A Tour of Buckingham Palace

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to the public over the summer and it’s a wonderful opportunity to be shown around the Queen’s London home. The tour takes you round all the grandest rooms of the palace including the Throne Room, the Ballroom where State Banquets are held, and the lavishly decorated official drawing rooms.

This year’s tour includes entrance to an exhibition on 90 Years of Style from the Queen’s Wardrobe. It’s particularly exciting as the Queen’s wedding dress and Coronation dress will be on display together for the first time ever.

The tour takes you to nineteen of the State Rooms which the Queen uses for ceremonial occasions and entertains official visitors. You’ll see paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.

We visited Buckingham Palace last summer and we are still talking about it. Harry, my 9-year-old, kept going back to the start of the tour so that he could keep climbing up the Grand Staircase, pretending he was the Queen. The visit really fired up the boys’ imaginations and they have been holding coronations for their toys ever since. I have given up telling them that it’s “crowning”, not “coronating” – apparently coronating sound far grander.

Here’s what they thought about it. You’ll find my tips for families at the end.

EdwardBy Edward, age 11

Buckingham Palace is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Great Britain. It’s horribly busy but it’s completely worth it to visit the State Rooms. It is one of the oldest working palaces in the world and the State Rooms are so beautiful and grand.

Buckingham Palace actually started out as Buckingham House owned by the Duke of Buckingham. King George III bought the house for his wife as a private retreat. When George IV became king he began turning the house into a palace. He appointed the architect John Nash, who was later dismissed by Parliament for spending too much. The architect, Edward Blore was later employed to finish the palace for the new Queen Victoria.

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The tour of the State Rooms begins at the Grand Entrance. This entrance is reserved for foreign ambassadors and diplomats. You’ll see the Quadrangle, the courtyard in the middle of the palace, where processions form for special occasions. On a state visit, the mounted band of the Household Division also plays here to welcome the visiting Head of State and their entourage.

At the end of the Quadrangle looms the magnificence of the Grand Entrance, with its many columns and facades. Inside, it is even more magnificent with its red carpet and fireplace made from a single block of marble. Upstairs the Grand Staircase invites you up with its elegant curls. Through the Guard Chamber, which looks like the inside of a giant jewel box, you’ll find the Green Drawing Room with its green walls, green sofas and green curtains.


Continued by Harry, age 9

Buckingham Palace is an outstanding place to visit. It is so historical, whether you’re in the Ballroom or walking up the beautiful Grand Staircase. But before you go exploring let me tell you one thing. You will see loads and loads of gold! And if you’re thinking about gold doors, gold chairs and gold tables you should see the Ballroom.

When you have finished going around the beautiful Green Drawing Room you walk into the Throne Room. All the other rooms you have walked through prepare you for this moment. When you walk through the grand archway you will almost definitely be looking not at the magnificent walls but at the velvet canopy and beneath that, Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh’s official thrones.

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Did you know Queen Victoria was the first monarch to make use of the Throne Room and that nearly all the official Royal Family wedding photos are taken in there?

One of my highlights was the Ballroom because when we went it was all set up for a state banquet. It was so majestic! There were hundreds of glasses and gold plates everywhere!

As you walk around you will find out lots of interesting facts about the Royal Family. For example, the Queen’s three eldest children and her grandson, Prince William, were baptised in the Music Room by the Archbishop of Canterbury with water brought from the River Jordan. And in the exquisite White Drawing Room there’s even a secret entrance behind a mirror so that the Royal Family can enter the State Rooms from their private apartments.

In the famous gardens you’ll find the Family Pavilion. This is a great place for children to play as they can dress up in clothes from the Dressing Up Box and pose in front of cardboard thrones. You can also work out the place settings for a Royal Banquet using cardboard cut-outs of cutlery, plates and glasses.


Be prepared to queue: We went on the first day of the Summer Opening and the queues were horrendous. We had a timed entrance slot on our ticket but had to queue for at least an hour before we got in. The queues might be slightly better if you go in September.

No pushchairs are allowed in the State Rooms: You will need to leave your pushchair at the security area before you start the tour. You can pick up a baby carrier or hip seat for a toddler instead.

Going to the toilet is an event in itself: There are no public toilets at the start of the tour which can be something of a problem if you’ve been queueing for an hour to get into the Palace in the first place. The public toilets are in the garden, at the end of the tour. But if you say you’re desperate, helpful staff will lift up all sorts of barriers and give you a VIP escort to some toilets halfway around the tour. Sadly, they didn’t look like the ones the Queen uses which would have been even more thrilling.

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open daily from 23rd July until 2nd October. Adults, £21.50; children, £12.30; under 5s, free; family ticket, £55.30.

