Free Fun in London, Without the Queue

Baby's-eye view of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Baby’s-eye view of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Sure, we Villanos can appreciate the typical tourist stuff. But one of our favorite strategies when visiting a big city is to find the biggest crowds and head in the opposite direction.

This was our plan earlier in the week after arriving for four months in London.

Instead of spending hours upon hours in queues for attractions such as the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the like (stuff I’m sure we’ll see at some point during our stay; preferably once the summer ends), we laced up our trainers and wandered east from the Four Seasons London at Canary Wharf onto the Isle of Dogs—and beyond.

Our first stop: Mudchute Park and Farm, a 32-acre plot of countryside, smack in the middle of East London. The place also happens to be one of the biggest city farms in Europe. And it’s free.

We knew we were someplace special immediately; as we rounded the corner of a back entrance trail, L spotted a horse grazing at the far end. Later, after feeding ourselves at the modest café (which serves surprisingly delicious food made mostly with produce grown on-site), we fed bunnies and chickens.

Then came the bigger animals. Goats. Llamas. Donkeys. And sheep.

Coming from a rural part of Sonoma County, California, these critters were nothing new for our girls. But seeing them against the backdrop of glimmering skyscrapers—now that was novel. For all of us.

As if the Mudchute experience wasn’t mind-bending enough, we left the farm and headed straight Greenwich, on the south side of the Thames. No, we didn’t take one of the many water busses that service the waterway. Instead, we walked. Under the river. In a 111-year-old tunnel.

That tunnel, formally dubbed the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, was built in 1902 to allow workers living on the south side of the river to get to work on the Isle of Dogs. Today, save for the Tube, it’s one of the easiest ways to get to Greenwich—home of the Royal Observatory, London’s only planetarium and, yep, the Prime Meridian (if you’re a geography geek like I am, this last one is a REALLY BIG DEAL).

Oh, the tunnel also is totally free.

I’m not sure what our girls enjoyed more: Listening to their own echoes as we walked the 1,215 feet across, or playing (and drenching themselves) in the shallow fountain on the Greenwich side. Either way, the traverse was a big hit, and a fantastic way to end a day of alternative sightseeing in our new home.

What are some of the most off-beat attractions you’ve encountered with the kids on recent trips?

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