Category Archives: London for kids

London Winter Wonderland Christmas spectacular, Hyde Park.

As if Winter Wonderland wasn’t already an all-out Christmas spectacular, this year we bring you even more thrills, festivities and sparkling winter magic…

London Winter Christmas WonderlandTHE MAGICAL ICE KINGDOM
A spectacular ice & snow sculpture experience!
Follow the magical pathways and admire the beauty of the exquisite sculptures and crystal-like characters throughout the themed rooms. Meet the woodland ice creatures as you roam through the stalagmite forest – the ice bears, wolves, stags, owls, foxes and rabbits. Try a seat in the fairy tale unicorn-pulled carriage and take the slide in the magnificent ice castle. Specially created by Winter Wonderland and unique to the UK, this arctic experience will take your breath away!

Children and adults alike will be enchanted by our unmissable addition to Santa Land this year. Introducing: Santa’s Factory – a fun-house where Santa and his industrious elves are making gifts ready for the big day! Walk through his magical sleigh, meet the elves and pay a visit to Santa’s Lapland grotto.

If you’re good with heights and want to see Winter Wonderland from above try the fabulous new Star Flyer. For a truly exhilarating experience, soar over 60 metres into the air as it spins 360 degrees and feel the wind through your hair. It’s the closest thing to flying!

This beautiful carousel takes the traditional festive ride to a new level – literally! Featuring two glittering decks of unusual and fantastical animals for you to ride – choose from a sea dragon, eagle, reindeer, sea horse, tiger, elephant and many more!

In addition to the popular Angels Market – over 100 charming wooden chalets selling a wide array of unique and handmade gifts – this year sees the introduction of a second market area. The Yuletide Market gives you an even bigger Christmas shopping experience, including traditional yuletide gifts, jewellery, winter wear, wooden toys and Christmas decorations.

Winter Wonderland is the UK’s biggest Christmas attraction, taking place each Christmas at Hyde Park and becoming one of London’s great festive traditions. The attraction is open from 10:00am to 10:00pm.

Winter Wonderland features numerous seasonal attractions including The Magical Ice Rink, the Giant Observation Wheel, the Room on the Broom stage show, and fantastic circus shows performed inside a heated big top tent.

Entry to Winter Wonderland is free, with charges for some of the attractions. Entrance to see Santa is free.

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Discount Theatre Show Tickets in London’s West End

London  is world famous for its ‘West End’ shows, for many people the theatre is the main reason for a visit.

Discount LondonThe number of shows in London are many, covering musicals, comedy, plays and classics and are spread across London. The mainstream commercial theatre is centred in the West End around the Covent Garden and Leicester Square area, though top selling shows will also be elsewhere.

The most popular shows are often sold out well in advance, especially at the popular weekend shows.

The top shows, tend to be musicals. The current favourites that everyone wants to see are sold out weeks, sometimes months ahead, especially for popular weekend shows.

Nearly all shows start between 19:30 and 20:00 and a typical show will last between 2 hours 15 minutes and three hours. When you leave the theatre you will typically have an hour before the last Underground train runs.   There is also a good night bus network that will get you to all the main hotel districts if you want to eat or drink afterwards or visit a nightclub.

If you get a cab make sure its a proper licensed cab, only London’s famous black cabs are allowed to solicit for business.   Purchasing West End Theatre Tickets

When you purchase a theatre ticket, normally the best way to purchase if you can is direct in person from the theatre, for most people this is impractical.

It is not generally possible to purchase tickets direct online from the theatre, there are no e-tickets. Tickets are sold through agents of one kind or another. You can either collect the tickets or have them mailed to you.

When you purchase a theatre ticket you should be made aware of the face value, this is the normal price of the ticket if you bought direct at the theatre. Agents will normally charge you more than the face value, this is their commission and/or mailing fee. If there is an offer you will pay less than the face value of the ticket.

Discount West End Theatre Tickets   Around Leicester Square in the heart of the theatre district are a number of kiosks selling ‘last minute’ discounted tickets with unsold seats for that evening.

The official half price discount office should be your first port of call. It is on the south side of Leicester Square itself, (pictured right) and is hard to miss.

There are other kiosks like that pictured below, all around Leicester Square.

Don’t expect to pick up tickets for the popular shows here they are normally sold out well in advance.

Also it may be that only the expensive seats for a show may be made available discounted – there may be cheaper stall seats available from the theatre.