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The Best Things to do with Kids in Paris

The Best Things to do with Kids in ParisParis is top of most people’s travel wish lists and with good reason – it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But how easy is it to visit with children?

The good news is that the city has more than enough to entertain every member of the family, whatever their age. You can easily combine visits to the cultural sights with trips to the numerous parks and those all-important stops for ice cream and hot chocolate. The trick is finding those activities that children will find fun and engaging. Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Paris with kids.

Paris, like most big cities, can get very busy, with long queues at many of the most popular sights. With this in mind I’ve included tips on avoiding queues wherever possible.

Look for the gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame

The gruesome monsters at the top of Notre Dame are some of the most famous gargoyles in the world. If you climb all 387 steps of the tower’s spiral staircase you’ll be able to see them close up and be rewarded with spectacular views over Paris. This is the world made famous by Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Don’t miss the chance to go inside the 800-year-old Gothic cathedral where Napoleon had himself crowned. Arrive before it opens to avoid long queues to climb the tower.

The cathedral of Notre Dame is open every day and visits are free. The tower can be climbed every day from 10am until 6.30pm. It is open until 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays in July and August. Adults, €12; under 18s, free.

Watch a puppet show at the Jardin du Luxembourg

The beautiful Luxembourg Gardens are home to the oldest puppet theatre in France – there are shows three times a week and every day during the school holidays. These grand gardens, complete with statue-lined promenades, fountains and old men playing chess under the trees, are a Parisian institution and the perfect place for children to let off steam. There’s a good playground, sandpits, a vintage merry-go-round and pony rides. You can even hire model boats to sail on the pond.

Visit the bird market on Île de la Cité

Every Sunday, the flower market near Notre Dame is transformed into a bird market. You’ll hear the squawking and singing of the birds well before you arrive and your children will love seeing all the parrots, canaries, budgies and mynah birds for sale. You can cuddle rabbits here too.

Find the best hot chocolate in Paris

The hot chocolate in Paris is thick and creamy and more like melted chocolate than the watered down version we get in the UK. It’s usually served in a jug, with extra cream to make it even more indulgent. It’s fun for kids to embark on a quest to find the best hot chocolate in the city.

We like the Belle Époque splendour of Angelina’s near the Louvre where Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn used to come. Another favourite is Un Dimanche à Paris on a cobbled passageway on the Left Bank. The rich hot chocolate here comes with the very welcome addition of three miniature cakes.

Brave the underground tunnels of the Catacombes

The bones of over six million people have been carefully arranged along the walls of the underground tunnels which run under the city. These are the bones of the victims of the French Revolution, the Plague and the guillotine. There were so many deaths that by the late 18th century the public burial pits were overflowing and so millions of bones were transferred down into these old mineshafts.

The 45-minute tour takes you down a spiral staircase and along some of the tunnels. You’ll only see a fraction of what is down here – the tunnel network is 200 miles long and during the Second World War they were used as hideouts by both members of the Resistance and the Nazis.

The Catacombes are open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am until 8.30pm. Adults, €12; children, €5. To avoid the queues, get here before it opens or book a guided tour – these cost more but you won’t have to queue.

Watch a magic show in the Musée de la Magie

Best Things to do with Kids in ParisThis quirky museum in the Marais is a must for aspiring magicians. Down in its 16th-century vaulted cellars you’ll find a treasure trove of tricks, props and illusions from the 18th century to the present day. It’s all brilliantly interactive, with distorting mirrors, secret boxes, handles to turn and illusions to figure out.

All kids will love the magic show which is included in the price of the ticket.

The Musée de la Magie is open on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm until 7pm. Adults, €9; children, €7.

Take the bus around some of the best sights in Paris

Why pay for a sightseeing bus tour when you can go on a local bus for a fraction of the cost? The number 69 bus takes you past the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Marais and Bastille and finishes at the Père Lachaise Cemetery where famous figures like Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin and Jim Morrison are buried.

Be a news presenter in the TV Studio at Cité des Enfants

This science and technology museum is widely considered to be the best museum in Paris for children. It’s crammed with fun and interactive activities to help children explore scientific phenomena. In the area for two to seven-year-olds you can work with other children to build a house or fix a car, take part in circus acts or find objects using your senses.

The five to 12-year-olds can head to the TV Studio to present the news and learn how to use a camera. They can also measure how fast they run and play water games.

The Cité des Enfants is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Adults, €9; under 25s, €7. Sessions last for an hour and a half.

Take a boat trip down the Seine

how to plan a trip to paris with a childMake the getting around part of the fun. Taking a boat trip down the River Seine is a great way to get your bearings on your first day. The boats, which travel from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and back, go past many of the most iconic sights in Paris. The tours usually last an hour and the audio commentary tells you more about what you’re seeing.

