Things to do with tweens in London
June 25, 2013 8:28 AM   Subscribe

The family I babysit for has invited me along on their vacation to London in August. I am determined to come up with the coolest possible things for the kids to do.

Since I will be chaperoning the girls (aged 10 and 13) on the days their dad has to do work stuff, I would like to take them to see and do awesome, interesting things that they would never get to do at home. The 13-year-old really likes Doctor Who; the 10-year-old is a girly girl who's really into makeup and fashion. We will be there in mid-August for a week and a half. Where should we go?
posted by nonasuch to Travel & Transportation around London, England (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the Tower of London is awesome. There is tons of English historical stuff to look at (Henry VIII armor, complete with obnoxious cod-piece) and the Crown Jewels.

The Victoria and Albert musuem has a really neat clothing exhibit.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221-B Baker Street is pretty outstanding and fun, complete with Dr. Watson who will talk to you about his adventures.

A visit to Carnaby Street can be fun.

The British Musuem is HUGE and interesting as all get back. The Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, all that stuff you hear about your whole life, the plunder of the world, is contained therein.

We did a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, I enjoyed it a lot and the guide did a great job with a consistant patter of why all this stuff is so cool and important.

The Harry Potter Oxford Tour might be a thing.

The London Pass is a good deal.

Here's a link to Dr. Who in London stuff.

Oh! And you'll want to see a show or two in London's West End.

You are going to have an AWESOME time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:40 AM on June 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

The 10-year-old might really enjoy a trip to Boots or the other drugstore options that aren't in the US. I've never been to London, but I imagine that would be a blast with all the different brands that aren't available in the US.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2013

Your 10 year old is going to love the range of tissues and medicine that Boots stocks. Be sure to check out their selection of shaving kits! (That is emphatically NOT a worthwhile outing - drugstores here mostly stick to drugs. For something along those lines, drop by an old-fashioned sweet shop like Mrs Kibbles.)

You should take the Dr Who lover to sci-fi megastore Forbidden Planet - you'll probably find yourself in the vicinity while on the way to other attractions. Good way to get a souvenir that he'll like that isn't just tourist crap.

Sorry for such blandly consumerist suggestions!
posted by forgetful snow at 9:10 AM on June 25, 2013

A river boat trip down the Thames to Greenwich. The trip is fun and informative and Greenwich is loveoy for a few hours at any age.
posted by BenPens at 9:31 AM on June 25, 2013

I would suggest you make use of Time Out's kids section. There is also a book, and no doubt an app you buy. Valuable resources.

I would also buy Time Out's London Walks book (or look at their London walks site). The book has some great walks that really uncover hidden gems of London you'd ordinarily just walk past. The website has a lot of guided walks, some of which look pretty fun.

Finally I would have a look at one of the various Secret London sites. There is a decent book by Rachel Howard of the same name but it is a bit old now - 2009. But, for example - there is a 7 acre play area for kids (no unaccompanied adults allowed) right in central London (Coram's Fields) with a great museum and a decent little shopping centre nearby for when you want to eat or drink.

Probably the single most awesome thing you can do is this: get on a canal boat at Little Venice. It goes to Camden, and goes past London Zoo. At Camden, explore the market. Avoid weekends like the plague. It will be busy - it is London's busiest tourist attraction, apparently. It will be very exciting for tween girls. From Camden you can comfortably walk to Primrose Hill - the scene of many of "London view" in movies and either into London Zoo or down to Oxford St if you wish.

If your girly girl is into serious fashion, then the two department stores to head for are Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. From Harvey Nichols, you can window shop down Sloane St or Knightsbridge - both are high end. From Selfridges you can window shop down Oxford St (mid market) or Bond St (high end). If I had a 10 year old girl into fashion, however, I'd head to Primark and Top Shop, both on Oxford St. For the love of sweet Jesus do not go there on weekends or after about 11 o'clock in the morning if you like having personal space.

Many of the big London museums like the British Museum and the Natural History Museum are free. They are also well run with good signage and whatnot, shops and cafes.

To eat - chains like Nando's and Giraffe and Byron are well set up for kids.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:34 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe this would be a bit too old for them - BUT - if the Globe Theater is putting on one of Shakespeare's comedies - it can be pretty entertaining for kids. Lots of slapstick humor and what not.

I would also second the Tower of London - cool historical stuff, plus the crown jewels! I highly recommend going on the (Free) guided tour with the Yeoman Warder tours. If you get the right guide, it's an above and beyond experience.

Also - (and maybe this is me just projecting) I was really into historical murders as a kid - and doing a walking tour of the Jack the Ripper sites was really cool to me. Better at night obviously - but they do afternoon tours too.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 9:51 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Harrod's! You can have lunch there at one of the many fancy food counters.
posted by kestrel251 at 10:11 AM on June 25, 2013

Oooh, and the London Eye.
posted by kestrel251 at 10:13 AM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Depending on how willing to be totally grossed out/fascinated they are, I suggest the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. Free!

Also, the Sir John Soanes Museum nearby is a complete delight - "the world's best house-museum" - with insanely helpful guides! Also free.

Both are easily accessible via Holborn tube, and Kingsway and High Holborn have enough cafes and places to eat that breaks are easy.

