Our recent trip to London was my third and since on one of those trips we lived there for a month, I have definitely had ample opportunities to explore much of the central part of the city, visiting some well-loved monuments like Westminster Abbey and Kensington Palace more than once. Until this trip my favorite means of getting around has always been my two feet and a battery of double-decker buses, but on the recommendation of a friend, I decided that on this trips we’d go for a bike ride in London courtesy of Fat Tire Bike Tours.
We started the day, the second full one of our trip, outside the Queensway Tube stop just north of Hyde Park. We were met by a very friendly young man who led us up the street and suited us up with helmets and bikes. I made reservations online and paid in advance for a bike that fit Tommy and tandem bike for Teddy. Everyone’s bike had a name and a squeaky toy instead of a bell.
Travel-with-kids tip: Fat Tire offers baby seats, tandems, and kid-sized bikes. You don’t have to make a reservation in advance, although they recommend that you do so if you’re bringing kids so that they can be sure they have what you need waiting for you on the day of your tour.
Our guide’s name was Dillon, an Irish actor fresh off the boards with lots of amusing stories to share. Looking at him I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that he recently played one of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan. Here he is in front of Buckingham Palace telling us about Michael Fagan who on that very day in 1982 broke into the palace and ended up sitting on the Queen’s bed while she slept.
Everyone else was interested except Teddy, who decided it was his job to make sure that everyone’s squeaky toy worked.
A little bit further on the guards stopped me and Teddy at the driveway to Clarence House, home of the Prince of Wales (we were behind because an Italian family had to admire Teddy and take a picture of him on his tandem). The rest of the group waited for us on the other side, which meant we were all only feet away when HRH Prince Charles himself pulled in riding in the back of this car:
(I know. I didn’t get a very good picture. But you really could see him, I promise.)
Then it was onto the Horse Guards Parade, which Dillon informed us is the future home of beach volleyball during the 2012 Olympics but which Teddy saw as just one big sandbox.
I didn’t get a picture of one of my favorite moments on the tour, which was riding through Admiralty Arch into Trafalgar Square. This has to be one of my top places to visit in London; I love the lions, the fountain, Saint Martin’s, and the statue of Nelson presiding over all. To arrive on a bike through that arch in the middle of traffic gave me a thrill (it was also a little scary to do with Teddy on the back of the bike, which is why there are no photos). No less because we got a good view of the “nose” that sticks out of one of the walls right at the perfect height for a man on a horse to touch. It is reputed to represent the Duke of Wellington’s nose (which was sizeable) and for years royal soldiers have touched it for good luck as they ride through.
After a nice long break for lunch we biked around Westminster, stopping for a graphic description of Guy Fawkes’ public execution outside the Houses of Parliament that actually made my stomach turn a little bit, making it just about perfect for an 8-year-old boy. We stopped to snap a few pictures in Saint James’ Park:
and then headed back to Hyde Park to ride along The Serpentine, full of paddleboats.
The last stop on our tour was the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, which I had never before visited. It was a warm and sunny day (hot by London terms) and the circular cascade of water was full of children.
The rest of our group waited patiently as the both boy made a cooling circuit. “You think this is hot!” Teddy babbled to anyone he encountered as he traipsed through the water, which flows in way that is meant to represent Diana’s life, now turbulent, now smooth. “In Delaware you could fry and egg on the sidewalk! It was 102 degrees the day we left. ” Reactions varied from blank incomprehension to amusement.
Our bike ride in London was the Royal London Tour, which I’d recommend for anyone who’d like to see the main monuments in Central London from the outside and also get a good idea of the lay of the land. It would be perfect for a first-time visitor offering both a historic and geographic overview, although I certainly enjoyed it as well since it offered me a completely different view of a familiar area. I never before realized quite how much of the city is dedicated parkland.
It’s also a great tour to do with kids. The stories about each monument are fun (and short!) rather than pedantic and most of the time the ride is in the parks, away from traffic. It’s only eight miles start to finish and is basically flat. The pace of the tour is quite genteel with numerous stops including a generous lunch break. I also consider the tour a bargain – four hours of exercise and entertainment for about $115 (this amount includes the really cool t-shirt we bought for Tommy, but not our pub lunch. If you wanted, you could pack a picnic to save money).
I highly recommend a Fat Tire Bike Tour in London and would definitely check them out on visits to Barcelona, Berlin, and Paris. Not only was Dillon charming, friendly, and well-informed, he was very solicitous of everyone’s comfort, offering repeatedly to take over for me on the ride back (I didn’t take him up on his offer; I may have just turned 40 but I’ve got legs thank you very much!). Although in fact, we were all pretty tired at the end of the day, especially Teddy:
I think that’s a sign of a successful outing, don’t you?