What can I do with my parents in London?
January 26, 2006 12:15 AM   Subscribe

London Sightseeing: My mum and dad (American and not well traveled) are coming to visit around February 20 for a week and a 1/2. Help?!?

Meanwhile, I am in school and working, but I'm trying to make time to spend some of their holiday with them. Recommendations on books/websites that will allow me to set up easy day-by-day itineraries for them with little effort on my part? Any recommendations for must-sees? I know that we're going to go to Dublin for a long weekend and certainly do a day of London Eye/Tate/Millenium Bridge/Shakespeare's Globe. They also want to take one of those tour buses around the city. Stone Henge is a must for them.
posted by k8t to Travel & Transportation around London, England (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stonehenge is a bit of a waste of a day, imho - it takes a full day's travelling to get there and back, and you aren't actually allowed to walk around the stones, except by special arrangement which I understood is booked solid for months in advance.

I would recommend taking a boat tour from Embankment to Greenwich, and from there the Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf, London's new financial district, which has some fantastic architecture and good shops and restaurants.
posted by essexjan at 12:38 AM on January 26, 2006


If you're going to venture out of London to see a stone circle, you might find Avebury more interesting than the fenced-in, packaged Stonehenge.
posted by malevolent at 1:16 AM on January 26, 2006


I second the boat trip to Greenwich - lots to see there. I'd say take the DLR all the way back to the City though - you can see most of the architecture of Docklands that way.

Cambridge makes a good day out from London - you can get there in an hour. It also has the tour buses, but it's quite walkable too.
posted by crocomancer at 1:28 AM on January 26, 2006


Windsor is close and very *English*
posted by jontyjago at 1:36 AM on January 26, 2006


If they have the energy I know the London guided walks are very popular with just about everyone. Although macabre the Jack the Ripper East End walk is suppossed to be the most fun and interesting but there are loads of others. And I think Stonhenge is worth it but the Avebury point above is a very good one. There are affordable semi-private tours (I think I found a good one in the Rough Guide a long time ago) that are a good. Depending on their interests a liesurely day of Cambridge architecture and pub lunches can be pretty good too.
posted by anglophiliated at 1:39 AM on January 26, 2006


and it should be said that "London Eye/Tate/Millenium Bridge/Shakespeare's Globe" in a single day would just about kill any member of my family that's over the age of 45.
posted by anglophiliated at 1:42 AM on January 26, 2006


British Museum a must-see, a day.

You can do Stonehenge and Avebury in a day, but you'd need a car. I don't know if there are packages that would take in both.

The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester is interesting. There's a rail + entry package available from London.

Hampton Court

I like the idea of mucking around on the South Bank - the "Eye/Tate/Bridge/Globe" itinerary. Do as much as you can in a day; the Globe might be a stretch, but you can walk by. You can always bag the Eye if the weather's poor. Lots of nice casual restaurants out that way, too.

I haven't been for years, but the Cabinet War Rooms are an interesting diversion, too.

Borough Market (Fri / Sat).
posted by sagwalla at 2:06 AM on January 26, 2006


If they are at all fussy eaters, think hard about food. It's surprisingly hard to find restaurants that will make every member of a family happy in London. Good/easy Italian restaurants, or some of the posh burger restaurants that have been been popping up, are my suggestion.

Also. If you need a rest, go see a show or to the big cinema in leicester sq where they have the premiers. If never failed with the latter plan.
posted by ascullion at 2:08 AM on January 26, 2006


I would agree Stonehenge is pretty crap, we stopped in passing after years of my wanting to go and it was very disappointing.

I'm tried without success to google some guides to walking around London over various distances but there are plenty of guidebooks available that can give you options. London has so many little historical bits tucked away in corners that it really rewards walking around keeping one's eyes open in a way that the tube can't match.

You should look at booking ahead for the London Eye online. Booking will mean you don't have to wait around in the cold and/or rain plus it 10% off. They have other offers and their site includes river cruises which might be a good way to get around/have a little sit between sites - you can get tickets which allow stop-offs up and down the river and there's lots that can be seen nicely from their.

See London Tourist for more.
posted by biffa at 4:03 AM on January 26, 2006


Agree with the other posters abouts Stone Henge: it is a bit of an anti-climax!

The museums in London are quite spectacular: Victoria & Albert Museum and The Science Museum are exceptional (and free!).

