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Visiting London as a Wheelchair User

Updated: 7 days ago

Exploring London's Accessibility

London, the bustling heart of the United Kingdom, is a city of dreams, opportunities, and vibrant culture. For many, navigating its streets and sights is an adventure filled with excitement. However, for others, like our founder Tara, who relies on a powered wheelchair, the journey can be fraught with anxiety and challenges, especially coming down from the North East where accessibility, travel and leisure is less accessible. In some instances, the lack of access has been traumatising for Tara, increasing her anxiety around the trip.

Yet, amidst these hurdles the accessibility infrastructure of London itself came as a comfort and allowed Tara to experience London. Join us as we recount Tara's recent visit to London, guided by the indomitable Nick, our London tour guide extraordinaire.

Nick is a manual wheelchair user and access champion volunteer with Tailored Leisure. Travelling to London on a regular basis for football matches, he is very familiar with its accessibility features and the challenges faced when visiting the city. Despite his familiarity with London, this visit became eye-opening for him when he realised that his manual wheelchair was restrictive and he needed more support than normal to access the city.

Accessible Accommodations: Premier Inn Euston

Our journey begins with a stay at the Premier Inn Euston, an accessible hotel nestled in the heart of London. With dedicated wheelchair-accessible rooms equipped with wet rooms and accessible toilets, Premier Inn ensures a comfortable stay for all guests. We enjoyed their ‘all you can eat breakfast’ in their restaurant. The tables were accessible and the food was delicious.

Though not without critiques, such as the need for removable bedside tables, the overall experience was commendable, especially with the option for a nearby room for a carer. We would also like to highlight that the fold down shower chair in the bathroom was rusty and unstable and needs an update to be safe for future guests.

Navigating the City: Accessible Transport

Tara discovered that London's transport network boasts accessibility features that do not exist in the North East including powered ramps on buses and widened bus doors for easy onboarding and deboarding. From the iconic Tube stations with dedicated wheelchair facilities to buses equipped with middle-entry ramps and prioritised spaces, getting around the city was a breeze. Planning ahead and utilising resources like Transport for London's accessibility map ensured a seamless journey, allowing Tara to embrace the city's energy without the stress of inaccessible routes.

Sightseeing Extravaganza: From Thames Cruises to West End Shows

Our days were packed with exploration and adventure. From exhilarating Thames river cruises with stunning views and historical anecdotes to electrifying West End shows like Tina the Musical, London offered experiences to cherish. Not to mention the iconic landmarks like Buckingham Palace and the London Eye, each accessible and welcoming to all.

They were there for four days, and used every moment of it to explore and discover. The last time Tara was in London for the Northern Power Women Awards, she had no time for leisure and sightseeing. Embracing her anxieties, Tara decided that this trip would be memorable and relaxing, especially with no children to watch and take care of.

An unexpected find was the See London by Night bus, which was a great way to see all sightseeing areas in an accessible way. There was no need to worry about possible cobble stones, dubious dips and ill-placed street lamps in the middle of walk-ways. It was relaxing to not have to worry if the next street was passable in our wheelchairs.

Tara and Nick also visited local pubs called the Rocket and the Euston Flyer. The Euston Flyer has the ambience of a local London pub with a great English Fry up and a good pint! It’s also accessible and has a small accessible toilet. The Rocket over the road from the Premier Inn Euston is a great London pub for good music and a dance in our case at the end of the night. It’s accessible with a large accessible toilet. Helpful staff at both venues made our nights special.

You can't end the night at the pub without a good curry near Kings Cross station, although a few restaurants have steps, most have a portable ramp and staff are more than happy to assist you. We visited Kings Cross Tandori and the food was as amazing as the staff!

Embarking on the Thames River Boat cruise departing from Westminster pier, we enjoyed a sightseeing cruise that takes you all the way up to Greenwich where you can disembark to visit the National Maritime Museum. There is a wheelchair ramp available, but it's a steep ramp that we required assistance from both boat crew and carers to access. Onboard there is a bar and restaurant with tables and seating areas that we were able to access. You can drive right up to the windows to enjoy the views, which we took full advantage of. There is a guide on the boat who talks about landmarks and their historical significance. He was charismatic and entertaining, which made the one hour and 15 minute journey fly by. It was hot on the boat, but we were able to distract ourselves from it with some refreshing wine and delectable snacks. We discovered that there is an accessible toilet onboard, but it’s small, so it may not be accessible to everyone.

