One FREE Day in London

Like any major city, London is expensive!! But, there are actually a wide variety of world-class experiences you can have in London completely free from the playground at the London Eye for younger kids, to a beautiful stroll the parks of London (while most people choose Hyde Park I have a special fondness for Saint James Park). In order to save budget for our second (very much not free) day in London, and following our lovely day Touring Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, and Bourton on the Water In the Cotswolds we decided to challenge ourselves with one full day of free adventures in The Big Smoke.

Our One Day of Free Activities in London with Kids included:

  • A Visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum: We started our free day of exploring London at the V&A (based on my previous tips of evaluating crowd size via Google and prioritizing must-do vs. would-be-nice venues). We arrived promptly at 10:00 am when the museum opens and whisked through security and into the stunning Medieval Renaissance and Cast Courts exhibits where we saw perfect replicas of the amazing works we’d seen on our previous trips to Italy. Then we moved on to photography, where we viewed thought-provoking pieces from the late 19th Century through modern works; and moved into the gorgeous jewelry displays featuring items from Queen Victoria’s coronation crown to Queen Bey’s emerald and diamond butterfly room. Even my son’s liked it. We finished our visit in the Architecture and Glass exhibits but quickly about-faced our of the museum as swarms of shrieking Tweens on field trip had taken over the museum ruining the beauty of the space we’d previously enjoyed.
The Beautiful Victoria & Albert MuseumThe Beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum
  • A Visit to the British Natural History Museum: V&A being the day’s must-do, we decided to take a lap at the Natural History museum next door. We walked through the Volcanoes & Earthquakes exhibit, the obligatory review of the section on Dinosaurs, and some temporary exhibits on Whales and another piece on the Moon. However, if shrieking tweens at V&A we’re bad, tantruming toddlers were the soundtrack of the Natural History museum, and as my son pointed out, “science is the same at home” where we have a world-class Natural History Museum with more interactivity, sans teaming throngs of humanity. So, we moved on to the next stop.The British Natural History Museum

The British Natural History Museum

  • An Afternoon to Explore the British Museum: Now, if crowds were unbearable at the earlier museum, the British Museum was a state of nature, but one can easily understand why. We saw the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, The Mummy of the Chantress of Amun, and sculptures and artifacts from ancient cultures, so we braved the hordes for as long as we could. If we’d waited until after 3:00 when the tour groups leave, I’m told the experience is much calmer – live and learn.
Viewing Arguments at ParlimentAttend Debates at Parliament
  • A Stop to Watch Arguments at Parliament: As politics-buffs (is that a phrase?) we couldn’t miss a chance to watch debates at Parliament – this free experience is rarely crowded and definitely an insider’s experience (no obvious signage or tour groups), and definitely worth the time. To view the debates you enter through the Cromwell Green Entrance, and you can research debate topics and the calendar (debates often go until 10:00 PM) on the Parliament UK site. Our entire experience from line up, through security, and about 30 minutes watching debates about the British HS II project lasted about an hour, which was about the right amount of time for our family’s attention spans.

What are your favorite ways to spend a free day in London with Kids?

Exploring the German and French Country Side with Teenagers: Our One Day Itinerary

Four years ago, my husband and I did a River Cruise down the Danube, starting in Nuremberg (following three days on land in Prague) and finishing in Budapest. The trip was beautiful, relaxing, and absolutely enchanting – we loved every second of it (which surprised me considering how I felt about our previous experience with cruising). So, as we started to plan this adventure we originally researched taking another River Cruise, but just couldn’t find the perfect combination of dates, lengths, and locations to satisfy our family. So instead, we decided to add a little DIY River Cruise on the Rhine for one day of our adventure, followed by one day driving from Rudesheim (the final stop on our journey) to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland with plenty of stops to explore along the way.

Here is Our One Day Itinerary for Driving through the French Countryside into Switzerland

Exploring the French Countryside with Teens

Alsace, France

Rudesheim, Germany to Mainz

Hotel Lindenwirt, RudesheimStarting our Journey at Hotel Lindenwirt, Rudesheim

We started the morning by taking the train from Rudesheim to Mainz where we’d arranged to pick up our rental car at the Mainz Hertz Rental Car office, which turned out to be trickier than expected due to unpublished train schedules on the weekends. But, after a thirty minute delay, we were off on the roads of Germany

Maginot Line Bunkers, Fort Schoenenbourg (Ouvrage Schoenenbourg)Maginot Line, Fort Schoenenbourg

Visiting the Maginot Line

With 90 minutes worth of driving under our belt we decided to stop at The Maginot Line. With a family full of war and history buffs, there was no way we were learning about underground bunkers and NOT making a stop to visit the underground bunkers and picnic in the Forrest on a self-guided tour.

