Dana participated in a media trip to Europe with RailEurope, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.
Getting ready for a family trip to Europe is exciting. With so many places to see, Europe has endless of options to offer families. A fantastic way to begin a family travel tradition is to take kids to London.
Why not London? In a land of Royals and the palaces they call home, fancy mixes well with fun. From watching British history in action, to realizing cell phones will never replace all phone booths and maybe discovering a new found love for tea, London is easy to love.
A good hotel makes you feel comfortable when you’re away from home. A great hotel makes you feel like you are home. The oldest hotel in London, Brown’s Hotel has mastered the art of making families feel at home. It starts the moment the top hat adorned doorman welcomes you.
“Look after the children and the parents will be happy,” says Stuart P. Johnson, General Manager of Brown’s Hotel.
The looking after starts instantaneously. While parents check in, kids are asked to fill out their own registration paperwork. When you arrive in your room, depending on the ages of your children, a variety of surprises will be waiting. For the youngest guests, baby necessities will be plentiful, while themed linens and a “Brown’s bear” will be waiting for school aged set. Impressively, tweens and teens are not forgotten, rewarded for their journey with magazines and Wii, X-box 360, and Play Station 2 & 3 gaming systems. Milk and cookies make all ages smile.
Children at Brown’s even have their own In-Room dining menu, designed and created by a local school. Children under three receive complimentary food and beverages, kids three to 12 year pay half price.
The Spa at Brown’s also has a range of children’s spa treatments, ranging from manicures and pedicure to facials.
Opened in 1837, if the walls could talk they’d have amazing things to say. Alexander Graham Bell made the first UK telephone call from the hotel in 1876. Rudyard Kipling wrote the “The Jungle Book” while staying at Brown’s. Agatha Christie was a repeat customer, basing her novel “At Bertram’s Hotel” on Brown’s Hotel.
Tea is an affair not to missed at Brown’s Hotel. A Baby Grand Piano and steaming silver teapots set the tone in The English Tea Room, but an order from the ‘Prestige Seasonal Tea Library’ will steal the show when it arrives at the table. Along with a teapot specially made for Brown’s will come a timer, counting down the moments grain by grain to the perfectly brewed cup, well actually, glass of tea. All teas from the ‘Prestige Seasonal Tea Library’ are served in a Riedel wine glass. One taste and the mugs at home may never leave the kitchen cabinet again.
Go to Afternoon Tea hungry. It’s a multi-course meal in its own right, and servers are constantly re-filling plates with a variety of finger sandwiches, pastries, cakes and delicate macaroons with flavors like blackberry and violet.
Save room for scones. They’ll arrive warm with clotted cream and homemade strawberry preserves on the side. One taste and you’ll already be looking forward to breakfast where an assortment of homemade preserves will give you a delicious sugar rush start to day of exploring London. On most weekends, there’s also a special breakfast buffet for kids. Think Nutella and lots of it!
Along with being the oldest hotel in the city, Brown’s can easily brag about having one of the best locations. The Green Park is just a few blocks away, offering plenty of room to run and a scenic, straight shot to Buckingham Palace.
If the timing works, stay for the Changing of the Guard (everyday, May through July at 11:30 am) or just enjoy the view then head to St. James Park. Thirty species of waterfowl call the 58 acre park home. The swans and ducks tend to be a social set, hopeful you might have a snack to share.
Make a stop at the playground or head to Tiffany Fountain where the pelicans like to hang out on the nearby rocks. Yes, there are pelicans living the high life in London. They were first introduced to the Park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador.
If the energy level is still high or even if the stroller is full, you can stroll past plenty more of London’s well known landmarks. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Trafalgar Square. What kid doesn’t love getting their picture taken with those lions? Tweens and teens will enjoy shopping their way down Piccadilly and Bond Streets.
If shopping is a main goal, Convent Garden is also an easy walk from Brown’s Hotel. Street performers have been known to distract shoppers, but you’ll rarely hear any complaining. If you want to sit down for a nice meal, you can’t beat the view from Brasserie Blanc’s upstairs dining room, but there’s also plenty of places to grab something on the go.
On your way to or from Covent Garden, stop in Fortnam & Mason. Though not as famous as Harrods, it knows how to make shopping an experience. You might have a tough time convincing the kids to leave. On the street level, there’s a colorful candy counter and a bakery area with some of the most beautifully decorated cookies I’ve ever seen. If the kids make it upstairs, the ice cream can’t be missed.
Kids and art museums don’t often mix. But a quick trip to the Tate Britain can be fun for all ages. Pick up the kids boxes when you enter the museum, they’ll guide you to some key works and inside the box you find an art project of your own to create.
No other art supplies needed. For the first time, the Tate’s collection is ordered and shown according to time, and in many cases the change from room to room is bold, with the more modern and maybe more kid-friendly art, being the most recent.
You don’t have to set foot in a museum to see some amazing art. East London is exploding with street art, attracting famous artists from around the world. Alternative London offers bike and walking tours showcasing building facades that have received often impressive, and sometimes illegal color changes. The highlights for many include work by Banksy and Space Invader.
Don’t know who they are? Ask your kids or better yet know Google is your friend. When the tour ends, the art lesson begins. Learn how the pros do it, and after a little brainstorming on paper, head outside with spray paint in hand for the real deal. Unless you want to turn it into a work of art, leave your favorite sweater and pants at the hotel. Even with plenty of wall space to choose from, spray paint, kids and clothes can have a magnetic attraction.
Train Through Europe
For most families, the hardest part about a vacation in Europe is the airport travel required to get there. If the thought of dealing with a multitude of airport security sessions has you ruling out more than one stop in Europe, trains may be your family’s ticket to travel.
The Chunnel’s changed everything. Eurostar’s trek under the pond makes getting to some of Europe’s most popular places a breeze. The shoes off, liquids out rules don’t apply to train station security. It’s what flying was like pre-911. Calling Europe’s train system extensive is an unfair understatement, but saying most families don’t know where trains can easily take them is not.
Just to give you an idea of the kind of ground you can cover in a short amount of time. London to Paris takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. London to Brussels 2 hours and 1 minute. Eurostar trains can carry 750 passengers and run at speeds of 186 miles per hour. But what wins over families, is that it’s just an easier way to travel.
No lines to check or claim bags, you take them on the train with you. You only have to arrive 30 minutes before departure, 10 minutes if you’re a Business Premier passenger. And it’s a whole lot easier for kids to move about on a train than it is on a plane.
The hardest part is sorting through all routes and travel possibilities. RailEurope arranges schedules and books for over 50 different train companies in Europe. Train travel in Europe can often be more economical for families too.
Kids 4 and under are free, and ages 4-12 pay half price, except in generous Switzerland where all kids 16 and under are free! Some tickets even get you discounted rates into well- known museums and attractions like the Tate and Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Our new Family Vacation Consultants can help you plan a fabulous family vacation in London! From simple requests like booking your room at Brown’s Hotel or another Ciao Bambino recommended family hotel in London, we can help. To get started, connect with a Family Travel Advisor.
The rate for a family of four in two interconnecting deluxe rooms is from £735 (inc VAT) per night
Photographs by Dana Rebmann
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.