Most family days out to tourist places normally involve at least eight trips to the toilet by various members of the family. Normally someone cries, if I am really lucky at least two children cry. If I hit the jackpot it is all three. There is always lots of moaning and at frequent intervals I often wonder why I bothered in the first place.
We normally do the tourist stuff on holiday but like most Londoners we rarely do tourist stuff in London. I vaguely remember visiting a lot of places as a kid but my memories are mainly in the dim and distant past. Although we visit a few museums in London we rarely visit the ‘big’ tourist places because they are too busy and too expensive.
When we were invited along to try out Westminster Abbey‘s first Family Day it was too good an opportunity to miss. If I was a tourist in London the Abbey would certainly be on my list with a history stretching back over 1,000 years. The current Abbey building is over 700 years old and it has been the setting for every Coronation since William the Conqueror in 1066.
You certainly get the sense of history and a feeling for who we are when you wander round, the pomp and ceremony, fascinating stories of royalty and the Coronation Chair to creativity flowing in “Poet’s Corner” where memorials to Shakespeare and Dickens can be found. There are our great scientists to remember including Newton and Darwin as well as 16 Royal weddings to imagine.
It really is somewhere I know I should have taken the kids and I was intrigued to see how they react and what captures their interest. It is not always easy to entertain a 12, 9 and 6 year old at the same time. When we are invited to an event it is fantastic but in a way never a real reflection of an average visit. We don’t have to queue but enter a different door, this helps massively with my autistic daughter’s anxiety. You need get to most places in London pretty early, basically when they open, if you want to avoid some of the queues. We don’t pay but kids do go free for February half term. Up to three kids can go on one adult ticket which costs £20, which for London prices isn’t too bad.
There are lots of activities specially for families and the younger two get straight down to making some royal crowns. I really enjoy seeing my youngest son do this, it is only recently he decided he actually enjoys drawing and it is lovely to watch his creativity flowing.
The younger two then tried out an interactive story telling session held in the Islip Chapel, it felt a treat as it was behind a locked door which needed a large key. Everyone loves a secret room and a snoop off the beaten track. Whilst we were entertained with potatoes and royal ruffs, the eldest went off with Dad to check out Poet’s Corner. Finally we all tried out the Kings, Queens and Coronation Family Tour. To be honest I didn’t hold out much hope of the youngest hanging on as he was getting tired, but the simple inclusion of a crown and lanyards giving us all our own personal King or Queen to listen out for gave the whole group something to get involved with.
Much better than an audio guide, I really enjoyed the tour which took in the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, the Coronation Chair and tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary I. Lots of anecdotes and stories kept the kids interested. We were treated to the Westminster Abbey Choir while we sauntered round which certainly added to the atmosphere.
The kids will see a new King crowned in their lifetime and getting to stand in front of the High Altar and see the Coronation Chair will help them understand a future pivotal event in our cultural history.
If a tour is not for you they also have a new Family Trail, I like the fact it was in English and French as I could get the eldest to practice her language skills! Visit the shop at the end of your trail and you will also get a badge.
We were exhausted by the time our tour finished and ravenous for lunch, so headed to the cafe – kids under 12 eat free with every adult meal purchased. Sausages and chips were rapidly polished off while we recovered our energies.
I am so glad we went and I must make sure we become tourists in our own city and see some of London’s treasures rather than saving our tourist behaviour for holidays. There was indeed about eight trips to the toilet, I think only one child had a few tears so all in all a good day. As we left I asked the 12 year old her highlight, she said “I got to stand on Isaac Newton!!”. You certainly can’t beat that for a day out.
Top Tip – Give the Family Tour a go to get the best out of your visit and if you are going to eat in the cafe book a table as it gets very busy. If it is a bit warmer you can also eat your packed lunch in the cloisters.
It can get very busy in the Abbey so if you have specific access requirements do contact them firstname.lastname@example.org
There are more family days coming up (listed below) so I would definitely recommend a visit when the extra activities are on. Double check ticket prices on the website for the latest information. http://www.westminster-abbey.org
3rd June London’s Memory
14th October Edwardtide
9th December Christmas Carol Singing
We received free tickets for our visit and a complimentary lunch.