London with the Family
Sometimes the best trips are the most laid back; the lesiurely afternoons where random wandering yields the stuff of scrapbooks (or, Pinterest boards). Having hustled my kids to every landmark last year, I decided to ditch the psychotic sightseeing and spend our week in London exploring the city with minimal structure.
Renting an apartment when travelling with a family makes sense on many levels. It provides increased space and the opportunity to dine in quietly after exhausting days. But, lack of amenities can be a challenge. When I heard about Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living, a Park Lane property which offers apartments accompanied by 5 star services, I felt as if I had struck lodging gold.
Our two bedroom/two bathroom set up was state of the art, outfitted with 21st-century appliances that included a washing machine, stove, full-sized fridge, electronic black out shades, and a multi-setting lighting system. The service was equally stellar. Hard-to-snag dinner appointments, an emergency hair appointment and last-minute Arsenal football tickets were secured without issue.
The museums we decided to visit were decidedly low key. At the National Portrait Gallery, we discovered history through portraits (including Kate Middleton’s) of British royalty from the 16th century to the present.
After perusing, park yourself in front ot the many computers and let the kids research iconic aristocrats on the museum’s new “portait explorer” program. Another gem of a museum is The Wallace Collection. Housed in the former Wallace family mansion, art, furniture and decorative objects that span Medieval times through the 19th century are on display. Kids will adore the European Armoury Collection, especially when they spy the reproduction chainmail that can be tried on.
Lunchtime concerts are a thing in London and are the perfect way to revive flagging energy. Pop into St Johns Smith Square or St Martins in the Fields for 45 minutes of chill out chamber music. Jermyn Street is a great place to meander. Home to luxury brands that bear a royal warrant-the coveted “by appointment to the queen” crest (signifying the height of excellence), this stroll is a golden opportunity to teach about history and “royal” culture. Highlights: tasting artisanal cheeses and chutneys at “cheesemonger to the crown” Paxton & Whitfield and sampling fragrance at famed perfumer Floris, “perfumers to HM The Queen Elizabth II.”
Not to be missed are the theatrical windows of Fortnum & Mason department store (est. 1707). Taking your afternoon tea at either the relaxed The Parlour or newly christened Diamond Jubilee Tea Room is an absolute treat. Around the corner on Piccadilly is Hatchards, London’s oldest and grandest bookstore. The excellent selection for children coupled with a distinct Hogwarts vibe make this shop (which also holds a Royal Warrant) a runaway hit with kids.
Culture, of course, must be balanced with incentives. A visit to Hamley’s-the world’s oldest toy store-is paradise to the pint-sized. Beware: This is no in and out situation. The store has six floors bursting with chipper employees sampling their wares. Another paradise is Hyde Park. We tossed around a frisbee and had a gorgeous picnic next to the rose gardens.
Restaurants abound in London. But, a favorite foodie activity is to visit one of the city’s splendid food courts. We hit either Selfridges, Harrods and Marks and Spencer each day to to pick up a picnic or the ingredients for an in-hotel dinner.
Whether meandering the mews or sightseeing, London with kids is a dynamic experience. Samuel Johnson is right: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
Guest family blogger Amy Tara Koch is a style expert, author, journalist and travel aficionado. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters. Check out her blog, Amy Tara Koch.
Photos courtesy of Amy Tara Koch