Hull mum’s top tips on how to visit London with kids on a BUDGET

It was my children’s first ever visit to London – so I was determined to show them all the sights and fit as much in as possible.

But at the forefront of my mind was the cost of visiting the capital. There’s no way of getting away from some of the expense, but by planning ahead, being organised and visiting a lot of free attractions – I was able to visit on a shoestring – here’s how.

Travelling to London

We decided to save the hassle of driving and avoid high parking fees by travelling direct from Hull to London Kings Cross on train.

The best deal I could find was with Hull Trains, by booking in advance. Click here to sign up for cheap tickets alerts. You can book 12 weeks before travel when the deals are released. The cheapest fares usually sell out quickly though.

Oliver and Jasmine Lovell at Kings Cross

Hull Trains also offers 2for1 entry to over 150 London attractions, restaurants, theatres, exhibitions and more, when you travel by train to the capital. Click here for more information about the offer.

The kids loved travelling on the train, we don’t do it often so it was a treat. They had their iPads to keep them amused and I was able to relax with a drink – and before we knew it, we had arrived in the capital!

Accommodation

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Travelodge London Central Kings Cross

I would highly recommend staying at Kings Cross so you don’t need to cart your suitcases on the underground.

We stayed at the Travelodge London Central Kings Cross on Grays Inn Rd – which was only a five or six minute walk from the station.

We were able to drop our bags as soon as we arrived in London, and on the day we left we were able to leave them in the hotel and didn’t have to go right out of our way to collect them as we were travelling home from Kings Cross anyway.

The hotel was perfect for us. There’s family rooms which are spacious and comofortbale. Although the hotel is on a main road it was very quiet inside. The staff were welcoming and friendly and it was a really good base.

The Travelodge was the best value hotel I could find because you can get rooms for as little as £49 per night in London (£29 per night in all other cities.)

Top tips for getting a £49 room:

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1) The best value rooms are snapped up early. Rooms can be booked up to 325 days in advance, so the earlier you book, the more likely you’ll get a £49 room.

2) Book direct on the Travelodge website

3) Stay midweek. £49 rooms tend to be available Sunday to Thursday. You can find some £49 rooms on Friday and Saturday nights, they’re very popular and tend to get booked quickly, so remember to book early.

4) Sign up to the Travelodge newsletter to be the first to receive great value offers and seasonal promotions.

At the Travelodge I was also given a map of London which had 20 per cent off vouchers for loads of restaurants and attractions.

Getting around London

Kids go free on the London Underground so we used the tube to get about. There is no need to buy tickets anymore. Simply scan your debit card at the barriers when you enter and leave the stations to pay contactless. This saves time and money and is just so easy.

I also downloaded the Tube Map app before I set off and so instead of having to work out the quickest route, you simply put the station you’re travelling from and the station you’re travelling to and it gives you the exact route to take.

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I also took the kids scooters to get about. According to my iPhone we were averaging 16,000 steps per day and that would be a lot for my seven and five-year-olds to walk.

Taking the scooters were a godsend. It was a bit of a hassle holding them on the tube station escalators, but totally worth it for the miles of scooting they did, which prevented them from walking.

Free places to visit

The best thing about London is the amount of free places there are to vist, here’s just a few of them…

Buckingham Palace

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High up on my list was watching the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and I’m so glad we did because the kids thought it was brilliant. This every-other day event is the ceremony where The Queen’s Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace to the New Guard.

Most people head for Buckingham Palace to see Changing the Guard, but the ceremony actually takes place between three locations – Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and Wellington Barracks.

We got the tube to Green Park and strolled through the park towards the palace. It’s a must-visit place, even if you don’t got at 11am for the ceremony.

If you want the best view you will need to get there before 9.30am to stand up against the railings to see the the old and new guards present arms before the Captains of the Guard ceremoniously hand over the Palace keys.

However, the guards do march along the streets, followed by the military band, so there are many vantage points if you get there later.

Click here for more changing of the guards information, dates and times.