This French line of defense was constructed along the country’s border with Germany during the 1930s and named after Minister of War André Maginot. It primarily extended from La Ferté to the Rhine River, though sections also stretched along the Rhine and the Italian frontier. The main fortifications on the northeast frontier included 22 large underground fortresses and 36 smaller fortresses, as well as blockhouses, bunkers and rail lines. Despite its strength and elaborate design, the line was unable to prevent an invasion by German troops who entered France via Belgium in May 1940.History Channel Online

Visiting Strasbourg France

Following our stop for the boys in the family, mom wanted a charming little village in France and so our original plan was Colmar, France. But, time had gotten away from us in the morning and during our stop at the Fortress, so we called an audible and stopped at Strasbourg instead. Which turned into the biggest EPIC FAIL of the trip.

Strasbourg, France: Cradle Of Alsatian CultureStrasbourg, France, Alsace

Where we were hoping for dinner in a charming little village, Strasbourg (unlike the stunning Instagram photos) is a major city, with a City Center screaming with tourists from every stretch of the world, which made it a little challenging to find that Belle-in-the-Village moment I was seeking.

Which provides a great moment to reflect on what NOT to do on vacation: Do not let Instagram build unrealistic vacation expectations.

Instead follow to stoic advice of Epictetus

“Whenever you are about to start on some activity, remind yourself what the activity is like, … If you go out to bathe, picture what happens at a bathhouse—the people who splash you or jostle you or talk rudely or steal your things. In this way you will be more prepared to start the activity, by telling yourself at the outset, ‘I want to bathe, and I also want to keep my will in harmony with nature.’ Make this your practice in every activity.”

We trudged our way through hordes of humanity to tour the Cathedral, past throngs of tour groups through gift shops and the river front, up and down steps of historic corridors, accidentally following the ubiquitous umbrella-led masses, then stopped for lunch at the Aux Armes de Strasbourg where we patched together a dinner of French and German fair, a little Rose of Provence for me (the non-driver), and bottles and bottles of water and buckets of ice since it was about a million degrees outside.

Overall, not what I expected or wanted – we wished we had grabbed a snack at a roadside service station and kept with our original plan of Colmar, but live and learn. I’m sure so many people LOVE the Strasbourg experience … that person wasn’t me.

Driving from France to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

  • If Strasbourg disappointed, every moment of Switzerland delighted, starting from the moment we left Strasbourg and the Bernese Alps started to appear.
  • Bernese Alps

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps

    We drove through Switzerland past lakes and peaks, across Interlaken and into Lauterbrunnen where we dropped our car at the Lauterbrunnen car park, gazed at the amazing Staubbach Falls illuminated by moonlight and spotlight, then took the 10:30 PM train straight up the mountain to the car free village of Wengen, where we stayed at the charming Hotel Falken.

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    Hotel Falken, Wengen, Switzerland

    We spent two days of cable cars, gentle mountain walks, mountainside meals, and gaping open-mouthed at the sheer beauty that is the Jungfrau Region. It was perfection!!

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Jungfrau, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

    Have you visited the Alps, as enchanted as we were, we can’t wait to go back? Where should we visit next?

    Additional Reading

    Rhine River Ferry: One Day Itinerary with Teens

    Our German River Cruise Experienceimg_1438-2

    Five years ago, as an extended family, we took an amazing two-week river trip down the Danube. While we were by far the youngest travelers on the ship we found the relaxed pace and force-fed charm was a perfect way to see the villages of Germany.

    So, you can imagine our delight when we learned that DIY single-day River Ferries for the more adventurous set are available as an alternative to the two-week leisure cruise.

    Correction: Now having done the river ferry, the set is not “more adventurous” apparently river cruising is something most often done by the senior set.

