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Things to do in London with a teen


August 2017 : things to do in London with a teen 

Day 1 | Hop on Hop off Tour 

Day 2 | Visit to the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels, boat trip on the Thames, Covent Garden and Soho, “Mamma Mia” musical at Novello Theatre

Day 3 | Visit to Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms, walk in St. James Park, the historic Hamleys toy store, Madame Tussauds wax museum

Day 4 | Visit to the National History Museum, Kensington district, Afternoon Tea at Harrod’s

Day 5 | South Bank district, visit to Tate Modern

Day 6 | Notting Hill Carnival

Day 1 | Hop on Hop off Tour 

This year, I have decided to take my 13 year old daughter Sofia to London.

August, Heathrow airport. At the terminal underground station we get a single ride ticket to the city center and the Oyster Card, the London public transport recheargeable card we will use to get around. For 5 days we charge £45 (adult) and £35 (reduced youth). With the Piccadilly Line, in just over 1 hour we are at our Premier Inn London St Pancras hotel, near King’s Cross St. Pancras railway station.

It’s afternoon. We immediately go out and take the classic double decker tour on the tourist bus that passes through the most iconic sites. The ticket also includes a mini cruise on the Thames, which we will do tomorrow. To begin with, we opted for something easy.

Londra hop on hop off tour
Londra hop on hop off tour
Londra hop on hop off tour

Day 2 | Visit to the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels, boat trip on the Thames, Covent Garden and Soho, “Mamma Mia” musical at Novello Theatre

If you are visiting London for the first time I think you should start from the Tower of London, the most historically significant place in the city, Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a complex of fortified buildings on the left bank of the Thames, originally built in the Middle Ages. Always used as fortress, powder storehouse, prison, royal palace, mint, and still, treasure chamber, the tower is manned by the Yeoman Warders who are the guardians of the complex but also act as tourist guides.

To avoid the long queues at the ticket counter, I got the tickets  on the official website and planned to be at the entrance by 9 a.m.

The tower was a prison for historic characters and religious dissidents such as Elizabeth I of England and Anne Boleyn who was beheaded here. Eleven German spies were shot in the tower during World War I.

In the 13th century,  a “menagerie” was built in the tower that housed many exotic animals, lions, leopards, monkeys and bears that were given as gifts to the sovereigns. The menagerie was open to the public but, following some assaults on visitors, when the London Zoo was built, the animals were relocated. The Lion Tower was then partially demolished but the Lion Gate remained.

Six ravens have been living permanently in the Tower of London since the time of Charles II. According to a legend, if all the ravens leave the tower, the monarchy and the entire English kingdom will fall. To prevent them from flying away, their wing feathers are plucked.

In Waterloo Barracks you can see see the Crown Jewels, an extraordinary collection of the most wonderful jewels in the world. A treadmill runs slowly letting visitors pass in front of the showcases. Among the noteworthy pieces, the Imperial State Crown encrusted with 2868 diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies and the platinum crown where the legendary 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond from the 14th century is mounted. 

Tower of London
Tower of London

After the visit, we have a snack at Pret a Manger and take a boat to Westminster Pier with the ticket included in the double decker tour.


Escursione in battello sul Tamigi
Boat ride on the Thames

In the evening we will go to see the Musical Mamma Mia at Novello Theater. After a walk in Covent Garden, the lively district known for  jugglers and street artists entertainment, we move to Soho, one of the most disticntive districts of London: cosmopolitan, cheerful, trendy and eccentric. Nightlife is the main attraction here, but during the day the atmosphere is also vibrant and contagious. In Soho we have dinner at Koya, a tiny Japanese restaurant renowned for udon (noodles). They don’t take reservations so you have to go early and get in line, their noodles are  amazing!

Udon noodles Koya Londra
Udon noodles, Koya, Soho
Poster Mamma Mia musical
Mamma Mia, Novello Theatre, Covent Garden

Here we are at the theatre ready for the musical. Tickets cost an eye but it was worth it, the show is great and the performers are exceptional.

Day 3 | Visit to Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms, walk in St. James Park, the historic Hamleys toy store, Madame Tussauds wax museum

This morning we visit Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms, where foreign ambassadors are received. These rooms are only open in August and September when the Queen is on holiday in Scotland. At the end of the visit, visitors exit from the rear of the palace through the marvellous gardens that house around 350 species of flowers and plants.

Buckingham Palace retro e giardini
Buckingham Palace's back gardens

Opposite Buckingham Palace,  elegant St. James Park is the oldest royal park in the city, small and very well-kept. From the park you get a nice view of London Eye and Westminster. Our schedule today is  intense and a break  is welcome, making us forget we are in the heart of a large european city.

St James Park Londra
St James Park

Our next destination is Hamleys in Regent Street, the world’s oldest and largest toy shop.

In 1760 William Hamley opened his first toy shop, Noah’s Ark, soon becoming a reference point for children of all social backgrounds, in the Victorian era. It it said that on Christmas, the poorest children would be served first, with gifts and presents. The shop assistants attracted people with trumpets, drums and bells, enlivening the street and making a joyful atmosphere. The shop never closed, not even under the bombings of Second World War (the building was bombed 5 times) the shop assistants in their uniforms with tin helmets kept serving their customers.