Have you thought about hopping on a Eurostar train and visiting Paris for the day? Takes 2:30 - 3 hours to get there and would cost about USD$270 in fares. Make sure you book in advance as you'll save a lot of money.

Agree with other posters who recommended Cambridge and Windsor: they're very English an rather nice!
posted by nixon at 4:05 AM on January 26, 2006


Fixed itineraries are going to feel like route-marches, so avoid that kind of scheduling.

What you might do is start them off with 'Obvious London Daytrip' kind of tour: Buck House, Changing of Guard, Nelson's Column, down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, then take the boat up to Tower Pier for the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. That's a decent-sized day, with breaks, but if it's paced well, your parents will be grounded to some degree.

Then talk to them about what they've seen and what interests them. Have a couple of options, based around smaller areas, like your South Bank itinerary. Give them a chance to notice things around them rather than be driven by a guidebook.

And get them both Oyster cards so that they can jump on/off buses and the Tube when they feel like it without worrying about the cost.
posted by holgate at 4:13 AM on January 26, 2006


K8t, will you be using a car or public transport?

I was going to suggest Bletchley Park Museum, unfortunately it's closed to the public until 1 April 2006 (but highly recommended).

If you have the use of a car, how about a trip to South Wales, either St Fagans Museum (loved by everyone I've taken there, especially Americans) and/or the Big Pit at Blaenavon.

Back to London - I'd definitely second the guided walks suggested above, I'm sure TimeOut magazine has listings and contact numbers/starting points each week.

I'm sure you've considerd the Natural History Museum and The V&A but I'll just add them to the mix.

Holgate's idea of giving them some choice is good too, in the past I've collected brochures/website printouts and put them in a folder for guests to read on their first day.

Hope they have a great holiday!
posted by ceri richard at 4:51 AM on January 26, 2006


I'm going to have to recommend Greenwich again here: there's a great park, the observatory, the foot tunnel under the thames, the cutty sark, the maritime museum, a decent cinema, and a number of markets (on a sunday there's at least three: antique stuff, junk stuff, craft stuff). Easily a full day out. There's a great pub for lunch, too - If you go from the DLR towards the cutty sark till you get to the thames, turn right, and follow the thames-side path for less than 10 minutes you get to the trafalgar tavern. which is ok, but i prefer the pub next door the yacht (go round the back of the trafalgar) which does rather good fish and chips and has a great thames view down towards the dome
For a slightly surreal experience, get the train to Crystal Palace station (from London Victoria) and go for a walk around the site of the old crystal palace - ruins now, but the concrete dinosaurs are still there. (This is the work of a morning or an afternoon, rather than a whole day, but it's quite a sight).

Hampton Court is good for real historical stuff, and you can walk up the riverside to Kingston which has good food and pubs and is quite twee in places - it's pretty much in London but the closeness to the thames and the villagey feel make it seem otherwise.

How about a day trip to the seaside for that traditional English pebbled beach and rotting pier experience? Train down to Brighton shouldn't set you back that much and it's a nice town to wander around. OK so it's not ide-cream weather, but... I always quite like english seaside destinations outside of season.
posted by handee at 4:57 AM on January 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Public transport all the way.
posted by k8t at 4:57 AM on January 26, 2006


I was going to post an answer, but then I read what holgate wrote, and that's basically what I was going to say.

If they're "not well traveled" I'd want to send them home with a picture-postcard feeling about London -- that they'd seen all the things you see on TV and in books.

I'd also add: do a bit of research on "authentic" pubs (ie: real old fashioned pubs, which I bet are now often sort of touristy) and make sure you eat there.

It sounds stupid, but one of the most fun afternoons of my life was spent at Madame Tusauds.

I agree that London Eye / Tate / Millenium Bridge / Shakespeare's Globe would be a killing day for anyone, regardless of age. Split those up a little.

Getting out of the city I would second Windsor.

Also, its kinda cheesy, but American Parents of a certain tourist-type would, I bet, find this bus tour to be great fun.

Be sure to take your mom to Harrods.
posted by anastasiav at 5:25 AM on January 26, 2006


Echoing Greenwhich, though a warning -- the hike from the Cutty Sark to the Observatory isn't long, but it is a rather steep hill for urban settings.

