It seems appropriate that the first family adventure I share is our recent trip to London over Thanksgiving weekend. That weekend, we found ourselves looking up our old expat blog from a decade ago, and I finally decided to start documenting our travels again.
Sometime in late summer or early fall, J found a great price on round-trip flights to London Heathrow on Virgin America. We had been wanting to take the girls to London, but summer airfares had been consistently too high to even consider. So when this opportunity presented itself, we just booked for Thanksgiving weekend and figured we would work out the rest of the details later.
Fortunately, this trip took much less planning than a normal family adventure since we already knew the city so well. We knew where we wanted to take the kids, the general locations of top sights, and the workings of the public transportation system. We were staying with friends at their flat and planned to share most meals with them too, so restaurant research was also minimal.
Day 1 – Arrival
Our kids hate flying. Even more than their hatred of flying is their hatred of sleeping on airplanes. We know this and try to prepare for the fatigue, emotions, and tantrums that result, but the first day of any Adventure is always a struggle. For our family, the best way to combat jet lag is to stay busy and push through till the evening without naps. Again, this is what works for us. You do you.
We arrived in London on Thanksgiving morning, but since the friends that we were staying with had school and work on our arrival day (Thanksgiving is obviously not a British holiday), we planned to do a Tour of Wimbledon in the afternoon before Thanksgiving dinner that evening.
The Tour exceeded all expectations. We loved it, the girls loved it, and it was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon in London. The tour discussed the unique maintenance of the lawn grass, membership into the Club (it’s VERY exclusive, but not in a $ way), access to Court 1, Center Court, the Press Center and much more.
Day 2 – Central London
We decided to start our day out in our old neighborhood in Notting Hill. We took the tube all the way to Ladbroke Grove, showed the girls our old flat and then walked down Portobello Rd to Notting Hill Gate. We purposefully chose a non-market day to avoid large crowds. There are slightly less stalls when it’s not Saturday, but there are still plenty of eats, treats, and trinkets to be tempted by.
Our oldest daughter is a mega Harry Potter fan. She really wanted to go to the Warner Bros. studio tour in Leavesden on the outskirts of London, but given our short trip, we didn’t have a day to devote to that kind of an activity. Instead, we took the tube up to Kings Cross Station for a visit to the 9 3/4 platform and some shopping at the Harry Potter store. The queue was long, but her excitement and smile were worth it.
We didn’t really have a lunch plan for the day since we didn’t know how long the HP stop would be. The food options in the station were all chain restaurants, so we went in search of something else nearby. We stumbled upon a new to us area – Coal Drops Yard – restored railway arches that are now home to shops and restaurants.
After lunch, we hopped back on the tube and got off at Oxford Circus. The shopping high streets in this part of London are always decked out for the holidays. We walked down Regent Street, detoured over to see Liberty London, walked down Carnaby Street and further down to Piccadilly Circus before finishing our lights and decorations tour on Piccadilly Street at Fortnum and Mason.
Fortnum and Mason always has fun and unusual food and beverage items in its lower level, so we popped in to show the girls around before walking through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Much to our surprise, we ran into my cousin, who was studying abroad in Spain and on a weekend trip, in front of the gates to the Palace!
One of the London landmarks the girls were most interested in seeing was Big Ben. Fueled by some M&M’s in my purse, we ended the day’s walking tour by walking down to the Thames to see the clock. Unfortunately, Ben is covered in scaffolding and will stay that way until at least 2021, but it didn’t stop J and I from repeating “Look kids! Big Ben. Parliament!”
Day 3 – South Bank
The Tower of London is something I always recommend to friends who are visiting the city. It is one of those tourist destinations that always lives up to its reputation. I knew the girls would love it too. We purchased our tickets online ahead of time and added the children’s guide book to our purchase. The girls loved following the map and reading the simplified history of the Palace. We let them choose which areas to go to and which to skip – of course, the Crown Jewels were first.
From the Tower, we walked across Tower Bridge – by far my favorite bridge in London – to the Southbank. We showed the girls Borough Market and walked along the waterfront through endless Christmas Markets all the way to the London Eye. We gave our legs a little rest in order to take a ride on a double decker bus to Trafalgar Square. The girls were excited to see the Lions that they’ve read about countless times in one of their favorite books Katie in London . Our last stop of the day was Covent Garden for more Christmas decorations, some street performances and ice cream – because it’s never too cold for ice cream.
Day 4 – Friends Farewells
We spent our last day in London hanging out with the best friends we had to leave when we moved back to the US. We had a “lie in”, went out for a Sunday Roast pub lunch, and then out to dinner at another friend’s house. The pub culture is one of my favorite things about this country, and there was no way we were going home without a proper ie. LENGTHY pub visit.
London will always be a special place to us, and it gets harder and harder to leave every time we visit.
What We Say About London
A visit to London always leaves me wanting more. More history, more pubs, more walks… more British accents– Mom
London was the best. I was very surprised that it was sunny for the majority of the trip– Big Sis C
I liked seeing the London Eye and Big Ben– Lil Sis M
Insider tip: Food in London is actually amazing. Curries, pizzas, crisps, roasts, warm beers and sticky toffee puddings– Dad