There are several companies. We liked Bâteaux Parisiens.

Ride on a merry-go-round

Your children will be delighted to find old-fashioned carrousels scattered all over the city, many of which are over 100 years old. Quite a few of them are in front of some of the most famous sights in Paris – the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Hôtel de Ville – so they make a great reward for tired little legs while you’re out seeing the sights.

Make it even more fun by copying the French children and playing the jeu de bagues. You’re given a stick and you have to try and spear the metal rings as you spin around.

Climb up the Eiffel Tower

how to plan a trip to paris with your childMy own children have assured me that you can’t go to Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower. If you really want to impress everyone back home then you should climb up the stairs instead of taking the lift. Not only much more fun, it’s also cheaper and the queues for the stairs are much shorter than those for the lift.

The stairs will take you to the second level and you can get the elevator to the top from there. To avoid the longest queues, book tickets in advance from the website. You can only book tickets online for the elevator. Tickets for the stairs are sold at the Tower.

The Eiffel Tower is open every day from 9am until 12.45am from mid June to early September, and from 9.30am until 11pm for the rest of the year. 

Do a treasure hunt around the Louvre

Paris has some of the best art museums in the world so it’s a great place to get your kids excited about art. If you’re going to one of the big galleries, be sure to take it at their pace. Work out what you’re interested in seeing and just do those. That way you won’t get museum fatigue and you can spend time looking at what you’re most interested in.

My kids loved the Impressionists and the clock at the Musée d’Orsay and then we headed to the wonderful Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s spectacular series of waterlily paintings. This is a particularly good museum for children as it’s less busy and has more space for you to sit and gaze at the massive paintings.

For modern art, head for the Pompidou Centre. Children will love its crazy, colourful exterior and the interactive exhibits in the Children’s Gallery. Be sure to go up to the top floor for panoramic views over Paris and then spend time enjoying all the street entertainers in the square outside.

If you’re going to the Louvre, I’d recommend taking a fun tour like the Treasure Hunts offered by THATLou. In teams of two to four you follow the clues to various works of art in a scavenger hunt around the museum.

Eat lots of cake

With an amazing pâtisserie on virtually every street corner you can feel justified in indulging your sweet tooth while you’re in Paris. You’ll find macarons in every colour of the rainbow, lemon tarts, éclairs, Baba au Rhum and Paris-Brest. They’ll come beautifully wrapped in a pyramid parcel ready for you to enjoy beside the Seine or in one of Paris’s wonderful parks.

Cuddle a cat in the Café des Chats

The Best Things to do with Kids in ParisCat lovers will adore the Cat Café in the Marais where you can find over a dozen cats wandering around, curled up on chairs or sleeping in corners while you enjoy lunch or afternoon cake.

The cats have all been rescued and have been specially chosen for their sociability. They can all be cuddled (unless they’re sleeping) but young children will need to be supervised.

Le Café des Chats is open on Tuesday to Sunday from 12pm until 10.30pm. 

Have an ice cream beside the Seine

Berthillon on the Île Saint-Louis serves some of the most famous ice creams in the world. When you’ve bought yours, follow the steps down to the banks of the River Seine. It’s a lovely spot to eat your ice cream while you walk beside the river, stopping to look at all the barges along the riverbank.

Learn how to make éclairs in a cooking class

Children can have a lot of fun learning how to create their own sweet treats by taking a cooking class. At Cook’n With Class in Montmartre, six to 12-year-olds are taught how to make molten lava cakes and French jam shortbreads. The whole family can take part in a two-hour choux pastry workshop at L’Atelier des Sens and learn how to make éclairs. Both classes are in English.


For more tips and ideas on travelling to Paris with kids, take a look at How to make City Trips Fun for Kids: The Leap & Hop Travel Guides and How to plan a one-to-one trip to Paris with your child.

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The Ten Ways to Make your Flight More Glamorous

The Ten Ways to Make Your Flight More GlamorousUnless you’re travelling first class, flying, particularly on the no-frills airlines, can be almost as unglamorous as it gets. You often leave horribly early in the morning, you spend ages in queues at the airport and then you’re squashed into an airline seat for hours on end.

But I want my flight to be less like this…The Ten Ways to Make your Flight more Glamorous

And a lot more like this…

Fortunately there are things you can do to make your flight more glamorous than grim.

Ever had one of those moments when you realise that you’re doing it all wrong?  A few years ago I was queuing up to board an Easyjet flight with two small children. The kids were whining and mucking around, I was feeling stressed about getting us seats together on the plane and trying to balance a cup of coffee with one hand and wipe a child’s nose with the other. Then I looked up and noticed the immaculately dressed woman at the front of the queue. She was carrying a Longchamp bag and flicking through a copy of Vogue, looking as if she was about to walk into a first class cabin, not onto a budget airline.

