Two tours, two kids, two moms and two very different takes on what to see and do in London. Here’s my spin on how to balance Harry Potter madness with some serious culture at the British Museum. - Henley
What to Know: London’s not short on museums, but the most important one is the British Museum, an institution so important and so popular that only the Louvre receives more visitors. It’s also home to some of the world’s most valuable art, from the Rosetta Stone to priceless Egyptian relics and the Parthenon marbles. Entry is free, but crowds can get large, especially around the most famous pieces, so plan to come early in the morning (the museum opens at 10 am) or do an evening visit on Fridays, when the doors don’t close until 10:30 pm.
Tip: In my experience, the more important the museum, the more necessary a guide, and I am officially obsessed with the one we had for the British Museum. Lawrence Owens is a rockstar archeologist who knows how to keep kids’ attention with gruesome stories about ancient civilizations while imparting more education in a couple of hours than I’ve ingested in years. But he’s running active digs in Egypt, Peru and more (if the kids get distracted, ask him to tell them about when he was shot at), so be sure to find out ahead of time if he’s in town. He works with Context Travel, whom I adore, and they have loads of other great guides, but if you can get Lawrence, lock him down. Fast.
What to Know: First of all, it’s not in London. You’ll need to take a train or a car to Levensdon, about 45 minutes outside the city, to visit the studios where a few young wizards brought the Harry Potter series to life. Secondly, these are the real movie sets, not a theme park. From speaking with a friend who has done both the Orlando and the London version, it sounds like the Orlando version is probably more fun but London gets the win for authenticity. If your kids (or you) can seriously nerd out on Harry Potter, there’s nothing cooler than seeing the real robotics behind Hagrid and his creatures or posting in front of Four Privet Drive.
Tip: Do not, I repeat, do not delay in purchasing tickets. They are timed-entry and sell out well ahead of time. If you, like me, make a massive mistake and forget to buy them early enough, check with your hotel concierge. There are limited tickets held back for hotel concierges. You’ll pay through the nose for them, though, so plan ahead to avoid catastrophe.
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