We’re a North East family of four but we’re not the Hoopers. Like the Hoopers we live in the same area of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and our kids go to the same school. The big difference is, however, we have two boys rather than two girls. This feels a little bit like a ‘Going for Gold’ question!!! So who are we? We’re the Coulsons.
I’m Stephen, I live in Newcastle but grew up in Hartlepool. I have a keen interest in history and run the occasionally updated blog My Slice of History. I am also a 2nd dan black belt karate instructor at East West Wado Kai Karate.
Louise is the matriarch of the family and despite having a full time job still manages to find time to help the kids with homework, play viola in an orchestra and train for a half marathon!
Thomas is 8 years old. He is a brown belt in karate, loves history and has an irrational fear of dogs, cats and at times his own shadow! Thomas is very easy going and chilled.
William is 5 years old. In contrast to Thomas he is wild and full of energy. He enjoys any activity that means he can run, bounce or roll around. He’s fearless and assumes that anything his brother can do he can also do!
Over the years we’ve spent a lot of time visiting London. Before Louise and I had kids we would spend several long weekends a year in London soaking up the culture, catching a show and eating in nice restaurants like Skylon and The Ivy! London has so much to offer and is massively diverse.
When our kids came along we wondered if London still had something to offer a young family. It does and more! London has now become an established yearly holiday location for us with the kids getting very excited on the run-up to our annual visit. Of course our experience with a young family is vastly different and on one of our half marathon training runs, Alan and I started to discuss the possibility of a guest blog on HereComeTheHoopers about our visit.
Getting to London
Living in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne we’re 250 miles from London. This may not seem like a big distance particularly to our cousins over the pond who would think nothing of travelling this distance for the day. I would no recommend driving however. We tried it once, if you’re lucky you will not encounter too many holdups as you head south but once you hit the M25 get comfortable! It took us 7 hours to drive from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne to Tooting Bec in South London.
By far the easiest means of transport is the train; Virgin Trains East Coast operate a service which departs Newcastle Central Station every 30 minutes for Kings Cross and takes just under 3 hours. Be sure to book exactly 3 months prior to travel to ensure cheapest fares and we also use a Family and Friends Rail Card to get an extra 1/3 of our fares!
Where to stay
There are so many options! We like to stay central and this can be expensive in London. We’ve stayed in a number of hotels but the Pullman St. Pancras is our favourite but it does not come cheap for a family of 4!
We much prefer to stay in a holiday apartment. The big advantage is space. The kids can sleep in a separate room and you have kitchen facilities to make packed lunches or if you wish cook a meal! We have stayed in a few but we keep coming back to Casal Dei Fichi London. We’ve stayed here three times now and the kids see it as a home from home! It is located in zone two on the tube and only a 10 minute walk from the Highbury and Islington tube stop which in turn is only 1 stop from Kings Cross. It’s also generally cheaper than the equivalent hotel with standard rates of £140 per night.
Getting around London is incredibly easy. By far the easiest way to do this is on the London Underground, affectionately referred to as the tube. The tube is the oldest underground railway in the world and one of the busiest. It covers just about the whole of Greater London.
The buses are an alternative but we only use the bus if the tube is either closed or does not reach a particular location (such as Highgate).
Finally if you’re going further afield such as Hampton Court or Windsor Southwest trains are an option.
What makes all these options so easy is the Oyster card. With an Oyster card you simply top it up and touch in and out of each station. The fare is automatically deducted from your card. If you make a number of journeys in a day the card will work out the cheapest fare so you won’t pay more than a day’s travel pass. The best part with a young family is that kids are free if they are under 12 with an accompanying adult. Oysters work on the Tube, buses and trains. Be sure to remember to ‘touch out’ or you’ll get charged a penalty fare. You do not ‘touch out’ on a bus however, just get of at your stop. It’s a flat fare.
Visiting London can be a very expensive holiday. We are not on a very strict budget and the web is full of budget traveller tips but we do have our own ways of keeping the cost down in London. I’ve mentioned a few of them already but here is our rundown.
1. If travelling by train book your tickets exactly 3 months in advance to get the cheapest fares. The Trainline will actually send you a notification when the tickets go on sale! Get a Family and Friends railcard to bring the fare down by another 1/3.
2. If you arrive in London by train be sure to check out 2-for-1 Days Out London. With a valid rail ticket this can save you a fortune on top attractions. Be sure to print them out before you leave home.
3. We have a Tesco credit card and use it for everything (paying it off every month). We earn a lot of Tesco Clubcard points. We use these to buy ‘days out’ vouchers at 4x their face value or restaurant vouchers. We have had free access to Hampton Court Palace, Tower of London, London Zoo and St. Pauls to name a few. With a gate price of £63 for a family ticket to the Tower of London this can save you hundreds of pounds!
4. Get an Oyster Card, this is a no brainer. For a refundable £5 deposit it will cost you less to travel around London and with no hassle.
5. Make a packed lunch. If you’re staying in a holiday apartment this is a great cost saving option. Most museums actually have areas for eating picnics.
6. Free attractions. Free admission was introduced in 2001 to all national museums although you can give a donation. World class museums such as The British Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are all free to enter. London also has some fantastic parks such as St. James Park near Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park.
The second part of my guest blog will cover what London has to offer a young family.