It got me thinking. She clearly didn’t see the flight as an ordeal to get through. She was acting as if she was travelling first class. And why not? Since that moment I’ve realised that you can make your flight as glamorous as you want it to be. You’ll feel less stressed and enjoy the flight a lot more if you follow these ten tips to make you feel as if you’re flying first class when you’re stuck in standard.

Pack a gourmet picnic

Packing a variety of foodie treats is guaranteed to make your flight feel a lot more luxurious, especially when everyone else is either gazing mournfully at their plastic tray of airline food or ordering an overpriced sandwich from the air hostess.

Bring along a selection of your favourite sandwiches, some fresh fruit, carrot sticks and dips as well as pudding treats like mini cheesecakes or chocolate mousse. If we’re flying over breakfast time I’ll always buy some juices, yoghurt pots and pastries from one of the cafés at the airport. Setting it all out once we’re in the air makes breakfast feel so much more special.

Be stylish but comfortable

Wear clothes that look good but make sure that they’re comfortable enough to wear for a long period of time. I usually opt for smart, but not tight, trousers, with a long-sleeved top and a jacket I can put in the overhead locker. Avoid wearing fabric that’s easily creased.

Create the perfect in-flight toiletry bag

The Ten Ways to Make Your Flight More GlamorousWhen you fly in business or first class, you’re given a wash bag filled with a couple of toiletries, usually a toothbrush, lip salve and hand cream. Why not go one better and create your own personal toiletry bag complete with all those things designed to make you feel special? I always pack hand cream, a hydration spray, tinted lip balm and eye gel in a nice wash bag. Make sure you don’t bring anything bigger than 100ml and transfer it into a clear plastic bag to go through security at the airport.

Stay hydrated

The low humidity inside an aircraft cabin means that moisture evaporates from the body more quickly when you’re flying and this can lead to dehydration. You can help combat this by drinking lots of water – it’s best to avoid alcohol and caffeine. Buy a big bottle of water in the airport lounge after you’ve gone through security.

You can help keep your skin at its glamorous best by applying a moisture serum on your face before you travel and regularly using hand cream, lip balm and a hydration spray during the flight.

Wear a scarf

The Ten Ways to Make your Flight More GlamorousI always wear a scarf when I’m flying, usually a pashmina or a scarf big and soft enough to double up as a luxurious blanket if the air conditioning is too fierce. It can even be folded up to use as a pillow if you want to go to sleep.

Bring along a small make-up bag

The cheapest flights often leave horribly early in the morning so if I’ve had to get up really early I won’t put make-up on. You can get away with tinted moisturiser, a tinted lip balm and an under eye concealer with a light reflector, like the YSL Touche Éclat pen at that time of day.

It is nice to look a big more glamorous when you arrive so I always pack a mirror, mascara, a small eyeshadow palette and a cream blusher that doubles up as a lipstick to apply before landing.

Pack it all in a gorgeous bag

Carrying a beautiful bag always makes me feel more glamorous so I pack everything I need for the flight in a handbag large enough to fit it all in but stylish enough to make me feel good. It’s helpful to have a bag with compartments in which you can slot your passport and ticket. There’s nothing very glamorous about being that person in the boarding queue who has to empty out the entire contents of her bag in order to find her boarding pass. I speak from bitter experience.

Be as comfortable as you can on the flight

It’s really important for me to feel comfortable if I’m going to be stuck in a small space for a long period of time. I always take my shoes off as soon as I get on the flight and put on soft, comfy socks. Cashmere socks are the most luxurious choice.

Keep the children entertained with quiet activities

Dos and Don'ts of Flying with ChildrenThere’s nothing less glamorous on a flight than having to cope with bored, hungry and irritable children so be sure to bring along healthy snacks and plenty of activities to entertain yours. We really like the Usborne sticker books, wipeable activity cards and plenty of books.

For more ideas, take a look at The Dos and Don’ts of Flying with Children

Treat everyone to new magazines

I always buy a magazine to take on a flight, sometimes two if it’s a long flight and I want to save one to read beside the pool on holiday. The children always choose a magazine for themselves as well and they’re not allowed to peek at it until we’re on the plane so that they’ve got something new to look at. We all pack books too – flying can be a great time for a good long read.

What about you? Do you have any tips on making your flight more glamorous?

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City Breaks with Kids: Bath

Bath is, quite simply, one of the loveliest cities in England. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, it’s the only city in the UK to be classed as a World Heritage Site. It’s not hard to see why when you first glimpse the gorgeous honey-coloured stone of the Georgian buildings and visit the spectacular Roman Baths. There are delights on every corner, from the numerous museums and parks to the wonderful independent shops and restaurants.