If there is a particular show you want to see then book in advance, don’t gamble on the off chance that you’ll pick up something cheap on the day. As said before the very popular shows are sold out well in advance.   If you want to check out the entire entertainment scene in London, covering comedy clubs, film, concerts and ballet as well as mainstream musicals then pick up a copy of Time Out in London. a weekly London entertainment magazine.

A good on-line source of discounted theatre tickets is, as well as doing discounted tickets also do deals combining theatre with things like restaurant meals near the theatre.

A great way to both save money and get hold of tickets otherwise not available is to purchase through a consolidator. These agents buy up blocks of seats from the theatres well in advance and bundle them with discounted hotels.

The is a large choice of hotels from the most frugal to 5 star luxury.

Needless to say we have negotiated the best online prices:

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Cheap and free London

Free London attractions

London is packed with world-famous attractions, from royal palaces and historic landmarks to museums, galleries and street markets. And the great news is loads of them are free. Let’s start with the iconic landmarks. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye – you can see all of these without spending a penny (but you will have to pay extra if you want to snoop around inside the Abbey, Buckingham Palace or the London Eye).

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Turner Prize pieces, a dinosaur gallery and life-sized blue whale – they all live in London, and you can see them all for nothing. London is home to over 300 museums and galleries, and many of them offer free admission. Don’t miss the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and theV&A Museum. If you’re with the family, take the kids to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum for a day packed with giant artefacts and hands-on experiments.

V&A Cafe

V&A Cafe

Park life
In the mood for a romantic stroll, a run or a picnic in the sun? Head to one of London’s 8 Royal Parks. Beautifully landscaped and completely free, they’re the perfect place to unwind. You’ll probably stumble across some of the city’s best attractions too – Kensington Palace is tucked away in Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace is perched on the edge of Green Park and Greenwich Park is home to the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum.

Richmond Park

Richmond Park

West End on a shoestring
Travelling on a budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out on London’s world-famous West End theatre scene. If you’re after cheap theatre tickets, head to the official tkts booth in Leicester Square where you’ll find the best seats in theatre at half the normal price. And don’t worry about being palmed off with fakes – tkts is operated by the Society of London Theatre, the industry body that represents London theatres.

If half price theatre tickets are still stretching your budget, we’ll let you in on a little secret. Every night, The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square offers standing tickets for 10p. But you have to be quick, these are first-come-first-served and there are only 8 of them available each night.

Getting around
The secret to getting around London on the cheap is to do it like a Londoner. So make sure your first purchase is an Oyster card – it’s the fastest and cheapest way to travel around London by public transport.

If you’re travelling like a Londoner, you won’t need to shell out for an organised bus tour. Hop on the top deck of a London bus for a whistle-stop tour of the city’s sights at a fraction of the price. Here are some of our favourite sightseeing bus routes:

  • Number 11 from Fulham to Liverpool Street, taking in the fancy King’s Road and Sloane Square, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and ending up at the trendy Shoreditch
  • Number 24 from the leafy Hampstead Heath to Pimlico, via Camden Town, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and Westminster
  • Number 74 from Putney to Baker Street, calling at South Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park, Marble Arch and Baker Street.

London bus travel

London bus travel

As you wander around London, you’ll come across bike racks with bikes for hire. These are part of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, known as ‘Boris Bikes’ to Londoners (after the mayor, Boris Johnson). They’re easy to use and a great way to see the city without getting on a bus or tube. Simply use your debit or credit card to pay a small access fee for a bike, then take it out for a ride! You’re charged for the time your bike is checked out of the dock, but if you dock your bike at any Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme dock within 30 minutes of the last check out, you won’t be charged a usage fee. Find out more about the scheme and costs at the Barclays Cycle Hire website.

How to eat cheaply
Forget the Michelin starred restaurants – if you’re looking for the best food in London, head to the markets. Portobello Road, Camden, Greenwich, Spitalfields and Brick Lane markets offer a great range of cheap and delicious street food from every corner of the world. A treat for your tastebudsand your wallet.

If you’re looking for somewhere to eat cheaply at night, head to the nearest high street, where you’re sure to find chain restaurants like Pizza Express, Café Rouge, Wagamama, GBK and more, all serving tasty food at very reasonable prices. But don’t overlook the independent local restaurants, many of them run great value meal deals to compete with the bigger chains.

Believe it or not, there are several excellent campsites within striking distance of central London. You can save a huge amount by camping in the capital and it’s more convenient than you might think. Try Abbey Wood campsite in south London near Greenwich, only 35 minutes by train to the centre, or Crystal Palace Caravan Club that’s on a bus route to Oxford Street. Camping is also a great value option if you’re visiting for the London 2012 Olympics.