The boat stops for an hour at the National Maritime Museum, which didn’t give us enough time to view everything, but it did give us enough time to explore the naval and historical artefacts on display. We were directed to a large accessible toilet that is accessed with a radar key. It was far more spacious than the toilet available onboard the cruise, so we recommend that people with larger wheelchairs or accessibility equipment wait for the museum if they are able to.

Tara particularly enjoyed the historical dress up area where she indulged her inner child.

We learned that Greenwich only became part of London in 2005, which explained why it looked so different to the rest of the city. We marvelled at the expertly crafted busts of some of our greatest historical figures like Admiral Nelson and General Howe. I envisioned them walking the halls as heroes in the making, until we learned that the pub on site is the same pub that they went to as graduates of the naval school that once operated there. Now all I could think about was how these mythic people may have stumbled drunkenly about as youths before earning their names in history. Suddenly these far away people felt much closer and history came alive again. I was impressed by how immersed I became and was disappointed I wasn’t able to spend more time there.

Returning to the cruise, we noted that there were multiple places along the trip where people could disembark, but we did not on this occasion because we had a show to get to.

We visited the Aldwych Theatre where we enjoyed an unforgettable night experiencing Tina Turner's electrifying world. At the theatre, we were warmly welcomed with dedicated assistance. The Aldwych Theatre's commitment to our needs was commendable, setting a standard for others to follow. Our night at Tina Turner the Musical left us feeling grateful  to have experienced the power of accessibility in entertainment.

To see our full insights about the theatre, you can read our blog about it!

To get to the Aldwych Theatre to see Tina Turner Musical we took the 26 bus from Westminster, which took twice as long since buses only have space for one wheelchair user at a time. Although the buses are only every 15 minutes, we decided that for the return trip Nick would take the number 91 bus and I would use an accessible Uber, which only took 20 minutes to return me to the Premier Inn Euston after the show.

Although we weren’t able to pay our King a visit at Buckingham Palace on this trip, Tara will be returning in May for her Royal Visit as part of her British Empire Medal Award.

Hidden Gems: Beyond the Tourist Trail

Venturing beyond the tourist hotspots, we discovered hidden gems like the Coal Drop Yard and Battersea Power Station. These vibrant hubs of culture, dining, and shopping provided a glimpse into the diverse tapestry of London life, all while maintaining accessibility standards that made exploration a joy.

We visited The Coal Drop Yard that boasts restaurants and shops. We started the day in a traditional coffee bar and restaurant called Notes and the coffee was amazing. The drop yard is just a short wheel, some of which was uphill, from Kings Cross.

We then found the lower Canal Path that is accessible. The path takes you to Camden Town, which we plan to fully explore in a future visit. The start of the path was very relaxing while we listened to music, with a floating boat bookshop and other canal boats passing us by. Although it was a rainy day for us this would be a perfect way to spend time watching the world go by on a summer's day. On that summer’s day we plan to go to a beautiful restaurant we spotted which was accessible and even had an accessible terrace overlooking the Thames called the Lighter Man.

We then took the bus to Battersea Power Station, which was full of all the designer shops, restaurants, bars and a play area for children. They are located both indoors and outdoors and are fully accessible with accessible toilets and changing places.

After Tara shopped until her wheelchair began to tilt in her favourite shop, Zara, they rolled to the Thames and visited the amazing Megan’s Restaurant with a fairytale atmosphere with twinkling lights and romantic booths. Or in fair weather you can sit and have a beautiful meal while watching the world go by on the Thames.

After their visit, Tara absolutely has the London Bug. It may not be for everyone, especially the heart of the capital where the busy streets can be startling, especially for people with a SEN disability. 

Empowering Accessibility: Tips for Fellow Travelers

Armed with newfound knowledge and experiences, we offer tips for fellow travellers seeking to explore London's wonders:

  • Plan ahead: Book accommodations and transport well in advance to ensure accessibility.

  • Utilise resources: Take advantage of accessibility maps and guides provided by organisations like Transport for London.

  • Advocate for change: Support initiatives for improved accessibility across all aspects of travel, from transport to attractions.

  • Embracing the London Spirit

As our journey comes to a close, we reflect on the profound impact of accessibility on travel experiences. London, with its vibrant spirit and commitment to inclusivity, has left an indelible mark on us. Though challenges remain, the strides towards a more accessible future are evident, empowering individuals like Tara to explore and embrace the wonders of this magnificent city.

So, to all fellow travellers, regardless of ability, we extend an invitation: Come, explore London's streets, immerse yourself in its culture, and embark on a journey. For in this city of dreams, accessibility knows no bounds, and adventure awaits at every turn.

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