It’s a fantastic city to visit as a family. It’s small enough to explore on foot and there’s more than enough to entertain children and adults alike. What’s more, it makes an ideal base to see more of the local area – the cities of Bristol and Wells, Stonehenge, Longleat and the Cotswolds are all nearby.

Walk in the footsteps of the Romans at the Roman Baths

A visit to the Roman Baths is an absolute must – it’s one of the finest spas of the ancient world. Naturally hot water has been rising up from the spring here for thousands of years. In the 1st century AD, the Romans built a magnificent temple and bathing complex where they came to bathe in the sacred waters, pray and seek healing.

You can still tread on the ancient stone pavements where the Romans walked, see the ruins of the temple to the Goddess Minerva and the various bathing rooms. It’s a great place to find out more about the Ancient Romans as there are displays of all the items that have been excavated from the site – thousands of coins, jewellery, writing tools, drinking cups, perfume pots and, best of all, the Roman Curse Tablets, on which the Romans wrote messages to Minerva on lead and pewter, cursing people who wronged them.

The children’s audioguide is excellent and there are characters in costume at the Baths every day to help visitors learn more about Roman Britain. During the school holidays there are family activities on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Don’t forget to taste the spa water at the end of your tour. You’ll probably find the warm water as revolting as we did!

The Roman Baths are open every day from 9am until 6pm. You can see them by torchlight in July and August when they remain open until 10pm. Adults, £15; children, £11.25; under 6s free. 

Try the Bath Bun at Sally Lunn’s

You can’t leave Bath without trying the original Bath Bun, created over 300 years ago by a French refugee. Part bun, part cake, part bread, Sally Lunn’s bun was really popular in Georgian England, where it was served for breakfast and afternoon tea.

Sally Lunn’s is in one of the oldest houses in Bath. You can visit the original kitchen used by Sally, with its faggot oven and Georgian range. The buns themselves are delicious and served with a sweet or savoury topping. We chose lemon curd, ginger butter and the most incredible cinnamon butter we’ve ever tasted.

Sally Lunn’s, 4 North Parade Passage, is open every day from 10am until 9.30pm. Sundays, from 11am until 9pm and on Fridays and Saturdays until 10pm.

Raid the dressing up box at the Fashion Museum

You can try on corsets, top hats, Victorian dresses, bonnets and wigs in the brilliant dressing up room at the Fashion Museum. The museum has one of the world’s best collections of historic and fashionable clothes so you’ll find everything from Tudor shirts, 18th-century French silk dresses with hooped petticoats, Jane Austen-style Regency muslin frocks and beautiful satin shoes from the 1800s right up to the Roland Mouret Galaxy dress.

The Children’s Trail showcases ten historical fashion looks for kids and there are family workshops in fashion design on Tuesdays during the Summer holidays.

The Fashion Museum at the Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street is open every day from 10.30am until 5pm, until 4pm from November to February. Adults, £8.75; children, £6.75.

Dance around the ballroom at the Assembly Rooms

My two boys could not resist dancing around the ballroom in the Assembly Rooms. This is where thousands of people gathered for parties and balls, including a fair few of the characters in Jane Austen’s novels. The ballroom is the grandest of the three rooms and contains the finest set of 18th-century chandeliers in the world. They are more than 8 feet high and in Georgian times they would have been lit with 200 candles.

The Assembly Rooms are free to enter on the days when there isn’t an event going on.

Have afternoon tea at Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms

Afternoon tea is a Great British tradition and has always been popular in Bath. You could have your tea in the elegant surroundings of the 18th-century Pump Room but Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms is a far more fun and laid-back setting for kids.

The entire restaurant has been decorated in the style of wartime Britain of the 1930s and 1940s so it’s all embroidered tablecloths, knitted tea cosies, wartime posters and mismatched china. The waitresses wear old-fashioned pinafores and headscarves and the afternoon tea is an absolute delight: a selection of finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream and huge slices of homemade cake.

Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms, 6-8 Saville Row, is open every day from 10am until 5pm.

Take a boat out on the River Avon

Have fun messing about on the river for an hour by hiring a punt, rowing boat or canoe from the Victorian boating station at Bath Boating Station. You can take one of the Pulteney Cruise motorboats there from the centre of Bath.

If you’ve got more time, don’t miss spending the day cruising along the picturesque Kennet & Avon Canal in a narrowboat.