50 free things to do in London: part two – east and south

A clutch of great museums, plus a farm and dinosaurs in a park – there’s plenty to do that’s free in east and south London

Period front room at the Geffrye Museum

Period front room at the Geffrye Museum


Geffrye Museum, Hoxton

What would your living room have looked like 100 years ago? 200 years ago? This Hoxton museum explores how tastes in English home furnishing have changed over the centuries, from 1600 to the present day. A series of mock interiors are chronologically arranged along the length of a row of early 18th-century almshouses. An outdoor herb garden completes the picture, while a modern wing offers temporary exhibitions.
• 136 Kingsland Road, E2,             020-7739 9893      ,, open Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun and holidays noon-5pm

Museum of London Docklands, Canary Wharf

Docklands MuseumThe MoL’s eastern outpost covers the history of London’s docks. It’s one hell of a story. Somehow, the museum manages to pack in the rise and fall of the British Empire, the formation of the Royal Navy, the horror of the slave trade, the fire storms of the second world war, the death of the docks in the 1960s, and the massive redevelopment of Canary Wharf and the wider riverside since.
• West India Quay, E14,             020-7001 9844      ,, open daily 10am-6pm

Spitalfields City Farm

Spitalfields City Farm

Photograph: AlamyLondon has more than a dozen city farms dotted around the inner boroughs. All of them offer a family-friendly taste of rus in urbe and a chance to meet domesticated animals. The Spitalfields farm is one of the more central options. It also distinguishes itself with the annual Oxford-Cambridge Goat Race, which takes place annually on the same day as the more famous boat race.
• Buxton St, E1,             020-7247 8762      ,, open 10am-4.30pm

Valence House, Dagenham

Valence House, DagenhamLondon is replete with small, local museums. One of the best area-specific examples can be found in the borough of Barking and Dagenham. These parts of London are often overlooked by visitors, but are steeped in social and cultural history. Valence House tells their story with aplomb, inside a largely medieval building that retains part of its moat.
• Becontree Avenue, RM8,             020-8227 5293, open Mon-Sat 10am-4pm


Crystal Palace Park

Dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park

Photograph: Stephen EmmsThis much-loved space takes its name from the giant Crystal Palace, which stood to the west of the park until it burned down in 1936. It was originally constructed in Hyde Park, to house the 1851 Great Exhibition, but was shifted to Sydenham the following year. The building’s footprint can still be seen. Nearby, a landscaped lake is noted for its population of sculptures depicting dinosaurs and extinct mammals. These date back to 1852 and are the oldest such models in the world. The rest of the park offers a pleasant mix of open space, an athletics stadium, woodland and family facilities.
• Sydenham, SE20,             020-8778 7148      ,

Royal Museums, Greenwich

Greenwich museums

The National Maritime Museum buildings and Observatory on the hill in Greenwich. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the GuardianWith its hilltop views, riverside setting and world heritage status, Greenwich makes a great free day out in itself. But this corner of south-east London is also packed to the gunwales with cultural attractions. The Royal Museums comprises the National Maritime Museum (free), the Royal Observatory (partly free), the Queen’s House gallery (free) and the restored Cutty Sark (quite pricey to go in, but you can gaze from outside). All are worth a visit.
             020-8858 4422      ,, open daily 10am-5pm

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Photograph: Martin Argles for the GuardianThe elegant college complex has been a landmark of the Greenwich riverfront since it was initiated by Sir Christopher Wren in the early 18th century. Originally built as a hospital for injured sailors, it later served as a naval training academy. Today, most of the buildings are used for educational purposes, but two blocks are open to the public. The Painted Hall is lavishly decorated with paintings by Sir James Thornhill, while the nearby Chapel is resplendent in gold. The college is built on the site of the Palace of Placentia, birthplace of both Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I.
•             020-8269 4799      ,, open daily 10am-5pm

Horniman Museum, Forest Hill

Horniman Museum, Forest Hill

Photograph: Sean Smith for the GuardianForest Hill is about as far off the standard tourist trail as you get. But nestled on the verdant hillside in a set of newly spruced gardens you’ll find one of London’s best museums. The Horniman has a bit of everything. A natural history collection – including the famous badly stuffed walrus – forms the core of the museum. You’ll also find a small aquarium, rooms full of unusual instruments and textiles, a display of anthropology and a damn fine cafe. Outside, the unusual architecture and views towards central London match the indoor wonders.
• 100 London Road, SE23,             020-8699 1872, open daily 10.30am-5.30pm