The big museums rock. I think the V&A (The Victoria and Albert Museum of Design) is the hardest to convince people that they need to see (it took three times before my mom would go) but is the most unique one of the bunch. The museums of Natural History and Science are both great, if you like such things. All three are right next to each other in South Ken, and near the Albert Memorial, which is worth seeing as an example of Victorian "taste."

The British Museum is without peer, and the National Gallery of Art is close. The National Portrait Gallery is cool if you're interested in portraiture and hideous otherwise.

If you are first timers, Westminster Abbey and The Tower are worth seeing. Hint: See both as early as possible. Ideally, see the Tower just as it opens, skip the beefeater tour at first, go straight to the Jewel House, and you don't wait in line to see the Crown Jewels, which are impressive. Then go back and catch the tour (which is short, and often pun ridden.)

Rick Steeve's London Guide is worth buying, if only for the walks listed (one down Whitehall, the other from Trafalgar Square to St. Pauls and beyond.) Neither is long, both are interesting.

St. Pauls is currently in the middle of a long restoration -- it is interesting/scary to see the stones on one side being nearly white, and the others nearly black. It's been going for some time, the nave probably gleams by now. The view from the Stone and Gold Galleries is amazing, but it's a pretty long stairclimb to reach the first, and it's a long, scary stairclimb to reach the top. The little window at the top of the interior dome that is either interesting or horrifying, depending. If you are afraid of heights, the climb to the Whispering and Stone galleries is fine, but the open framework stairway to the Gold Gallery isn't.
posted by eriko at 5:50 AM on January 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Afternoon tea somewhere posh. Pricey but a wonderful experience.
posted by ceri richard at 6:25 AM on January 26, 2006


Yep, anastasiav: I was thinking of the school trip I took when I was ten years old, and that kind of Big Sights Checklist, combined with chances to sit down and take in the city, is the way I'd introduce people to London.

After that, I'd sit down or chat on the evening, and say 'which bits did you like? Which things caught your eye?' and go from there. Or perhaps set aside a second day to do the open-bus tour that anastasiav suggested: its big advantage is that it's hop-on/hop-off, so if a particular location or sight appeals to them, they're not whisked away.

Stonehenge? Ngh. If they were on a three-week tour of the UK, rather than one based in London, it would be a no-brainer -- though everyone's right to say that Avebury is a better experience. But as part of a week-long trip? As Rick Steves says, it's a long trek to see something that looks how you expect, and you can't get near the stones.

What do American parents in London want to see? At a guess, lots of history, some pomp and circumstance, some local culture, a bit of luxury. A day trip to Windsor or Cambridge would probably make more sense, and is much easier in terms of transportation. And there's always the Museum of London with its Mithraic sculptures, and all the, um, 'acquired' bits of the Ancient World in the British Museum.
posted by holgate at 7:04 AM on January 26, 2006


I would like to add my vote for Greenwich.
I live in London and have been there now three times when my parents have visited (from Finland) and it's truly fantastic. The boat ride itself is lots of fun too and gives you an excellent overview of the city along the Thames.

The London Eye is good fun as well, but bewarned of the masses of tourists that usually populate it. All depends on the weather and what time you get there. I think you can book tickets in advance, though. If you happen to know any Londoners, you can also get 2 tickets for the price of 1 with an Oyster (a London transport) card.

Anastasiav is right. Take your mom to Harrods. I hate it (kitschy and expensive), but my mum and aunt can't get enough of the place. Nothing says "I've been to London" quite like a green Harrods bag with some tea etc... It's also good for finding other English delicacies.

Also, the Jack the Ripper Walk? Morbidly brilliant.

A day trip to Oxford/Cambridge might be a fun idea if you want to see more of England.

Ooh, and go see a play/musical if you can afford it.
There's plenty to choose from and if you buy online you can get pretty good discounts on the shows.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:52 AM on January 26, 2006


Ignore the troll, k8t.

Are your parents used to big cities? If not, take some time out to introduce them to the public transport network.
posted by holgate at 8:25 AM on January 26, 2006


Yes, they will be tube-a-fied and bus-a-fied... they live in a large city, but one without public transit.

I've put them in Russell Square, so that they are walkable to lots of goodies in Central London, but have easy tube and bus access.

