Thursday, 11 August 2016

Hey Hey we're the Monkees... visiting London on a budget

I took Brown Bear into London today to watch a movie called Blinky Bill - it's out in on 19th August and features a young koala (Blinky) who leaves home in search of his father and has a few hair raising adventures on the way. We loved it and for the first time in my life I'm actually interested in visiting Australia. The screening room at Soho House is very posh and we did feel quite spoiled with the luxury seating and side tables as well as a foot stool with storage for bags and coats. As we were so close to it I decided to take him to the London Transport Museum as well. We are 'friends of the museum' so we have an annual membership that we really do make the most of. I can recommend getting the family membership as you can visit as often as you like and you don't have to queue to get in. It also includes a discount on food in the cafe and gifts in the shop. I try to steer clear of the shop, but it's pretty much inevitable with kids isn't it ?

I used to avoid going into London during the summer holidays as it can be so busy. When I worked near Covent Garden I would notice the crowds of tourists and those irritating 'living statues' all over the place too. I understand that it can be difficult to find your way around and with children in tow keeping an eye on them becomes a full time occupation. Why do families insist on walking on the pavements side by side though ? Are they in a boy band ? I think the least you can do if you're going to incovenience every other pedestrian is to make it interesting. Do the can-can, walk like the Monkees did in the opening credits to their show, vary your speeds to make it look like a wave. Anything, just don't take up the entire pavement please.


I would recommend if you're going into London during the holidays plan ahead to make the most of your time there. It is possible to do plenty without spending a fortune so I can suggest a few things to make the most of your trip that are free or cheap.

Travel: 

For a start use the buses as much as possible. Once you've got an Oyster or a travelcard your travel is capped for the day so you may as well make the most of it. You will see so much more of London from a bus and if you see something you like you can hop off. Travelling on the tube doesn't really give you any feel for how close places are so unless you are going a long distance I'd say buses are the way to go. If you have a couple of days you can buy a 48 hour ticket for the Big Bus Tour which includes a trip on a Thames River Cruise, night tour and a free child ticket, so you get plenty for your money. We love taking the open top sightseeing bus as you can get on and off at many points on the way and last time me and Hubbie took the night bus tour which was great - not least because we left the kids at home for that one ! If you fancy a bit of a nostalgia trip you can also ride the heritage bus route 15 which takes you from Trafalger Square to Tower Hill on weekdays and the fare is included in your travelcard / oyster payment.

2 for 1 days out: 

There are leaflets in stations offering 2 for 1 on a lot of attractions so long as you used a train ticket to get into London. Having a travelcard will often suffice to get the offer and it also includes restaurants so you can get discounts on meals too. The participants vary from year to year so do check here for details: 2 for 1 days out guide  We have used this offer on the Duck Bus which is an amphibious vehicle that takes a tour by road then drives into the Thames and continues with a boat ride along to Westminster. It is great fun ! We've also had a 2 for 1 discount at Vinopolis (strictly for adults only that one) before it closed at the end of last year and the Tower Bridge Exhibition. It does really help make your money go further having the discount.

Free Museums: 

If you fancy some culture then head to South Kensington where you have the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum all in close proximity. They are all free to enter and can get very busy in the holidays, but I guarantee your kids will be worn out by the time you leave ! I always allow for a longer visit to one museum and a short hop to another. That way you have a reason to leave and a change of scene before going home. There are cloakrooms where you can stash pushchairs and bags - some are free others charge a small fee. It's a good idea to put your stuff in there so you can enjoy your visit unencumbered, but I do still carry water and a snack or two for my boys. The Imperial War Museum is a little further afield in South London, but also free and well worth a visit.

Parks and the great outdoors: 

We love being outdoors and if you are lucky enough to have great weather being in London can be amazing. Hyde Park is massive with so many different areas to explore and the Serpentine lake in the middle. I love walking through Green Park with it's bridges and ducks which Blue Bear is a big fan of. Kensington Gardens is close to the museums and Regent's Park has an outdoor theatre (not free). If you fancy venturing a bit further out Battersea Park also has a boating lake, a sports centre and a small zoo (fees vary). You can hire bikes to ride around the park, enjoy a large play area and there is an impressive Buddha statue on the riverside. The fountains are great fun on a hot day, but you will need to bring a towel and maybe a change of clothes if you get carried away. Clapham Common is the site of many outdoor events including free cinema screenings and one day music festivals. We used to go to the Ben & Jerry's Big Sundae here, which sadly is no more. If you are prepared and bring a picnic you can spend a whole day in one of the parks without spending much at all. I'd budget for ice creams, but you won't need much else.

The holidays can be so expensive, but a day out in London doesn't have to break the bank. I hope you try some of the ideas above. I'd love to hear how you get on.