London with kids – is visiting Hamleys a good idea?

Picture the scene. You’re in London with your kids. You’ve checked the guidebooks, ridden the Eye, visited the Aquarium and the Zoo, and now your find yourself gorging on M&M’s in Leicester Square. You consult your phone and discover that with a swift walk you can be at world famous toy store Hamleys in 10 minutes. Do you do it? Do you? Do you? Do you? The answer is yes, and here are five reasons why.

1. The buzz

In addition to being a shop, Hamleys is also a show. At the front door, we encountered a friendly bear who was dishing out hugs and a bunch of other characters and shop assistants dancing. Sure, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but the bubster loved it. Then, we stepped across the threshold and were met by a lady who was firing/selling a hand-held bubble machine. Fantastically, she gave our little man a shot. Even more fantastically, we managed to avoid buying it.

2. The demonstrations

Once the initial excitement had died down, it was time to get swamped from all sides by a crowd of excited tourists. And once that crowd had dispersed, it was time for us to take in the product demonstrations.

These displays are the main course of your visiting Hamleys picnic. Super crayons, drones, rockets, stencils, monster trucks, hover footballs, electric cars… name a product, and we stared in wonder while a shop assistant put it through its paces in a manner no parent could ever dream of replicating (heck, I usually struggle putting the batteries in).

It was fun, it was exciting, it was eye-opening, it was kind of like being at a fairground, except you were being asked to spend £15 on a boomerang plane that always flew back to you rather than £1 on a doomed attempt at chucking three basketballs through a square ring.

3. The toys

Hamleys has toys EVERYWHERE. Its Wikipedia page claims that it offers over 50,000 different lines. This may or may not be true, but one thing is for sure. If your kid doesn’t find something they want on one of the store’s seven floors, then they must be a) extremely spoiled or b) the most difficult to please Prince or Princess in the history of difficult to please Princes and Princesses.

4. The trying before buying

While visiting Hamleys, my son tried out a skateboard, used a bubble machine, fired electric cars down a track, kicked footballs, played with Playmobil boats, raced Scalextric, jumped in a ball pit and tumbled these weird trucks that did somersaults around a plastic arena. Admittedly, we needed to wait for the ball pit and had to play a little dirty to ensure my son got a shot at controlling the weird trucks that did somersaults. But still that’s an awful lot of free excitement for one afternoon.

5. It’s real

I’m a big fan of Amazon’s prices and simplicity, but when push comes to shove it’s a virtual shopping experience that provokes zero emotion. Hamleys, on the other hand, is real. It’s the world’s oldest and biggest toy store. A living, breathing homage to toys, where families can go to escape the real world for a couple of hours or more. Is that worth the 20% they seem to add to every toy? No. Is it worth visiting when you’re in London? Absolutely. So here’s my advice. Visit, enjoy, take note of the toys your child likes and then buy them on the internet when you get home.

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