Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Family Outing to the National Maritime Museum and Queen's House

Tips for Visiting the National Maritime Museum and Queen's House

By Mark Fitzgerald

The National Maritime Museum is sandwiched conveniently between the Old Royal Naval College to the north and the Royal Observatory to the south in Greenwich England.  The museum is collection of maritime artifacts, artwork and the world's largest maritime historical library,

We would start our tour in the Queen's House.  This palace from the 1600's holds the National Maritime Museum's art collection on 3 floors.  The house itself, with its painted ceilings, is worth seeing in addition to the art on the walls.  A neat architectural feature is the Tulip Stairs.  When there see if your family can spot resident ghosts.

Right next door to the Queen's House is the National Maritime Museum.
The Great Map at the National Maritime Museum by marksimpkins on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
The Great Map at the
National Maritime Museum
Beyond the art in the Queen's house the museum holds a number of exhibits ranging from flags, photos, models, full sized ships and weapons.  One of the exhibits I believe the family will be interested in is the Great Map.  For the young ones it is matted area where they can play, run and move ships around.  For the older youth there are tablets that will tell about naval events and even use real time ship data of vessels around the world.

Royal Barge at the Maritime Museum by Ell Brown on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Royal Barge at the Maritime Museum
There are other interactive exhibits in the museum as well.  Kids can operate cranes or send telegrams.  There is a ship simulator that allows you to be on the bridge of a modern day ship or in the Children's Gallery you can fire cannons at pirate ships.

There are bathrooms on the ground floor of the Queen's House and each floor of the National Maritime Museum.  WiFi is available in the Compass Lounge, located on the ground floor of the main museum.  While in the Compass Lounge pick up a Compass Card.  This barcoded card allows you to find hidden stories and features throughout the museum.  Entrance to the Queen's House and National Maritime Museum is free but may have temporary exhibits that require tickets.

There are several options in getting your family to Greenwich. The first option is to talk a boat and arrive at the Greenwich Pier. This will take you about an hour from Embankment. Another option is to take the Dockland Light Rail from Tower Hill to Cutty Sark or bus route 188. If you are feeling adventurous you can ride a bike to Cubitt Town and walk under the river through the Greenwich foot tunnel.

A brief overview by Kevin Kilpatrick about the National Maritime Museum:



The Floor Plan of the National Maritime Museum:



A map of the National Maritime Museum:

Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If the National Maritime Museum sounded interesting, you may also like the Discover Greenwich Visitor Center. You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Taking to the water with your family visiting the Old Royal Naval College

Tips for visiting the Discover Greenwich Visitor Center and ORNC

By Mark Fitzgerald
Discover Greenwich Visitor Center by Visit Greenwich on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Discover Greenwich Visitor Center
My original thought in visiting Greenwich was solely thinking about the Prime Meridian.  Greenwich is a London Borough and has a collection of wonderful places to visit including the National Maritime Museum, the Greenwich Market and the Old Royal Naval College.

The Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) looks and feels like a college campus with old buildings and grassy quads.  It was built originally as a royal residence, but never used as one.  These facilities were transformed to house Naval Pensioners or retirees, similar to Chelsea for the army.  The remodel was done by Christopher Wren and in my opinion looks very similar to St. Pauls Cathedral.

Though its main attractions are the Painted Hall and the Chapel, start in the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre.  There are hands on activities for all agents and exhibits to help situation where you are at.  The visitors center is on the west end of the campus and closest to most transportation stops.  From the Discovery Center head east along the water front.

Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) by olebrat on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Old Royal Naval College (ORNC)
Of the four buildings on the quad the Painted Hall is the one on the south west.  It was originally the dining room and is a sight to impress visitors.  The ceiling is painted to tell the story of how King William III had liberated Europe from King Louis XIV.  The chapel is across the way in the south east building and depicts the Biblical story of Paul shipwrecked on the Isle of Malta.

Your family can find bathrooms in the Discover Greenwich visitor's center.  As these facilities are also used by the University of Greenwich you may also find bathrooms in other locations, such as the Queen Mary undercroft.  There is no wifi in the public areas.

There are several options in getting your family to Greenwich.  The first option is to talk a boat and arrive at the Greenwich Pier.  This will take you about an hour from Embankment.  Another option is to take the Dockland Light Rail from Tower Hill to Cutty Sark or bus route 188. If you are feeling adventurous you can ride a bike to Cubitt Town and walk under the river through the Greenwich foot tunnel.

A quick overview of the Old Royal Naval College can be seen on YouTube by Greenwich in London:


Map of ORNC and Discover Greenwich

Floor Plan of Old Royal Naval College



Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If the Discover Greenwich Visitor Center and ORNC sounded interesting, you may also like the Banqueting House. You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

London Transport Museum is one of the most family friendly sites in London

Tips for Visiting the London Transport Museum
By Mark Fitzgerald
The London Transport Museum has to be one of the most family friendly museums in all of London. The museum has hands on activities and exhibits for all ages.

