Wouldn’t it be great to gaze upon your hometown with the wide-eyed wonder of a child? Where the city is not a collection of office blocks and car parks, but one big playground waiting to be explored. With time travel sadly not yet a credible option, we’ve opted to sample the next best thing.
To coincide with the release of Lonely Planet’s Everyday Adventures – an anthology of 50 ways to explore your city from a new perspective – we asked a selection of brave Lonely Planet writers to let their children take the reins for a day of exploration around their local towns. Would a day following a pint-size tour guide reignite a sense of curiosity or just cause utter chaos?
Tour guide Alice swanning around on Exeter quay © Patrick Kinsella / Lonely Planet
Following Alice through Wonderland (aka Exeter)
Everything is going swimmingly until Alice – the six-year-old boss of me – decides she wants us to dance. In the middle of Exeter’s bustling High Street. During a sun-splashed Friday lunchtime. To be fair, the busker is belting out such a decent ditty I do feel a little light-footed. Besides, rules are rules, and I must obey, so blushes are banished and we let loose.
I’m under no illusions. I look daft. But it’s the most liberated I’ve felt in ages. We both howl with laughter until the music stops, whereupon I apologise to the aggrieved artist, Alice lobs some compensatory coins into his guitar case, and we giggle and jiggle off to continue our adventure.
It’s been a busy morning. From feeding swans on the quayside and scoffing cake in archway cafés, to climbing trees by the ancient city walls and pulling faces at the gargoyles that gurn down from the gothic cathedral, Alice has made the most of her day in the driving seat.
Now it seems we’re heading underground as Alice leads me into the mouth of the city’s medieval tunnel system. Built over 500 years ago to transport water, this warren of wormholes wend for miles beneath the city streets. Some are so tight that even my little leader is forced to stoop – suddenly looking less pint-sized and more like another Alice who was partial to exploring subterranean wonderlands while chomping shape-shifting cakes.
Curiouser and curiouser.
After escaping the catacombs and entering Cathedral Green, we discover a handwritten note hidden around the ankles of a tree, asking: 'If you could, what would you do?'
A mysterious and pertinent question, to which Alice has the answer. 'I want to ride my bike,' she announces, having earlier spotted the cycle-friendly canal path that links Exeter to the seaside.
'First, though, I want us to dance…'
Patrick Kinsella is a freelance writer based in Devon. Follow Patrick’s tweets @paddy_kinsella
Against the odds, Charlie put together a successful sporting itinerary © Fin McCarthy / Lonely Planet
A sporting day out in Dublin
Our children are not often involved in the decision-making process about how they spend their time. So when I inform Charlie (11) he’s in charge of what we’re doing today – with the proviso that PS4 and Fifa 18 were off the itinerary – it’s met with great delight.
He decides straight away: 'Let’s go to Croke Park'.
Croke Park, in the heart of Dublin, is the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, regularly playing host to international sports matches and music concerts.
'But there’s no game on today?' I explain with a blank expression.
'You said I get to decide!' he roars defiantly.
Wearing his football jersey and armed with his permanent marker (you never know, could find a player on a day off), we arrive at the empty stadium.
Fortunately tours of the stadium run everyday and we manage to snag some tickets.
We visit the player’s lounge and dressing rooms, I road test the President of Ireland’s seat in the stands and we both agree the views from the corporate boxes are not as good as those that the real fans experience on Hill 16.
Next we find ourselves atop of the stadium on the Skyline tour, walking the full perimeter of Croke Park on a vertigo-inducing walkway. On a clear day you can see the sea, the mountains, and almost every landmark, crane and back garden of the low rise city.
Who knew there was so much to do in an empty stadium?
After extra time in the interactive Games Zone, Charlie has one more stop on our itinerary.
'I think we should go to the beach,' he says, flexing his new-found authority.
Despite it being late afternoon, we head to Donabate, a coastal town on the outskirts of Dublin. Charlie practices his hurling skills on the deserted sands, and we finish the day with a visit to Scrumdiddly's ice cream parlour for apple crumble ice cream with melted Nutella on top. Because invariably every great sports day out must include some form of delicious comfort food.