    About the Rhine a River Ferries

    Each morning, starting in Cologne and Mainz KD Ferry operates boats heading up and down the Rhine River. Most people prefer to start their ferry experience in Mainz and head north to Cologne (getting the prettiest portion of the route earlier in the day and taking advantage of the quicker speeds the follow traveling with the current). But, we were traveling from Brussels and Bruges, so beggars can’t be choosers.

    P.S. – the additional speed of the current once you leave Boppard is nominal, don’t believe the people who make it sound like disaster will ensue if you take the Ferry “upstream”.

    Rhine River Cruise Itinerary

    We started the day in Cologne and took an early morning train to Boppard, skipping some of the earlier but less high-impact stops so that we could allow our boys a little sleeping-in time (to ensure domestic tranquility) and arrived in Boppard at 11:00 AM.

    Boppard Along the Rhine PromenadeStarting the day in Boppard with a pleasant stroll along the Rhine Promenade

    Our day in the Rhine was made en-route from Belgium to Switzerland where we’ve planned to spend two nights and three days, so we were traveling with luggage; and although we are a carry-on family, we’ve decided to focus our Rhine stops in cities that offer luggage storage which meant St. Goar and Bacharach where we stowed our luggage at the Tourist Information offices.

    Tips for Luggage Storage in Bacharach and Saint Goar

    I did a lot of research before the trip and had a hard time understanding the logistics, so I’ll break it down for you for convenience:

    Saint Goar offers luggage storage (free) upstairs at the Saint Goar Tourist Information Center. They close for lunch from 1:00 – 2:00, and for the day at 5:00 PM, so plan accordingly. There is a convenient shuttle stop to Burg Rheinfels Castle, just a half block down from the TI (at the gas station) so it was super easy to hop off the Rhine Ferry, walk 1/8 mile to the TI, Store our bags, and go up to the Castle.

    Bacharach also offers Left Luggage services at the Bacharach Tourist Information Office just a few blocks south of the Cathedral on the Main drag. Once again, they close for lunch mid-day, and have a hard stop at 4:59 for luggage storage pick up, but it’s free (though the attendant is about as unfriendly as they come) and a convenient way to take the Rhine Ferry and still find workable luggage storage.

    Taking the KD Rhine Ferry

    I purchased our Ferry Tickets in advance through KD Rhine (I’m a fan of skipping lines wherever possible and tend to get a better conversion rate when I book in the USA). The process of turning in our voucher for tickets in Boppard was easy and painless.

    To cap off our exciting day on the Rhine we spent the evening at the Hotel Lindenwirt of Rudesheim am Rhein.

    TBH: I would have skipped Bacharach if I’d known Rudesheim would be so charming, but it was cool to see the Werner Cathedral Ruins.

    Hotel Lindenwirt, Rudesheim, Germany

    Photo: Courtesy Hotel Lindeniwrt

    Cologne to Mainz KD Rhine Ferry Schedule

    Favorite Rhine Travel Videoimg_1438-2

     

    Prague with Teens: Two Day Itinerary

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    Prague Two Day Itinerary for Travelling Europe with Kids

    This July, our family of Four will take off for two weeks in Europe (our second Grand Voyage through Europe as a family. We’ll start in London and work our way via ferries, trains, and rental cars to Austria and then on to Prague for a quick two days before flying back to London.

    Our Prague Itinerary

    • Arrive from Vienna by Train on Day One
    • Check in to the Prague Carlo IV Hotel
    • One Full Day Exploring Prague
    • Depart by British Airways on a Direct Flight to London on Day Three
    Prague, Czechia – Wenceslas Square Prague, Czechia – Old Town Square

    Our Prague Itinerary Philosophy

    Yes, this is a city full of culture, history, art, amazing day trips to places like the gorgeous Český Krumlov but on this trip we will be hitting Prague after a fairly aggressive pace of Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria so Prague will provide the perfect opportunity to relax, unwind, and soak up the ambiance – preferable in a cafe, with a cold beer, and view like the stunner above.

    With Prague, just wandering the narrow alleys, popping into charming shops and cute little coffee shops, one can love Prague without ever checking a single item off the Prague Family Traveler’s Bucket list.

    ” Prague isn’t just a city, but an entity of some kind.”

