grew.

There are 7 floors in the shop, each one supposed to have different types of toys on each - from stuffed toys on the ground level, Lego and computer games in the basement and preschool toys on the 2nd floor.

The windown displays were very good - we spent a couple of minutes admiring these. They had a Jubilee theme - it was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and the Lego displays in particular were very impressive.

Our son thought the whole experience inside the shop was wonderful. He loved the fact they only sold toys here and went from one display to another in complete awe. We felt very differently however. I felt the whole shop was a bit tired, a bit grubby and definitely over-priced. I was very disappointed, as this was not the Hamleys of old. Everywhere they had staff demonstrating tacky toys that we have seen before, and trying to hawk them to children. At the ground floor section, they had a man trying to entice children to have their photos taken with a Hamleys backdrop. They almost grab the children before you can say anything - do not buy these photo souvenirs - they are terrible quality and very over-priced.

In the end, we bought a flying saucer for £25.00 and batteries which cost £10.00. We had promised our son he could spend some of his holiday money there, and this was what he chose. A week later it was broken and in pieces.

I think the whole experience in Hamleys is just not what it used to be. The shop is tired and definitely past its best and no longer has any toys of any real quality - it is like a bargain basement selling cheap junk. I would not go back. Next time we will go to the toy department at Harrods - it is a much nicer and more memorable experience.

Hamleys Toy Shop
188-196 Regent Street
London, England, W1R 6BT
+44 20 7494 2000

Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on June 20, 2012

We went to see the Lion King at the theatre in London quite a number of years ago when it first opened, and well before our son was born. I had always wanted to go back and see this show again, so this trip was the perfect opportunity.

We booked the tickets months ago using an on-line booking website. Like all theatre tickets in the West End, they are very expensive, but we decided to treat ourselves and booked seats as close to the stage in the stalls as we could get. We had a marvellous view in row C. We went to the evening performance - it started at 7:30 and finished after 10:00. This is quite late for our 8 year old, but he was so engrossed in the show, he stayed wide awake.

The Lyceum Theatre is very conveniently located and was a popular venue for rock concerts and television broadcasts in the 1960's and 1970's. It was revamped between 1994 and 1996 and is beautiful and grand inside, with a lovely red and gold auditorium.

Before we went to the theatre, we had dinner at Wahaca in Covent Garden - very highly recommended, and then strolled around Covent Garden itself. The atmosphere here was lovely and our son adored all the wonderful street performers - the Mr Bean impersonator was a particular favourite of his.

Everyone knows the story of the Lion King - with young Simba and his struggles. It has won 6 Tony awards and the songs by Tim Rice and Elton John are spine tingeling. The sets are amazing and really make you feel as if you are in the African Savannah. The choreography was so impressive and we loved it when at different times in the performance, "animals" and actors came down the aisles to the stage.

The show was absolutely wonderful - a must-see, our son is still talking about it and we all loved it.

Kings Cross and St Pancras

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on June 20, 2012

Our son is very keen on the Harry Potter books and films, so we promised him we would take him to Kings Cross Railway Station during our visit to London. Believe it or not, they do actually have a Platform nine and three quarters there!

All Potter fans will know that from this platform, Harry took his first steps into the world of magic. At Kings Cross station, they have a sign for the platform, along with a luggage trolley half in and half out of the wall. Bring your camera and take a picture of your children trying to run through the wall. There was a line of children (and adults) being photographed doing just that!

It was really easy to find the sign, but apparently it has been known to move, especially if any construction work is going on. If you can't find it, just ask someone who works there - it will be somewhere. You do not need a ticket for the trains to be able to see the platform. Also, Kings Cross gets really busy during rush hour, so I would avoid it at these times.

Just across the road from Kings Cross, is St Pancras Railway Station. If you are here, it is definitely worth going over to have a look at what has been described as "the world's most wonderful railway station." Its beautiful Victorian architecture is wonderful from the outside - it opened in 1852 and is Grade I listed. Inside it is known as the "cathedral of the railways," and its train shed had the largest single span structure of its time.

It is a really beautiful building. If children do not appreciate its beauty, they will enjoy seeing the sleek Eurostar train which goes to the Continent. At St Pancras, they also have the longest champagne bar in the world.