Be a history detective at No 1 Royal Crescent

Find out what life was like for Bath’s richest and most fashionable residents by taking a tour around the first house to be built in Bath’s famous Royal Crescent. The rooms at No 1 have all been furnished as they would have looked in the late 18th century and children are given a History Detective Pack complete with magnifying glass, worksheet and fun activities to do in every room.

My two really enjoyed finding out that the Georgians didn’t leave the dining room to go to the toilet – the flush toilet hadn’t been invented so they had to go behind a folding screen and wee into a chamber pot. We also visited the Gentleman’s Retreat and the Lady’s Bedroom where we laughed at the wig scratcher which they needed because of all the head lice they had underneath their wigs.

Down in the Servants’ Hall you can dress up in Georgian clothes. There are additional craft activities on Family Fridays.

No 1 Royal Crescent is open every day until 5.30pm. Mondays, from 12pm; Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10.30am. Adults, £10; children, £4; under 6s, free.

Have a picnic in Royal Victoria Park

The large park in front of the Royal Crescent is a suitably grand place for a picnic and great for watching all the hot air balloons on a summer’s evening. The 57-acre park was opened by Queen Victoria when she was only 11 (before she became queen) and boasts a botanical garden, crazy golf, duck pond, bandstand with live music and a brilliant adventure playground with a zip wire and pyramid climbing frame.

For more information about visiting Bath, take a look at the Visit Bath website.

Disclosure: We were very kindly given free admission to some of the sights mentioned but all opinions are honest and my own.

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How to make City Trips Fun for Kids: The Leap & Hop Travel Guides

Taking your children to visit cities can be a real headache. You want to look at the sights, see the museums and enjoy the food but you don’t want crotchety kids moaning about how tired and bored they are.

When you’re travelling with children, particularly if you want to see the cultural sights,  you need to find something to engage their interest.  I always try and hunt out the stories that will make the place, the history or the art come alive and turn it into a fun experience for all of us. We’ve gone hunting for dragons at the Brighton Pavilion, found out about the King who chopped off queens’ heads at the Tower of London and searched for the sea monsters carved into the stone in the cloisters of a Lisbon Monastery.

Travel is the best possible way to teach your children about the world they live in as they get the chance to explore different cultures, learn about history and try new foods. But it’s not always easy. You have to change your pace when you’re travelling with children, take things slower. You can’t walk around for hours. You also need to factor in tiredness, hunger and boredom thresholds.

But when you get it right and you see that excitement in their eyes when they’re experiencing something for the first time, you realise that far from slowing you down, travelling with kids can be even more rewarding than it was before.

The wonderful Leap & Hop travel guides are brilliant at helping to turn a grown-up trip into a fun adventure for children. The books include guides to the cities of New York, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong. They’ve been created to help kids get involved and excited about their travels with fun, interactive activities.

The Paris guide is wonderful. It’s packed with information about the city, with games and activities on every page to help kids discover more about where they’re visiting.  You can go on a scavenger hunt around a department store, take a quiz walk around Montmartre, design clothes for the fashion capital of the world and hunt for the ‘mascarons’ (carved faces) on the Parisian buildings you pass. There are spot-the-differences, colouring pages and word searches and it’s all really colourful and beautifully illustrated.

My kids and I loved the idea that you can turn the book into a very special travel scrapbook of your trip. There are places to stick ticket stubs and souvenirs, draw pictures or take photos of what you loved and hated eating while you were there.

The book is so jam-packed with information and things to do that you couldn’t possibly do it all on one trip so there will always be something to save for your next visit. The books are aimed at 7 to 14-year-olds although younger children would be able to enjoy some of the activities with their parents’ help.

My 10-year-old was delighted with it. “It’s an amazing book!” he told me. “You’d know every corner of Paris when you finished doing it.” He’s really excited about using it when he goes to the city for the first time.

The books have been written by Isabelle Demenge. She wrote her first guide to Cambodia when she couldn’t find anything suitable for her three children, aged 8, 6 and 3, for their family trip to the country.

“I wanted to make sure that the kids could enjoy the temples so I tried to think of activities that they would enjoy for each temple on our list: treasure hunts, i-spy games and doodle prompts. It was a big hit with my three boys and their two cousins and so every year I wrote another book for them for our big family vacation.”

Her boys loved the book so much that she now writes one every time they travel anywhere – even for a long weekend. There are now nine books in the series and Isabelle is planning more. “It’s great to see how all three of them are interested in different sections of the books,” she says.

You can buy the books from the Leap & Hop website for HK $170 (about £15). They are also available on Amazon. I’ll certainly be using them with my kids and I think they’d make wonderful presents for children travelling to those destinations.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post. I was very kindly given a copy of the Leap & Hop guide to Paris for the purposes of review. All opinions are, of course, my own.