Entrance to the London Transport Museum by Ewan-M on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Entrance to the London Transport Museum
Start your visit by entering the museum through the Covent Garden Piazza. After you purchase tickets the museum will guide you to start at the top on level 2 (the 3rd floor) and work back down to the ground floor. Not only does this help with the flow of the museum it keeps you in order chronologically. The top floor exhibits start in the 19th century and then works you towards the present day.

Level 1 (2nd Floor) has a children’s interactive area with the one of the highlights is being able to board and drive a London Optare bus. Younger kids can try on replica costumes and discover mystery objects. They even have a play section to move buses and trains around a model version of London. Even your teens will enjoy the chance get some hands on activities or simply exploring one of the 20 large trains, taxis and buses.
Buses at the London Transport Museum by asierra_re on Flicktr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Buses at the London Transport Museum

The museum closes at 6 every day and opens late on Fridays.  The prices of admission is a little steep for adults at £15, but children under 17 are free.  The larger your family the better the deal.  This is a London Attraction in which you can get in free if your purchase the London Pass.  Either way tickets are good for a year, so you can come back another day.  All toilets, including accessible toilets, and baby changing facilities are on the ground floor.

The museum has a cafe, known as the Upper Deck, above the gift shop.  You can pick up a burger, chips and a drink for about £10.  Note that a 12% tip will be added to your bill.   Open on weekends is the Lower Desk Cafe, which is more of a self service vending operation.  You can also take a lunch to the museum and use their picnic area.  Wifi is available for you to use in the museum, make sure that your phone is set correctly.

For the real train enthusiast family, consider the Acton Museum Depot.  The warehouse for the museum is open on select weekends throughout the year.   Located 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) away, or 30 minutes on the Picadilly line, the Depot is where they keep the bulk of the 400,000 items the museum has in its collection and most of its rolling stock.  Entrance will cost you £10.

The main London Transport Museum most accessible Tube Station is Covent Garden on the Picadilly Line.  There is also Embankment Station which uses the Circle and District lines.  You can always use the London Transport option of riding a bike or one of the many buses in the area. The bike dock on the back side of the building on Wellington and Tavistock.

Map of the London Transport Museum:
Overview of London Transport Museum
Overview of London Transport Museum

Floor Plan of the London Transport Museum:
Floor Plan of the London Transport Museum
Floor Plan of the London Transport Museum (Click to Enlarge)


A preview of the museum can be seen on this video from http://anglotopia.net - The Website for People Who Love Britain:

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Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If the London Transport Museum sounded interesting, you may also like the London Science Museum.  You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

#London
#LondonTransportMuseum





Friday, March 7, 2014

A little bit of Egypt in London - Cleopatra's Needle

Cleopatra's Needle in London by Paulmcdee on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Cleopatra's Needle

Visiting Cleopatra's Needle

London and New York share a pair of Egyptian obelisks from Alexandria.  At 69 feet tall (21 meters), this red granite tower or needle is a site to take in.  It sits on the banks of the river Thames and is flanked by two bronze sphinxes.  The need itself is right on the banks of the river on a pedestrian plaza and you may find it hard to get far enough back to get a full picture of the Needle.

When you go to see the Needle you will notice scaring and cracks.  These came from a German air raid during World War I.  Londoners choice not to repair the damage, but rather keep it as a memorial to the event.

Finding stories that your family is interested in and then visiting locations of those stories can really help with the imagination and excitement of the trip.  To bring this monument to life consider reading with your family the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.  Obelisks, including this one, play an important part of that book series.  You could also look at the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher.

If the weather is nice spend a few minutes in the Victoria Embankment Gardens before crossing the street see the obelisk.  Afterwards sit down and watch the boats come in and out of the three piers that are near this part of the Thames.

#London
#CleopatrasNeedle

Friday, February 28, 2014

Don't let your family be eaten alive with International Cell Phone Use

Tips for International Smart Phone Use

By Mark Fitzgerald
Using your cell phone internationally can be an expensive venture.  Your on vacation - leave the phone at home.  It just isn't that easy.  Increasingly our lives are on these devices.  Among other things, for many it is their only cameras and you will want to take pictures on your trip.  Also a lot of museums are adding in online maps and other interactive services for mobile devices.

Unless you have an international plan on your phone I suggest disabling it by using Airplane Mode.   In both iOS and Android when you turn on Airplane Mode it will disable your Wi-Fi and cellular networks.  After turning Airplane Mode on you can then tap into the Wi-Fi settings and turn it back on.  This will allow you to use wireless without having the cellular on.  If you are really paranoid you can always remove your SIM card from the phone.

