Take in all the sights and sounds of the big city on a whistle-stop tour around London, writes SALLY BARNES
WOW!” It was a word I heard many times during my niece’s first trip to London.On spotting Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, from inside a capsule on the London Eye, at the Albert Memorial – and seeing the prices in Harrods. Wow!
At 12, Abigail was the perfect age for a visit to the capital. Old enough to take in its rich history and diversity, yet still young enough to be thrilled by the adventure of it all.
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Our first hotel, the Thistle Kensington Gardens, opposite Hyde Park, was on a direct bus route from Euston.It saved struggling on the Tube escalators and it was much more pleasant to watch the bustle outside the window than to be among the crowds below ground.
After checking in, we set out on foot across Hyde Park, where parakeets sang and swooped through the trees as we made our way to the Albert Memorial.
Standing before the majestic monument built by Queen Victoria in memory of her late, much-loved husband, Abigail let out a sigh. “She must have been DEVASTATED!” she said.
Well yes, she must. From there, we walked to Knightsbridge –and Harrods. After passing the liveried doorman, my niece took a list out of her backpack and announced: “I’ve got to get seven presents.”
I somehow managed to whisk her past the designer shoes and handbags to the gift section in the food halls.Back in our room before bed, she started writing up the travel diary I had given her. After half an hour I asked if she was finished. “No”, she replied.
“I’m only up to when we got off the bus!” Next day we were down for breakfast early, where Abigail pronounced the breakfast toast “almost as good as hospital toast”.
Go figure.Taking a cab to our next hotel, the driver proved him- self an excellent tour guide, pointing out Wellington Arch, which he told us contained the smallest police station in Britain, and the Queen Victoria memorial statue outside Buckingham Palace, which has influenced many a wedding cake.
He also advised us to get along to Horse Guards Parade next morning to see them preparing for the Changing Of The Guard.
It was our first glimpse of an Olympic venue as it’s where the beach volleyball will take place.Almost on David Cameron’s doorstep, the backdrop of courtyard and grand surrounding buildings will make a great contrast to all those itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis.
At the Premier Inn at County Hall, on the South Bank of the Thames, we were too early to check in so left our bags and went around the corner to the London Eye.That got a big “Wow!” – and the view from the top of the wheel was spectacular.
From there we could see Wembley, with its famous arch, where the football will take place.
Next water on a river cruise,we took to theNIGHT at the Water’s passing the Oxo Tower,Shakespeare’s Globe, Cleopatra’s Needle,TowerBridge and lots of land-marks in between.
Back on dry land later we headed off to Trafalgar Square to catch an open-topped Original Tour Bus, with a guide pointing out all the sights.We saw the old Texas Embassy, Margaret Thatcher’s house with a policeman on guard outside “to keep her in” and the Daily Star Sunday office (which is also the “home of OK! magazine”).
Back at the hotel we had been allocated a huge room with two king-size beds and a sofa bed, easy chairs and a coffee table. Plus we had a side view of the river and the London Eye.
But we couldn’t stay long – we had a date at Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly for tea.What a treat!
Tea included sandwiches, scones, warm lemon buns and the most exquisite cakes piled on to a three-tier stand, with a pot each of Piccadilly blend tea.
It was delicious and the staff even parcelled up the ones we couldn’t eat for us to take away.A Tube hop took us to the Apollo Theatre in Victoria to see Wicked The Musical.
It was funny, well delivered and with memorable songs – a great first West End show.After a late breakfast next day, we took the taxi driver’s advice and moseyed down past Big Ben to Horse Guards Parade, where the Life Guards and the Blues & Royals lined up on their shiny mounts.
A walk through St James’s Park took us to Bucking- ham Palace to see the Changing Of The Guard.
Even with rain streaming down, it was a sight to impress a 12-year-old.After a trip to Oxford Street, we set off for the Tower of London and an entertaining guided tour from one of the Yeomen, inset left.
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Abigail was fascinated by the instruments of torture in the Bloody Tower but, sadly, the queue to see the Crown Jewels was too long so we jumped on the Thames Clipper to start our journey home.
Weary but happy, my niece opened her travel diary. “It’s been, like, three dreams come true all in one,” she declared. “Wow!”
BUYING a Family and Friends Railcard cuts the cost of train tickets.
Book via nationalrail.co.uk for 2For1 offers for admission to lots of London landmarks. Buy London travelcards and Visitor Oyster Cards at visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk for travel on buses, Tubes, trams, DLR and the Thames Clipper.
Rooms at Thistle Kensington Gardens start from £120 and breakfast is £10. To book visit thistle.com/kensingtongardens.
Rooms at Premier Inn County Hall start from £99. Breakfast costs £8.99 for adults and is free for children under 15. See premierinn.com.
Daily Star Sundayreaders can get 20% off the price of an Original Tour around London. The tour, which costs £23 for adults and £15 for children, covers 80 stops around three sightseeing routes, plus a free River Thames Cruise, three free walking tours and a kids’ club.
To book call 0208 877 2120 or log on to theoriginaltour.com. Make sure you use the voucher code “STARSUN” to claim your discount.
For information on London attractions and a one-stop shop for accommodation, tickets to sights and shows see visitlondon.com.