    – -Sezin Koehler

    Day One:
    Arriving in Prague

    Day Two:
    Prague Itinerary

    London, Stonehenge and The Cotswolds with Teenagers: A Three Day Itinerary

    Our Itinerary for Three Days in England, Travelling with Teenagers

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    Plan coming – keep checking back; I use this page as an active planner for all my trips, an interactive Apple Wallet.

    London Itinerary Day One: Arrive in London from Prague, pick up Rental Car and drive to Stonehenge

    Driving Time: About Three Hours, without stops

    • Stonehenge Visitor Center – we Booked our tickets in advance online for the 11:00 option and selected the Family Pass to Stonehenge for £49.40
    • Salisbury Cathedral – home to the best preserved of only four surviving original Magna Carta (AD1215)
    Salisbury Cathedral Day Trip from London with Teens

    Photo Courtesy: https://www.firsdown.org.uk/salisbury-cathedral

    • Chedworth Roman Villa – Built towards the end of Rome’s imperial domination of Britain, the villa is a fine example of the advances in Romano-British engineering, and a well-preserved Villa full of history and design.
    Chedworth Roman Villa, Day Trip from London with KidsPhoto Courtesy: https://archaeology-travel.com/england/chedworth-roman-villa/
    • Cotswolds – Following a visit to Stonhenge and Salsbury Cathedral our family of four will be hangry, so a leaisurely country drive, stopping in for snacks and a light lunch on the water will be the perfect way to wrap up the day before heading back to London.

    London Itinerary Day Three: Victoria & Albert Museum and High Tea in London with Teenagers

    High Tea in London

    As a mother of sons I recognize, I need to pick my battles.  But, High Tea in London is a battle I am willing to wage.  I could go on and on about “culture” and “exposure” and “how good it is for their global awareness” but really.  I want some pretty – and I’m planning this expedition so two hours or my say so is what happens.

    So, for our second full day in London, we’ll be hitting tea at the Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Sanderson hotel for an afternoon tea, with teenagers.  I researched the Savoy and the Ritz but decided against the more traditional options due to the required “Smart Casual” dress.  There’s no reason to lug “smarter-than-average” casual attire through Europe for two weeks when the rest of our activities are more in the range of “smarter-than-your-average-tourist” casual attire.

    So, we’ve booked in for a Mad Hatters Tea Party in London for

    Kids Cruise Packing

    Plenty of websites give direction when it comes to packing that cruise carry-on, or providing extra tips for things to bring along to make your trip easier, there are even websites focused on how to sneak booze on your cruise ship. But, when it comes to packing lists for kids, the resources are limited.

    For this trip we’ll need swimsuits, beach shoes, dressy dinner clothes, casual Disney clothes, lounging clothes, shoes, socks, and just-in-case, a jacket for warm weather. So, here’s what I’ll be packing for my two boys for our two-week Christmas Cruise.

    What else am I missing?

    Kids Packing List

    Dining From the Kids Menu

    This morning marked a “last” for me.  Today was the last time I will ever drop my sons off at school together. They finish out their final week of school on Wednesday (our school years are painfully long here in Utah) and after school ends my oldest will unofficially be a teenager … headed into the thrill and the terror of junior high school. If life had an “unlike” button I would be clicking that thing with ferocity. During this time when my boys are growing up way too fast, I am preparing for a whirlwind summer – Asia, France, the UK, Chicago, New York, LA, and Amsterdam.  But, tucked in between all that work travel we are taking a short family getaway to the Bay. This will be a different kind of trip for us as a family.  One boy is too old for Disneyland and one is too young for MoMa (though we’ve drug them both to museums and historical monuments all over the world). They are both too active for sight-seeing sunset cruises and pretend to be too mature for jungle gyms and playgrounds.  So, setting the itinerary will be a challenge in options – switching things up regularly to make sure everyone gets a little of what they want, and not too much of what they hate.

    All that in mind, the destination: San Francisco. Jack London SquareSan Francisco Itinerary

    • Day One: Taking the late flight, staying in Oakland at Jack London Square
    • Day Two: Lazy morning exploring Jack London Square followed by lunch at Golden Gate Park and dinner in Chinatown
    • Day Three: Alcatraz, Angel Island, and dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf so that we can watch the LED lights illuminate the bay
    • Day Four: Visit to the Walt Disney Museum for the afternoon showing of Peter Pan
    • Day Five: Early Sunday morning flight home to get ready for summer camp, and summer vegging