Fin McCarthy is Lonely Planet's Global News Editor based in Dublin. Follow Fin’s tweets @finmccarthy1
Rohan and Kai showcase their superhero moves in front of the Brooklyn Bridge © Ethan Gelber / Lonely Planet
On the run in New York City
'Superhero City!' they declaim, together, leaping into action poses. Rohan, 11 years old, chooses his favourite Superman-in-flight posture. Kai, almost eight, slips into his cross-armed don't-mess-with-me stance.
In a city the size of New York, we had decided to limit activities to Brooklyn and set a guiding theme for the itinerary my sons would design. Despite the risk of duelling guides descending into chaos, they quickly hit on a subject over which there's little disagreement.
After internet research, Rohan and Kai are remarkably successful at defining a hero-centric day that runs from reading about superhuman deeds (a comic shop) and fuelling up for them (a game-themed burger restaurant) to being a real-life hero (a climbing wall) and accessorising like one (a superhero merch and costume store).
First stop is the free bouldering wall in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Still closed for the season, it doesn't stop us from getting into the (Spiderman) swing of things.
A quick NYC Ferry (cue Aquaman reference) floats us under the Brooklyn Bridge and up the East River to trendy Williamsburg, where Action Burger awaits, 'America's only sci-fi sports bar, comic book and free retro video game-themed restaurant.'
It opens later than expected so, still as our alter egos, we share an emergency sandwich at a nearby deli. The boys battle only briefly before settling on one called Incredible Hulk. What type of sandwich is it? Well a hero, of course. When the burger joint opens, the calorific ‘super villain burgers’ provide energy for free unlimited gaming. Ready player one!
By this point I’m hoping it might be game over, but our adventure continues as I’m led to the eclectically decorated Desert Island Comic Book Store, before making a tired dash to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, a non-profit full of crime fighting curios and merchandise, to try on some capes and sample the store’s vintage Mind Reading Chair.
Though my pair of pint-sized tour guides have successfully drained me of my powers, I can’t deny it’s been a super day.
Ethan Gelber is a Lonely Planet writer based in New York. Follow Ethan’s tweets @thetravelword
After ruling out a trip to LA, Tasmin's tour guides set up a star-studded itinerary in London © Tasmin Waby / Lonely Planet
Searching for small-screen stars in London
I’m staring at two bewildered girls (aged nine and 10) after announcing: ‘Kids, you’re in charge today!’.
‘You mean we can do anything we want?’ they ask smiling at each other with glee, probably dreaming of candy floss and unicorn sundaes.
‘Within reason…’ I add wryly.
I ask my pint-sized tour guides where they’d most like to go for a day. They confer for less than a minute.
We live in London.
‘Why LA?’ I ask.
It turns out the City of Angels is home to their favourite YouTube stars. But when I inform them their budget is nothing – except public transport and food – plans quickly change.
They spend an hour looking up the English capital’s iconic sites from Westminster Abbey to the Museum of Docklands. But when they find a YouTube Creator Hub Space is now gracing the city, the more traditional tourist sights are immediately dismissed.
We jump on the Tube and find the YouTube Space near Kings Cross Station. We’re not allowed in the Creators Cafe (minimum 10K subscribers to be a member) but we check out the small ‘merch’ shop – the only one in the world – and spot polaroids of their favourite online stars.
Inspired by these vlogstars, the girls make a dash through the station to Platform 9 ¾, a landmark made famous by the Harry Potter books.
Upon arrival the girls grab my phone and start making videos of the 9 ¾ Platform Shop – where they sample some ‘Every Flavoured Beans’ and ‘Jelly Slugs’ ('it’s food; you said we could buy food!') – and the neo-gothic St Pancras Renaissance Hotel that Harry and Ron flew past in the Weasleys' Ford Anglia.
Whether or not they manage to attract the 10K subscribers needed for entry into the cafe, the day has been a success; more so than my more earnestly planned adventures to art galleries and historic sites. It seems there’s a lot to be gained from letting the kids call the shots every once in a while.