Four days and three nights to beautiful London, kissed by the sun. I travel with two men: Matteo, my husband, and Damiano, my 18-years-old nephew (who would have largely preferred holiday in Jesolo with friends even if – I hope – he will thank us one day). Objective: survive and stimulate his interest. So here is our battle plan made up of many steps, few museums, huge quantity of street food and some “helps” given by our underground friend.. oops, I meant the tube.
South Bank – From Borough Market to the Houses of Parliament
How to attract a teenager who is afraid of flying to London? With food! First stop? Borough Market, a huge street food market that delights our eyes and our bellies… Warning: during lunch break it can be very crowded!
Continuing the walk along the Thames we pass next to the Shakespeare Globe. I hear the voice of Damiano saying he knows it: he heard the name at school from the English teacher. I kneel in the crowd and shout to the miracle. After so much cultural effort we can not think to stop and visit the Tate Modern. It is a skate park which stimulates his real interest. Young and very young people jump from one side to another like crickets: I appreciate their trust in a 80cm long wooden board with four wheels underneath.
After all this energy we are ready for the London Eye but the cabins, which contain about thirty people, rise so slowly that we can not even feel the slightest sense of vertigo… On the other hand, they allow us to enjoy London’s view from above. Big Ben is also clearly visible but entirely covered by scaffoldings due to restoration, as a portion of the Houses of Parliament, and it is exactly where we will find us, soon afterwards, in the middle of an anti Brexit demonstration.
The West End and the City
Today we start from Trafalgar Square, but we leave soon traffic and smog to cross the Saint James’s Park, a small and very well-kept park that delights us with its green, the flower beds and ponds. Even Damiano, in the highest phase of “Iwontgiveyouanysatisfactionatcostofmyownlife” realizes the beauty of the place: the green around us, the London Eye on one side and Buckingham Palace on the other. About palaces and queens: if you want to crowd together with an indefinite number of people and their smart phones to watch the change of the guard, check the days and times here first.
To move to the area of Piccadilly we cross the Green Park, the smallest of the eight royal parks in London which with its old oaks trees, makes me want to be an old pensioner subscribed to “Puzzler”. I tell it to Damiano. He does not understand but one day he will.
We find a completely different atmosphere in the area of Piccadilly Circus which we overcome to get to Soho. This is a district with a controversial past which is now literally swarming with its pubs, its crazy shops and its excitement. Then we move on to Covent Garden.
A small service information: Covent Garden subway station has no escalators. To go back up you can take the elevator (trivial) or do as we did: walk up the 5 floors and the 193 helicoidal steps that will bring you back to the surface (I warn you: I had mystic visions). The solution? Get off at Leicester Square stop (which is just 250 meters away).
Still out of breath, I convince my knights to look for a small courtyard that I had seen on Instagram: Neil’s Yard. After a long wandering, we arrive to this small square: probably the same post has been seen by other thousand people because this colorful and full of delicious shops and cafes corner is a swarm of life. In an small street in the nearby we run into Bambi graffito. I could hang around in this part of the city for hours!
After this too tiny-hypster-chic-boho parenthesis, we try to reactivate the flame of Damiano’s interest with the exaggerations and contrasts game: the City!
We wander among huge skyscrapers with bizarre names, such as 20 Fenchurch Street (called “The Walkie Talkie”), 30 St Mary Ax (for friends “The Gherkin”) or The Scalpel. Get ready to walk with an upturned nose! Then we go to the Tower of London area and, pretending that Damiano is the only tired of walking, we relax on a bench overlooking Tower Bridge.
Camden Town, Notting Hill and Hyde Park
If you are with a teenager, a tour to Camden Town is mandatory!
When we arrive Buck Street Market stalls are beginning to exhibit their goods, all 80% original. The road that leads to Camden Lock Market is full of shops with music that risks to burst the eardrum and fashion trends that would upset even Ozzy Osbourne.
Damiano’s eyes are shining seeing all the stalls frying, kneading and greasing food that releases heart-attack perfumes in the air. We try to distract him with a short walk along Regent’s Canal, but it is better not to joke with the hunger pangs of an eighteen years old guy (who, to be honest, asks for food with the same rhythm of a newborn) and we move to Notting Hill.
Listeners: this part of the city is even more beautiful and dreamy than you can imagine, with the facades of the colorful, well-kept houses and a very relaxed atmosphere… but we walk over Portobello Road just taking a fleeting glance to stalls and shops. Food mission for our “little one” has the priority, and we intercept a beautiful street food market. It is in this gastronomic triumph of food from all over the world that Damiano declares his choice: a waste truck oil fried sandwich 100% Made in Germany…
It’s time to move to the pagan temple of shopping and to its fifth floor which is almost entirely dedicated to technology: Harrods. We come out empty-handed repeating “money can’t buy happiness” mantra and we end the blissfully relaxed afternoon to Hyde Park, London’s largest royal park.
Museums – a separate chapter…
In term of duration our visit to the National Gallery could be included among the Olympic speed records!
We apologize to Van Eyck, if Damiano found a resemblance between his Giovanni Arnolfini and Humpty Dumpty. I hope that Caravaggio, who was a free spirit, would not be offended if his “The Supper at Emmaus” became “The Last Supper at Emmaus”. I strongly recommend you to book a guide (here you will find a name that the gallery shared with me by e-mail), or to study in advance the main works you want the kids to love. You can find information through this link that explains secrets and curiosities about the most famous masterpieces.
For the visit we took advantage of the evening opening (on Friday the museum closes at 9.00 pm).
Natural History Museum: perhaps it is more suitable for children (a section entirely dedicated to dinosaurs will excite them!) but the blue zone that concerns planets, volcanoes and earthquakes could be interesting for teenager as well.
Imperial War Museum: For over 14 passionate about war history.
By the way, and just to make a variation, if Damiano would have been a football lover I would have definitely brought him to one stadium!
The thirty thousand daily steps recorded by the smartphone could be true. Nevertheless, we realize that we managed to see only a small part of what London has to offer. Since it is a quite expensive city here are some practical peanuts to say without hesitating “I will return”!
• If you land to Stansted, buy train tickets to the city centre online and you will save around 50%.
• Don’t change money at the airport! They apply a very high exchange rate
• If you are staying for more than a few days, it might be a good idea to rent an apartment and do your shopping to one of the morning markets. Having lunch break (or dinner) “at home” will take you back to discover the city with chilled spirit.
• London can be visited by foot but to reduce travel times I suggest you to buy the Oyster Card (the £ 5 deposit and the credit will be returned to Liverpool Street) or to rent Santander Cycles ( 2 £ for 24h rental). Under 11 children travel for free either by bus or by metro (and also by train if they are under 5)
• The permanent collections of London’s major museums are free (visitors are invited to support them with a free offer) and also the beautiful parks.
• A ride on the London Eye is too expensive? You can go up to the Tate Modern top floor and enjoy the city from there.
Last but not least: if you are looking for a far from the tourist circuits London do not miss this post of our peanut Lucia Busato.
Special thanks to Beatrice Fabris