Recommendations and Tips For: London England

This morning I am going to be sharing some of the things that I learned from our recent trip to London. We spent a total of 4 days in London and saw quite a bit while we are there. I know we didn’t even come close to seeing a fraction of what is there, so I will only be remarking on what we did see, rather than anything else.

Recommendations:

Alright, we are going to start things off with something easy- I would recommend seeing The Tower. You don’t have to spend all day here like we did, the most would be probably 3 hours if you really wanted to do it. I would recommend doing the Yeoman Warder tour as they can give you quite a bit of information and then you can pick and choose from there as to what really interests you. If you do want to see everything and have the time to do so, I would plan for at least half the day spent here.

I would also personally recommend The Tower Bridge. Not only is walking the ramps cool, the view is dramatic and breathtaking in its own way. I would recommend going when they first open, rather than at the end of the day. Crowds can get big, lines can get long, and EVERYONE wants to get that perfect picture on the viewing bits. Save yourself the trouble and do this first on your day ha-ha.

Ok, now for City Tours. If you’ve read my “What We Did” post (you can catch it HERE), you know that we decided to just walk the streets of London. London has a wide variety of ways to see the city from walking tours to the Hop On, Hop Off buses and it is very unique to what works for you and your family. I heard from several people that they really enjoyed the bus tour as they got information that you wouldn’t get just by walking (such as where buildings were hit during World Wars, different routes for royals, parades, etc.). I also know that there are several different walking tours geared toward a variety of interests. For us, walking was what we chose and what I would recommend. The architecture and street scene of London is just so incredible that I feel like bus tours and such don’t do it true justice.

Now, I’m going to give what will probably be a VERY unpopular opinion…The London Eye is not a “must see” attraction. <gasp> What?! I totally thought that it would be a must-see thing, and while I really loved it and had fun looking all around and seeing the city from above, I didn’t find it to be anything truly groundbreaking or incredible. I don’t know if that is just because of what all we have done or what we like to do, but it just wasn’t…”it” for me. The queue’s move fairly quickly, my husband timed it out to waiting in the queue for 35 minutes and the wheel itself is 30 minutes. If you want to do it, do it, but I found Tower Bridge to be a slight bit cooler.

Tips:

Public Transportation. Public Transportation. Public Transportation. The London Tube is one of the most efficient public transports I’ve ever been on. Trains run every 5 minutes or less, if one station or line has an issue there are several other options, all of which are detailed on various boards when you walk into the station, and everything is very organized. We purchased day passes every day, which were not too terribly expensive, and they covered our entire travel for that day. It didn’t matter how many times we got on and off, as long as we stayed in our zones (which were extensive and big) we could just use the one pass. It’s super easy and straightforward to navigate and, honestly, I think the rest of the world could take a lesson or two.

Book-Attractions. This is honestly just a Europe thing that we’ve now learned about in the past couple times we’ve traveled. A lot of places have the option to pre book tours online and if you have the option take it. Often times the prices may be cheaper by booking online, you are guaranteed of your entrance time as queue’s can get busy or tickets may actually sell out(two places, The London Eye and a Museum in Edinburgh didn’t have open entrance times until several hours after we got there and doing the Warner Bro’s studio tour was completely sold out months ahead of our trip date), and it’s easy with either printing your own tickets or doing a will-call and picking them up on site.

Budget Appropriately. London isn’t expensive necessarily, but it also isn’t the cheapest place to stay. You pay for everything (except table water, which was a nice surprise after Germany), and the costs can add up quickly. Parking is a cost that most people don’t think of, but even to just park your car at the hotel will have a charge. Overall, I found the cost of travel wasn’t terrible, but it is something you will want to budget a little bit.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday – London, England

Our first “long” stop on our summer holiday was to spend 4 days in London England. I’m a massive Anglophile and have pins all across England of places that I’d like to visit. In fact, I’ve said in the past that I’d love to just take a few months and work my way through England and Scotland. HOWEVER, I have a husband who is interested, but not that interested in England and two children who don’t understand, so we had to make some priorities with our trips. So, we decided to give it our all in London for a few days and see/do as much as we could.

I want to preface this by saying I don’t think you could ever “run out” of things to do in London. There is just so much and, honestly, I feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface in that general area. There was a lot more on my list that I would love to see, but, again, husband and children so we tried to stick to the popular things for this visit. Who knows, I may go back sometime soon…

First and foremost- we decided to do a hotel stay while we were in London. Here’s the thing, for us we love staying in little flats or cottages booked through AirBnB. It’s what works well for our family and having the little separate spaces for us and the boys really just helps keep everything cohesive. BUT London is a very expensive place to stay and Summer is a very popular travel season. This leads to prices going up and we simply struggled to find a flat that would fit our needs, but also be budget friendly and ended up deciding that a hotel would be the better fit for us. We picked another Holiday Inn, this time the Brent’s Cross location and we were very pleased both with the staff, the room, the breakfast, and the shuttle taking us to and from the Tube Station. Highly recommend them if you are needing a hotel there and don’t’ want to necessarily be in the hustle and bustle of central central London.

