Very few cities have so much on offer for the whole family as London. From world famous landmarks to internationally renowned museums, special events and a rich and varied cultural offering including long running plays, smash hit musicals, concerts and festivals in its parks and squares, riverbanks and on the River Thames itself. All London’s tourist attractions make a very special effort to be accessible for families – to make it them exciting and understandable for thechildren whilst making it easy yet interesting for their parents. From the tours around the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace to the amphibious Duck Tours that take in the River Thames and the back roads in the same vehicle, London is as surprising as it is welcoming. Obviously during the day, the seemingly endless list of museums, and attractions will keep you on the move. I would suggest the Science Museum, Madame Tussauds and the British Museum as a good start offering three very different experiences that will keep even the most inquisitive child’s mind busy! For the animal lover, London Zoo, London Sealife Centre and the Natural History Museum will combine to delight and amaze in equal quantities.
In addition to the Palaces of Westminster and Buckingham, no history lover should leave the city without visiting the Tower of London, the Museum of London or, for a more gruesome take on our history: the London Dungeons!
There are two ways to get a good idea of London’s geography, from the top of one of the many tour buses that circle London throughout the day, or from the top of one of London’s buildings: the newly built Shard (the tallest building in London), the O2 (the old Millennium Dome) which you can now walk across, or the iconic London Eye. During the summer “flights” take place all through the day and into the night: well past 10 o’clock. Each 30 minute rotation gives passengers the chance to examine London as it is spread out before them. Special Champagne flights can give you the opportunity to celebrate something special, but I wouldn’t waste that on the kids!
But after a full day exploring the city, there is only one place you should head to: Theatre land! With over 40 theatres around London’s West End it should not be a surprise for you to hear that London is considered the theatre capital of the world, with only Broadway in New York coming close to challenge for its crown.
This year more than any, family theatre shows are well represented. Most famously Disney’s The Lion King has been playing at the Lyceum Theatre for 13 years now with no signs of ever closing! The stage adaptation is not just a live version of the cartoon: theatrically it is extremely exciting with its inventive use of puppetry bringing to life the plains of Africa and as such is just as much an enjoyable evening out for parents as well as children.
The last two years have seen two Roald Dahl musicals open to critical acclaim. Again the quality of the productions means that they are a great night out for the whole family. In 2011, Matilda, the story of a little girl who discovers she has super powers, written by Australian comedian Tim Minchin, became an instant success at the Cambridge Theatre and just this year probable Dahl’s most famous book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Add to these shows such as Wicked, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Billy Elliot and Monty Python’s Spamalot and visitors have a wide choice of great shows to choose from that are all good to see.
Lastly it may be useful to give you a few tips on getting tickets to the London shows.
In general the face value of tickets in London are between £15 and £70 with the cheaper tickets high up in the balconies and the more expensive ones being at the front or in the middle of the Stalls or Dress Circle.
Unlike in previous years there are very few shows that are completely sold out every night of the week. So, if you are not too bothered what you want to see and you can see the show on any night of your stay in London, it is quite feasible to delay your purchase of tickets until you arrive in London. When you do, you can either get your tickets from the theatre itself or from the various agents around Leicester Square.
If you want to see a specific show on a specific day (especially if that day is a Saturday or also some Fridays) I recommend you book ahead - you can make it a proper highlight to your trip by booking a London theatre break.
On the day the TKTS ticket booth is the place to head for on the southern side of Leicester Square. It is run by the Society of London Theatres and fees are kept to a minimum with huge discounts on top price seats. The other booths offering half price tickets need to be approached with caution. Always ask the face value of the tickets because although some shows with be half price, others could have a booking fee of up to 25% on them!
This will tend to be the same at your hotel’s concierge’s desk.
As you can see there are enough shows on in town to go and see a different one every night, and if you plan ahead it is quite possible to keep to a family budget of around £150 per night and still get great seats. But if you want the concierge to do all the work for you and you have very specific requirements, keep £400 for a family of 4 saved for each visit: if you don’t spend it on tickets you will spend it on drinks, programmes and ice creams which are all rather expensive in London theatres.
So I hope you have a super time in London, whatever you decide to do, but whether you are fans of Dahl or Disney or something completely different, I do suggest you save a couple of hours to see a show in London!
This article was written by Simon Harding has been helping visitors get the best out of London's Theatre land for over 30 years. He now runs a suite of Theatre Breaks sites promoting theatre-based tourism around the UK. https://plus.google.com/u/0/109976086747435614363/