Originally a Londoner, I’d seen every lens on one of the world's greatest cities - but taking one’s kids there, and for just a few days, wipes the slate clean. To make the most of London with kids you need a plan, a location, a solid base, resilience and an armory of equipment! This is, in brief, a military operation.
First elements of a “battle plan” are strategy and planning, in this case, a hotel, otherwise referred to as HQ - and an itinerary of territories to conquer - parks, museums, sight, shops and shows. Ideally close to Buckingham Palace, and the parks, we sought a host that genuinely caters to a rainbow of ages. Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences stood heads and tails above the rest with respect to accommodating and entertaining kids.
Dating as far back as 1701, and rebuilt in 1897, The Taj St James Hotel and Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences were originally owned by the queen and used for her guests, a stone's throw from the Palace and walking distance of all the most significant locations: the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, St James Palace, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. A magnificent courtyard set back from the road has rightfully earned The Taj the title of London's "inner sanctum" for business travelers and families.
Our suite is ready early, and, as we open the door to our suite, it feels like we have our own exclusive apartment overlooking the courtyard, two generous bedrooms, large modern lounge with L-shape sofa, desk, and kitchen with large island and bar stools. The hotel's celebrated restaurants, including Michelin-starred Quilon and contemporary European Kona adjoin, but we couldn't foresee the girls dining on haute cuisine. They battle with basic sandwiches.
We head down to catch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, just two minutes walk away. The pomp and ceremony of the famous procession draw crowds several rows deep lining the immaculate pavements and central roundabout. Walking tours with a guide and headphones provide the historical background.
The entrance to St James' Park lies on the nearest corner of Buckingham Palace and we decide, a little battle weary from flying, we will have a picnic under the trees, and suitably close to the pristine, innovative jungle gyms that London does so well. The Taj provides a cane picnic basket with wraps and sandwiches, fruit platters, cookies, and exceedingly generous.
The evening leans in and we decide on a trip to South Bank for a walk along the river and dinner at Giraffe would bring day one to a close. Idling Londoners enjoying a beer by the river, restaurants spilling over, Big Ben (undergoing renovation) and a whirl in The London Eye firmly place the rubber stamp of authenticity on day one, or you can try The London Aquarium, Tate Modern, and Theatre in the same area.
Day Two, 10h00
Attracting 3.3 million visitors last year, we tackled the Science Museum first and went straight to the top floor - a recommendation from a friend - where the interactive installations are situated. On arrival we step onto a moving platform between to illustrate the interaction between the sun, moon and earth. Animated instructors and teachers are everywhere imparting knowledge. We trial friction mats racing down metal, plastic and wooden slides in sacks, experiencing aerobatics in flight simulators and I took the 15-minute Space Descent Virtual Reality with astronaut Tim Peake.
The afternoon demanded a hiatus, and we made our way to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and the younger kids had a ball walking in circles in the meandering trickling stream. We hop on a Boris Bike to visit Princess Diana's Playground, a world-class pirate ship, jungle gym, sandpit, streams and energy-expending apparatus.
A matinee - we enjoyed 'School of Rock.' The cult-hit movie has been brilliantly adapted at the Gillian Lynne Theatre on Drury Lane near Covent Garden, and will be running in London until October 2019. The Harry Potter Walking Tour, near Watford Junction, approximately 40 minutes away from central London, covers hotspots like Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest, or you can try a Butterbeer or costumes from the studio sets.
Day Three, 09h00
After a farm-to-table Taj breakfast, English breakfast bacon and eggs, soft toast and tea, we tackled the Natural History Museum with fresh legs and an early start (advised).
Broken into red, green, orange and blue zones, the exhibits traverse specimens from all forms of nature, estimated at 80 million in total, and including rock forms and fossils, volcanoes and earthquakes, birds, insects, mammals and human biology. But the most famous of all, the dinosaurs, steals the limelight with gigantic T-Rex installations something that will forever be a memory of a child of any age.
14h00 Our final farewell to the superb Taj team, and we were soon on board the Heathrow Express – one mission accomplished, adieu the blue skies and sunshine, the feverish energy of traffic and tourists conquered. 72 hours in London. With kids.