London: Hit the stores, see the sights

You're a family divided: some like to browse the shelves, others don't. So turn a shopping trip into a mini-break, says Kate Simon

The other day I bumped into an elderly neighbour. "I don't understand why you women like shopping," he snorted, using the moment to rest his burden of supermarket bags on our wall. "Got the wrong woman," I replied. "I don't like shopping."

I've long been aware that, among my sex, I am in the minority on this question. In our house, it's my partner who likes to pound the pavements, not me. But now I have an ally, my six-year-old son. He doesn't much like shopping either (except to pop down to Woolies to add to his collection of Power Rangers). So to keep Dad happy we take him on the occasional "shopping break". It's a good compromise: Dad gets to look around the shops while we find something interesting to do.

In fact, we've got these little trips down to a fine art. We choose a destination with a good mixture of shops and sights, and find somewhere central to stay which offers self-catering to keep the costs down and the square footage up. We've done it in Manchester, Oxford and most recently in our home town, London. In fact, London was the most successful trip so far - not just because we prefer a Cockney accent. And with Christmas approaching, it could offer an insider's guide for divided families such as ours who are considering venturing to the capital on a shopping-cum-break.

Firstly, consider our choice of destination. Think shopping in London, think Oxford Street - at least that's what many out-of-towners do. But there are other more savvy options for families. We chose to head further west to Kensington High Street. Why? Because this retail drag (I use the words advisedly) is not quite so busy yet offers a comprehensive selection of high-street stores, from H&M to Bang & Olufsen.

But crucially these well-heeled environs will meet the needs of the non-shoppers in the family, too. Where the shops stop, at the street's eastern edge, a vast child-wearying green space opens out, aka Kensington Gardens. There kids can play pirates in the Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, watch the vintage toy yachts sailing on the Round Pond and create their own Neverland around Peter Pan's statue. And when the rain comes down there's always the kid-friendly interactive delights of the Launch Pad and The Garden in the Science Museum, a short walk to the south, and dinosaurs galore in its neighbour, the Natural History Museum.

Secondly, consider our choice of stopover. Convenience is the watchword on a trip like this, and you couldn't get much more convenient for Kensington High Street than 51 Kensington Court. A pretty townhouse with 11 four-star self-catering apartments, set in a quiet square, it's a minute's walk from the bustle - you could almost fall out of bed and into Habitat.

Anyone who has suffered staying in a hotel "family room" or winced at the bill for a suite needs little persuasion to try self-catering. Never underestimate the sanity-preserving power of space when you're travelling en famille. By virtue of being carved out of an old Victorian house, the comfortably furnished apartments at No 51 feel more like converted flats.

And though you can't call on room service, you can buy breakfast and order shopping in advance, while the well-equipped kitchens, with microwaves, hobs, ovens and dishwashers (there are also washing machines in a few), make it easy to make the most of the local M&S and Waitrose. Plus, just like a hotel, the apartments are cleaned daily, there's a concierge service, and, fairly unusually, bookings are taken by the night as well as for longer periods.

With Christmas coming, plenty of special events are being organised in the capital. London is finally getting its act together about celebrating the festive season, now offering more than the dubious delights of watching a minor celeb switch on the Christmas lights. Take the growing ice-skating scene: this year there'll be eight across the capital - the one in the gardens of the Natural History Museum will be the nearest for Kensington dwellers. That sounds much more fun than hitting the Christmas sales.



Kate Simon was a guest of 51 Kensington Court (020-7937 2030; kensington, which offers apartments from £120 per night for a studio for two to £370 per night for a three-bedroom apartment sleeping up to eight.


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