A-Z activities

A-Z countries

What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Best things to do in London. Ever.

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is in praise of London - fabulous to visit and a fine place to live too. Could you mark it on the country cookie?Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my eco-friendly books and blogs).  

Since 2007 I've been visiting curious places in the UK that remind me of another country. Usually they are a fabulous place to visit in their own right too. As I've wandered around my home I've started realising, that, for all sorts of reason many people in London are nervous of moving out of their postcode. This is a tremendous shame - and it isn't always to do with cost. Here's a list my 11-year-old Nell and I put together as the absolute best things to do in London, for yourself, with or without visitors. Most also offer a lot of fun for children.

#1 Walk around London
TIME the Capital Ring is 170 miles - how long have you got?
COST Oyster card and Family & Friends Railcard keep the prices down.
WHERE IN THE WORLD peeps into all sorts of places including Switzerland.
VERDICT achievement of walking the whole way around London is off the rating. Plus you get to see parts of London you'd never expect to visit - miles away from hip Hoxton, Camden and the City.
ALTERNATIVE could you join a sponsored walk or bike ride around a London park or over the many bridges crossing the Thames? Lots of 5km park runs are organised - though I love hash-house-harriers.

#2 Tour of Highgate Cemetery (West)
TIME one hour precisely (check website)
COST children £3 (8 years and up); adults £7
WHERE IN THE WORLD this is the other world - rated by the Victorians as the most magnificent of the magnificent seven cemeteries ringing London. Hammer Horror has filmed here. There's an Egyptian burial chamber family vaults at the Circle of Lebanon.
VERDICT dappled 20 acre woodland site filled with atmospheric and historic graves. Your camera will love this stop off.
ALTERNATIVE Go and see Marx's huge stone head memorial in the East Cemetery, which is open more often.

#3 Dickens Pub Crawl (suggest this is child free!)
TIME several evenings (avoid weekends as the City shuts)
COST ££ pubs aren't expensive, but inhibitions may disappear
WHERE IN THE WORLD feels like Restoration London. Parts of it look like it too, especially on the edges of Fleet Street.
VERDICT simple solution to what to do tonight.
ALTERNATIVE just think of a Londoner and concoct your own pub crawl. Douglas Adams of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy must have drunk somewhere in his home beat of Islington... George Orwell was up in Hampstead... etc. See info on CAMRA London pubs here.

#4 End to end on the #19 bus
TIME Finsbury Park to Battersea (or vice versa)
COST Oyster card and Family & Friends Railcard keep the prices down.
WHERE IN THE WORLD See the Algerian cafes with mint tea, black coffee and sweet cakes around Finsbury Park's Blackstock Road; then through Angel (where the Monopoly Board game was dreamt up at the building now used by the Co-op Bank); past Dickens Museum, along Shaftesbury Avenue and Theatreland; past Green Park and Hyde Park (green oasis in the city); past Harrods (the rich person's mecca, perhaps a little taste of Dubai?); then on to Sloane Square and Kings Road (quintessentially English) and over a pink-painted bridge (San Francisco?) with Battersea Park and the Japanese Peace Pagoda on your left. 
VERDICT marvellous - and a good route for unaccompanied (sensible) children/teens as there's plenty to spot.
COUNTRIES: Algeria, Japan, UAE, USA, 
ALTERNATIVE: any end to end bus route that suits your lodgings.

#5 London's skyline from Ali Pali
TIME don't rush this one, take the day and if you've got visitors from the tropics give them a go at the vast ice skating rink.
COST £20 max but just as good free if you opt to stroll and feast your eyes. There's a cafe in the adjacent park that sells the best coffee while the owner sings opera (not open on mondays).
WHERE IN THE WORLD peeps into all sorts of places including Switzerland.
VERDICT Gorgeous park, mighty view.
ALTERNATIVE: £££ on the London Eye. Or look at the view from Parliament Hill or Kenwood House, both on Hampstead Heath.

