A lovely blog reader, Helen Jones, has asked me to suggest the top things I would do if I had three days in London with a family who liked curious and interesting things, and the underground.
Here’s what I suggest:
Head to the British Museum. You will need Russell Square tube.
Once there you can visit the BM, which is free, except for the special exhibitions. It’s well worth seeing what special exhibitions they have on and pre booking if something catches your eye. They are always well curated and interesting. I saw the Grayson Perry ‘Tomb of the Unnamed Craftsman’ exhibition there last year, and it was the best thing I’ve seen in a museum in my life. I wish I’d have been organised enough to see the exhibition they have on now, about Pompeii, and I missed the Terracotta Warriors too, which I was sad about.
Anyway, even if there isn’t a special exhibition that catches your eye, the new atrium is gorgeous, the mummies are top notch, and there are so many wonderful free things to do you could spend all day there.
Once you’re in the area, as long as you have your timings right you can see The Grant Museum of Zoology and the Petrie Museum, which are not very far away at all. You can also visit the Wellcome Collection, which is awesome and has a Peyton and Byrne tea room.
Ten minutes walk towards Euston you have the British Library, which is free to get into, has great exhibitions and another cracking tea room, also Peyton and Byrne.
You’re also within easy reach of Coram’s Fields if your children are small enough to enjoy parks. It is a very civilised park and holds amazing memories for me as I have been taking my children there for fourteen years.
Walking up from Coram Fields you can explore Lamb’s Conduit Street, which has lovely shops including Persephone Books, a community owned supermarket, some amazing tailors and lots of interesting boutique style places.
Food wise – I have already mentioned Peyton and Byrne tea shops. But just down from the British Museum you can go to the London Review Bookshop which has the most amazing tea room. It is one of my all time London favourites.
Lunch wise you can visit Ciao Bella on Lamb’s Conduit Street for authentic and brilliant Italian food, or venture further up and go to the Greek greasy spoon which does an amazing fried breakfast with halloumi.
Go to Holborn Tube
From here go to the Royal College of Surgeons, Hunterian Museum which is full of pickled bodies. It’s brilliantly curated, eerie and compelling, and free to get into.
On the same square as the Royal College of Surgeons is a wonderful bakery called The Fleet River Bakery. Eat here. Everything is amazing. They sell out fast, so get here early.
As you are already in Lincoln’s Inn Fields it would be rude not to visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum. It’s also free to get into. It’s a total curiosity shop and rather lovely. Check opening times, as I recall they are rather eccentric, but it’s totally worth the visit.
From here you can head back to Holborn in minutes. Just up from Holborn tube is an amazing shop called Shepherds Falkiners that sells hand made and printed papers and inks etc. Gorgeous and well worth popping in. Everything is needful.
And eat dinner at Holborn My Old Dutch. Pancakes as big as your head, and really good value.
If you’re in London on a Sunday start off at Columbia Road Flower Market. If not, but it’s still the weekend, go to Spitalfields Market (Liverpool Street tube). If it’s Sunday, go to Spitalfields after Columbia Road.
Spend the afternoon wandering around Brick Lane.
If you do get to Spitalfields try to see Denis Severs’s house. It’s very strange. Opening hours are weird, and it costs to get in, but well worth going if you’re there at the right time.
Food wise, there are so many places to eat round here you are spoiled for choice, but if you’re feeling fancy go to St. John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields. It’s Fergus Henderson’s second restaurant and does a kind of British, nose to tail eating tapas style food that is delicious and unusual.
There’s a few ideas for three days worth of events that would work well together geographically.
If the Sunday option doesn’t appeal here’s another day
Go to London Bridge Tube.
Borough Market which is open Friday/Saturday/Sunday is just across the road from the station.
From here you can visit Southwark Cathedral which sits alongside Borough Market. It is a lovely church with a great history, and once appeared in Dr. Who according to my sources. It’s free to get into.
From there, if you walk down the Embankment towards South Bank you will come across the replica of Frances Drake’s Golden Hinde, which you can take a tour of (expensive, but quite fun).
Just down from there is The Clink, an old prison which has been set up as a sort of rival to the London Dungeon (the other side of the London Bridge Tube for this. They accost you as you leave the station. Fun but expensive). It costs to get in. We’ve never been. Oscar is terrified.
Keep walking down by the river and you will get to Tate Modern and The Globe theatre, both well worth a visit. The Tate is free and has lots of hands on stuff for kids to do. My children just love running round the turbine hall mainly. There are temporary exhibitions which cost and you have to book for, but we’ve been to a few and loved them. The Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama exhibitions were both great. The restaurant at the Tate is also nice.
The Globe has a good restaurant too, although a bit posh the last time I went. If there isn’t a play on you can go on a tour, which is fab. It costs money though.
From here you can just keep walking until you hit the South Bank where there are absolutely tons of things to do and loads of places to eat.
The cafe at the Royal Festival Hall is very good for soups and sandwiches and people watching.
The restaurant at the BFI does great food.
The coffee bar at the National Theatre does excellent cakes and is one of my favourite places to people watch. Their back stage tours are amazing value and really interesting too, even if you’re not into plays. They have some fantastic technical kit and their own armoury department and you get to go on the stages as well.
The Skate Park is a great place to watch people do amazing things. They do parkour there sometimes too.
If you come out of London Bridge Tube and go to Borough but don’t fancy exploring back down towards the South Bank you can always go the other way.
First, pop round the corner and do the Old Operating Theatre. It is about £15 for a family ticket, and their opening hours are odd, but it’s really fun to do.
Then nip back round towards the tube and head down Tooley Street. You can do the London Dungeon here if you feel brave and rich enough.
Keep going and you will come to Hays’ Galleria. It’s just a shopping centre by the Thames but it is very beautiful and has an amazing sculpture fountain in the shape of a fantastical ship. They also have a boules pitch here.
Back from the river here, you get to Bermondsey. The fashion and textile museum is in Bermondsey and although small, it does have some really interesting things on, if clothes are your thing.
It’s also in a lovely part of town with interesting galleries and shops and cafes, and a fantastic glass blowing studio where, if they’re working they sometimes let you have a go.
Back to the river, if you walk on from Hays’ Galleria you will go through the lovely Potter’s Field, which is nice to have a cuppa in, and eventually you get to the London Design Museum. Another independent museum, it charges for entry, but it does have some very cool exhibitions if you’re interested in design. We saw the Louboutin exhibition there last year, and they also do a show case of world class eco design etc every year.
And that should keep you busy for a few days.