The first item on my London bucket list has been ticked. I’ve finally clapped eyes on the best of British bling.
Firstly, I would like to apologise to all those tourists who flew thousands of miles to enjoy the famous Crown Jewels only to find a 17 month old having a full on tantrum. In hindsight, it was probably a little ambitious / stupid trying to take a preschooler AND a toddler in to a 900 year old historic castle where they weren’t allowed to touch all the shiny things.
There is certainly lots at the Tower for families to do, but kids around the 6-9 mark are the real sweet spot. This wasn’t a surprise to us. We knew ahead of going that there wasn’t going to be a huge amount that appealed to our little ones, but we (the husband and I) really wanted to go before we move to California and didn’t have any babysitter options. Anyway, I’m always determined to be that parent who doesn’t let the fact they have kids stop them from doing things….we were going to make it work!
The truth is, we were stopped from doing a few things. It did prove a little challenging. But we survived – and came away smiling and satisfied.
If like us, you are going to visit with really little ones, we have some learnings to pass on:
COSTS: A big positive is that we didn’t have to pay for Maia or Harrison – kids under 5 are free. The husband and I paid just under £25 each to get in – but we could have saved a few quid (not loads) by booking online in advance. We only stayed in the Tower for a few hours so in this context the price seems a little steep, but we could see the kids fast losing patience. We just aimed for the main attractions and then got out. However, if you want to see it all, The Tower of London website recommends buying a special ‘member’ ticket, which allows you and the kids to visit over several bite size days.
TIMING: We went around midday on a Saturday, just after lunch and eagerly trying to coincide it with Harry’s post lunch nap (which obviously failed).The queue for the Crown Jewels exhibition was around 20-25 minutes long – so not too terrible for a preschooler if you bring snacks and distractions. But long enough if you have a toddler fighting sleep. If you went first thing in the morning, getting through this exhibit would be a breeze. It is well worth it. Those crowns! Jewels the size of Harry’s head – so big and so bright, they don’t even look real!
FOOD: The kids’ menu at the main cafe is predictably uninspiring – and expensive for what it is. We had a cheap lunch in the Wagamama right next to the Tower’s main entrance. You could definitely being a packed lunch if you are brave enough to trust the British weather – there are heaps of places where you could set up a picnic.
TOURS: It would have been great to do a Beefeater tour, but it wasn’t realistic, so we toured independently using a secret weapon of ours: ‘Katie in London.’ This is an adorable kids book by James Mayhew about a little girl and her brother exploring London on the back of a lion from Trafalgar Square. Within the book, they visit the Tower, chase the Ravens, meet the Beefeaters and see the Queen’s crown! We’ve been reading this book to Maia for a few weeks now, so she was all pumped up ready to explore the Tower like Katie and Jack. Once inside the castle, Maia used the book almost like a map to replicate the story and hunt for ravens. When she saw the Queen’s guard marching through the grounds (like they do in the story, but at Buckingham Palace) she was beyond amazed and started marching ‘Left, right, left, right’. Just like Katie. Cute.
CHILD FACILITIES: There are a few baby-changing facilities in the Tower, but if you go in peak hours, I would imagine it to be very busy.
WALKING & STROLLING – There’s quite a lot of walking for little legs if you intend to try and do the whole Tower. The main exhibits (Crown Jewels, White Tower, The Tower Green, the Ravens) was more than enough for little Maia. There is a long spiral staircase from the White Tower that finished her off – only ice cream was the answer. There’s also a lot of cobbles in the grounds, so buggy riders might protest…or eventually fall asleep bouncing around like Harry did. There are designated places to leave buggies for some exhibitions (at your own risk) and some areas charge £1. The White Tower, home to the brilliant ‘Line of Kings’ exhibit, doesn’t take pushchairs so we took turns to watch Harry to go and see this. Up there, the husband stood in a chapel dating 1100 – older than his own country! Wait, it’s all older than America! Incredible.
OVERALL: I’m glad the husband and I got to see the main attractions but it was a short lived adventure for the money. There were parts of it we wished we didn’t have to rush, and other parts we didn’t see at all as it would be too scary for Maia. However, if you are just in London for a short while and want to do the main attractions with really little ones, its not impossible, and still enjoyable. I’ll definitely be back with the kids when they are much older though – 8 and 6 would be ideal! At least then they can enjoy (and remember) the tales of the past Kings & Queens, take a proper Beefeater tour, do the kids activity trails and just simply shout about their awesome British side. With American accents. Oh god.
See you in a few years Tower.