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Cities: London, England - A Great Place for Teens

Want a travel destination that could be called “cool” or “wicked” by your teen? Try London, England. After spending four days in The Big Smoke last week, I can guarantee enough activity to enliven even the most blasé travelling teenager. And there’s no problem if your adolescent is currently into hair dye, clothes with holes or studded black leather. No matter how funky the look or what colour the hair, your teens will look like Royalty when compared to some young people I saw walking the streets. Fluorescent pink hair, pierced body parts, laced corsets and high boots did not seem at all unusual.

Your teen may enjoy seeing familiar tourist sights such as Big Ben (the name of the actual bell in the Tower clock whose crack is supposed to give a better tone to the chiming of the hours) or Buckingham Palace where the Queen flies her Royal Standard when in residence. Changing of the Guard takes place daily at 11:30 a.m; after August 7, 18 rooms are open to the public. Some parts of Kensington Palace where Diana, Princess of Wales, lives with her sons and other members of the Royal Family are also open. On view is Queen Victoria’s doll house and the most popular exhibit, Princess Diana’s wedding dress from 1981.

Soon, the seamier side of life that so fascinates this age group may take over. Medieval torture scenes may not be your cup of tea but the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum or the 40 “spine-chilling” exhibits of The London Dungeon could appeal to your unsqueamish offspring. A controversial Jack the Ripper experience has been added to the displays of beheading and boiling. “A perfectly horrible experience” boasts the museum.

The beauty of London for teenagers is that there are so many specialized attractions. A young artist may enjoy doing a brass rubbing at Westminster Abbey or visiting the National Museum of Cartoon where cartoons from World War II are currently on view. Visitors can even take cartoon evening classes from John Byrne, cartoonist for The Irish Post. Young people headed for a career in fashion will enjoy the outlandish outfits from past decades at the Victoria and Albert Museum, curators of the one of the largest period costume collections in the world. Those who love to argue with their parents can take their case to Speakers’ Corner just inside Hyde Park near Marble Arch where soapbox orators can rant and rail on any topic. Sunday mornings are prime viewing times. Television and movie fans will enjoy the Museum of the Moving Image, where they can read the news on TV, animate cartoons, or audition for a Hollywood movie.

London’s number one musical attraction, however, is Madame Tussaud’s Rock Circus. Animated wax figures such as Madonna and the Beatles perform in Europe’s largest revolving auditorium. Also available is a two-hour Rock Tour of London in a bus with music and video or a Beatles Walking Tour. Teens may also want to shop at the Saturday outdoor market on Portobello Road where they can pick up a funky object for their rooms, or in the Covent Garden area with such shops as Neal’s Yard Remedies devoted to herbal medicines and shampoos or the Dr Martens boot shop displaying five floors of goods including the famous shoes.

For refreshment, head to ageing Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s diner called appropriately Sticky Fingers (High St. Kensington tube stop). It’s packed with memorabilia of the band. On Saturday evenings, a pub near Victoria Station called Pages welcomes Star Trek enthusiasts. Many come in costume to watch episodes from the series. Those over 18 can drink Romulan ale; Sundays are devoted to CD-ROM interactive games. Wired teens can eat pastry while surfing the internet at Cyberia, a new café near Goodge St. tube. (Cost: about $5.40 per half hour.) For late-night snacks, stop for exotic ice cream sundaes at one of the four Haagen-Dazs on the Square outlets (Call 0171-287-9577). And of course, you can’t leave London without experiencing fish & chips (try Geales near Notting Hill Gate tube station between noon and 3 or 6 to 11 Tues. to Sat.) or a proper high tea. Most inexpensive of the best is on the fourth floor of Fortnum & Mason’s department store where little old ladies will ply you with tea sandwiches, clotted cream, and scones. Perhaps, over a cuppa, your teen’s most civilized nature will emerge like sunshine on a rainy day.

The British Travel Authority at 111 Avenue Road, Suite 450, Toronto, M5R 3J8 sends a 35-page book, “The Young Traveller’s Guide to Britain” as well as a pocket-sized London Guide with addresses and phone numbers. A recommended hotel for families is The Vicarage Private Hotel at 10 Vicarage Gate. For $120 (cheap in a city where hotel rooms can run $400 per night), you and your teen can have a large double room with full English breakfast in a London townhouse near the popular Kensington shopping district.Tel: 0171-229-4030.





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