Thanks to everyone for such good ideas. Keep the coming!
posted by k8t at 8:28 AM on January 26, 2006


To add to the picky eaters bit -- I've found that the dining at Exmouth Market usually pleases most.
posted by k8t at 8:41 AM on January 26, 2006


I would sent them to in Bath (1hr20 mins frm Paddington) for one night and they can see the Abbey, the Roman Baths, the Circus, and the Royal Cresent. The next day be around the back of the abbey by 8.45 and mad max will take them for a day out in the countryside including Avebury (stone circle), Stonehenge (stone circle), Lacock (pretty village and home location of first every photo), and Castle Combe (chocolate box pretty village). Book with max as he is popular. They can come back to you that evening. The train will be about £30 each booked in advance, there are lots of B&Bs or small hotels in Bath, but I would tempted to book them in the Bath Central Travelodge a motel in a nice old building, - about £60 for a double room. Best place for a drink is the Salamander in John St, or the Lemon Tree in Green Street. What do they want to eat? We have everthing except Japanese. Are they interested in engineering? Paddington and the route to Bath were built by IK Brunel, perhaps the greatest ever Englishman.
posted by priorpark17 at 8:45 AM on January 26, 2006


The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester is interesting. There's a rail + entry package available from London.

This is one of the best days out I've ever had, but it is very exposed with a lot of open-air stuff and might be a bit of a risk in February, unless you're absolutely sure of a fine day with no strong winds.

But in the spring/summer, it's fantastic.
posted by essexjan at 10:03 AM on January 26, 2006


When I went to London to visit my dad we went to a steam engine museum. It was incredible! These were old industrial steam engines. Some were stories tall. And they ran many of the engines!

I think they ran the engines at specific times and/or on specific days. If anyone knows the museum I'm talking about, please give more specific info.
posted by 6550 at 10:04 AM on January 26, 2006


No-one has suggested Winchester, 50 minutes from Waterloo with the cathedral, grave of Jane Austen, house of Jane Austen.
posted by A189Nut at 12:33 PM on January 26, 2006


Thanks so much! I marked so many good answers. Here's what I've planned so far (my parents love itineraries):

20th
6:40am arrival

Buckingham Palace, Changing of Guard, Nelson's Column, down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, then take the boat up to Tower Pier for the Tower of London and Tower Bridge

Katy has concert in evening at Hammersmith Apollo (Carling Apollo)


21st
Double Decker Bus Tour www.theoriginaltour.com

Victoria and Albert Museum or Natural History Museum or something else

Katy works/in class 9:45am-3pm and 5pm-7pm


22nd
British Museum in AM

Harrods for Tea

Go to Bath in late afternoon

Katy in class 5pm-9pm


23rd
Return from Bath

Katy works/in class 9:45am-3pm

Musical in the evening? Or Jack the Ripper walk?


24th
Something in the AM

Dublin departure


25th
Dublin


26th
Dublin – return in the evening?


27th
Boat tour : Embankment to Greenwich, and from there the Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf

Musical in the evening? Or Jack the Ripper walk?


28th
South Bank / London Eye / Tate Modern / Tate Britain

Katy works/in class 9:45am-3pm and 6pm-7pm


1st
Leave Russell Square at 10:30am

12:45pm depart

Katy in class 5pm-9pm
posted by k8t at 1:07 PM on January 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


6550, I think your refering to Kew Bridge Steam Museum. I agree, its a great attraction. It's a bit out of the center of London and so doesn't get the attention it deserves. If you're at all into engineering and industrial archaelogy I'd especially recommend it, but even if not, the working machinery is very impressive. Best to go on a weekend, because that's when they run most of the engines. Check opening times.
posted by normy at 1:46 PM on January 26, 2006


As an Irishman living in London, have you booked accomodation/flights for your trip to Dublin yet? I'd hurry if I were you. Ireland play Wales in the 6 Nations rugby that weekend, and the prices go a little crazy and space becomes scarce accordingly.

A good weekend to go, though, atmosphere will be great.
posted by ascullion at 3:46 PM on January 26, 2006


normy, that's the museum!

k8t, if you can squeeze it in, it's really fantastic to see these massive old engines actually running. I saw most of the big sights in London but that was the highlight.
posted by 6550 at 10:53 PM on January 26, 2006


When you get to Greenwich, be sure to go up to the observatory - the view from the hill is great.
posted by handee at 3:01 AM on January 27, 2006


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