Better known as Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
For mornings when we haven’t managed to get out of the house on time to make it to any playgroups but still want to go do something fun, this is one of my favorite trips. It requires very little planning or effort and is doable as long as it’s (currently) an odd day of the month and isn’t raining.
We get a train from Herne Hill to Victoria and walk to Birdcage Walk next to the Wellington Barracks for around 11:00. There are always huge crowds waiting outside Buckingham Palace and it would be impossible for a small child to see anything there, but the guards band plays for a while outside the barracks and there is plenty of space to get a pushchair right up to the railings so you can see everything. They then do some stamping and shouting and march across the road to the palace, accompanied by mounted police. The last time we went, the police horses were the highlight of the day.
After the soldiers disappear into the crowds you can then have a nice mooch about in St James’s Park. There is a small playground with a sandpit just across the road from the barracks, and pelicans, swans, interesting ducks and a fountain to admire on the lake.
Travel: Green Park tube has step-free access and is 5 minutes walk away.
Where to eat: The self-service Inn the Park cafe in St James’s park is expensive and not especially child friendly but is the closest option. You need to get there before 12:00 to avoid queuing and get a table.
For when you’ve had enough of the park and need a coffee, or you brought a picnic but it’s too cold or wet to sit outside, the huge first floor lobby of the office building at 80 Victoria Street is open to the public on weekdays and has loads of sofas and tables where you can eat a picnic in comfort and a cafe for coffee and snacks. It would work better for little ones who won’t stray too far from you, (I was asked very nicely by a security guard to round my little boy up when he went to the far end of the lobby to check out the building site across the road) but with a baby or a toddler who is barely mobile and has a few cars to play with on the nice shiny floor, you could be happy there for quite a while. You would never know it’s there when walking past, but there is a disabled entrance next door to Zara where they will let you in with a pushchair. I have the lovely Victoria to thank for this discovery too. If only the building site was on the side overlooked by the cafe, it would be our new perfect place.
Note: changing of the guard takes place every other day, except May – July when it happens every day. If you go to 80 Victoria Street, watch out for the gaps next to the pillar at the escalator end of the lobby.