In the middle of both museums is Lincoln's Inns Fields, London's biggest public square and a great spot for a picnic.
posted by mdonley at 10:50 AM on June 25, 2013

I meant Boots/Superdrug as a place to get cheap makeup, brands that aren't available in the US, like Sleek, MUA, etc. Or wherever one might find those, if not a drugstore.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:52 AM on June 25, 2013

Be sure to get an Oyster card, and ride the double-decker buses wherever you want to go. I used this Citymapper app to find our way around, and it was foolproof. Pair it with this app to find the closest free wifi, and you can find your way around easy as pie, as long as you have a smart phone (and be sure to turn off the data roaming!) We just got back last week and LOVED London. I didn't have little girls to entertain, but if you want any more practical advice, just memail me. London was really, really great. Clean and friendly and easy, with tons and tons to do.
posted by raisingsand at 11:12 AM on June 25, 2013

The crypt of St Martin in the Fields has a brass rubbing center (and a cafe).

The Cabinet War Rooms are really excellent, but might not be that exciting for all ten year olds. The Imperial War Museum itself is closed for renovation at the moment and looks like it'll be partly reopened by August. I've never been, though it's apparently excellent and has age appropriate things for kids. (I've not been because I pretty consistently find war museums upsetting, and I didn't go to London until after I stopped going to war museums. My brother went at age <10.)

The V&A has a big fashion collection, so if the older one will agree to go look at clothes, that might be of interest. There's apparently a Fashion and Textile Museum as well.

The museums in Greenwich make a surprisingly good day out, though they're individually not amazing. The National Maritime Museum is good in places, but some of it just felt like lots of models of boats.

As a kid, I really liked going in bookshops in Britain, though I couldn't really tell you why. There's also probably entertainment value in just buying lunch in the supermarket. There's soda available in all kinds of flavours you don't get in the US (plus my brother and I got to drink soda, so that was exciting). There are endless prepackaged sandwiches of decent quality. And different candy and cookies. And potato chips in crazy-seeming flavours. Okay... British junk food is just really appealing to me. But you could sample some different type of food every day, without eating all the junk food at once.
posted by hoyland at 3:25 PM on June 25, 2013

London Dungeon has moved now next door to London Eye and Aquarium. It looks so cheesy, I'm thinking of going myself.

Wellcome always has cool exhibits. Id go there over Natural History museum.

I see kids and teens on the Thames Clippers all the time. It's a commuter service but they seem to love it. Tower Bridge is a favourite, every evening bemused Londoners wait expectantly for the tourists to run to the front of the boat to get a shot of "London Bridge".

You can go to the top of the Shard if you want, book the evening slots early, they go really fast. It's expensive but an unparalleled view of London.

If you are out Greenwich way, check out the O2 see if something is on, also try the dangleway - Emirates cable car. You can catch boat there then hop on a 188 or 129 bus back to Greenwich to do the market and park.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 11:48 PM on June 25, 2013

That is emphatically NOT a worthwhile outing - drugstores here mostly stick to drugs.

I would massively disagree with this, and the comment possibly came from someone who has no need for purchases of make-up - Boots and Superdrug are the prime cosmetic halls for those who can't bring themselves to pay £20 for a pencil, and are pretty much the UK equivalent of Sephora combined with a pharmacy. There is a large Boots on Oxford St (near Bond St tube) and one at Piccadilly Circus, which allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Not sure where the huge Superdrugs are in central London though. The Bond St one stocks make-up from the higher-end brands like Nails Inc to teen-friendly brands like Barry M, Seventeen and Natural Collection. I would imagine US make-up fans would enjoy it in the same way I would Sephora or Bath and Body Works if I were visiting the US. Accessorize is more expensive than Claire's Accessories, but there are branches everywhere and they do some tween make-up/accessories too.

Top Shop is a lot more expensive than it was, but seconding Primark (and the advice to never, ever go to either at the weekend). Actually, thinking about it, you'll be visiting during the school holidays, so I'd avoid Primark entirely unless you can budget two hours minimum.

A boat down the Thames to Greenwich is fun - you get someone pointing out different sites on the way, and Greenwich is lovely - there's a nice market with food and gifts, independent shops, the national Maritime Museum and Observatory, and a gorgeous park.

Covent Garden gets very busy, but is an interesting place. There's an old-fashioned toyshop and a branch of Hope and Greenwood, a nice (if expensive) old-style sweet shop. The London Transport Museum is worth visiting as well. There are lots of street entertainers round there which seem hokey to me but would probably delight less cynical people.

The V+A is definitely worth visiting. It's more of an arts and crafts museum, so it may bore the older sister, but I would have loved it as a kid.

A bookshop like Waterstones (sorry I don't know any specialist ones other than Forbidden Planet, which seems very corporate these days) will supply lots of Doctor Who novels and bits and pieces. Hamleys will almost certainly have Dr Who gubbins too. There used to be a Dr Who Experience down on the South Bank, but I don't think it's still there.
posted by mippy at 7:38 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

That Boots on Oxford St near Bond St tube station is the bomb! Have wasted many happy hours there. Seconding Superdrug just for Sleek cosmetics alone.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 2:44 AM on June 27, 2013

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