At the back of the station is a really interesting statue - "The Meeting Place" is a giant couple locked in an embrace - it is supposed to show the romance of travel, but its sheer size is really impressive.

We spent about 10 minutes in Kings Cross and about 20 minutes in St Pancras, not your normal tourist attractions, but definitely worth a look if you are in this area.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on June 23, 2012

The actual studios where all the Harry Potter films were made has now been turned into a tourist attraction. It has been publicised widely in the UK well prior to its opening date, so everybody has known about it and the hype was significant. Our 8 year old has read 4 of the books and seen a number of the movies. I am not a big Harry Potter fan, but was still interested to visit and see what all the hype was about.

We booked our tickets on-line months in advance. You cannot buy tickets when you get there - these must be pre-booked. It takes 5,000 visitors a day, but was actually sold out from before it opened until the end of September. Tickets cost £28.00 for adults and £21.00 for children (16 years and under). They stagger the entrance times, so when you book, you specifiy the time you would like.

We travelled here from central London - it is very easy to do. Our tour was booked for 1:00pm, but you do need to allow some time to get there. There are regular trains from London Euston station, it takes 50 minutes to get to Watford Junction. A shuttle bus takes you from outside the station to the studios - it is about a 15 minute drive. The buses go at 20 and 50 minutes past the hour and cost £2.00 return. I was amazed - the bus was a double-decker and it was full up on both our journeys.

You are not allowed to use video cameras in the studios, but you can take as many photos as you like. You pick your tickets up from the booth outside and then wait until your time slot.

We had a snack in the cafe before we went into the tour - it is very nice. There was an excellent selection of hot and cold food, fresh and delicious and very reasonably priced.

In the entrance hall, look out for the flying Ford Anglia used by the Weasleys, it is sticking out of a corner of the ceiling. While you queue to get in, you can also see Harry's childhood bedroom under the stairs of the Dursley family. The doors open, and you enter a big cinema type room and see an introduction to the tour by Daniel Radcliffe. Then the screen lifts and you find the doors to the Great Hall at Hogwarts. This was a lovely touch, unexpected and made it very exciting.

You enter the Great Hall at Hogwarts, set out for a feast and have some time to look around. There is a lot to see and the attention to detail is amazing. You do have a limited time to look around here, before they usher you into the next area, but from that point on the tour is self-guided and you go at your own pace.

Before it was a film studio, this place was an aircraft factory, so it is vast and there is plenty of space to display everything. It has all been done very well and is very atmospheric.

You see all the sets from the films, exhibits from the films and there are some hands-on things. You get to see the actual props and costumes and special effects. We loved the Gryffendor dormitory and Harry Potter's bed, Dumbledore's office, Hagrid's hut and the potion room.

There is an area where they use green-screen technology to let you fly on a broomstick through London and over Hogwarts and travel in the Weasley's flying car and narrowly miss an oncoming train. You watch yourself in real time and afterwards can buy a photograph of this. It costs £12.00. We stood in a queue to do this for over an hour, in hindsight I would not do this again. The experience was not really worth it, also the fact you buy a photo and not the video clip, was for me, a little disappointing.

They have exhibits outside - the house sets, the Knight bus and other vehicles used in the films. In another huge building are exhibits on all the special effects and most magically you can walk down Diagon Alley and look in the shop windows - this is fanastic.

The tour ends with the scale model of Hogwarts - breath-taking, and you go through Olivander's Wand Shop. Here they have a wand box for everybody who was involved in the films - it is so impressive, but even more impressive is the man who works there - he knows the location of every wand box - you have to see this to believe it.

We came out through the gift shop. It is large, well-stocked with some wonderful and high quality souvenirs (most of which are extremely expensive). Our son bought his own magic wand - £25.00 - a little steep, but probably one of the cheaper things available.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day out here. They say it should take about 3 hours - we stayed for 5 hours in total. You do not have to be a die-hard Harry Potter fan to appreciate everything, but it does help to have a knowledge of the books or the films. Also you need to be aware before you go, this is not a theme park. There are no rides and very little hands-on stuff, but it is a wonderful experience. I would not bring children any younger than about 7 years old and they really need to be able to read to appreciate everything fully.

Harry Potter Studio Tour
Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, Studio Tour Drive
Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire

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