Our selection of six belt-tightening itineraries to help you have fun on a budget
The toughest thing about a day out with kids is that the little blighters can’t pay their own way. We’ve allocated £20 per blighter in this itinerary, and £40 per adult.
Start the day in Covent Garden
Most kids are happy to spend hours watching Covent Garden's(1) juggling/magic/painted-statue acts – and the truth is that some of them are quite impressive. Make sure you go prepared with a stash of small denomination coins.
Hit the shops
There are two shops in the Covent Garden area with a nostalgic appeal likely to enchant all ages.Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop(2) has been selling toy theatres in Covent Garden since the 1880s. These days stock includes charming music boxes and sewing cases.
Be firm; tell the kids it’s looking-only on this occasion but be prepared to splash a little cash at relative newcomer to the area Hope & Greenwood(3), a traditional sweetie shop, where the gobstoppers are stored in glass jars and you can get sugar-free gummy bears.
Take in some culture
Next, take a walk across Waterloo Bridge(4) and head to the Royal Festival Hall(5) to take advantage of the free loos and check out an exhibition. You can also visit Topolski Century(6), a vast rambling mural by the Polish expressionist Feliks Topolski in a railway arch close to Waterloo Station, which records many of the key events and important figures of the twentieth century.
Grab something to eat
At some point you’ll want to refuel. There are sandwiches for sale in both the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre (7) (and quiet spots where you could buy a drink and eat a discreet packed lunch) but there’s a handy branch of Pizza Express(8), and the chain’s a family favourite with good reason.
Visit an underwater wonderland
With bargain prices and proper British food, this pie and mash house is something of an anomaly among the tourist traps of Covent Garden Market. It’s housed in one of the refurbished subterranean arches, keeping the traditional exterior and flagstone floor, but the fixtures and fittings are stylish and modern: bright white tiles, polished marble tables and a shiny counter. Besides the traditional fillings such as steak and mushroom with stout, minced beef and onion, or chicken and mushroom are less expected versions such as butternut squash and goat’s cheese or salmon, cod and prawns. They all have pleasingly firm crusts. A chicken and mushroom costs a mere fiver and creamy, well-whipped mash an extra £2.75. Rich red-wine gravy arrived separately in a miniature jug. Ingredient quality was exemplary throughout – so much so that, even though full, we attempted to finish a sticky toffee pudding (£4.75 and also tip-top) between two of us. Even for a counter-service place this little caff is terrific value – and is the exception to the rule that central Covent Garden is best avoided by the bargain hunter.