Wishgranter Wisdom: Top tips for a wheelchair accessible visit to London
Wishgranter Dawn knows a thing or two about planning an amazing trip to London. She recently put James' lift operator in the big city together. She gives her advice on creating a fabulous wheelchair-friendly visit to the Big Smoke.
London: home to the Queen, the Thames, the Tower of London, Dangermouse, hundreds of restaurants and the underground, with its thousands and thousands and thousands of stairs!
For a wheelchair user a visit to the Capital of England can be a daunting prospect. Here at Make-A-Wish we’ve learnt a few things over the years which, we hope, helps make a trip to London as stress-free as possible.
The first and most important tip is – plan ahead!
We won’t lie, getting around such an old city in a wheelchair has its challenges, but with some forward planning you’d be amazed how easy it is.
If you’re arriving by train book your tickets and then call the rail company’s special assistance line – all train companies will help with ramps, luggage and a member of staff to help you board the train.
There are wheelchair spaces on the trains and as long as you book ahead you’ll be able to bag one of them.
In London itself you’ll find that most of the buses have lowered/level entry and chair spaces and even the underground has made massive leaps to get around those stairs!
Next thing you need are some top tips for the tube. Check out the TFL website, it's got everything you need for getting around: lifts; step free stations; journey planners; maps and guides and some reassuring videos.
Did you know that at those stations with lifts the staff can now provide ramps to assist you on to the tube? All you have to do is talk to a member of staff at the station, tell them where you’re going and they’ll phone ahead so there’s someone ready and waiting to put the ramps in place. The best line is the Jubilee line – that’s not just for wheelchairs, it’s just all around lovely!
So, have a think before you set off in the car.
But if you’re planning to drive and you have a blue badge, then you’re exempt from the congestion charge, which his great but… you’ll need to be bold as driving in London can bring a whole new meaning to those two little words – ‘road rage’.
A huge percentage of black cabs now have ramps and room for a chair (just look out for the symbol on the top of the cab)
Your journey is planned, so where to stay?
Many hotels now have accessible rooms, some better than others. Our advice is to check out the Premier Inn – they’re comfy, reliable and good value for money.
If you need extra equipment for your stay, a hoist for example, you can hire them – check out this site. They deliver and collect so you don’t have to worry about taking loads of equipment with you.
The sights to see
So, you’re there and you’re raring to get out and see the sights.
One of the best ways to see everything is on an Original Bus Tour – this is a ‘hop-on, hop-off’ tour of the most iconic sights in the City and it’s wheelchair accessible!
Or if you prefer bobbing along on the water, how about a River Cruise? Often you get a free cruise as part of the bus tour – check first though.
The bus has low level entry and the river cruise has ramps a plenty so all you have to worry about is making sure your see everything.
St.Paul’s Cathedral now has a video fly-through of the gallery levels on their multimedia guides, and in the main body of the Cathedral there are ramps and small lifts.
Mostly in London though, kids want to have fun and most of the main attractions are fantastically accessible – we recommend The London Eye; London Zoo (though we can’t promise it won’t rain); the Natural History Museum; Science Museum; Madame Tussauds and even Buckingham Palace (don’t forget to practice your bow or curtsey!).
Theatres, many of them pretty ancient, have also made massive strides forward with access and seating though, as you know, you’ll need to book ahead as there are fewer spaces.
Time for food?
Restaurants can be a little more hit and miss, but we highly recommend the Rainforest Café for a fun meal – it caters for various food restrictions and you get to eat surrounded by sounds of the rainforest!
Finally, we have to admit, even us wishgranting fairies don’t know everything, but happily we have one major advantage, and that’s the magic of the internet. We highly recommend Visit London. It's packed with useful information on places to go, toilets, hotels and everything else you need to know for a safe, stress-free trip to London.
All you need to do now is get out there and have fun. Oh, and by the way, if you see Dangermouse say hi from me!