We only book two tour times for our time in London as we wanted to have a little bit of leisure time/didn’t really want to be bogged down by having to be at certain places at certain times our whole trip. We like to have a semi structured travel plan to our travels (picking what we want to do, but sticking to a fluid timeline to do it) so I tried to keep booking times to either earlier mornings and only do one per day. This gave us a chance to have one “free” day in London as well as a full afternoon to just wander as we pleased and see whatever sights we wanted to see, while still getting a chance to do some of the things that were better to have scheduled.

*I do want to say- there are a couple different reasons to choose to book ahead online, some places it is cheaper, some places sell out of time slots, some places require it.*

I also want to say, real quick, that we got very lucky with our weather while we were there. Most days were sunny all day, warm temperatures (think 80’s at the height of the day), and no rain in sight. The day we left started a few days of straight rain (typical London weather), so we did really get lucky!

Day 1:

Our first day in London was the day that we had nothing scheduled so we decided to just…walk the streets. We had gotten a lot of tips about what the best way was to do touristy things in London, all of which I’ll talk about in my Tips/Tricks, but we ultimately decided that walking was the best for us. This gave us the freedom to pick and choose what we actually wanted to see and to explore as we wanted to. Plus we like walking and I feel like you can get a really good feel for a place simply by walking through its spaces.

Anyways, we did a walking trip through what I guess would be central London, as well as hopped on the Tube to get to a couple other spots that were a little far for us to walk. We hit up the following spots: Parliament, Big Ben (under construction currently), The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park (stopped for a little picnic lunch), St. James Palace, Downing Street (walked past), Piccadilly Circus, Hatchards (did a little shopping), Platform 9 ¾ and Kings Cross Station (they were filming there!), Trafalgar Square, and the Marble Arch.

 

Whew. It sounds like a lot just typing it. I can remember the exhaustion in our hotel room now haha. Seriously though, we had so much fun just having a wander through the streets, admiring the different architecture from the everyday buildings to the ornate hotels to the palace’s and beautiful parks in between.  Our day ended at The Marble Arch, which is right near Hyde Park and we decided to eat dinner in this area as well before heading back to our hotel. We chose to go to Cote Brasserie for dinner and had quite a lovely meal outside on the terrace (which is actually set in the front, on a little cobblestone street filled with art and jewelry shops).

Day 2:

We slowed down only ever so slightly on Day 2 in London by taking a trip to The Tower.

Known mostly for it’s illustrious execution and torture history, there is actually quite a bit longer more in depth story to the Tower. Known as “London’s Castle” it has had numerous uses in the past, but is currently a historic spot for tours, viewing of the Crown Jewels, and a way to have a great day out. It’s a landmark that I have always wanted to tour and I would say it might have been one of the true highlights of our time in London. We started with the Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeaters) tour, which gave my husband a good background on the history of the Tower and was a good refresher for myself. The Beefeaters are highly knowledgable and provide little gems of information both about The Tower and their roles within the Tower.

The tour lasted approximately an hour and we immediately turned our sights to The Crown Jewels. This meant standing outside in a queue for quite a bit of time (not a horrible amount, it gave the kids a chance to nap in the stroller/on our shoulders) waiting for our chance to take a little peak. The Jewels are, of course, absolutely incredible. You’ll see several different crowns, the scepter, and much more. The really nice thing is that you are viewing the jewels on a moving walkway so there is no extra standing and gawking or not being able to see things due to other people. Thankfully when we went, most of the items were not in use, so we got to see everything that they would put out for display.

IMG_6739 2.jpgWe then headed over to the White Tower, which is an internal tower within the gates and holds a lot of exhibits detailing the fighting and knighthood of the time. There were exhibits on the different King’s and their metal wear, the horse sizes as well as war tactics, and defense strategies.

The White Tower itself also has a full floor dedicated for kids (and adults) to explore in their own way. There is a canon they can practice firing, an arrow practice stand, an artifact exhibit with buttons showing where different bits were found on the ground, and a knights stand that had helmets and chain metal to touch.

The boys loved having some items geared more towards there age and spent a good bit of time running to each thing over and over again.