Big Ben

From Buckingham Palace you can walk along Birdcage Walk to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside this tower, but nowadays, the entire tower is commonly referred to as Big Ben. Although it is is undergoing restoration work at the moment it’s still a landmark worth pointing out to the kids.

Jubilee Gardens

From Big Ben you can walk across Westminster Bridge over the River Thames and take a stroll along the South Bank, and you will eventually find Jubilee Gardens. This is a free playground in the shadow of the London Eye.

Don’t get caught out by the three cup and ball con artists working on this bridge. They are good to watch, but do not place a bet because no one ever wins.

St. James’s Park

This is a beautiful and picturesque royal park and a good spot for a picnic. You can also see the pelicans being fresh fish between 2:30pm and 3pm every day, next to Duck Island Cottage.

Museums

There are a number of London museums which are free to enter. Kids will love the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.

Covent Garden

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Oliver Lovell with a street entertainer at Covent Garden

The kids will love watching the street entertainers at Covent Garden where you can sit on the pavement or stand to watch.

Hyde Park

The Hyde Park lido is a fabulous place to take children on a warm day. There is a sun bathing and picnic area near the lido itself and a separate children’s area with a paddling pool, sand pit, climbing frame and bouncy toys. The lido is £1 per child, children under the age of three are free.

Also in Hyde Park is the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain where children can paddle.

Hamleys Toy Shop

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Hamleys Toy Shop

This is Britain’s most famous toy shop and well worth a visit. Kids can play with toys and meet charactars.

Coram’s Fields, Bloomsbury

Coram’s Field is a seven acre, open access playground in the heart of London. There’s grassy areas,several climbing frames, sand boxes with climbing apparatus, swings, animals in pens, sports fields and an adventure playground for older children. In the middle of the park is an enormous paddling pool for hot summer days.

The Sky Garden

This is London’s highest public garden. It’s free to enter, but a ticket to visit must be booked online well in advance. There are only a limited number of tickets available per day. It gives fabulous views across London. Click here to book.

Other must-visit attractions

A West End Show

Oliver and Jasmine at the Prince Edward Theatre
Oliver and Jasmine Lovell at the Prince Edward Theatre

I honestly don’t think any visit to London is complete without going to see a show in the West End. There’s no budget option for this, but if you can afford it, taking the kids to see a show will be a magical and unforgettable experience.

We went to see Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre. I’d kept it a surprise from the kids as a special treat. We got the tube to Leicester Square and as soon as we walked around the corner on Old Compton Street the kids saw the huge lit up Aladdin sign and asked if we could go and see it. It was such a lovely moment when I was able to tell them we had tickets.

Seeing their faces whilst watching the singing and dancing was a moment I won’t forget. The genie was absolutely hilarious, the costumes were amazing and the magic carpet scene was simply magical. Both my children thought the carpet really was flying itself.
We sat in the dress circle and had amazing seats and the bar gave us access to the balcony overlooking the street which was a lovely place to enjoy the interval.

Kidzania

Oliver Lovell playing shopkeeper at KidZania
Fun at Kidzania

This was one of the best days out we’ve had in ages, the kids absolutely loved it at Kidzania. It’s basically an indoor town run by kids – so they can become dentists, vets, chocolate makers, mechanics, shop-keepers, dancers, theatre performers, police, firemen – to name a few.

It’s designed for children aged 4 to 14 and kids can choose from 60 real-life activities and test their skills in a variety of professions.

Only children are allowed in each activity base, so they become independent in choosing what to do and play with other children and parents can watch from outside. There’s adult helpers in each one.

Kids are even given Kidzania money and can earn a salary after doing each job. At the end they can use this money to spend in the gift shop!

My five-year-old daughter loved playing nurse in the special care baby unit and my son loved being a pilot for British Airways. Click here to book tickets.