Using Airplane Mode has the draw back that you still cannot use the phone.  We work around this by using Google Hangouts and video chatting with our family.  It is something they are quite familiar with, but it can take some getting used to.  You both have to have Gmail accounts and computers with webcams.  You will need to prearrange a time to ensure those that you are calling will be logged in.

If you must have a normal phone and you don't want to pay for an international plan, try visiting Clark Howard's page on how to use cell phones overseas.  He will walk you through several options.  Make sure to check devices that each member of the family may have.  Forgetting about one devices may cost you dearly.

The wifi on most international flights ends just outside of the continental United States.  Delta is just starting to add internet service internationally.  Still don't expect blazing speeds from this satellite based service.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Victoria and Albert Museum and things to see for children of all ages

Victoria and Albert Museum by fmpgoh on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Your family and the V&A
By Mark Fitzgerald

At first I was hesitant about visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum.  This London attraction is billed as the world's greatest museum of decorative art and design.  I was thinking odd clothing, funky wall hangings and other interesting housewares.  I did not believe the kids would be interested.  After digging in, I found plenty that would interest our family.

Tipu's Tiger at Victoria and Albert Museum by heatheronhertravels on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Tipu's Tiger
If you have younger kids you may want to start off in the basement at the Sackler Centre by picking up a free family trail map.  In addition to guiding you to exhibits the kids will like, the booklet provides puzzles, observation games and drawings.  I think the young ones will really like exhibits such as Tipu's Tiger.  This is a life sized mechanical hand cranked toy.

Our older children would likely be interested in some of the hands on exhibits throughout the museum.  As we have several brass rubbings in our home, I think they would like to try making one of their own.

I also would like to share with them some of the amazing classical art throughout the building.  In the Cast Court there is a plaster cast of Michelangelo's David (room 26-27).  In room 46a there is a copy of an amazing, almost 3 dimensional piece called the School of Athens by Raphael.  There are a number of other Raphael pieces in 48a.  Another statue to find is Bernini's Neptune and Triton.

As we move deeper into the museum we would like to find the Devonshire Hunting Tapestriesup on the third floor.  The most interesting tapestry would be the Boar and Bear Hunt in room 94.  Also on the third floor is a history of photography.  On the second floor I believe our family could spend a lot of time looking through Medieval and Renaissance Britain galleries.

Entrance to the museum is free, though certain exhibits may have a fee.  You will be asked for a 1 pound donation for a map or you can print it free online.  Better yet, they have an app that you can download.  They do have WiFi in the museum that you can use.  Make sure that your phone is set correctly.  You should also check their website before going as several galleries have been closed for renovations.

The museum opens at 10:00 AM and stays open late on Fridays.  There are ample rest rooms throughout the facility.  You can access the museum from an underground pedestrian walkway that runs from the South Kensington London Tube station to the basement of the museum.  South Kensington is served by the District, Piccadilly, and Circle Lines. You can always use the London Transport option of riding a bike. The bike dock is just down the road outside of the Exhibition Road entrance of the Natural History Museum.

Map of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Map of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Floor Plan of the Victoria and Albert Museum

V&A Victoria and Albert Museum Floor Plan
(Click to Enlarge)
To get a feel for what the Victoria and Albert is like see this video

Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If the Victoria and Albert Museum sounded interesting, you may also like the British Museum. You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

#V&A
#VictoriaandAlbert
#London

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Getting your VAT back

How to collect a tax refund after visiting London

by Mark Fitzgerald
The tax system used in London is known as a value added tax or VAT.  Instead of adding on sales tax to the purchase after the purchase it is incorporated into the marked price.  In London it is upwards of 20%.  And you thought New York was bad.  Well there is some good news in that you can apply to get that tax back.  Sort of.

To shop tax free you have to buy something you plan on consuming outside of the country.  That means any service, such a restaurant or tourist attraction doesn't count and you can't apply to get it back.  You can't county something you buy and use in the country, such as a box of chocolates.  So in the end this ends up being mostly souvenirs that you can claim.

And then it isn't easy to apply to get your money back.  First you need to request paperwork in the store you buy your merchandise.  After the paperwork is filled out you and the store need to sign the papers and you will have to show them your passport (which will mean you would need to be carrying your passport). Stores do not need to participate either.  Harrods for example requires travelers to spend £50 or more to apply for a refund.

Once you get to the airport you can take all of the merchandise you bought, receipts and paperwork and bring it the customs desk. They will collect it and you will get either a cash refund or a return on your credit card 3 weeks later. You can also take it to a number of other locations, such a money changing operation.  The refund company will charge you a fee for using Tax Free Shopping. They will take the money out of your VAT refund.  If you plan on doing this make sure you get to the airport at least 30 minutes earlier than planned.

