Easy Escapes: London in the summer

Miranda McMinn enjoys a capital break that’s a treat for both children and adults alike

Miranda McMinn enjoys a capital break that’s a treat for both children and adults alike
 
Why go? Around 16 million tourists visit our glorious capital each year and with good reason. London is quite simply the greatest city in the world – and a summer break is one of the classic ways to enjoy it. And of course, if it’s good enough for Paddington Bear…

When: Summer. OK, so the weather isn’t exactly reliable, but it’s usually warm enough to go out with bare legs and no coat so you really feel free in the city and can wander for hours. And if you need to duck out of the rain, take that as a sign you need to get shopping.

Fit for a queen: Buckingham Palace is always a hit with children © visitlondonimages/britainonview

Stay at: The Athenaeum Hotel is faultlessly located on Piccadilly with the West End in one direction, Knightsbridge in the other and Green Park across the road. The 164-room hotel goes one step further when it comes to being family-friendly, having its own dedicated Kids Concierge and providing five-star apartments sleeping two adults and two children (from £718, athenaeumhotel.com) with all the luxury of a hotel combined with the convenience of your own home. This means you can hang out in your very own Mayfair pad complete with fridge, cooker, fully-equipped kitchen – even a washing machine. Cute touches include teddies and mini-dressing gowns with slippers, and everything non-alcoholic in the minibar is complimentary so the little dears can drink as much juice as they want without you being hit with an eye-watering bill come check-out time. From a grown-up perspective, the apartment is super-swanky with orchids, marble table-tops and designer furniture with a very English theme – think dog-shaped doorstops in Union Jack fabric. There are state-of-the-art TVs and a generous helping of Elemis products in the bathrooms. The Athenaeum likes to describe as this as “Your London Home”, to which one can only reply, “I wish”.

Capital idea: check into an apartment at the Athenaeum Hotel

You really must…
Stroll across Green Park to Buckingham Palace, throw a coin in the fountain and gawp up at Queen Victoria’s statue and the golden lady above. Pretending to the kids you’ve just seen Her Majesty looking out of the window is an old one but a good one nevertheless, and who doesn’t love a Busby? Alternatively, pootle up The Mall to Trafalgar Square and drop into the free-entry National Gallery (nationalgallery.org.uk) where every room houses a recognizable classic, and the nearby National Portrait Gallery (npg.org.uk), which has a great interactive station for kids in the foyer.

When you’ve had enough culture there’s always M&M’s World (mmsworld.com) in Leicester Square. And then, of course, there’s the shopping: as well as the obvious Harrods (harrods.com) and Harvey Nichols (harveynichols.com), Knightsbridge has the best branches of all the chains including H&M (hm.com) and Zara (zara.com), both in Brompton Road. Stay on the bus a bit longer and you’ll hit the V&A (vam.ac.uk), the Science Museum (sciencemuseum.org.uk) and the Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk). Be warned, the queues are quite something, particularly at the last, so time it right.

If it’s a lovely day don’t forget the Zoo (zsl.org) at Regent’s Park – it’s a treat for all concerned and there’s also a great donut kiosk. Kids also love the London Eye (londoneye.com) and London Aquarium (sealife.com). Book for both online in advance to save money and time queuing, or keep the costs down by just wandering down the South Bank in the shade of the plane trees and enjoying the living statues and free live music.

Shop of shops: Harrods is always worth a visit © visitlondonimages/britainonview

Dine at: With children or teenagers in tow it’s a no-brainer to head for Byron (byronhamburgers.com), Giraffe (giraffe.net) or Wagamama (wagamama.com), which have branches all over the capital. Meanwhile the restaurant at the Athenaeum Hotel is proof positive that this hotel really is child-friendly. For a start kids under 12 eat free, and no one bats an eyelid when we march in at 8pm with our girls, age 3 and 6, neither of them exactly known for their quiet voices…The children’s dessert menu is seemingly endless and when they can’t quite finish the sticky toffee pudding it is – quite brilliantly – packaged up and sent up to the room where they polish it off in their pyjamas.

Take home: something from Hamleys (hamleys.com) for your darlings, and something from Liberty (liberty.co.uk) for you – because you’ll undoubtedly deserve it…

Info: London (£14.99; Rough Guides) is a comprehensive guide. Useful websites include visitlondon.com, tfl.gov.uk and timeout.com/london.

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