Kids of all ages will be wowed by this varied, vibrant city, writes Alexia Santamaria [with pic byline]
Though Australia and the Pacific Islands are convenient when your little ones are tiny, the idea of a long haul flight isn't anywhere near as daunting once they reach primary school age. A few games, a couple of movies, some meals, a fuel stop and sleep means 20 to 30 hours passes pretty fast. This year we braved flying to the Northern Hemisphere and took our boys to London for three weeks. Here are my thoughts if you're contemplating this amazing city for your family holiday next year.
Split your time
Staying in Central London is pricey but worth doing for a few days. We stayed right in the heart of things for two nights at Le Meridien in Piccadilly Circus, and it was perfect. We walked everywhere and the kids really got a good feel for London life. With the temperatures being as high as they were this summer, having a pool was a godsend too - great for breaking up long days. The rest of the time we spent in West London. Out of the centre, accommodation is more affordable and if you hire a car, attractions like the Harry Potter Studio Tour, Legoland, Windsor Castle and Thorpe Park are an easy drive.
It's easy to think like a Kiwi and just rock up and wing it, but some popular UK attractions book up well in advance so if there is anything your kids absolutely want to do, look at locking those ones in before leaving New Zealand. You can freestyle the rest.
Orientate yourself early
Everyone laughs at the Hop-on Hop-off buses bursting at the seams with tourists in caps, backpacks and sensible walking shoes, but they really are a great way to get your head around a busy city like this, when you arrive. A cheaper option (no commentary of course) is to jump on a regular bus which will take you past all the main sites so you can get your bearings. Route 9, 11 and 24 all pass a good many of the must-sees.
Be budget smart
There are so many free activities in London (walking through Hyde Park, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Changing of the Guard and so much more). Mix those up with whatever your kids are absolutely desperate to do, and your wallet won't feel so attacked.
Some favourites that do have entry fees are Madame Tussauds, The London Dungeons, Kidzania and SEA Life London and it's definitely worth looking into a Merlin Pass if you're doing a few that come under that particular umbrella.
UK supermarkets are amazing, so stock up on sandwiches, snacks and fruit and eat picnic-style in any of London's charming green spaces between attractions instead of shelling out every day on cafes, restaurants and pubs. Transport can be costly so always check it's not actually an easy walk before jumping on the Tube - you'll see so much more too. Google Maps and a local SIM Card will be your best friends for getting around.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR TRIP
Our boys enjoyed everything they did in London but some of their personal top picks were:
The Emirates Aviation experience and Cable Car - Any plane-spotter will be in heaven and all kids love the cable car part, with great views over the Thames; you can do these separately.
Legoland - Though the rides probably suit younger kids, our boys loved seeing all the cities of the world built out of Lego and our youngest's eyes nearly fell out of his head at the Star Wars Lego exhibition, complete with moving Millenium falcon.
The Making of Harry Potter - Any Harry Potter fans absolutely have to visit the Warner Brothers Studio tour. Even as someone who has only read one of the books - many years ago - it was an utterly magical experience.
The London Eye - An iconic experience that gets you up and over London in such a gentle, unique way. Definitely book online for this one, as it can get really busy.
M&Ms store - Even I had to admit, this place had more candy than I have ever seen in one place. And with all those colours, it was kind of mesmerising. One of the biggest pick-n-mix situations you'll ever see.
They also had a great time on the Thames River Cruise, Transport Museum, Hamleys, lunching in Chinatown, the Natural History Museum, Borough Market and our little cricketer enjoyed his time at Lords immensely. You'd be hard-pressed to find a kid who couldn't find something in this enormous, varied, vibrant city.