Monday, February 17, 2014

High end shopping at Harrods with the family

Tips for visiting Harrods with your family
by Mark Fitzgerald

The Egyptian Escalator at Harrods by HerryLawford on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
The Egyptian Escalator at Harrods
Visiting a high end department store with my family isn't usually the thing we want to do on vacation, even if it is the biggest in Europe. But Harrods offers something unique to see. Whether it is giant teddy bears, the Princess Diane memorial at the Egyptian escalators, ├╝ber expensive dollhouses, or the unique uniforms of the employees, Harrods is a spectacle to behold.

We will likely spend 45 minutes wandering around the store before heading to the food hall. We will want to take the escalator to the 2nd floor (that would be the 3rd level for the Americans) to the gift shop, stopping along the way to see what is of interest to us. The next level up has some peculiarities such as Spymaster (a shop that sells spy gear), the Millionaire Gallery (a collectors gallery), and not to mention, the toy department.

When we are done with the bulk of the store, we will return to the ground floor to the food hall. As we explore foods from around the world we are in search of an affordable yet fun collection of foods that we can take outside to Hyde Park for a picnic. This may include cheeses, dried meats and bread.  A meat pie costs about £2.50.  We may need a piece of chocolate or two as well.
Harrods Food Halls by pov_steve on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Harrods Food Halls

If you have the money and the time there are plenty of cafes and restaurants within Harrods. To give you an idea of cost a hot fudge sundae will set you back £13.50.  If the food court is too expensive for our tastes there is always a Pret-A-Manger across the street.

Harrods does have an unofficial dress code. The users in green at the door may turn people away for any reason.  They ask that people "Refrain from wearing clothing which may reveal intimate parts of the body, or which portrays offensive pictures or writing."  They may nail you for too short of shorts or the like.

In the past Harrods charged for use of their bathrooms.  They do not currently and you can find them on all floors except the ground level.  They are in the center of the building.

Knightsbridge Tube station is very close by.  It is on the Picadilly line.  The nearest dock for Barclay's cycle Hire is a little ways down Brompton Rd on Monteplier St.  Several London Transport buses serve the area as well.

Map of Harrods:
Map of Harrods

Harrods Floor Plan
Harrods Floor Plan

To get an idea of what Harrods is like, check out this short video from our Austrian friends TodayTonight.

Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If Harrods sounded interesting, you may also like Regents Street. You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

#London
#Harrods

Monday, February 10, 2014

Seeing Neal's Yard for yourself

Tasting Neal's Yard

by Mark Fitzgerald
Colorful colors and decor at Neal's Yard by Mikelo on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Colorful colors and decor at Neal's Yard
One of the passions of our family is cheese. When we are in London we want to visit Neal's Yard which is about 2 blocks north of Covent Garden. Neal's Yard is a combination of stores including a dairy, remedies, and organic cafe found at 2 Neal's Yard London.

What first caught our eye was the architecture.  It is a series of old warehouses turned into stores, restaurants and storage.  The storefront on one side seems formal and bland.  In the back alley the building has been painted in bright colors and lively decor.
Ordering Cheese at Neal's Yard Dairy by Now Picnic on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Ordering Cheese at Neal's Yard Dairy

The cheese shoppe is raved about by foodies, especially their signature Stilton cheese.  We love to expose our children to new foods and flavors.  A unique way is to sample a couple of different types of cheeses. This is by no way an inexpensive venture. A pound of cheese will run you about £12.50.

You can see what type of cheeses they have online at http://www.nealsyarddairyshop.co.uk/

Friday, February 7, 2014

Taking to space with your family while visiting the London Science Museum

Tips for Visiting the London Museum of Science
by Mark Fitzgerald

As stated on the Natural History post, our itinerary includes 2 London museum attractions to visit as a single activity -- the London Museum of Natural History and London Museum of Science. Which to visit will depend on the day, for both have activities for the entire family.  Both are great museums and each have something to offer everyone in the family.  In our particular case the Science Museum lends itself to our older children and the Natural History Museum has more interest for the younger ones in our family.

Main hall of the London Science Museum by DanieVDM on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Main Hall of the Science Museum
Being that both museums are free we may visit both quickly, but they are fabulous museums that each deserve their own dedicated time.  Even though entrance to the Science Museum is free, there are upgrades, such as using flight simulators that can be purchased.  A donation of a couple of pounds would also be greatly appreciated.   There is not any advantage of having the London Pass with this attraction.

