We aren’t the most adventurous travellers. Our family holidays are either in all-inclusive hotels or self-catering apartments in European coastal resorts. We don’t ski and aren’t interested in cruises or walking holidays, and we only go camping in supportive groups.
The hubster and I love the bustle of urban life and get restless lounging pool-side, but city breaks have become much less appealing since we multiplied.
Last year, for our 10th wedding anniversary we were lucky enough to spend four days in Rome, while our kids stayed with my brother and sister in law in the UK.
It was a blissful break, spent wandering around this vast outdoor museum, without any schedule. We walked for miles every day, stopping for a cold beer in a square, or for the second pizza of the day down a quiet cobbled side street.
There was no complaining or dragging of feet; no need for endless toilet stops or campaigning for ice cream. We just went wherever we felt like going and it was awesome.
The closest we have come to a city break since then is the weekend we just spent – in London – our home town, courtesy of Merino Hospitality.
Caio Merino and his wife Louise run the business. They offer boutique accommodation in Central London and, being parents themselves, have really thought about how to make a family feel most at home while on holiday.
We stayed in a gorgeous three bedroom mews house just behind Russell Square station, right in the heart of Bloomsbury – perfect for a stroll into Covent Garden and just a five minute walk from the British Museum. The mews was so quiet, we played football for 20 minutes without being disturbed by any cars.
The Merinos obviously have impeccable taste, but they’ve also designed the house to be family friendly. Wooden floors throughout means that we didn’t have to worry too much about the peanuts being distributed liberally around the living room (I think we found them all before we left); there weren’t any sharp edges to the tables and no glass or china on display. There were plenty of buttons for the kids to press – one opened the skylight automatically, another closed the blinds. Caio seemed very relaxed about all the running around and screaming while he was showing us round (and yes, I am talking about the kids – we adults managed to contain our excitement).
The kids loved having a double bed each. We put them in the large room with a mezzanine floor, so they could play together until bedtime, when they had their own space – one overlooking the other.
Best of all was the secret room… a little eves space at the top of the house which was cleverly kitted out with a chalk board, flashing coloured lights, a huge beanbag and lots of Lego. M was in there for hours.
The bathrooms were immaculate, packed with beautiful skin and hair care goodies and a huge shower. The kitchen was full of Joseph utensils and the highest quality appliances, including a kettle which displayed the water temperature (it’s the little things…). A hamper full of fruit, breakfast cereals, biscuits and other goodies, milk and juice in the fridge and a bottle of wine were welcome additions and meant we didn’t need to shop for any food during our stay. There was even a case of colouring pencils and paints to keep the little ones amused.
We had planned to have a walk and then find a nice restaurant for an early dinner, but the kids were happy playing in the house, the hubster was asleep on the comfy sofa (“I’ve never liked our sofas” he said) – so we got a takeaway and watched a film on Netflix (free of charge).
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Here are my tips for having a successful city break in London with kids:
- Go to the museums or any tourist spot early in the morning. Even the busiest London streets don’t fill up with shoppers and locals until around 11am (the tourists are usually the early risers).
- Take healthy snacks with you. I try to offer my kids a bag of peanuts or a snack bar before they start thinking about sweets or chocolate.
- Use public transport to get around, the kids will love it. The bus network is extensive and the underground is quick. Better than being stuck in traffic in a taxi for hours.
- The best way to get your bearings in Central London is to start with either an open-top tour bus or a river boat/river taxi. London is a huge city, but several of the most interesting galleries and museums are bunched together in one area – as are the best shopping streets; theatres etc.
- Take some small outdoor toys or a football: you never know when you might have a chance to run around a park or square and the kids will be grateful for the change of pace.
- The promise of a browse around the museum shop, or a toy shop at the end of a busy day of sightseeing might just keep the kids going for another hour.
Staying in a home away from home in a big city like London makes more sense than having to get a family room or two adjoining rooms in a hotel. We didn’t have to worry about the kids’ behaviour, and once they were in bed we didn’t have to turn off the TV and have an early night – which we would have done in a hotel. Websites like Airbnb can be a minefield – and then you’ve still got the worry that something might get damaged, and the owners are unlikely to be around if something goes wrong.
I don’t know if this sort of thing exists in cities like Rome or Paris, but if they do, we would seriously consider a city break abroad with the kids.
As my nine year old pointed out, it was like being at home, only much, much better.
Merino Hospitality kindly let us stay free of charge in exchange for my honest review. Rates start at £400 + VAT per night. Contact Merino directly for the best prices.