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth

Imperial War Museum

Learn about camouflage at the Imperial War MuseumAt times deeply moving, even harrowing, at others inspiring, the IWM never fails to impress. The grand premises originally served as the Bedlam asylum, but now house dozens of military vehicles, historic documents and often overlooked but spectacular art galleries on the top floor. Be sure to wander the grounds, too, where you’ll find a section of the Berlin Wall, a pair of giant naval guns and a Tibetan Peace Garden.
• Lambeth Road, SE1,             020-7416 5000      ,, open daily 10am-6pm 

Forget the Eye and the Shard, it’s old London tourists want

The Tower of London: still the main attraction, despite the Shard just across the river Photo: ALAMY

The Tower of London: still the main attraction, despite the Shard just across the river Photo: ALAMY

Cristina Odone finds that the capital’s hordes of tourists aren’t interested in the shiny new additions: it’s London’s historic sites that they’re heading to.

The capital is swarming with tourists, and two of them are staying with us. Anna and her nine-year-old daughter flew in from Florida for a week’s holiday, with no plans to see the Olympics, as tickets are too pricey. (Though now that Anna’s seen a well-placed seat at the women’s netball reduced to £100, they may reconsider.)

On their first day, as they fought with their jet lag, I produced a collection of leaflets I’d put together for them. I’d ticked every box of the newLondon experience, I felt, with brochures that covered everything from what’s on at the Southbank Centre to the London Eye and the Saatchi Gallery. But it wasn’t Cool Britannia the visitors were after. They were resolutely in search of the old-fashioned version, featuring Buckingham Palace, the British Museum and Madame Tussauds.

This was London the Prince Charles way: Beefeaters and double-decker buses rather than Renzo Piano and Damien Hirst. I was further surprised to find that Anna and Sophia were typical of the incoming hordes this summer: the Visit London guide confirms that tourists rank the British Museum and the National Gallery as their top capital attractions, while the Eye comes a mere fifth. The Shard and the Southbank Centre don’t feature.

I can’t help thinking, as our guests come home lugging mugs marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (bought on their visit to Westminster Abbey) and tea towels adorned with Big Ben (bought at the V&A), that they’re teaching me that the rest of the world still loves Britain. Its street cred may lure globetrotters with intellectual pretentions or fashionista flair, but it’s not our unique selling point as far as ordinary tourists are concerned.

Our masters, please take note: forget commissioning newfangled projects, just maintain the old attractions. It is cheaper and easier—and a lot more popular. Has anyone ever heard a tourist asking for directions to the Dome?

One visitor likely to complain about his London stay is Bruce Springsteen. Three hours into his concert in Hyde Park, the American rock star was joined on stage by Sir Paul McCartney. The audience went mad at this “first”, and the legends belted out two Beatles hits. But before they could launch into a third, those in charge turned off their sound equipment – in order not to breach the 10.30pm curfew.

Ticket-holders booed, and Springsteen’s guitarist took to Twitter to hyperventilate about Britain’s “police state”. But I say hurrah for the silence enforcers – and please, could they not limit their efforts to concerts. I’d like them to impose a noise curfew when my neighbours fall asleep with their TV at full volume, blaring out the shopping channel late into the night; and when cars with souped-up sound systems collect shrieking passengers in the small hours. As another American rock legend once crooned, oh, for the sound of silence.

• Poor George Osborne is under fire, once again, for having belonged to the Bullingdon Club. A photo surfaced this week of gorgeous George sporting a pouting pose and the distinctive (blue frock coat, gold waistcoat) uniform of the notorious university dining society. It may date from 1993, when George was young enough not to shave every day; but it is seen as a way to embarrass him now.

The Chancellor should take comfort from knowing that in Poland, they celebrate the fact that Radek Sikorski, their foreign minister, was elected to the Bullingdon. When a penniless refugee who arrives in Oxford without money or connections gains entry to the most elite society in the university, it becomes not a byword for exclusivity but the epitome of British open-mindedness.

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Family Outings for Rainy Days in London

When it’s wet and windy in London, the last thing you want to do is go on an open top London bus tour or have a picnic in one of London’s Royal Parks!

Luckily, London has plenty of exciting and fun activities for the whole family that are completely weather-proof.

Whether it’s dressing up at London’s Discover centre or watching a 3D film at an IMAX cinema, there’s so much to do if the weather turns bad, you may not want to save all these ideas for a rainy day!

Visit the VisitLondon website for inspiration:

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