The Science Museum is a 6 story building with enough activities to keep any family busy. Our family would be most interested in the exhibit about space on the first floor and the flight lab on the third floor. The museum looks really good, but we have been to science museums all over the United States. I am not sure how different this will be. Science museums all seem to blend together over time.

Harrier in the Museum of Science by _Radim on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Harrier in the Museum of Science
If there is something this science museum has done well, it is the combination of old and new. For example they highlight steam engines and then show how steam engines have evolved and are part of today's technology.  I also think it shows the element of design in technology.

The Science museum has an iPad app that will make some of the exhibits interactive.  They also have some Chrome experiments that will work on you Android devices and help bring somethings to life.  They do have WiFi in the museum that you can use.  Make sure that your phone is set correctly.

Our family will likely spend the entire time in the science museum. Two and a half hours isn’t very much. We will do a separate post later for the Victoria and Albert Museum across the street. If we do split the time we will likely run in to see the dinosaurs at the London Museum of Natural History  for 30 minutes. There are ample, no charge restrooms, cafes and gift shops throughout each museum.

The nearest London Tube station is South Kensington which is served by the District, Piccadilly, and Circle Lines. There is an underground pedestrian walkway or subway that runs from the station directly to the main entrance of the Science Museum.  It was to be a pneumatic railway that was never build.   You can always use the London Transport option of riding a bike.  The bike dock is just down the road outside of the Exhibition Road entrance of the Natural History Museum.

A pretty good highlight of what can be found at the museum was put together by Andrew Davies on YouTube.  Though a bit blurry and shaky, it covers the main sections and you get a feel for all that is there.


Floor Plan of the London Science Museum:


















Map of the London Science Museum
Map of the Science Museum and Natural History Museum











Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in.  Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun.  If the London Science Museum sounded interesting, you may also like the Churchill War Rooms.  You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.


#London
#LondonScienceMuseum

Thursday, February 6, 2014

When in London say hello to Lord Baden-Powell

Lord Baden-Powell Statue at B-P house in London.  By Hyougushi on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Lord Baden-Powell
If you are going to work your ticket ... stop in to say hello to Lord Baden-Powell
by Mark Fitzgerald

Just across the street from the London Natural History Museum is B-P House. The Baden-Powell House is a hostel and conference center and it happens to have a statue right out front of Lord Baden-Powell, the father of the scouting movement.

The statue is said to be the only granite statue in London and is about 10 feet tall (3 meters). There isn't much to see other than the statue; there is a small gift shop and a few mementos are inside B-P House. But if you were ever a scout it is a great photo opportunity while in the area.

Scouters really wanting to see something of the scout movement would need to go out to Gilwell Park about 17 miles (27.3 km) north of London.

If you wanted to stay at the hostel, it starts at £22 per person.  A hostel isn't like a hotel room; you will get to bunk with others.  This may be different than you are accustom to but also may give you a unique fun experience.  Children under 5 stay free.  Even so with a family it may be cheaper and more comfortable to stay elsewhere.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Families and Dinosaurs - Visiting the London Museum of Natural History

Tips for visiting the London Museum of Natural History
By Mark Fitzgerald

On our itinerary, we put down 2 London attractions to visit as a single activity -- the London Museum of Natural History and the London Museum of Science.  As a family we are not sure which we will do and it is highly dependent on the day. Though both have activities for the entire family, the science museum lends itself to our older kids and the natural history museum to the younger ones. We will decide who is most restless and start in the appropriate museum.

Dinosaurs in the Natural History museum by mikelo on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Dinosaurs in the Natural History museum
The afternoon seems to be a poor choice of time to attend. Lines can be long even in March. Though it appears to be worst on the weekends, standing outside in the rain waiting to get in is never a good prospect. A tip for visiting the London Natural History Museum is to use the side door that tends to have shorter lines. Conveniently located on Exhibition Road, it is right next to the main entrance of the Science Museum.

The price to visit museum is free, though there are some temporary exhibits that may cost.  You can simply make a donation; they are happy to take your money. In reading reviews some people felt pressured to buy a museum guide, for a £1 donation. I don’t think that will be a problem for us. When in doubt we can print the map below.  The London Pass does not buy us anything special for this attraction.

The highlight of the Natural History Museum appears to be the dinosaurs. You can see them at ground level or a high level walk. Check to see how busy the high walk is before heading up to that level. It is narrow and hard to pass people. The museum is color coded by zones. The dinosaurs are in the blue zone.
Entering the Red Zone of the Natural History Museum by LeWeb13 on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Entering the Red Zone of the Natural History Museum

The red zone of the museum is about the forces of the earth: volcanoes, earthquakes, geology, etc.  The green zone is about minerals, birds, fossils and creepy crawlies.  You can enter a life sized termite mound or go head to head against an interactive arachnid.  The orange zone is dedicated to Darwin; it includes the Wildlife Garden which is open from April through October.

