I’m recapping the highlights from our family trip to Europe. You can read these other posts in the series:
We absolutely LOVED our time London. It was our first stop on our two-week European extravaganza, and because of flight times and availabilities, we ended up there one extra day than the other cities. This worked out perfectly to give us a little jet-lag flex time for the first few days with an 8-hour time difference.
10 Things about our time in London:
On this trip we stayed at the Covent Garden Hotel and I highly recommend it. Jeff and I have stayed in the sister hotel The Soho London and also loved that one. Both these hotels have amazing style and are in great areas for walking and food. The Covent Garden Hotel is more classically English in style & decor, while the Soho Hotel is more funky (I actually took a few ideas from that hotel home with me because I loved the style so much). Between the two, I think I preferred being in Covent Garden which was just a great area for shopping, eating, and getting anywhere we wanted.
In recent years we’ve also stayed at the Dorchester Hotel, which was fancy and lovely and right by Hyde park, but it wouldn’t have been a good fit with kids.
Getting around in London was by far the easiest of the three cities we visited. There were ample cabs at all times, and the tube was fast and convenient. (Subways/Undergrounds in general have a bit of a learning curve for me, in each city I have to study the map and make sure I’m doing the right thing. But once you figure it out, it’s great.)
The weather bummed us out. I KNOW that it’s London and we were prepared for rain but not for cold. I don’t mind a drizzle or a downpour, but I did not bring enough warm clothes to be comfortable. Lesson learned.
A funny story about that is that just a few years ago we were in London in June for an event and it was EASILY the hottest I’ve ever been in my life. We were at a party in a building without any air conditioning (or insufficient air conditioning) and I thought I was going to melt into the floor. This year was not that.
We are not afraid of being all-out tourists when we travel (in fact we always are), and so we booked a VERY fun tour company for our first day. Small Car Big City was a total treat, and it let the kids see the major pieces of the city quickly and in a fun way. (Look kids: Big Ben, Parliament!)
My friend Tracy booked this, and she requested that along with some of the major sites, could we also stop at the Leake Street graffiti tunnel. This was fun for the kids and outside of the normal tour-isty stuff.
Our Small Car Big City was over so quickly that we all wished we’d booked the 4 hour tour instead of the 2 hour.
We also did the Thames Rockets, but it was POURING rain and we did not get the full experience. In the past, Jeff and I have done other Thames boat rides and they’re pretty and a nice way to see the beautiful bridges and famous buildings.
TOWER OF LONDON
We decided to do the Tower of London kind of last minute, but tickets were easy to grab online. Again, it was drizzly, so while that it’s ideal weather to see the Tower (a lot of the tour was outside), it made it significantly less crowded than I imagine it would be otherwise.
We went for the audio guides, which my kids loved. (We didn’t do the family-guided tour, we just did the regular option where you pick and choose your audio guide chapters depending on where you’re standing. This let us wander around a bit, which was nice.)
We all especially loved seeing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. There was a bit of an extra line for that, but it was worth it.
The stories that go along with the Tower of London (beheadings, heirs to the throne, monarchy in general) sparked great conversations with the kids. My daughter had been very taken with the idea of the Queen and her beautiful jewelry, but the Tower made for some thought-provoking questions about ruling in general. I’m so glad we braved the rain for this one.
By far, my favorite experience this trip was going to Sketch London for a two+ hour tea time. It is just as instagram worthy as we were hoping, and such a unique experience all around. The tea itself and the many courses that come with it are lovely and traditional, but the space, style, and service was very unique. The kids loved it, the adults loved it, it was such a win/win.
You do have to make reservations for Sketch well in advance, especially if you have a group. They don’t accommodate large groups (or at least not by the time we were booking, about a month out), I believe the max was 6 people for one reservation. We could have done two separate reservations for the full 8, but two in our party did something else instead. This is something I will definitely go back to if possible.
Of course we made the stop at Buckingham Palace, because this is LONDON. It was a zoo. Speaking of a literal zoo, Jeff took our daughter to the actual zoo one morning when my son wasn’t feeling well, and they said it was great. So FYI.
There are parks and other palaces around Buckingham, so it’s a nice place to wander. There are coffee kiosks and people lying about in the grass, so if it’s a nice day this is a pleasant thing to do.
There are multiple options if you want to get really high in London. Our kids really wanted to go on the London Eye, so we splurged on fast passes and were riding that enormous Ferris wheel within the half hour. (The line for the non-fast past ticket holders was much, much longer.) I don’t love heights, but it was fine, actually. Your fully enclosed with the freedom to move around the car, so I wasn’t freaked out. I do love the boardwalk thing in that area with lots of restaurants and a fun little playground that the kids played at for awhile. It’s a nice, touristy area.
We had some time to kill, so we took a quick cab ride over to the London Shard and went all the way to the top there. For people afraid of heights, this was much scarier than the London Eye for me. The very top is open air and I was nervous the whole time. The view was beautiful, though, and they served champagne. So.
One day we caught the train to Oxford, to visit where I did a study program nearly 20 years ago. The train from London to Oxford is about an hour, and once we were there we very spontaneously jumped on one of those on/off tour buses that was sitting outside the train station when we arrived. This ended up being pretty unnecessary, as Oxford isn’t that big, but we made a good part of the loop listening to the audio commentary and history, and that was nice. We also used it as our transportation to/from the train station since that was one of the on/off stops. So it was convenient but maybe a little pricey given that we could have walked to where we were going if I’d looked at a map once before we arrived.
We weren’t able to go inside of Brasenose College (where I lived while at Oxford), but we stood outside and took lots of pictures. We also went to King’s Arms for lunch, the same pub where I had some of my very first alcoholic drinks all those years ago. I ordered fish and chips and we listened to grad students argue philosophy and it was surreal and hilarious.
I loved showing my family this place that so shaped the rest of my life. It took a bit of effort, but I’m really glad we took this short day trip to Oxford.
The Tate Modern stays open late on the weekends, so after dinner one night we spent an hour in this amazing modern museum. (An hour isn’t enough, honestly, but with four little kids and tired parents, it worked for the moment.) The Tate Modern is free and we were in and out fast even though it’s quite large.
After we left the museum, we walked the millennium bridge and that was a fun late-night thing to do. The sun stays up so much longer in London than it does in Los Angeles (even in the summer), so we took full advantage of that.
We had several notable meals in London, but my absolute favorite was Cicchetti Covent Garden. Their signature dish was a truffle ravioli and it was delicious. We also enjoyed the gnocchi, spaghetti, and fried dough. It’s also so pretty inside. We took our kids with us (and they loved the food, too), but this is really more of a date night or (better!) double date night place.
We also went to Frenchie Covent Garden, and that was delicious, too! I had the maple bacon scones as an appetizer that were so good I couldn’t resist ordering another for dessert. Our kids were fine with plain pasta here, but also is really better for adults.
Much better for the kids was the OXO Tower restaurant (the brasserie side, not the fancy side). It was loud and fun and they enjoyed the food and the gorgeous view.
So that was our trip to London! A great city with children, there is so much to see and do and getting around is easy. We loved it and already can’t wait to go back.