Central London became a ghost town during the Olympics as visitors flocked to the Games venues and kept away from the capital’s usual attractions.
But once the flame died, tourists invaded the capital once again. And I was one of them.
During a rest week between the Olympics and Paralympics, my family and I spent four nights at historic London 2012.
(Well, we were in London during 2012, and that’s close enough for me!)
You may have heard horror stories about how expensive London can be for families. But it needn’t break the bank too much, if you plan ahead.
Here are my tips.
1) Stay in a private self-catering apartment rather than a hotel.
After trawling several websites, we got a last-minute deal at modern, comfy, secure surroundings in Canary Wharf, a short tube ride from the centre and in London’s dazzling new commercial heartbeat. Thanks to a £400 discount, it cost just over £500 for the four of us.
2) Do not drive to London. It’s a nightmare.
Instead, take the train. Rail prices are extortionate, granted. But a family railcard costs £28 for a year, and sliced a whopping £100 off the cost of four return tickets from Bare Lane.
For travelling around the capital with two children, I’d also recommend buying a daily Day Travelcard. This cost £13.60 (with family railcard discount) and allowed unlimited travel for four on the underground and buses throughout London and its outskirts.
3) Prepare food for packed lunches. This cuts down on the cost of eating out, and there’s so many picturesque spots for picnics including Hyde Park, St James’s Park, Leicester Square and the grounds of the Natural History Museum.
We only ate out at night and stuck mainly to the Leicester Square/Covent Garden/Piccadilly area where there are countless family-friendly restaurants. The best we found was Maxwells in Covent Garden where they knock up to 50% off most meals on a Monday.
4) Find free things to do. Some of London’s popular attractions cost the earth, but many of the museums are free admission. Our kids spent hours happily trawling the Science and Natural History Museums.
There’s also the Harry Potter themed walk. Print instructions off the internet and they will take you around all the various landmarks, buildings and sites relevant to JK Rowling’s films. No need to pay for a tour guide, you can do it yourself for free.
It was a fun way of showing the kids everything from Trafalgar Square to St Paul’s, and even some of London’s hidden treasures on side streets you’d never normally think to frequent. Your feet will ache afterwards, but it’s very rewarding – as long as the Death Eaters don’t destroy the Millennium Bridge, that is!
5) Avoid Oxford Street like the plague. It’s an overcrowded hell on earth. After being jostled for two hours solid, my wife Sharon has vowed never to darken Primark’s doors again.
6) Take a boat trip on the Thames. We cruised from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge and back again, taking in stunning views of the London Eye, Cleopatra’s Needle and the new Shard, accompanied by informative commentary by a witty crew member whose dry local drawl sounded just like Phil Daniels.
7) Take a tube to Stratford and get as close to the Olympic Stadium as security will allow...just so you can say you’ve been there.
And finally 8) We wanted to visit Camden Market, Baker Street and the British Museum too but ran out of time. So for families, I’d recommend five night stays in London rather than four.
Follow these tips and trust me, you’ll have a brilliant time.