Another big draw is the architecture is self.  The building opened in 1881 and is designed in the Romanesque style.  It looks like a cross between a large church and a palace -- lots of arched ceilings and buttresses.  It makes for a caverness feeling in the main hall.  Each zone has its own bathroom, for the most part on the ground level.  They do have WiFi in the museum that you can use.  Make sure that your phone is set correctly.

The nearest London Tube station is South Kensington which is served by the District, Piccadilly, and Circle Lines. We will be walking from Harrods about a 1/2 mile down the road, so we will not be using London Transport option.  There is always the option of riding a bike.  The bike dock for Barclays Cycle Hire is just outside of the Exhibition Road entrance.

You can also use the bike dock on the other side of the museum, on Queen's Gate Rd, and stop to take a picture with the statue of Lord Baden-Powell, the father of the scouting movement.  

Floor Plan of the London Natural History Museum:
Floor Plan of the London Natural History Museum:


Map of the Science Museum and Natural History Museum:
Map of the Science Museum and Natural History Museum

To get a preview of the museum check out William Brougham's overview:



Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in.  Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun.  If the London Natural History Museum sounded interesting you may also like the British Museum.  You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

#London
#LondonNaturalHistory

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Exposing your family to Shakespeare

Tips for Visiting Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
by Mark Fitzgerald

The Globe Theatre by Cyberslayer on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
The Globe Theatre
There are at least three ways of visiting the Globe Theatre attraction in London.
  1. You can stop by the outside, look around and take pictures.  
  2. You can take a tour of the theater and its visitors center.  
  3. Or you can go and watch a play.
The theater itself is situated right on the Southbank side of the Thames River.  It is about a 5 minute walk across the Millennium Bridge from St. Paul's Cathedral.  It is right next door to the Tate Modern Museum.  You can arrive via boat by the Bankside pier.  The nearest London Tube stations are Southwark on the Jubilee and Blackfriars on the Circle and District Lines.  They are both about a .6 mile (1 kilometer) walk.

There is not a lot to see on the outside of the theater.   Really all you get to do is take a picture of the tutor style building.  But if you are just passing by it is still worth doing.  If you want to see the inside you have to pay to take a tour and visit the exhibition.

The entrance to the exhibition is on the east side on a road called New Globe Walk.  You can use the London Pass to gain entrance, but it does not reserve nor put you to the front of the line for a tour.  There is a family ticket that will give you a discount for 2 adults and up to 3 children.  You can buy online but there does not appear to be a discount for doing so.
Outside the Globe Theater by SararasMuseum on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
Outside the Globe Theater

Tours depart every 30 minutes starting at 9:30 AM and last about 40 minutes.  They are the least busy in the morning hours, but claim that it is rare to have to wait more than 30 minutes for a tour.  They recommend an hour for the exhibit hall, and that can be split before and after your tour.  While on tour you do not get on stage but get to see all around.  They are often asked about going backstage, but they are quick to point out that Elizabethan theaters didn't have a backstage.  The exhibit hall may close early on days they have matinees.

Just like in times of old, if you choose to watch a show at the theater you have the choice of seats or standing.  If you choose to be a goundling and stand, it will set you back £5 a person.  Seats start at £15 and go up.    Remember it is an open air theater.  Their season runs from April through October so many times it will be chilly.  You can rent seat cushions and lap blankets.  The show goes on rain or shine.  Those seated are protected by the roof but the groundlings are at the mercy of the elements.

As fun as it would be to be on the ground, a seat sounds mighty appealing.  If you choose to be a groundling you will need to find the sign to queue up.  The closer to the front of the line, the closer to the front of the stage.  Make sure to have your tickets before entering the line.

The theatre is not an exact recreation of the original.  It is fully accessible for those that have trouble with stairs and has bathrooms throughout the facility.  If you are in a wheelchair and wish to watch the show some of the seating is difficult to access.  Email the theater beforehand to make arrangements.

Shakespeare can be long, especially for children.  It is still so cultural and part of our history, it is worth a visit.  We are undecided on whether to go on the tour or just take pictures outside.  Either way we will be visiting the Globe Theatre.

Floor Plan of the Globe Theater:
Floor Plan of Shakespeare's Globe Theater
Map of the Globe Theatre:
Walking Map to Shakespeare's Globe Theater
Walk to the Globe Theater (Click to Enlarge)
A highlight of the Globe Theater:


Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If the Globe Theater sounded interesting you may also like Westminster Abbey. You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.

