London is one of my favorite cities in the world, anytime. December is always a fun month for a visit, as the city does the holiday season well. Plus, it’s also a good family destination. But, even the best destinations can still provoke the dreaded, “I’m bored,” from children.
This year, however, the city has a secret weapon against bored children — the Paddington trail.
Paddington Bear, for the uninitiated, is a character invented by Michael Bond in 1958. Paddington is found at Paddington Railway Station in London by the Brown family, with a raincoat and hat, sitting on his suitcase with a note attached to his coat which reads, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
I loved Paddington growing up; he was always polite but had a bit of attitude, not to mention his penchant for well-meaning activities that always kept Paddington in and out of mild trouble. Of course, there were dozens of books.
Now a Paddington movie is coming out. In honor of the movie, 50 bears were placed around the center of the city. They are not huge, about 3-1/2 feet tall. All are decorated by various celebrities.
The bears will be on the streets of London until December 30, at which point they will be auctioned off to raise money for NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).
Travelers can stumble upon them by chance, as I first did. However, I recommend getting a map, which is easily downloadable either as an app or a map that can be printed.
Since the bears are not huge, they can easily be missed, especially on a crowded day. Or, visitors may simply be within a block of a bear and not know it. When my friend and I finally got a map, which a kind staffer at the Capital Hotel gave to us during a “wine break,” we realized we had indeed passed very close to several.
In addition, the maps allow you to check off bears. Although my son is grown up, to my mind few things engross children while traveling more than a treasure hunt with a goal. Even if kids (and their parents) just get to see the bears and not take them home, they are adorable.
(I imagine the Paddington trail cannot be hurting bear sales.)
For examples, London mayor Boris Johnson’s bear, in front of the National Gallery, features a coat with the London skyline and carries a London Bus. Harry Potter star Emma Watson designed a “Flutterby” bear with butterflies (shown to the left). David Beckham’s bear features a red coat with the badge of England. Three more bears have been added as this post was coming together.
Another nice thing about the bears, they are largely in central London, so it’s not an impossible journey to find most of them. They are often near major tourist sights — the aforementioned National Gallery, Green Park, Carnaby Street, Borough Market and Harrod’s, among others. Quite a number, not surprisingly, are also near Paddington Station.
Early in the morning or late at night, if you’re in London during the Christmas season when most of the city is shut, the bears are a nice alternative to either wandering aimlessly or sitting inside and watching television.
(One word of warning for parents whose children would be unhappy leaving any Paddington unfound, a few bears could take some serious work to uncover, as two are in Greenwich, another down by Stamford Bridge, etc. One is actually at Heathrow Terminal 5 arrivals, which is easy if arriving on British Airways and tough otherwise.)
And alas, all the bears will be auctioned after December 30, so this isn’t something to put on a list for next year. But who knows? Maybe someone will be inspired to do a sequel.
Photo of Flutterby Bear by Janice Hough. Lead photo of Janice Hough with Westminster Bear.