#6 Kew Gardens in spring (any time is a treat, even when raining as lots of heated greenhouses)
TIME this is a day trip
COST it's free for children, but adult tickets are £££. You'll need snacks/ice cream/hot choc depenidng on the season.
WHERE IN THE WORLD rush to the hot houses for Tropical scents, info and warmth.
VERDICT never knew you could learn so much from a park walk. Ideal for a mixed age group (oldies can use the "train" and meet up at a cafe when the energetic have worked up an appetite running from the Japanese pagoda across to Kew Palace via a few plants...

#7 Big Ben
TIME not long, this is a neck stretching exercise. Get to Westminster tube and look up
COST nil
WHERE IN THE WORLD just think of the chimes on the World Service and you can spirit yourself anywhere.
VERDICT this is an iconic bit of British life. I try to give visiting children a sticker book, or get them to make their own of the interesting things they see in London. Big Ben is also very close to Trafalgar Square with all those cute stone lions...

#8 Take a Boris bike to a theatre show
TIME use these bikes carefully - short hops are cheap, keeping them all day makes the price rocket.
COST £££ for the theatre unless you really don't mind sitting in the Gods (very hot in summer)
VERDICT you should have a fab time, whether you pick something cerebral or a musical, or even more populist like Stomp (energetic dance). 

#9 Cup of tea at the V&A museum (ideally on Sunday when there's a pianist)
TIME about an hour
COST ££ (find the right cafe, you need it to be totally over the top tiled, with a massive chandalier. Easier to find if you enter via Exhibition Road).
WHERE IN THE WORLD this is history - you're surrounded by Victorian clutter, but it's grand.
VERDICT memorable space, though the acoustics make it hard to hear your companions!
ALTERNATIVE: Sir John Soane Museum, near Holborn - just as much clutter, but no chance of a cuppa. If you time it right you'll get to see Hogarth's famous Rake's Progress revealed in a room that has paintings hung double on its walls.

#10 Walk on the Southbank with lunch at Borough Market
TIME all day, traffic-free route. Mon-Wed lunch only. Thurs-Sat full market. 
COST potentially zero, but Borough Market has tasty offerings
WHERE IN THE WORLD peeps into all sorts of places including Switzerland.
VERDICT the London landmarks are out in force including The Globe (Shakespeare plays), Tower Bridge and loads of big art galleries.
ALTERNATIVE: any city boasting a big river now seems to have a riverside walk used for galleries, festivals, stalls etc. London's isn't the best (Brisbane, you win!), but it's still an amazing pleasure and think of the landmarks you're going to tick off.

Over to you
What places would you rate as 10 of the best in your town? (Happy to get one idea, three even better).


Anonymous said...

Great list of ideas for things to do in London there!

I live in a small village, but our nearest city is Canterbury, which is a nice city to walk around, with the cathedral and other historic buildings. Our favourite days out from where we live though is the beach, our nearest one is about 10 minutes away, but then we have a whole choice of others around the Kent coast.

Nicola Baird said...

From Facebook:
Teresa O: Ideas needed for fab things that my 18 year old can do in Harwich. There must be more of a choice in London. Trouble is that he is not interested in the things I suggest

Annie "what's he interested in?"

Nicola Baird My 18yo 'odson is interested in everything but has no money. Not sure about the Harwich one! Can you give us a clue Teresa ?

Annie "People rave about the incredible vibrant market in Stoke Newington. Also I have to say I've never seen anything as goosebumpingly lush and hopeful as Bonnington Square in Vauxhall.... Having time to explore London would be wonderful... Lucky him, and lucky him to get to be with you all too."

Teresa "Solomon is interested in being picked up by his friends that have passed their driving test and playing pool in the quiet pubs of Olde Harwich. But i don't want to underestimate him just need to encourage him to get involved with something"

Nicola Baird ‎" T, I'm going to have a think about your challenge."