#London
#Shakespeare

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shopping with the family in London

A beadle at Burlington Arcade by mharrsch on Flickr.  Used through creative commons.
A beadle at Burlington Arcade
An Afternoon Window Shopping with the Family on Regents Street
By Mark Fitzgerald

What I love about London is the combination of old and new where you can combine the tradition, pomp and circumstance with cutting edge fashion, culture and technology. Window shopping in London's West End pulls together architecture of the early 1800s and the styles of today.

We plan to spend a couple of hours just looking and taking a mile walk  (1.6 kilometers) starting at the Burlington Arcade, heading over to Piccadilly Circus and Lillywhites.  We then end up at Liberty department store.

The Burlington Arcade would be considered the precursor to the modern mall. Wikipedia says it was built "for the sale of jewelry and fancy articles of fashionable demand, for the gratification of the public." As you enter this arcade you will like be greeted by a Beadle, or an usher at the entrance, complete in top hat. This walkway will bring you past some spectacular windows of some very high end and interesting stores.

Start out on the north side of Burlington Arcade and walk south to Piccadilly. As you come out turn left and head down to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly has similarities to Times Square in New York, as it has neon lights, advertisements and the like. There is also the fountain and statue of Eros.
Piccadilly Circus with the Statue of Eros by Landahlauts on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Piccadilly Circus

Directly fronting Piccadilly Circus is Lillywhites. This sporting goods store, and common London tourist attraction, has been here since 1925. Wander around to see sporting gear and team memorabilia for soccer, rugby, cricket and other sports common to England. Afterwards work your way out on to Regent Street and head north.

Regent Street has a little something for everyone. You may be interested in Hamley's Toys, a monster seven story toy store.  Maybe a gigantic Apple Store is more up your alley. Or perhaps unique food is of interest to you. You will want to visit the East India Company. There is also an abundance of stores that may be in your neighborhood - Nike, Levi's, Bose and Tommy Hilfiger.

Liberty Department Store by Laura (move to Portugal) on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Liberty Department Store
We want to end up at Liberty's department Store.   Housed just off of Regent St, in a large Tudor facade building, Liberty sells unique gifts, novelties, clothes, and home-wares. You may want to stop in just to get a scone with clotted cream and jam at the Liberty Cafe on the 2nd floor. Or simply that you need to go and that AllinLondon.com ranked the ground floor bathroom in the shoe department as "second to none".

London Transport flanks the beginning and end points of this shopping route. Oxford Circus is the fourth busiest Underground station in the system. It is serviced by the Central, Victoria and Bakerloo lines. The other side is Piccadilly Circus, with the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, not to mention 16 bus routes that pass through. You can also use Green Park with the Victoria, Piccadilly and Jubilee lines.  If you are using Barclay Bikes, there is a station just to the north and east of Burlington Arcade on Sackville Street and another between Liberty and Oxford Circus station.

Map of walking route:
Walking Map of Regent Street, London

And for a bit of a preview of what Liberty is like:

Going on a family vacation builds memories, provides life changing experiences and helps teach about the world we live in. Take time to explore, enjoy and have fun. If this tour Regents Street sounded interesting, you may also like Fat Tire Bike Tours. You can also look at our entire list of London Attractions.
#London
#RegentStreet

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Visit Station Jim at Slough Railway Station

A landmark to see when passing through Slough Station
By Mark Fitzgerald

If your journey to Windsor Castle takes you through Slough Station take a moment to go over to platform 5 and find Station Jim.  Who is station Jim you may ask?  He is a Canine Collector of course.  A what?

The Dog Station Jim on display at Slough Station by JenGallardo on flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Station Jim on display at Slough Station
Station Jim was a dog that was found at the railway station in Slough in 1894.  The small puppy was taught tricks and to stay off the tracks.  He became a town mascot of sorts.  The people loved him.

Before long he someone strapped on a coin collection box to raise money for Widows and Orphans.  He started out slow until someone taught him to bark each time he received a coin.  Over two years he collected £40 (£40.00 in 1896 is equivalent to £3,822.71 in 2013).

But the good times didn't last.  He died in 1896.  The community paid to have him stuffed and put on display.  Over a hundred years later Station Jim is still with us standing guard over Slough Station.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Overlooking London with your family from atop the London Eye

London Eye by Herbsttag88 on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
London Eye at Night
Tips for visiting the London Eye
By Mark Fitzgerald

The London Eye has quickly become an iconic experience for first time visitors to London despite being only 14 years old. This London attraction will give you a 30 minute ride to see the sites of London. It will top out at 443 feet (135 meters) with stunning views of Westminster and Lambeth.

The kids are excited to visit.  I think this is two fold - it is something they have heard of and it is a Ferris wheel (e.g. it moves).  Personally I would rather see London from the View from the Shard.  You are higher up and you get to stay until you are ready to leave.  

