Seeing London by the Books: A Literary Trip for Kids

Your kids probably know a lot about London from literature, music, and films. The (mostly) common language and cultural ancestry shared between our two countries makes English storybooks dominant in childhood lore, and British literature is a natural school subject for middle school and high school students all over the country.

Traveling to London can get your kids the inside story on British authors and the characters they’ve created. Plan a literary itinerary to keep your kids’ heads in the books, even on vacation.

Children’s Delight

Every kid knows the story of Paddington Bear, who traveled to London on a ship’s lifeboat after leaving deepest, darkest Peru. Clad in a blue raincoat and red hat, the bear first appeared in Michael Bond’s 1958 storybook A Bear Called Paddington, which most families on either side of the Atlantic have somewhere in their picture-book stash.

These days, Paddington has been the star of 20 books and a major motion picture, and he’s achieved a level of celebrity rivaled by few other stuffed toys. Take a tour of Paddington’s London with Brit Movie Tours, or take an excellent self-guided tour with the help of London Tourist Bureau’s official guide.

Fans of the classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will have to head up to Oxford to see where versatile literary icon C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia and spent most of his days. A walking tour of the city will have you hitting many of the author's favorite hangouts. 

For something a little more contemporary, kids of all ages will love the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Behind the Scenes Tour, at the Leavesden studio where the films were made. Visit Harry’s magical world, see real props and sets from the films, and enjoy special screenings.

Take a ride on a broomstick, drink some non-alcoholic butterbeer, and sport your love for Gryffindor or Slytherin when you find your Hogwarts style at the gift shop. To see Hogwarts itself, you’ll have to head up to Oxford’s Christ Church College, where the school was based.

The Lives of Characters

As Holmesian scholars and faithful readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works will agree, Victorian crime-solvers Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson lived at 221b Baker Street, where the Sherlock Holmes Museum now plays homage to the great detective.

After visiting this painstakingly curated, in-home museum of artifacts and trinkets, your kids (and even you) might be understandably confused about whether the detective actually existed, or was just a made-up character. It’s a mystery the world might never solve.

For kids wondering where Charles Dickens’ famed orphan Oliver Twist met the Artful Dodger, there’s a tour for that too. In the Footsteps of Oliver Twist is just one of the Dickens-inspired tours led by author Richard Jones. You can also see the home of Tiny Tim and family as you follow the costumed Jones on a Christmastime tour that will put a smile even on Scrooge’s face.

Are the kids babbling about Harry Potter again? Stop by Platform 9 ¾ at the western departures area of King’s Cross Station, where your little muggles can have their picture taken with a trolley that’s already halfway through the wall before geeking out at the Harry Potter store nearby. Prepare to eat a lot of gross Bertie Bott’s jelly beans.

Check Regent’s Park and the West End for shows honoring some of London’s other children’s heroes, like Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, as well as some popular anti-heroes like Frankenstein and Dracula.

Authors on Parade

Far from shrinking into the shadows, authors who have lived and died in London are just as much tourist attractions as the novels they produced. The country’s proud literary tradition holds on to these wordy real-life heroes in a way that just might inspire your kids to keep reading their stories long after their English teacher retires.

A visit to the Charles Dickens Museum at his London residence takes you back in time with costumed tours on the premises and a special interactive “family trail” for the kids. Encourage your kids to try on period costumes and stage a play in Dickens’ Victorian toy theater. Younger visitors can listen to fireside story time, and you can take older kids on a Dickensian walk through the streets of London.

Your tweens and younger teens have probably started to suffer through Shakespeare already, so now is the perfect time to show them just how much better it can be in a visual context. Four to five plays are usually running during the outdoor summer season at the theater, with at least half of them modern stagings of Shakespeare’s work. Newer works by notable playwrights are also presented. The new indoor stage, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, has plays and candlelit concerts running throughout the year.

Tour the Globe Theatre, built on the site of the original theatre (which burned down in 1613) where Shakespeare wrote and performed, join in a poetry workshop, and check out the theater’s ongoing exhibitions. Send 5 - 11 year olds to the children’s playground, where games, books, and stories geared to the pre-Shakespeare mini scholar will introduce younger children to England’s greatest bard.

Which London spots will you be hitting up to celebrate your child’s favorite literary heroes?

Tags : travel   London   England   

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