The Coca Cola London Eye

Oliver and Jasmine at the Coca Cola London Eye
The London Eye is a must

This is a must-do attraction. Not only do you get amazing panoramic views of central London, but it’s also a ride too!
At 135m, Coca-Cola London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. It’s easy to see why it has become the UK’s most popular paid for visitor attraction.
The kids were amazed to see the Eye from a distance, and then actually go on it, to the top! It stands on the South bank of the River Thames and from it you can see most of London’s landmarks.
In easy view is the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Shard, Buckingham Palace, The Tower and The Tower Bridge, St.Paul’s Cathedral, London parks and gardens and so much more.

It’s actually a good idea to go on the Eye on your first day so you can point out the landmarks to the kids and then go and visit them on foot.

Included in the price of your ticket is the 4D cinema, don’t forget to do this, and it’s better if you watch it before you go on the Eye as it gives the kids a good idea of what they will see whilst on the Eye.

Book online here and save 10 per cent, prices from £22.95. I’d recommend getting the fast-track tickets as queues can get really long at peak times.

Planet Hollywood

Oliver and Jasmine at Planet Hollywood

I remember going to Planet Hollywood as a child, so I was keen to take my children back. It’s moved location, but is on the same street on Haymarket.

The Hollywood-inspired American restaurant with cinema memorabilia is a really good fun restuarant. The burgers are epic and the atmosphere is brilliant.

The menu is varied with everything from ribs, fajitas and singapore noodles to salads, pizzas and meatballs. The quality was very high and there’s also a good kids menu.

You can also get your kids names on the big screen if you request it in advance.

Currently Planet Hollywood is giving diners a free child’s ticket to Shrek’s Adventure. Two children can go free with one paying adult.

I’d recommend getting off the tube at Trafalgar Square and watching the street entertainers before making your way to the restaurant.

Click here for Planet Hollywood promotions.

The London Transport Museum

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Kids can “drive” the buses at the London Transport museum

Kids go free at the London Transport Museum. My kids enjoyed sitting in the drivers seat on a red London bus and it was really interesting to see how the tubes have evolved over the years.

The kids were also given a stamp trail to follow and really enjoyed finding all the stamps.

You need to stay for at least two nights the first time you take the kids to London – although the longer you can go for the better. However, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s impossible to fit everything you want to do in on one visit!

 

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Why all mums NEED a Mumcation – and the perfect place for a childfree holiday

The Iberostar in Ibiza is the ultimate place for a girlie or romantic weekend away

It’s official – experts say a break away with friends is good for a Mum’s health – so it’s time to book that girlie holiday!

According to American psychology professor Dr Nava Silton, minibreaks without children are “essential” to a mother’s wellbeing and, therefore, good for the children too.

Knowing a proper break from domestic and family responsibilities is prescribed by those in the know, I felt much less guilt waving the kids goodbye and jetting off with my best friend on what is now known as a Mumcation.

I know getting a childfree weekend isn’t as easy as it sounds – but if you can wangle it, it’s oh SO worth the effort. The fact is, all mum’s need a break. To let our hair down and laugh. Swear and dress up. We want to sleep uninterrupted and shower alone.

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The Sky Lounge has amazing views over the Med

The destination

We chose Ibiza – not because we wanted to be out partying until 6am which the island is known for – far from it. But because it ticked all the boxes.

Easy to fly to from Leeds/Bradford with Jet2 – check, within a three-hour flight – check and hot – check.

When you tell people you’re going to Ibiza they assume it’s to party, but there’s much more to the island than clubbing. It was amazing – here’s why…

Hotel Iberostar Santa Eulalia

I’ve found the perfect hotel for either a girlie break or romantic weekend away with a stunning rooftop pool.

The main reason for choosing the Iberostar Ibiza was because it’s for adults only. If you’ve not got your own kids in tow you certainly don’t want to be listening to someone else’s screaming kids.