Queue at the London Eye by by cuttlefish on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Summer Line at the London Eye
One of the most challenging aspects of visiting the London Eye is figuring out which ticket to buy.  I find it fascinating that you need a buying guide to select which ticket is best for your Ferris wheel experience.
  1. You have to decide if you want to buy online or in person.  You have to do this at least 4 days in advanced, but it saves money.
  2. Then you have to decide if you want a standard or fast track ticket.  The fast track allows you to go to the front of the line - kind of like Disney's fast pass.  
  3. Next you have to decide to buy the flexi option.  This allows you to visit without having to preselect an arrival time.
One of the reasons for the complexity of ticket prices is the weather.  No one really want to sight-see in the middle of a rain cloud.  The cheapest option is to buy a standard ticket online 4 days in advance.  This will tie you to a day and a specific time - rain or shine.  Flexi options allow you to either select a day within the week or a time with a specified day.  

The fast track sound appealing but with a capacity of 1,600 people per hour, it isn't always needed.  The line moves pretty quick.  London Eye is at its busiest during the months of July and August. In the off season the Eye opens at 10:00 AM and goes until 8:30 at night.  The busiest time of the day would be from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.

A video from London Landmarks highlights the London Eye.

Apart from buying online there isn't a lot of discounts.  You can get a family pass that will cover a family of four.  There is no help from the London Pass on this one.  If you buy online you print off your tickets at home and go straight to the boarding lines.  If you are buying on site the ticket office is located inside County Hall, which is the building directly next to the London Eye.

Bathrooms are also located in the County Hall building.  Since you may be in line for 20 minutes and there are no bathrooms on board the 30 minute ride you may want to hit the facilities before starting.

The closest London Tube station is Waterloo. When you exit follow the signs for South Bank. You can also arrive via Riverboat at the Millenium Pier or if your kids are older consider using Barclays Cycle Hire bicycles.

London Eye Attraction's map:


Map of area around London Eye:


#London
#LondonEye


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Go see the Roman Wall when visiting the Tower of London

Roman Dude London by uktripfor2006 on Flickr.  Used through Creative Commons.
Trajan at the Roman Wall
A landmark to see when visiting the Tower of London
By Mark Fitzgerald

London Transport makes it easy to get to the Tower of London. Several bus stops, a London Tube station and connection to the Docklands Light Rail (DLR). Most of these converge just to the North of the Tower of London. This is also where you can find remains of the great Roman Wall that surrounded the City of London.

Nearly 2000 years ago the Roman’s occupied the City of London and made it a fortified walled city. It became a major center of trade. The wall was nearly 3 miles (5 kilometers) long and in places was 20 feet tall (6 meters). The City of London (not to be confused with London – see below) is still defined by where the wall was.

So when visiting the Tower of London take a few minutes to explore before going in. Most people cross Tower Hill road by using an underpass. The wall, along with a statue of Trajan, is right next to this underpass. Also in this area is the Tower Hill Sundial. Along the perimeter is a history of the area starting with the Roman Conquest in 43 AD and the walls being built.

To fully understand the difference between London and the City of London please make sure see this short, yet highly entertaining video by CGP Grey:

#london
#romanwall
#toweroflondon

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Using Barclay Cycle Hire to Speed Your Family Along


Tips for using Barclay Bicycles in London
By Mark Fitzgerald

Barclay Cycle Hire appears to be a wonderful alternative to getting on the tube for every little trip. For about the same cost as a ride on the bus you can gain access to bicycles all over the city for the entire day.

Here is the quick version of how it works - For the purposes of our blog we have planned staying in a flat right next to Paddington station. Just outside the station is a fleet of blue bikes with a computer terminal next to them. You walk up to the terminal and you insert £2 and you go an unlock a bike. You can then ride the bike anywhere you wish.
Dock Bikes at Barclays Cycle Hire by swanksalot on Flickr.  Used by Creative Commons.
Docked Bikes at a Barclays Cycle Hire

Let's say we plan to go to Banqueting House to start your day. This is 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometers) through the parks and will take you 25 minutes.  Once you get to your destination find the nearest dock and lock up your bike with the other Barclay Bikes.

As long as you are under 30 minutes the trip does not cost any additional money and you can check the bike out as many times during the day as you need. You do not always get the same bike back. It is a pass to use the system. If you go over the 30 minutes you will be charged £1. Make sure when you dock the bike, the green light comes on. This indicates that the bike has registered as being returned.

There are two downsides for our family - first insurance will not cover you if you are under 14. Though tall and could handle the bikes, half of our clan would not qualify. The other down side is you can only checkout 4 per credit card. We would need to go through the hassle of using multiple cards.

The system is part of London Transport and is an excellent alternative to taking the London Tube.  London Transport put together a YouTube video on how this all works.


#barclaycycle
#londontransport