by Geri Wagner

Day Three Itinerary and options

Trafalgar Square
Buckingham Palace
Changing the Guards
Horse Riding Stables
St. James Park
St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Make a Brass Rubbing
Skyline Balloons
China Town

You'll want to get going early today as you're set to watch either the Change of the Guard at Buckingham Palace or the Horse Guards Parade around nearby St. James Park. I say 'either', because the Change of the Guard does not take place every day. Some months, it occurs on odd days, some months on other days.

If it's not a day for the Change of the Guard, you can still watch the Horse Guards Parade, which is held daily. You might want to check with the  Buckingham Palace Visitor's Office to inquire ahead of time.

At Leicester Square, stop and watch the giant cuckoo clock at the Swiss Centre. Hopefully, it will be chiming the 9 o'clock (a.m.) hour. Then you can walk down toward Trafalgar Square, taking Whitcomb Street toward the Thames.

As you pass the statue of Charlie Chaplin in Leicester Square, have everyone try doing a little Charlie Chaplin walk as you go (unless you are travelling with teenagers who will die from embarrassment if you do something like that when they are around.) With teens about, just give Charlie a teensy wave that hardly anyone would notice except Charlie himself, and keep going.

Trafalgar Square

It is said that Trafalgar Square is the exact centre of London. It's a great place to people watch and let children run about, chasing pigeons while you think (not too deeply, however, since you must watch the children) about Lord Nelson, whose corpulum graces the square.

If you happen to be at Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve, you're apt to get wet, as people like to throw one another and perhaps even themselves, into the two pools which flank Nelson's column. We avoided Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve with our children.

Nelson's Column which is the centrepiece of Trafalgar Square was built to honour Lord Nelson for his victory in Spain in 1805. The column on which Lord Nelson stands is 185 feet high and Lord Nelson himself is a massive 18ft high although you wouldn't know it when you look at him from the ground.

The four massive Bronze panels which decorating the base of the column are cast from the guns of French guns captured during the Napoleonic wars. A fir tree that is set up in the square each Christmas is an Annual gift from Norway to say thank you to the British for their help during World War II.

Trafalgar Square is probably most famous for its pigeons. Tourists are discouraged from feeding the pigeons although this does not seem to stop them. After all, what would Trafalgar Square be without pigeons? Some people's earliest memories as a child are of feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Across the road is the National Gallery, which has excellent (free) trails for kids to follow, looking at paintings along the way. They open at 10 a.m. and admission is free.

Nearby is The Mall (leading to Buckingham Palace) and St James's Park, which, with its huge range of waterfowl, is a great place to bird watch (and feed.) But you need to go to Buckingham Palace first if you want to see the Change of the Guard.

That occurs around 11:30 a.m., but you won't be able to see anything if you saunter over there at 11:20. Know what I mean?

Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews

Not far from Buckingham Palace are the Royal Mews. No cats here that we can mention. Just horses. Unless you've arrived well before 11 a.m., you've missed the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which takes place daily at 11:27 a.m.

From a kid's perspective (I'll never grow up, never grow up) there's basically nothing to do around Buck Palace otherwise except to stare through the gates at a big grey building.

Changing the Guard

The Queen's guard and a musical band leave Wellington Barracks and march to the Palace. If it's a wet day, the event may not take place. You need to arrive early so as to get a place to see. If it's an off day for whatever reason, you can still see the Horse Guards Parade, daily through Saturday at 11 a.m., and at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

In this parade, the Queen's Life Guard leaves Hyde Park Barracks and travels via Hyde Park Corner and Constitution Hill to The Mall. The Guard consists of three officers and 40 men but is reduced when the Queen is away. The musicians do not play in wet weather. The ceremony lasts approximately 25 minutes.

The Changing takes place daily during the summer (May, June, July) and on alternate days in winter (August to April).

The Palace is the official residence of the Queen and has been since Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. Should you see the Royal Standard flying (that's a flag) you will know that Her Royal Highness is 'at home'.

Buckingham Palace stands in about 40 acres of garden. The interior houses the Throne Room, Music Room, State Dining Room, many beautifully decorated apartments, and a gallery of paintings and other works of art. The royal apartments are to be found in the north wing of the Palace. The State Rooms at the Palace are open to visitors during each August and September.

Tickets are available each day from the Ticket Office in Green Park. Pre-booking for individuals or groups.

You can also view HM The Queen's carriage horses, carriages and harnesses, including the Coronation Coach, built in 1762.

Horse Riding Stables

If there's an equestrian in your midst, you may want to contact Westway Stables 20 Stable Way, W10 (020 8964 2140) for a bit of an afternoon ride. To get there from St. James Park tube stop, take the District Line to Paddington Station, then look for the Hammersmith and City Line, which you'll take to the Latimer Road/Ladbroke Grove tube stop. Open 10am-6pm daily.

Riding lessons for all levels take place throughout the year, and during the holidays the centre runs an 'own a pony' week where children can look after and care for a pony all week and ride twice a day.

Feed the Birds in St. James Park

This is a great place to relax a bit and let the kids feed the birds. If you hold your hands out with a bit of seed or bread on them, birds will land on you (gently). There's sure to be an old hand at this about who can demonstrate.

Head back toward Trafalgar Square and stop at St. Martin in the Fields for lunch, maybe some noon time musical entertainment and to create a brass rubbing.

St. Martin in the Fields

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 4JJ, is located on the East side of Trafalgar Square, where this wonderful monument to Nelson is erected. Originally surrounded by fields, the church now overlooks one of the busiest squares in London.

Enjoy a snack in the Cafe in the Crypt (a great setting for tonight's ghost story back at the hotel!) This self-service cafe-restaurant is open from 10am until 8pm Mondays to Saturdays and from noon until 8pm on Sundays. You can enjoy a hot drink, a glass of wine, a full meal or a snack.

St Martin-in-the-Fields has welcomed talented musicians to perform in Lunchtime Concerts for over 50 years - from highly acclaimed young soloists to choirs from all over the world; from promising new ensembles, to established professionals.

These concerts, which take place every Monday, Tuesday and Friday at 1.05pm, and are free of charge. 

Make a Brass Rubbing

Follow up with a visit to the Brass Rubbing Centre located in the Crypt, St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. Here's a unique opportunity for all the family to make pictures, with a simple technique, of Britain's royalty, medieval and Tudor characters and unusual Celtic designs. The crypt workshop supplies specialist materials, a choice of 90 plaques and friendly instruction.

Skyline Balloon

From St. James Park tube stop, take the District Line to the Tower Hill or London Bridge stop for a fun balloon ride at the Skyline Balloon.

A stroll along the Thames is always nice as you wander back to the tube stop and up to Leicester Square.

China Town

If you're looking for more to see and great places to get some dinner, try walking through London's China Town, just behind (or so it seems) Leicester Square. You can have a grand time just looking in windows, people watching, and gnoshing on treats. You may even get lucky and spot a game of Chinese Chess going on. I defy you to figure the game out. My husband videotaped an entire game so he could bring it back home to the states and study it. A few years later, we taped about twelve episodes of "My So Called Life" over it.

See also
Orientation to London with Kids here
Day One Itinerary here
Day Two Itinerary here
Day Four Itinerary here
Day Five Itinerary here

article by Geri Wagner
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