Welcome to London!
Cheerio, Long Live the Queen, Mind the Gap…
and all that!
We hit the ground running for our two day adventure in London. This was part of a much longer trip across Europe, but here’s how we made the most of our 48 hours in this timeless and classy city!
Points of Interest:
The Tower of London
The British Museum
Enjoying tea and scones every afternoon
My Favorite Literature Pick for British History:
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
This is a fun location for a Perspective Journal. Think of all the clever pictures you can take with that special stuffed animal watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or on a stone wall with the Tower of London or Tower Bridge in the background.
Day One - We arrived at Heathrow at 9:00am, gathered our things and made our way to the city. The quickest and most economical way to travel from Heathrow to central London is the Heathrow Express – www.heathrowexpress.com. This rail connects Heathrow airport with Paddington Station for as little as 7 pounds per person. Book early to save.
We headed straight for our Airbnb apartment near Victoria Station. The owners kindly let us have it early when I told them we would be arriving in the morning. We dropped off our things and then ventured out. Our first stop was to have lunch at a pub. Whoever said English food is bland, hasn’t traveled to London lately. Every single meal we had during our short two day stay was spectacular. We used Yelp to help guide us or looked at places that seemed busy.
Next, we spent several hours on a walking tour of Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, a view of The Eye, #10 Downing Street, the Horse Guards, and ending in Trafalgar Square.
Of course, each of these places could occupy hours in themselves, but this was just an overview of some of London’s most noteworthy sites. We used Rick Steve’s Audio Europe Podcasts to guide us and provide “just enough” information. Before your trip, you can download these free podcasts for various cities throughout Europe. Once we reached Trafalgar Square, we snapped our lion pictures and then went inside the National Gallery for a tour of fine art. My boys especially enjoyed seeing paintings they were familiar with like the Monets and Van Goghs on display. The National Gallery is free to enter (donations appreciated) and their website has resources for families that can be accessed here.
I recommend Mission London: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure by Catherine Aragon (available on Amazon) for a fun way to keep the kids engaged and learning throughout your stay. Unlike other travel books geared toward kids, this one is set up like a scavenger hunt, so with each place you visit they are looking for certain things. It also provides a fair amount of details and historical information.
Our Favorite Children's Books for Travel in England
After Trafalgar Square we went and picked up a few groceries and then headed back to the apartment. Everyone was ready for a shower, pajamas and some time to relax.
Apartment or Hotel? - On the note of apartment versus hotel, we go back and forth between the two, but an apartment certainly has its advantages, especially if you’re traveling with little ones. As my husband often works while we travel, he appreciates the kitchen table to set up his computer work station, and I appreciate being able to keep some food around and do a load of laundry (most apartments come with washers). It’s also nice to have a place late at night or early in the morning for people to be who aren’t sleeping. A family of four in a hotel room has plenty of disadvantages.
Day Two – lots to do, let’s go! After a fix-it-yourself breakfast of cereal, eggs, toast, etc. we called an Uber to pick us up and take us over to The Tower of London.
(A note about Uber and other transportation: For most sites in London, the Underground is going to be your most economical option, and sometimes fastest. But if you'd rather stay above ground for any reason, then taxis and Ubers are a good option. Taxis are plentiful and the drivers are knowledgeable and fun. Uber is a great alternative for a slightly more economical fare or for when you can’t find a taxi. But remember taxi drivers and Uber drivers don’t care for each other so never tell the other you have another boyfriend).
But back to The Tower of London –This is one of my favorite sites in all of London. Think back to the days of Robin Hood and what London must have been like in those days and you’ll imagine yourself inside this old fortress. When you purchase your ticket, ask for the family pamphlet they provide. Each child in your group will get their own booklet with pencils. Start your visit with a Beefeater tour. These men who live at the Tower and help protect it, also provide a very funny and entertaining 45 minute tour of its history, good and bad.
Also see the Crown Jewels – yes these are the real thing. Imagine seeing Queen Elizabeth’s real crown and septor. There are many other rooms and corridors to explore as well. In all, we spent about 3 hours at the Tower of London. This also included time to walk across the picturesque Tower Bridge.
Then we jumped in a taxi (conveniently lined up outside the Tower) and went over to the British Museum. With many wonderful museums in London to choose from, it’s hard to know which way to go when you can only choose one. Many people would argue that the Natural History Museum should rank first for children. And indeed, it’s spectacular. But we opted for the British Museum instead mainly for three reasons… mummies, the Rosetta Stone, and we’re big fans of the Night at the Museum movies. When we arrived we did a little souvenir shopping in the neighborhood first. We also found a little bakery for tea and scones (of course). Once inside the British Museum (free by the way) we picked up the children’s guide located at the information desk and used it as a guide. Even though it is geared toward children younger than mine, we still found it useful. We spent about 2 hours total time here.
Now it was time to get over to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Evensong service at 5:00pm. A handy little tip from Rick Steve’s, if you want to pay 20 pounds per person to see the inside, then visit during the day, if you want to see the inside for free, then go to the nightly Evensong service. The service lasted about 40 minutes and we were so glad to have attended. We were able to hear a beautiful choir inside this remarkable structure. Sitting under the dome, we could listen and look (and rest our feet) and it was candy for the senses.
Following the service, we ate dinner across the street at an Italian restaurant, Strada. It’s a chain in London, but we were very happy with the taste and quality of the food and also the ambiance. Not to mention, having a beautiful view of St. Paul’s out the window. After dinner, as we were leaving, the bell tower chimed as if to say, “Thank you for visiting.”
Our Favorite Children's Books for Travel in England