 N. 188-196 Regent Street still doesn’t go unnoticed, the shop assistants sing, squeal and play, to attract children.

We continue at Madame Tussauds, the wax museum, where you can have lots of fun taking pictures with your favourite’s celebrities, certainly one of the attractions not to miss in London for a teenager!


Madame Tussauds Londra
Madame Tussauds London

For dinner I have booked Yauatcha, in Soho, one of the most elegant Chinese restaurants in the city. The basement’s ceiling is covered with microlights, looking like a starry sky. Prices are medium/high but food is excellent, must be booked in advance.

Day 4 | Visit to the National History Museum, Kensington district, Afternoon Tea at Harrod’s

This time, I have decided to leave out from our itinerary the huge British Museum, the art galleries such as the National Gallery and the churches. They will be a good reason to come back to London in a few years.

However, there’s a place that children and teenagers love. The National History Museum houses a T-Rex in animatronic technology and an earthquake simulator! I also found the human biology section very interesting, with interactive galleries focused on brain, senses and memory. In this section you can hear the sound of a fetus  inside the human uterus. Free admission.

We have a sandwich and rest in Kensington Gardens.

Kensington is one of London’s most exclusive and luxurious districts with Victorian buildings, royal residences, embassies and museums.

Not far from Kensington, there’s another unmissable spot, Harrods, an historic luxury department store which supplies the royal family and british aristocracy. At Harrods you can find all the major brands, the world’s best fashion desginers. It’s a tourist attraction with millions of visitors every year. This 7 floor store takes up a whole building and there’s a helicopter landing pad on the roof.

At Harrods I have booked an Afternoon Tea, an essential ceremony given our British and Irish descent. It’s tea with a light meal consisting of finger sandwiches, slices of cake and scones with clotted cream and jam. Considering the price (£55) I expected something more, however it was a nice experience. At evening, we enjoy strolling around the store with no crowd. It’s so fun to see items with £40/50/60,000 labels! The Food Hall itself is worth a visit for its variety of food from all over the world. Harrods is not a place to shop, but somewhere to go as in an art gallery. My daughter Sofia was enthralled, taking second place in her personal ranking of places not to miss in London!


Afternoon Tea, Wikimedia Commons

Day 5 | South Bank district, visit to Tate Modern

Today we should have visited Harry Potter’s film studios. Despite having planned our trip to London well in advance, I couldn’t find the tickets, so I strongly advise to buy tickets at least two or three months before.

We go to King’s Cross St. Pancras station, just a few steps away from our hotel. In the station hall there’s the Harry Potter store Platform 9 3/4.  You  have to queue and at the entrance, a souvenir photo is taken. You also may take a shot with your mobile, no one will complain. Fun. The shop has lots of Harry Potter stuff.


Negozio Harry Potter Londra
Harry Potter shop at Kings Cross station

We spend the rest of the day at South Bank. In this area along the Thames, there are a number of attractions, London Eye, Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge, Sheakspeare’s Globe, Borough Market, the busiest fresh food food market in London, where you can eat at one of the kiosks.

We take a look at Tate Modern, the contemporary art gallery, inaugurated in 2000, in a building reconverted from a disused power plant. The building itself is architecturally interesting, a 99m high central chimney has been retained in the centre, and the turbine hall serves as spectacular entrance. The kind of works on display are too avant-garde for me, however, Sofia found it interesting and the terrace bar on level 6 offers a great view on London’s skyline.

For dinner we go at Skylon, in the Royal Festival Hall, a 1950s-style restaurant and cocktail bar with a spectacular view over the Thames. Very stylish atmosphere.

Skylon London
Skylon, London

Day 6 | Notting Hill Carnival

Every year, Notting Hill Carnival, the largest street festival in Europe, takes place in London on the last weekend of August. London’s Caribbean community celebrates its culture and traditions with this big party. Notting Hill Carnival usually starts on Saturday with a drumming contest. Sunday is for kids, the parade is shorter and the most beautiful costumes are awarded. Monday is the peak moment with the main parade. At dusk, the floats leave the streets in procession and the party goes on with “after parties”.

We went on the first day of the drumming competition, it was nice to see the bands marching by. We couldn’t stay long as we had our flight back to Italy the same day, however it’s a nice thing to do if you’re in London on the last weekend in August.

Carnevale di Notting Hill Londra
Notting Hill Carnival London

Finally, I’d like to spend few words on the restaurants and on our hotel. When I hear people saying that in London you eat badly I think it’s  a wrong cliché. The city offers, in addition to a lot of poor quality food, the best of international cuisine. It is advisable to follow a reliable guide and make choices according on the budget. For lunch, most of the time we took something from Pret a Manger, a food store that makes fresh sandwiches, salads and juices. For dinner I did a meticulous search which made us enjoy excellent food.

The hotel belongs to UK chain Premier Inn and is not in hotel booking engines. A friend recommended it to me and it exceeded all my expectations. The family room was large and comfortable. New furniture, curtains, linen, impeccable cleanliness. Excellent English and continental breakfast, in a strategic position a stone’s throw from the subway. The prices of  family rooms are really cheap. I strongly recommend.