And it was bliss. Not a snotty nose in sight. Just like-minded adults who were there simply to relax. The gorgeous hotel, which is a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport is right on the beach. It’s located in one of the most secluded corners on the island in Santa Eulalia

The sky lounge and rooftop pool

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The stunning rooftop pool at the Iberostar Ibiza

If you’re going to stay at this hotel, you must stay in a Star Prestige Room – not because they are the best and most luxurious ones with balconies and floor to ceiling windows – but because only Star Prestige guests have access to the Sky Lounge – where the rooftop infinity pool is.

The gorgeous Leeds apartments you can stay in for just £60 each

This sixth-floor rooftop terrace which is simply amazing. The views out across the Mediterranean Sea are stunning.

Here you have at your disposal Balinese beds, hammocks, a shaded area, the infinity pool and an OPEN BAR! Watch the video above to see just how fabulous it is!

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We watched the sun go down whilst in the rooftop pool

We made good use of the open bar which was just that – you could help yourself to bottles of wine, beers, spirits, soft drinks and snacks.
The only thing which could have made it perfect would have been sunbed waiter service, but it was nice to be able to serve ourselves to exactly what we wanted – when we could be bothered to peel ourselves away from our sunbeds!
If you look down from the Sky Lounge you will see the hotel’s main pool on the ground floor. Nice as it was, we spent all our time on the rooftop.

This was my favourite area of the hotel by far. One morning – used to getting up early with the kids – I was first up by the pool and had the entire terrace to myself for over an hour as the sun came up.

Another night, after dinner Kelly and I watched the sun go down in the distance from the pool whilst having an after-dinner dip. We were the only ones up there, it really was a million miles away from the stresses of real life.

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The main pool at the Iberostar ibiza

All Inclusive

I’d recommend staying all inclusive. The Agave Buffet restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating is where you will have breakfast, lunch and evening meal.

We had freshly cooked delicious Ibizian, Spanish, Mediterranean and international cuisine. From indoors there’s views over the pool and from outside you can see the sea. It’s here you will also find the wine and beer taps you can help yourself to! The food was lovely.

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You can help yourself to the alcohol!

The hotel also has the SeaSoul Beach Club & Restaurant where the menu is as impressive as the views over the sea. This area is not part of the all inclusive though.

There’s a pool bar by the main pool where I fell in love with Aperol Spritz and was the perfect place to get our cocktails from 10.30am until midnight.

There’s also a second larger outdoor bar – the Es Vedrà Bar, where the evening entertainment takes place with a show every night. Inside there’s the Mastella Lounge Bar where soft drinks, cocktails and long drinks are served from 10:30 to midnight. It’s a great place to enjoy a gin and tonic and listen to the entertainment from afar.

If you’re feeling active there’s also plenty of activities at the hotel including cooking workshops, themed nights and a fitness centre. There’s also a spa with a wide range of treatments if you fancy the ultimate pamper! You really don’t need to leave the hotel grounds if you don’t want to.

Dining at the Iberostar
The food is delicious

Celebrity spotting at Nikki Beach

Just a stones throw from the hotel is Nikki Beach – an exclusive beach club. It’s so close to the hotel we could hear the music from the hotel’s rooftop terrace and decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon out.

It’s a gorgeous beach-front venue which consists of the brand’s signature beach club, restaurant, pool, octagon bar and lifestyle boutique.​ ​

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Nikki Beach knows how to party!

Here you can dine, or hire a bed by the pool. It’s glamorous and lively and a great place for people watching. Nikki Beach really does have that exclusive feel to it and is the place to see and be seen. Think thong bikinis, spraying champagne and beautiful people.

Nikki Beach knows how to party! The music – with the live DJ and saxophonist really did bring an amazing vibe and make you want to dance. The beach club is fun, stylish and with delicious food – but be prepared, it’s not cheap. It’s definitely somewhere you would go for a celebration or a treat – unless you’ve got bags of money!

It was mainly couples at the Iberostar Santa Eulalia, and that’s no surprise, it’s a very romantic hotel and part of the island.

But it was also perfect for our Mumcation. We ate, we drank, we gossipped and we slept. Ibiza does not have to be a “wild party” destination – it can be anything you want it to be.