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For the Love of a Chicken

For the Love of a ChickenForcing open a chicken’s beak with my finger so that I could shove a syringe full of medicine down its throat is not a skill I ever thought I’d need to learn. But then I never imagined I’d be the sort of person to keep chickens – let alone learn to love them.

We got two Pekin Bantams as a Christmas present last year for my 10-year-old. He’s been crazy about chickens for a couple of years, ever since seeing them at a country fair. We dismissed it as yet another crazy request for a pet. We certainly didn’t take him seriously.

Having chickens wasn’t something I planned. I wasn’t some crazy chicken lady – I don’t even like eggs. But when Harry started getting chicken manuals out of the library every week we finally gave in.

We told him that if we got chickens they were to be his responsibility. He was the chicken expert. He would have to be the one who got up in the morning to let them out and feed them. He’d have to clean out their chicken coop.

We got a wooden hen house and he chose two Pekin Bantams (a breed known to be gentle natured, friendly and particularly good for children), a speckled black hen he called Lady Mary and a brown Mille Fleur he named Lady Edith. The hen house was, of course, renamed Downton Abbey.

And Harry kept to his word. He got up all through the winter, breaking the ice on their water when it had frozen, keeping their food topped up and putting them to bed at night, trudging down to the bottom of the garden in the dark with his torch. He called them “his girls” and taught them to eat out of his hand.

It didn’t take more than a couple of weeks for me to fall for them too. I hadn’t expected to find the chickens so adorable. I loved the way they ran with their legs wide apart and their fluffy bottoms waving in the air, the way they run up to you when they see you with a bag of seeds, and the way they loved eating out of your hand. They’d cock their heads to one side and fix you with their beady stare.

For the Love of a ChickenThey had so much character and each had their own distinct personality. Lady Mary is like her namesake – always pushing in front of Edith, taking the food first and being full of herself. Lady Edith is far more ladylike but thinks nothing of running round the rose beds, daring you to chase her when you want to put her back in the house. But unlike the Crawley sisters, our two girls are inseparable. They cuddle up together at night and follow each other around while they’re pecking for treats in the flower beds.

We realised something was wrong when Edith started falling over as she ran across the garden. After a few days, she was falling more and more often. When she started going round in circles I called the vet. We were told that it might be an infection or, worse case scenario, something called Marek’s Disease which is fatal. She prescribed some antibiotics for a week which would clear up an infection.

So twice a day we put the medicine into a syringe and somehow managed to force Edith’s beak open so we could put the syringe down her throat. I’d put Edith on my lap and open up her beak while Harry gave her the medicine. Afterwards I’d leave her on my lap a while and feed her treats.

It was only then that I realised how lovely it was to have a chicken on your lap. She seemed quite content sitting there, eating out of my hand and letting me stroke her. Who knew chickens could be so cuddly? Apart from the difficulty of getting her beak open I began to enjoy the time I spent with her.

Then came the morning she pooed on me. I was in a rush to get the children to school so I just wiped it off with a wet wipe and hoped for the best. The dodgy smell lingered in the car. I thought Harry was leaning in for a kiss as I dropped him off at the school gates. Instead he whispered, “You still smell of poo, Mummy” and ran away as fast as he could.

For the Love of a ChickenEvery day, we hoped to see an improvement and tried to convince ourselves she was getting better but in truth she was falling over more and more often. By the end of the week she could barely walk. She could no longer eat out of her feeder without falling into it.

The vet has told us that she will almost certainly die from the disease. She can now barely stand without toppling over. There’s no hiding the fact that we now have a special needs chicken.

Telling Harry that his chicken was going to die was never going to be easy. There’s no sugar coating the truth. They say that having pets is a good way of teaching your children about death. It’s a pretty harsh lesson when your child’s beloved pet faces death after just five and a half months.

It was heartbreaking watching the big tear roll down his cheek when I told him.

We’re just trying to make her last days as special as they can be. We don’t want her to suffer so at some point we may have to take the difficult decision to have her put down. For now, the vet has reassured us that if she is eating and doesn’t seem distressed then she is a happy chicken. She can’t move so Mary spends most of the day sitting next to her in the hen house.

Several times a day we put her on our lap and feed her. She’s still enjoying her food, picking out her favourite black seeds and making happy chirping noises. In these last days sitting on our laps is the only time we can be sure that she’s not going to fall over.

So yes, I’ve become that crazy chicken lady. But I’m not sorry. Not one bit.

City Breaks With Kids: Wells

Your kids will need no persuading to visit Wells, the smallest city in England – it’s full of tales of dragons and witches. The medieval city in Somerset is also home to swans that perform tricks, spectacular caves and one of Britain’s most beautiful cathedrals. It makes the perfect place for an easygoing city break with children: it’s easy to walk around and there’s so much to capture their interest.

