Jane Day takes her family on an exploring holiday to London and Windsor.
We have always loved our holidays in Britain, and with the excitement of the Olympics and recent royal celebrations our sons have been eager to visit London for a while.
This year, thinking our nine and 11-year-olds would appreciate all it had to offer, we dusted off our rucksacks, walking shoes and cameras to be proper tourists in our own fine capital city.
Knowing this was going to be a busy holiday our decision to stay in beautiful, historic Windsor was inspired. A quiet apartment two miles from the railway station was the perfect base to relax in after a hectic day sightseeing. Thanks to the efficient rail links we arrived at Waterloo in under an hour, having already spotted Battersea Power Station, the MI6 building and The Shard from the comforts of our carriage!
On our first day, with the sun shining, we took an open top bus tour – great for getting our bearings, planning our day and learning about the sights from the excellent on-board commentary. Tickets are valid for 24 hours meaning the next day we could jump straight on the bus to our first stop, The Tower of London now welcoming more than two million visitors a year.
It is steeped in a bloody history – many people were executed on Tower Green, mostly during the reign of Henry VIII, including two of his wives. High-profile prisoners included Guy Fawkes, Rudolph Hess and two of the last to be held here were the Kray twins in 1952 for failing to turn up for National Service.
Armed with a basic map and following the River Thames we continued to explore on foot, spotting numerous landmarks: the Gherkin, Globe Theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium footbridge.
Still drawing the crowds it’s hard to believe the London Eye has been part of the city skyline for over 13 years. The spectacular views and smooth ride are well worth queuing for – in fact the whole South Bank area had a great atmosphere with cafes, performers and street food.
Unashamedly we did all the obvious tourist hotspots – Buckingham Palace, No. 10, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square. Retail therapy, unfortunately, was not high on the boys’ list of priorities, but we managed a visit to Hamley’s toy shop on Regent Street, where judging by the levels of noise it is still delighting children after 250 years.
Team London Ambassadors are the Mayor of London’s volunteers offering advice. Helpful maps also show approximate walking times to various locations and we were surprised how close things actually were.
By our third day in the city we were like locals. “Insert ticket” and “mind the gap” became part of our language as we mastered the tube, travelled on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich, only wishing we had time to stop off at everything we passed.
Windsor is an ideal short break destination.
Stylish shopping and restaurants, boat cruises down the Thames, a leisurely walk over the bridge to Eton, home of the famous college. The Royal Borough is as popular as London with overseas visitors so we joined the crowds again at the castle to see the highlight of the Changing of the Guard.
Having been home to 39 monarchs it is easy to see why the Queen retreats to its glorious landscaped gardens and a fantastic outlook down the two-mile tree-lined Long Walk towards the Great Park. The oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world is impressive, displaying some of the finest works of art in the Royal Collection.
Queen Mary’s dolls’ house was a spectacle in itself. Perfectly crafted to a scale of one to 12 by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, in 1924, with a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll, boasting running water and electricity, it was never intended as a plaything, but to represent an aristocratic London house of the time.
To end our holiday on a high we spent our last full day at Chessington World of Adventures, just off the M25 in Surrey. Not just a theme park, Chessington boasts a zoo, a sea life centre and hotel, so there’s plenty to suit all ages.
The Safari Skyway took us on a journey round the park to spot the animals, while the Black Buccaneer pirate ship, Dragon Falls log flume and the Rattlesnake satisfied the thrill-seekers in our party. Younger son and I enjoyed Zufari – a new African adventure ride for this year. We journeyed through extreme terrain in off-road vehicles and saw real-life giraffes and white rhinos – I just hope your route is not blocked by fallen trees.
London is a great place for a family holiday. We were entertained, educated and exhausted yet we ended our holiday feeling proud and patriotic and are eager to discover even more.
For travel information, accomodation and what’s on go to www.visitlondon.com
Price information and online booking for the London Eye at www.londoneye.com
Details of the original London bus tour at www.theoriginaltour.com
Opening times for the Tower of London, www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon
Chessington Zoo at www.chessington.com