Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Things to Do in London with a Teenager

While I am still somewhat in denial of the fact I am a parent of a teenager (I feel so old!) if there's one good thing to be said for the experience, it's that travel and days out are a far less stressful experience than they can be with younger children. And if you're travelling with just one of your children, you can look forward to a rather lovely experience. I'm a great believer in one-to-one parenting every so often, particularly during the tricky teenage years when it can sometimes feel like you're losing a bit of a connection to your offspring.
So, with an inset day at our disposal, me and the eldest son decided to take off to London for a couple of days. If I was a sensible parent I might have heeded the fact that Year 9 exams were kicking off the following week and this extra day's leave was most probably intended to be spent revising. Turns out train journeys are perfect for revising, though,  so I didn't feel too guilty about whisking my son off for a break from his books.

The wonderful thing about day trips with older children is the lack of needing to follow any routine or worrying about queuing; we arrived in the capital without any set plan and enjoyed wandering where the wind took us. Which happened to be the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

If, like us, you've exhausted all the big museums and are looking for something age appropriate to do indoors, this is a great option. It's free for kids 15 and under and an adult ticket can be used as much as you like within a year. My son isn't too cool to admit he still loves anything to do with transport and this thoughtfully curated space offers an insight into London transport over the centuries, with a heavy emphasis on the Underground. It's way more interesting than you might think - while my son immersed himself in the more serious engineering stuff I enjoyed finding out about the typography and tube map design that has become a gold standard in clear and simple signposting.

With sections on London buses, how the Underground was utilised in the war and the recruitment of women to help keep the city moving while the men were off fighting, there's lots to learn about here. There was also a brilliant exhibition of tube posters created by female artists, spanning the 1900s to the present day.
Another great museum for older children is the Imperial War Museum - we didn't visit on this occasion but it's definitely one to add to your list if you've done London's other free museums and galleries. And the appeal of the Victoria and Albert Museum is something older children will appreciate more than they might do when they're little. With an emphasis on aesthetics that might perhaps be a bit lost on younger kids, it's a brilliant place to introduce teenagers to everything from classic design to vintage fashion. 

Don't miss the opportunity to have tea and cake in the stunning cafe - three interconnecting rooms (the Gamble, Morris and Poynter rooms) offer a cafe experience like no other in the capital and are an absolute must do. The rooms make up the world's first museum cafe, boasting outstanding Arts and Crafts decor that makes for a truly grand cafe experience, without the exorbitant price tag.

Your average teenager nowadays is pretty cosmopolitan in their tastes (if you raise them on babyccinnos and expensive trips to Yo Sushi, they tend to turn their noses up at Burger King) which opens up a whole range of eating options in the capital. Take young foodies to Borough Market or Maltby Street, both fashionable locations that offer a brilliant way to soak up London's inimitable atmosphere while chomping on something delicious from all corners of the globe. On this occasion, we took refuge from the rain in Dishoom, a great option if your teenager is a curry aficionado. The food here is inventive, delicious and filling - the perfect place to refuel for your afternoon adventures. Although there are several branches in London - we visited the St Martin's Lane restaurant - it's nice to venture off the well-beaten Pizza Express/Wagamamas/Nandos path.
We always seem to end up at the Tate Modern but the experience really comes into its own with older kids who can make quite interesting critiques on the assembled artworks. We visited with a friend who's a member, gaining us free entry to to the brilliant Picasso exhibition currently on show. While you're in this neck of the woods, it's only a short hop to the Sky Garden which I've mentioned before on this blog - it's the ideal place to take teens and is free of charge.
Without wishing to make huge generalisations about gender, a trip to London with a teenage girl in tow might focus on its shopping opportunities (I've seen enough bored looking mums with their teens in the Oxford Street Topshop to know that for many teenage girls, this cathedral of fast fashion is high on their list of priorities when visiting the capital) but boys might not be so bothered about this aspect of the city. 

This can be annoying if you were hoping to squeeze in a bit of retail therapy yourself; being the really good parent that I am, I put all thoughts of a mooch about &OtherStories to the back of my mind and took my son to Spitalfields instead. We didn't really shop as such, but I did get a little bit of retail exposure and he was open to a laid back wander around the market and the cool streets around Brick Lane.

With its mix of independent shops (think Rough Trade Records and Slam City Skates), street art and cool cafes, it's a fertile stomping ground for teens looking for something a little less conventional than the West End, with plenty of opportunities to do a bit of hipster watching. Broadway Market and its surrounding neighbourhoods offers a similar experience.
If you've got a book loving teen in tow, Daunt Books in Marylebone is a lovely place to spend some quiet time away from the crowds. Filled with old school charm, it's a shop that provides the perfect antidote to the flashy mega stores of the West End and introduces your child to old school London - the polar opposite of the Apple Store, I defy anyone, young or old, not to be charmed by its calm and genteel ambience.

Finishing off our visit with trip to Carnaby Street and a quick wander through Soho, I was reminded of my teenage trips to London, of visiting Italian delis on Old Compton Street, searching the racks at Hyper Hyper for stuff to go clubbing in and hanging out in cafes at Camden Market. London has changed a lot since those days and while it might not have the unique charm it once did in our 21st-century globalised world, it's still an intoxicating and exciting place when viewed through the eyes of a 14-year-old. And you know what, it's fun hanging out with your teenage kids sometimes, especially when they're happy to indulge you...


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