South Bank of London with Kids
I knew very little about the South Bank before we left for London. I mostly recalled that many of the major sites of London were on the other side of the Thames the last time I visited. But here we were, staying on the South Bank at Hilton London Tower Bridge, and I was curious to explore this side of London with my kids.
I wanted to do as much walking to sites as we could. I love walking the streets to get a feel for a city and yes, sometimes there are complaints from the peanut gallery, but a quick stop for ice cream can keep kids going happily for a few blocks at least. A little internet searching will yield many walking tour options, but I was really interested in finding self-guided walking tours. These let you completely set your own pace as far as when you start, pause and stop, and that is a perfect situation when dealing with jet lagged, cranky middle schoolers, and damp weather. The London Toolkit had several self-guided tours to choose from (but there are many more!), and I pieced together a plan that would take us through the South Bank, ending up at the London Eye.
My kids were eager to see the London Eye, which was about 2 miles from our hotel; walkable for my kids at 10 and 12 years old, so we set a meandering path that would get us to the London Eye while seeing some other sites along the way. We followed the Thames Path which is just steps from Hilton London Tower Bridge. Even in the off season when we were there, the path was busy with workers and tourists, and always had a lively feel to it. The path runs along the Thames itself until it hits the bridges, at which point it winds inland just a bit and takes pedestrians through a short tunnel under the bridge. These tunnels were not dank, dark places at all, but were enlivened with murals and popular with street musicians. On our first day wandering on the Thames Path, we crossed under London Bridge and came upon an amazing brass trio. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine yourself in a New Orleans club and the acoustics under the bridge seemed to envelop us in the sound.
The path to the London Eye is packed with interesting places: City Hall, Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hinde, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Tate Modern gallery, the National Theater, and these are just the major sites. The South Bank also has many little shops and pubs and smaller sites to explore too, all of this with an amazing view of the North side of the Thames. And since we were in London shortly before Christmas, we were fortunate to be there for a little Christmas market set up on the path with lots of buskers.
Tickets for the London Eye can be bought in advance, online. There are three advantages: not only do you get a discount from buying online, but you can also carefully look at the various ticket packages offered and decide what makes sense for your family. You also don’t have to wait in the relatively long, but fast moving line to purchase tickets. If you wait to purchase a ticket at the London Eye in person, the number of ticket packages offered is a bit overwhelming and you have little time to think and compare, especially if you have a couple of children asking how much longer. The disadvantage to purchasing online is that you will need to select a day and time for your visit. I was reluctant to lock us into a specific time, since I wanted to go on the London Eye on a relatively clear day, so I opted against purchasing in advance, but I still checked out the various ticket packages, which was helpful.
Our picnic lunch was purchased from a nearby convenience store at the corner of Chicheley St and York Rd. I love visiting places like this when I travel. Convenience stores in other countries are not the same as convenience stores at home in the U.S. Just like in your local convenience store, they have pre-made sandwiches, but the choices are a bit different for those of us who want to try something new, as well as ham and cheese for those who want something familiar. The selection of crisps and candy was fun to search, since there were so many new types. We loved the Walker crisps and each got a different flavor. (Roast chicken! Cheddar cheese and bacon! Pickled onion!) We each also picked out a candy; my only stipulation was that it had to be one they had never seen before. (Aero bars were a favorite). The London Eye is adjacent to the Jubilee Gardens, which is a great place for a picnic and also has an adventure playground that even kept my older kids entertained.
The walk home is always the hardest, and I got some requests for a cab, but I nudged us along with promises of hot chocolate at our home away from home. I turned the camera over to my kids, which happily kept them occupied on the 2 mile trek back.
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Andrea is a single mom in Arlington, Virginia with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just four…