I don’t visit many places twice because it’s a big wide world out there – but I’d absolutely go back to this hotel – maybe next time with my partner!

We all need time out. To refill that Mumma cup. I came home feeling refreshed, revived, and with more patience for my children. Yes I’d missed them, but I needed that break. Go get it booked!

Look out for offers and deals at the Iberostar, Santa Eulia here.

Although the hotel had everything we needed, it was nice for a change of scenery to really indulge and have a party afternoon. There’s also a good chance of seeing celebrities here!

For us, being in our 30s and not wanting to party into the early hours, an afternoon of drinking, partying and socialising was perfect. We were back at our hotel for our evening meal!

Mumcation perfection

Joanna Lovell and Kelly Taylor on their hotel balcony
Experts say Mums deserve a Mumcation

It was mainly couples at the Iberostar Santa Eulalia, and that’s no surprise, it’s a very romantic hotel and part of the island.

The London hotel you must add to your romantic mini-break list 

But it was also perfect for our Mumcation. We ate, we drank, we gossipped and we slept. Ibiza does not have to be a “wild party” destination – it can be anything you want it to be.

I don’t visit many places twice because it’s a big wide world out there – but I’d absolutely go back to this hotel – maybe next time with my partner!

We all need time out. To refill that Mumma cup. I came home feeling refreshed, revived, and with more patience for my children. Yes I’d missed them, but I needed that break. Go get it booked!

Look out for offers and deals at the Iberostar, Santa Eulia here.

Mansio Suites Leeds – Why staying in an apartment is better than a hotel

Mansio Suites, Leeds

Choosing a serviced apartment over a hotel is fast becoming a preferred on-trend choice when booking a mini-break.

And having stayed at the luxurious Mansio Suites apartments in Leeds – I can see why. You get more space, privacy, and they really are like a home away from home.

Staying in an apartment was a concept first geared towards business travellers but increasingly is being used by holidaymakers as a base for city breaks.

Essentially, a serviced apartment – known as an aparthotel is like any other holiday apartment, with one or more bedrooms, but you get the extra little luxuries that are usually found in hotels, such as toiletries, fresh linen and room cleaning.

Here’s some reasons why you might choose an apartment over a hotel:

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  • You are charged per apartment, opposed to per room – so often you can get a cheaper deal if there’s a few of you.
  • You will save money. If you’re staying in a hotel you might get room service, take drinks and snacks from the mini bar, and spend a fortune in the hotel bar. If you stay in an apartment you can take drinks to chill in the fridge, you can cook if you want to, and take your own snacks, and breakfast for the next day – saving you a fortune.
  • You have your own space – an apartment will have a lounge/diner area, a fully equipped kitchen and a separate bedroom.
  • They’re better for hosting – if you’re travelling with a group of friends you can meet up in one apartment with space and sofas, instead of crowding around a hotel bed.

Why the Royal London Lancaster Hotel should be on your to-do list 

Mansio Suites have two locations in Leeds, and we chose a one-bedroom apartment at Mansio Basinghall – which opened two years ago in a lovingly restored Victorian building.

They’re located right in the centre of Leeds, within a short walk of the train station and also a stone’s throw from the Albion Street car park if you’re taking the car.

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The spotlessly clean apartments have been decorated to a high standard, and feel “expensive.” Interiors are contemporary and stylish and just ooze an upmarket feel.

There’s a 24-hour reception and a cosy lobby area. Staff were friendly and helpful and knowledgeable about the local area.

The amazing new ROOFTOP spa in Yorkshire 

The apartments range from studios to two bedroom apartments. The bedrooms are sumptuous with a super king bed and the bathroom was spacious with Molton Brown toiletries and a rainfall shower. Fluffy bathrobes and slippers were also included so you really can make yourself at home.

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The apartment had everything we could have needed and more, from and smart TV with Netflix and a Nespresso Coffee machine to complimentary WIFI.

It certainly made a fabulous change to staying in a hotel.

Rockliffe Hall – so much more than just a spa