London summer 2014 travel guide

One of the best places for families visiting London to see is the British Museum.  Located in Bloomsbury, it represents a veritable archaeological treasury. Displaying some of the earlier tools made by humans some million years ago it also has excellent exhibitions on the ancient Levant, Egypt (including several mummies) and Assyria. Also displayed is the Cyrus Cylinder, which allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to the ancient Land of Israel. Entrance to the museum itself is free, with some temporary exhibitions costing to enter. The nearest train stations are Russell Square, Holborn, King’s Cross and Euston.

For a real sense of “Britishness” the triangle of Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Westminster are an absolute must. With Nelson’s Column and the fascinating National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in Westminster and Household Division Guards at Buckingham Palace this triangle includes many of the classic “postcard” scenes London has to offer. On Whitehall linking Trafalgar Square and Westminster there’s also Horseguards: home of the Household Cavalry. The sentries posted here are changed on the hour, which is always exciting – especially for younger children. The nearest train stations are Westminster, Charing Cross and Green Park.

For those wishing to explore London’s Jewish heritage, a visit to the Jewish Museum is highly recommended. A short walk from the Camden Town station it has exhibitions on Jews living in Britain today, Anglo-Jewish History which stretches as far back as the Norman conquest of 1066, Jewish practice and the Holocaust. Closed on Saturdays, Jewish festivals and Friday afternoons; entry is £7.50 per adult and £3.50 for a child (5-16).

Bevis Marks Synagogue may also be of interest to those wishing to delve into the capital’s Jewish heritage. The oldest continuously-used synagogue in the United Kingdom, Bevis Marks was founded in 1701 by Sephardi Jews and is under the auspices of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London. With a beautiful sanctuary and outstanding kosher restaurant attached on its premise; adult entry is £5, £4 for seniors and £2.50 for children. Located in the east of the City of London, Aldgate is the train station closest to it.

Ten minutes away from the Jewish Museum is London Zoo. Located in Regent’s Park and one of the capital’s absolute treasures, it’s the kind of place a family could easily spend a whole day at. Specifically designed to be child-friendly, many of the exhibitions are interactive. A favourite was in the meerkat enclosure which featured an underground tunnel, allowing children to crawl under the exhibition and into a cupola and see the animals in it from its centre. There’s also an elevated platform next to the giraffe enclosure allowing visitors to literally come eye-to-eye with these beautiful giants. Opening at 10:00 and closing at 18:00 with last entries at 17:00; adult tickets bought at the gate are £26 each while child tickets cost £18.50. Discounts are available for tickets bought online.

While Jewish life in the city centre does exist, it is somewhat limited. Apart from the above-mentioned restaurant at Bevis Marks, the only other place to eat out kosher in town is Reubens on Baker Street. It’s also worth looking out for DDs sandwiches. Available in many newsagents and supermarkets, they are supervised by both the London Beth Din and Kedassia. Chabad does have a presence here, however. A link to their advice page for visitors to London can be found here.

The best places to find regular minyanim and kosher food are in the north-western suburbs such as Edgware, Hendon and Golders Green. These are all within easy reach of the city centre, being a ride down the London Underground’s Northern Line. There are a few kosher hotels in Hendon and Golders Green. Frum London is a very useful website which lists the times of regular minyanim, kosher restaurants and includes a community directory. The strictest hechsher in the UK is “Kedassia” (equivalent to Israel’s Badatz) while various battei dinim are more lenient (being equivalent to Israel’s rabbanut). All Jewish communities in the UK have a mikveh, with over a dozen in the Greater London area. More information on mikvaot can be found here.

About the Author
Daniel J. Levy is a graduate of the University of Leeds and Oxford, where his academic research primarily focused on Iranian proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. He is the Founding Director and Lead Consultant of the Ortakoy Security Group, and has contributed editorial pieces to The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and Israel Policy Exchange. In his free time, he enjoys reading, running, and cooking. He can be followed on Twitter @danielhalevy.