From the White Tower we wandered over to the different prison and torture chambers, learning the history of Richard III and the little boys of The Tower, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the many wives of Henry VIII. We also wandered through the turrets and towers on the outer wall. This gives a glimpse into the actual battlements of the Tower and how it was used as a fortress, as well as a pretty good view of Thames River and London across.

The final thing we got to see while we were at the Tower was a changing of the Guards.

This was quite a sight to see as the march along the front entrance path, then up to the Crown Jewels tower, yelling commands, before the actual changing of the guard. We got incredibly lucky to be in the places we were at the times that we were to see the entire process. It was definitely a cool experience to see how another country handles these changes.

All in all we spent a total of 5 hours at The Tower. Yep, 5 hours. To say we were spent at the end of it would be pretty accurate. We wanted to do something else, but didn’t want to travel far, so we decided to head over the Tower Bridge.

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This was something that my husband had seen on a London Documentary of some sort (a tourist one of like things to do or something along those lines) and he picked it out based on one thing. Not only is Tower Bridge just a sight to behold, but you can actually go up into the towers and walk across a clear portion of the floor, looking at the road and water beneath you. Insert freaked out face here…

IMG_6797.jpgI will say, as someone who is terrified of heights, this wasn’t that bad. It didn’t freak me out near as much as it probably should have or could have. Andrew absolutely loved running across the clear portion (he loves those things) while Colton was a little bit more apprehensive about the whole thing. You can look at the sides and see a really dramatic view of London and the Thames, which was just beautiful.

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As part of admission, you are also able to go down to the engine room and get some information and insight on how the bridge operates and how that operation has changed throughout the years. I will say- if they are in the process of raising or lowering, you are not actually able to go in, but they do have the times posted while you are purchasing tickets so you’ll know ahead of time.

We decided to stay in the area and had a lovely dinner at Vapiano’s. This is a chain restaurant that we actually quite enjoy, it’s one where they make your food right in front of you and we had a lovely time eating and people watching.

Day 3:

Our final day came with an early start, the earliest of our holiday (aside from the first day driving) in order to make our ticket time. Now, when I was picking out things that I wanted to do on this trip I tried to keep my husband and children in mind. There are so many things that I would want to do, but they are just not interested, so this particular experience was my one thing that I think I was the only one truly interested bit and I didn’t want to miss it.

IMG_6867.jpgThat one thing was getting a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and let me tell you, it was entirely worth it. I love Shakespeare’s works and while this isn’t the original (or even the second, this is the third rendition), the impact was still the same. It was breathtaking to walk along what was the best recreation they could do and what was even better was they were having an active rehearsal while we were there and the show that the stage was set for was a personal favorite of mine, A Midsummer Nights Dream! We were very lucky to even be able to take pictures inside the theatre as that is typically not allowed while there is a rehearsal. It just added to the entire experience and I just feel so blessed to have been able to do that. It was just so cool.

Once we finished that tour we headed back towards Buckingham Palace (thank the lord for the Tube!) and to Churchill’s War Rooms.

This was my husbands “one thing” for us to do. We waited in line for a little while to get in, but used the time to do snacks and naps. The museum itself is actually a really cool stop. Nothing has truly been touched in the rooms themselves, except to add manicans at certain points and before you get into the full rooms, you can walk through an exhibit talking about Winston Churchill’s life. I found the most interesting part being listening to the secretaries that worked for/with him. Such a good insight into who he was and what he was like.

Our last London stop was to visit/ride The London Eye. We purchased tickets the day of for a late in the day time (wait for my tips post for more information on my thoughts for this attraction) and were able to see the Mounted Guard and the retiring of the Mounted Guard (for the evening), which was an interesting sight to watch.

The London Eye itself is quite a marvel. It’s basically a large Ferris Wheel with enclosed carraiges that take you up quite high to give you a birds eye view of the city. You can see almost all of the landmarks of central London and you get pictures galore throughout the experience. You can also participate in the 3D experience (included with a Standard ticket), which just takes you into what you see and the various celebrations.

We had dinner at Steak & Co with an old friend of mine whose trip just happened to overlap with ours in London for a night. It was such a lovely way to end our few days in London!

That wraps up the first full section of our Summer Holiday 2019. I hope you enjoyed seeing London through our eyes! Have you been to London? How do you feel our trip compared to yours? Did you have a favorite of your trip? I think my favorite was probably The Globe if I’m being totally honest or walking through St. James Park. What would you want to do if you could do a trip to London?

