Wednesday, April 9, 2014

London Transport Museum

I've been talking to lots of friends and family back in Indiana about what a long, horrible winter it was for them. For those of you not from the area, there was a period of several days when everyone was (no exaggeration) frozen inside their homes. Not to mention almost weekly storms that dumped anywhere from several inches to a couple of feet of snow.

On this side of the pond, we had a much milder winter. I sometimes neglected to mention to those back home that we could occasionally still visit the playground or take a hike in the woods without risking instant frostbite. But even without the frigid temps of America, gray, rainy days still got the best of me mentally at times.

We woke up one Sunday morning in March, rain splashed across our windows. I dreaded filling yet another day with indoor activities for two energetic boys after having done exactly that the previous seven days on my own. My husband was fresh off a business trip to the U.S. though, so I didn't want to suggest a big day out, knowing how tired he must be.

And then he said those magic words. "Let's just go to London today."

Boom. We were off. Not a moment of planning, just a vague idea that a friend had suggested we check out the London Transport Museum at some point because it's great for young ones. Given the rain, a museum seemed our best bet anyway.

Yes, the London Transport Museum is fantastic for kids. And yes, everyone in London knows this. So you'll be joined by almost every under 5 in the city, but it was still great fun.

A few things I loved best about this museum:
  • Fun at every eye level.

Whenever I lost sight of Little Arrow (which, given that he's 2 and fast, happens quite often) all I had to do was look down, and I'd usually find him on the floor closely examining something interesting. How refreshing not to have to pick him up so he could see what everyone else was admiring, and instead allow him to make his own discoveries.
  • Unique kid's map.
Just about every museum that expects families to visit has developed a treasure hunt, kid's program, or some other way to entice children to explore the collections. What I liked best about the London Transport Museum's Stamper Trail was its simplicity, but without losing my boys' interest. It looked like a game board, and you simply stamped it at each station around the museum. The stamp machines were easy enough for my kids to do themselves, and they were excited to see what shape appeared on their paper (the shape corresponded with each section of the museum, like a bus or train).

We didn't get every stamp, so I'm not entirely sure what the boys would have received had they completed it, but they thought the paper itself was quite fun and examined their stamps on the train ride home. Free souvenir for the win.

  • Climb aboard!

For just about every method of transit that the museum addresses, you'll be able to step inside and see it for yourself. This is the best way to educate children so young, as you're giving them an experience that they can understand.
  • How London-centric it is.

I know London is known for having some of the best museums in the world. And I've loved those that I've had a chance to visit. But sometimes it seems strange to spend a day inside one because they can feel isolated from the hub of the city's energy. After all, as Joey on Friends so aptly put it, "It's London, baby!" But at the London Transport Museum, you'll be boarding double decker buses, the very first tube carriages, etc. It doesn't get any more London than that. Plus, I learned a lot about the city's fascinating history, as it was so closely tied to the development of its transport methods.
  • Its location.

Situated adjacent to the main marketplace of Covent Garden, you'll be in one of London's most exciting districts. After visiting the museum, we took in several amazing street performers and had lunch there. Then we strolled through Chinatown and on to Leicester Square.
I'd give you a lunch recommendation, but I'll confess that once again, we came to London and indulged our Mexican food deprivation by going to the American chain Chipotle. My husband calls them $75 burritos (given what we spend on train tickets to get there). We both agree they're worth it.
  • Free returns for a year.

This is, unfortunately, not one of London's many free museums. But our passes are good for a year, so I plan to return with Little Arrow on a weekday soon. Even if you're just visiting London on vacation, keep your ticket. Its central location means that if your kids just need a quick play or run around, you could come in for 30 minutes or so. (Or a break from the rain!)

A few tips:
  • Get there early. We arrived about an hour after it opened due to the train schedule on Sundays, and it was already jammed. Still enjoyable, but crowded. It would have been great to beat the rush a little.
  • Make time for the gift shop. I wish I had ditched the kids with my husband and browsed a bit. From what I could see, this museum carries some of the most unique London souvenirs I've seen. Even if you're not interested in the museum itself, pop into the shop if you're in Covent Garden.
  • You can check your stroller, jackets and any bags for free at the coat check (most museums charge for this). It's really nice to explore the museum without that stuff weighing you down.
  • Take turns with your partner. If the museum is crowded, and you're visiting with another adult, just take turns going onto the various forms of transit with the kids. It will cut down on the wait for everyone else and you'll have someone on the ground to take photos!
So while the day started with rain and frowns on our faces, it ended with sunshine and smiles. Now that is London, baby.