You’ll only need a day to see most of the sights but it’s such a lovely location that you’ll want to stay longer and use the city as a base to explore more of the area. Bath, Weston-Super-Mare and Cheddar Gorge are all within easy reach.

Try to catch the swans ringing the bells at the Bishop’s Palace

The medieval Bishops’s Palace in the centre of Wells has been home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years. The swans that live in the moat here are famous for ringing the bell beside the gatehouse when they want to be fed. They were first taught this by a bishop’s daughter in the 1870s and the tradition has been kept up ever since. The nine cygnets born here in early May are already learning the skill.

The Bishop’s Palace is worth a visit in its own right. Set behind an imposing gatehouse with a portcullis and drawbridge, you can walk around some of the palace’s most impressive rooms, dress up in bishop’s clothes from the dressing up box and hunt for dragons on the staircase.

The Bishop’s Palace is open every day from 10am until 4pm, until 6pm from March until October. Adults, from £7.25; children, from £3.05; under 5s, free.

Walk down the oldest medieval street in England

Vicars’ Close is believed to be the only complete medieval street left in England. It was built in the early 14th century to provide housing for the Vicars Choral who sang daily worship in the cathedral and the cathedral choristers and organists still live in the houses today – it’s the oldest street in Europe that is still being used for what it was built for.

You can walk all the way up the street to the chapel at the end. The houses themselves are charming, with roses climbing over the door and cats sleeping on benches in the pretty cottage gardens.

Watch the knights jousting above the cathedral clock

Wells Cathedral is one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in Britain. Its stained-glass windows are some of the most beautiful in Europe. Don’t miss the clock – it’s the second oldest surviving clock face in the world and every 15 minutes the jousting knights gallop around the turret above the clock face. The same poor knight has been knocked down every quarter of an hour for over 600 years.

Wells Cathedral is open every day from 7am until 6pm, until 7pm from April to September. Entrance is free but donations are welcome.

Visit the witch at Wookey Hole

Britain’s most spectacular caves are only two miles outside of Wells. The legend of the Witch of Wookey has fascinated visitors since medieval times when an old woman lived alone in the caves with her dog and some goats. The locals believed she was a witch and everything that went wrong in the village was blamed on her.

The Abbot from nearby Glastonbury Abbey sent a monk, Father Bernard, to exorcise her. He entered the caves armed only with a Bible and a candle. While she screamed curses at him, he sprinkled holy water over her and she turned to stone. You can still find her figure in the cave called The Witch’s Kitchen.

The caves themselves are millions of years old and were lived in by cavemen 50,000 years ago. They’re full of stalactites, stalagmites and stunning waterfalls of crystalline stone.

Wookey Hole has a range of other attractions too, including a Sci-Fi circus show, Valley of the Dinosaurs with 20 life-sized dinosaurs and a wizards’ play barn.

Wookey Hole Caves are open every day from 10am until 5pm. Adults, from £15.73; children, from £11.90. 

See the chained library in the cathedral

Ever wondered what the Restricted Section in the library at Hogwarts might look like? Climb up the stone spiral staircase in the cathedral and you’ll find one of only four chained libraries left in the UK. Centuries old leather-bound books are attached to the shelves with heavy chains.

Built in the mid 15th century, it’s the longest medieval library in England and over half of the books are in Latin and Greek. There’s a copy of the first ever world atlas, the first mathematics book published in England in 1522 and Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World, written while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Climb a tree in the Bishop’s Garden

The 14-acre gardens in the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace are absolutely delightful and the perfect place for hide and seek. Children are encouraged to climb the trees, walk along the ramparts and play in the new activity area, The Dragon’s Lair.

There’s a sensory trail around the grounds encouraging you to listen to the sounds of the waterfall, smell the flowers and touch the knobbly trunks of the mulberry trees. Wander deeper into the gardens and you’ll find the natural springs that give Wells its name. If you look closely you can sometimes see water bubbling up from the Bottomless Well – the water bubbles up at a rate of 100 litres a second.

Find the dragon mosaic on a walk into the countryside

Myths and legends surround this part of Somerset and there’s a story of a dragon in the 13th century who terrorised the locals by eating children and sheep. It was eventually killed by Bishop Jocelin but before it died it warned the people of Wells that if it was not honoured every 50 years it would come back to life. Local schoolchildren made a mosaic to show the dragon that it had been remembered.

You can find the mosaic by taking a lovely walk into the countryside from the Bishop’s Palace. The 45-minute walk take you through fields and woods, through kissing gates and past pillboxes left over from the Second World War.

You can download a copy of the walk from the Wells Tourist Office website.

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