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Monday, June 29, 2015

My London List: Tips for Your Trip!




Yes, this may possibly be one of my longest posts of all time because there's just so much to love about London.  And if you're heading there anytime in the near future, this may very possibly save you time and money.  I'll tell you some of my favorites you may not have heard about yet!  And because we took all 4 kids on this trip, I'll share a few things we learned about traveling as a family as well.


Click here if you haven't yet read about Notting Hill and the Portabello Road Market.  That's definitely at the top of my list and has to have its own post just because of how awesome it is!

But after that, I've got many more favorites to recommend, so buckle your seat belts!






First up: to get a great overview of the city, it's a good idea to take a bus tour at the beginning of the visit.  This way, you can take in the highlights, get acclimated, and then decide where you will spend more time later.  For both this trip and our last, we used The Original Tour London Siteseeing company and we loved it both times.  Book early online to get extra discounts and they also run specials like getting a 2nd day free, which we did.  There are a few different bus lines, which will take you all over the city, where you can hop on and hop off at the different sites you'd like to see. Or, you can stay on the whole time and just listen to the guide give the commentary on all the sites.  It's the most fun way to see London, in my opinion, and our kids loved it, too.




This company also offers free walking tours with entertaining and informative guides.  We have done the changing of the guard tour twice, and it's a great way to see it!







The guide will get you to the great picture spots, yet keep you from wasting time getting caught in the crowds around Buckingham Palace, which of course, is another must-see in London!





Another perk of going with the Original Tour company is that you get a free river cruise as well down the Thames, which is a great way to get some great views of the sites along the banks and the amazing Tower Bridge!



Once off the boat, you can visit the Tower of London, another of my favorites!  This is full of history and totally beautiful as well. 




The tours are given by Yeoman Warders in full uniform who are legit and professional, yet very entertaining!




And this is the home of the Crown Jewels as well.  Of course, there are no pictures allowed inside, but trust me, these are no joke either.




More gorgeous views are all around, and there are plenty of buildings to explore if you want to spend the time.  Be sure to check closing times because it's only open until late afternoon on most days.  Click here to visit the Tower of London site and find out more.







Another must-see on our list would be the famous London eye!



This may not be a favorite if you're afraid of heights, but it's definitely a great way to get a great view of London!



Because of it's popularity, it's a good idea to buy your tickets ahead of time online, which will also get you a small discount.  It takes 30 minutes to ride the wheel around, and it was about that long to wait in line, even with our pre-purchased tickets.  But, it is worth the wait and a great London memory!  Click here for the official site.




And another site you'll want to visit is the Westminster Abbey.  We learned the hard way on this one that it's best to pre-purchase tickets online.  This will save you lots of time, as the line for pre-purchased tickets was way shorter than the line to buy them at the door!  And you must buy them at least one day prior rather than the day of, because I tried it while standing in line and it didn't work!  So click here before your visit and pre-purchase those tickets!  Also, take note that the Abbey is open for worship only on Sundays and may be closed on other days as well, so be sure to check the calendar.








And for more history than you can handle, visit the British Museum, which is one of the best free things you'll do in London!  You can definitely spend a lot of time here, so you may want to map out your visit before you go if your time is limited.







The Egyptian mummies were a favorite with us, and of course, the Rosetta Stone is a must-see.  Click here to visit the site and see what else you can take in while you're here!




Aside from the history, there's plenty more to see and do in London, and another of our favorites is Covent Garden.  It's a hub for shopping, restaurants, street performers, and more.  A fun place to spend some time and get a taste of another side of London!






And while you're in the neighborhood, you might want to take in a show!  We saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Drury Lane Theatre Royal, and it was lots of fun!  Click here to see whats'playing in London now.









Since we have three girls, we had to visit the iconic Cath Kidston to take in some authentic British charm.  There are more than 59 Cath Kidston shops in the UK and Ireland alone, so you will more than likely run into at least one if you visit the U.K. Lucky you!  Find out more and do some shopping and pinning here.





And who can visit London without stopping at Harrod's?  Okay, maybe you can, but there is plenty to see in this 5-acre department store.




If you're just looking to hit the highlights, I recommend visiting the Harrod's gift shop on the 2nd floor.



And at least take a stroll through the Food Halls on the ground floor.  Just beautiful!








And speaking of food, you know you need to visit a traditional London pub at least once or twice (and you probably couldn't avoid them if you tried) to get some real fish 'n chips!  We loved this one in the Piccadilly Circus area.  It was adorable and delicious and Mozart himself once played in this building when he was only a child!












With countless other restaurants to choose from in London, another that stands out is Recipease, by the one and only Jamie Oliver.






This place is totally unique in that it's a shop with a cafe upstairs, but there are also cooking classes going on!  Don't expect Jamie himself to show you the ropes, but who knows?  He might stop by.





This class was learning how to make ravioli while we were there.  And there are several other options as well!  Click here to learn all about it!











And when you do plan your trip to London (because I hope by now you want to), you really must plan at least one extra day for a day trip tour.  We have taken the same tour with Evan Evans tours twice now, and both times, it was great. 

Book your tour ahead of time, and a tour bus will pick you up from your hotel or one nearby in the morning and return you back to town in the evening.  The price for the tour includes the price for admission for the sites you'll see, so it really is a good deal.  The tour company is Evan Evans, a well-known reputable company.  (Tip!  We found discounted prices on this tour by ordering through this site.)  The tour we love includes Warwick Castle, Stratford upon Avon, a drive through the Cotswolds, and a walking tour in Oxford.  

Warwick Castle is absolutely beautiful, and a favorite for kids as well.








There's plenty to see inside the castle and on the grounds.  The tour allows for plenty of time to see castle and even grab a little snack if you choose.











The next stop is Stratford upon Avon, where you'll find the childhood home of Shakespeare.  The tour includes admission here, too, which is fun and informative, then, you'll have a little time to eat at one of the cute cafes or tea rooms and do a little shopping.















And then the last stop of the day is Oxford, which is also full of charm and history.  The tour guide will give commentary and point out some highlights in architecture and fill you in on facts you never knew about the university.  Then, you'll have a little time to browse some more.









My son, Grant, was absolutely thrilled to get to see The Eagle and Child, where Tolkein and C.S. Lewis were said to meet regularly to discuss faith and literature--one of the highlights of his whole trip!





It's safe to say we love London!  It's easy to get around the city, even for families.  And because there are plenty of large taxis, even a family of six like us could easily find one.  And many times that was a cheaper option than taking the underground because the taxis in London do not add on fees for extra people.  (This is not the case in other cities we visited, which I will tell you about!)





Also, we have learned to love train travel!  So relaxed and laid-back compared to flying.  Twice now we have taken the train from London to Paris, which goes under the English Channel!  It's only a 2 1/2 hour ride, and very easy.  We definitely recommend it!





You may even see some interesting people in the train station.  Lola insisted this was Dick Van Dyke playing the piano.  Bless his heart!





 So, there you go-- probably my longest post ever. And I'm sure I left something out, so if I think of it, I may update.  If you have any questions, let me know!  And if you have a great London favorite to add, please share!!

I'll be back soon with some tips on our next stop: Paris!