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019: Calais and Dover

Good morning and happy Friday!! Today marks the start of my many many blog posts about our Summer Holiday. I think this is going to end up breaking down into 5 “what we did” posts and 3 “tips/recommendations” posts. I just have so much that I want to share about our trip, tips for future trip takers, and things that I want to look back in and reflect about. It would just simply be too long to only do one or two posts…SO…

I am going to break it up by “location” or Day. This means that there will be separate posts for London, Edinburgh, and Inverness and then two additional posts about the stops we made WHILE traveling to and from. The individual cities will also have separate recommendation/tips posts, but the travel day posts will just have the tips within the post…

If that makes sense? Hopefully it does because this is going to be a long post and I’ve already blabbered on for 151…152 words.

When we originally planned this trip, I picked out the three cities we wanted to visit, knowing one would be London, one would be in the Highlands, and I wanted to do an “old school” Scotland spot. After quite a bit of back and forth and weighing our options, we ultimately decided that driving would be the best option for our family. When it comes to cost, enjoyment, and ease driving was just what fit for this particular trip. This meant having to cross the Chanel with our vehicle.

There are two ways to cross the channel, the Euro Tunnel or the Ferry. Both options have you drive your car into a train or ferry in Calais and then be whisked across/under the water to Dover on the other side. There are pros and cons to both options, and we weighed both choices for a long time. Ultimately we decided to take the train across. The benefit is that it is quick (about 35 minutes), but you stay with your car and do not have the gorgeous views and café that you get with the Ferry. I am not sure how often the Ferries get “cancelled” or pushed back on the time’s, but that is something else to consider. We had cancellations or delays on both sides of the crossing (this was handled very well though, they have a service spot with a lot of shopping, and they will automatically sort your vehicle into the next available train).

So, once we determined that we would be staying a night in Calais, I started to look around and see what we could experience while we were there. The drive to get to Calais for us is an almost all-day drive, so I knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of energy/time for us to really explore. This was fine as Calais is a port city, which means there is a lot just right on the pier if you don’t want to go far/the time is getting late (and you have little ones like we do). We ended up with a couple of free hours, so we wandered over to the Lighthouse, climbed to the top and looked out at the city below. This was an absolutely beautiful view for us and a lovely way to get our bodies moving after being cramped in the car all day long ha-ha. I’m starting to really love these aerial city shots that we’ve been doing a lot of, it’s nice to see a city from above.

We also decided to walk along the pier of Calais, watch the cars board the ferry’s and watch the water of the channel crash in and out. It may not be the most exciting thing, but watching the sun slowly start to go down while listening to the waves is just so incredibly relaxing.

We actually ended up eating dinner at one of the stand-up shacks right near the pier, choosing burgers, fries and cola’s for dinner. We stayed in a hotel in Calais, choosing the Holiday Inn Calais for our one night there. The hotel is actually right on the water and is a completely fine choice to sleep for the night.

Once we reached England and the other side of the Channel, we decided to take a stop at Dover. I’ve always wanted to see the seaside town of Dover and its beautiful White Cliffs. As soon as I had seen that no matter which choice we made, we would be right near/in Dover I knew that we had to stop there. It was a no brainer for me.

We did two stops in Dover, Dover Castle and The White Cliffs of Dover. Exploring Castles, both intact and ruined, have quickly become one of those “things” we do while traveling. They hold such a wealth of information, history, and can be some of the prettiest spots to walk.

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Dover Castle was no exception to this. Not only is the castle stunning and the displays full of information and objects from the time period (found on the property), but they have a cast of period actors that roam the grounds/are in the buildings as you walk through. It just added such a good touch to the castle, without feeling cheesy or cringeworthy. There were two exhibits that we were not able to see, the underground tours, as the queue’s got to be too long for our two very tired little boys. This isn’t anything that we weren’t aware, when purchasing the tickets, the attendant said that they were expecting a high volume of visitors and those two tend to go quickly. Regardless, I would still recommend a stop to Dover Castle, it’s the perfect stop to stretch your legs and learn a little history.

The cliffs are actually right down the road and you can see it from the overlook point at the castle, so make sure you take a look from the distance before you head over.

Oh, the cliffs, the White Cliffs of Dover… I got to live out every Victorian/English Drama Movie/TV Show I’ve ever seen and stand at the precipice of those cliffs dramatically staring out to the abyss….ok I’m exaggerating just a little bit, but it was a dream spot and a definite must see. Not only are the cliffs themselves incredible, but the water- oh the water- a stunning blue/green combo that makes one swoon at the site. Now, we only had time to go out to the lookout vantage point, BUT you are able to hike out to the cliffs themselves, the lighthouse, and have a lovely afternoon tea at the café near the lighthouse (which I so so so wanted to do). Another perfect  stop if you just want to get out and stretch your legs for a little while.

So that was the first, short leg of our Summer Holiday. I hope that you enjoyed seeing Calais and Dover through our eyes! Let me know if you have any questions, and if you’ve been there, is there anything you would add? What was your favorite spot?