This past October our family took a trip to the United Kingdom. We thought about making a trip just the two of us for our anniversary but I’m still not quite ready to leave all my kids and travel that far so we decided to take them along! We were gone for seven days and packed as much as we could with three kids in tow!
First Day: Arrival, the Tube and Jet Lag!
We took a 6:30 p.m. flight from Denver and arrived in London the next morning about 7 a.m. We arrived to a steady drizzle of rain but that was the only day that it rained. From Heathrow, we took the Tube, London’s underground rail system, to our apartment (flat!). We dropped our luggage off and decided to start the day with a traditional English breakfast: fried eggs, white toast, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and pots of tea! Our plan was to eat breakfast and stay outside to help us adjust to the time change but the rain really hindered our plans so we went back to our apartment and we all slept for several hours.
After a long nap, we walked to dinner and got a few things for the week.
Second Day: Tower of London, Cruise on the River Thames, Westminster Abbey
The next day, the sun shone brightly and after a quick breakfast at home, we headed to the Tower of London. William the Conqueror built this tower in 1077. It has a long history of being a royal residence, a prison, fortress and now holds the Crown Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Crown Jewels exhibit is not photo-accessible but we saw actual coronation items from when a new monarch was crowned, including a scepter and orb, the Crown of the Queen Mother and the Imperial State Crown which HRM wears for official functions.
After the Tower of London tour, we headed out for a cruise on the River Thames but first a picture.
The river tour lasted about thirty minutes and dropped us off at Westminster Pier (near the clock tower that holds Big Ben). We weren’t able to see the tower because it is under construction for another few years.
From Big Ben and Parliament, we walked over to Westminster Abbey, the royal church where royalty has been wedded, coronated and buried. There was a fee to tour the church but we walked along the exterior of the church and attended an evensong service that was free and open to the public. The inside of the abbey is austere and reverent, filled with tombs, hundreds of memorials to poets, soldiers and others that have made an impact on British history. I did catch a glimpse of the tomb of Queens Elizabeth I and Mary I (daughters of Henry VII, Mary was Catholic, Elizabeth a Protestant, arch enemies in life but buried side by side). No pictures were allowed inside the abbey. The evensong service is held most days at 3:00 p.m. and is open to the public. The service was beautiful, very Anglican, and included prayers, hymns, readings, a sermon and scripture readings. This service was very responsive in nature and I think my kids did great all things considered and sat through the 1.5 hour church service without a peep and not too much complaining. Win.
After Westminster, we headed home and took pictures by some very smelly telephone booths and had dinner at a British pub close to our apartment.
Third Day: Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Saint James Park, Kensington Palace, Museum of Natural History
We got a late start on our third day in London (jet lag!). We slept in, got coffee and breakfast at this place and headed to Trafalgar Square, a public square with fountains and statues. We then made the long walk to Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace was a bit of a letdown. We got there late and there were so many people and so many ceremonial activities happening, you weren’t sure exactly what was going on.:) After the changing of the guard, we walked along Saint James Park, a 57-acre park that borders with Buckingham Palace.
After Saint James Park, we headed over to the National History Museum.
The museum is free and has exhibits on dinosaurs, a life-sized blue whale model and other stuffed mammals. The kids enjoyed our brief time in this museum but my favorite was the woolly sheep outside of the grounds.
After the museum, we walked to Kensington Palace. The palace was the official home for the monarch before Buckingham Palace and it is where Queen Victoria was born and raised. We decided to nix the palace tour and instead grab tea at the gift shop and walk around the Sunken Garden that surrounds the palace.
After Kensington, we walked to Hyde Park; this was perfect for our kids since they were ready to run and explore. I was really impressed with the parks in London. This one had a lake with swans and also a park for young kids named in honor of Princess Diana. The park has a very strict policy; no adults allowed into the park if not accompanied with a child. My kids still say this park was one of their favorite memories…so much to explore and take in.
By this time it was around 5:00 p.m. so we decided to hit one more spot on our “to-see” list and took the Tube to Paddington Station. The kids and I have really enjoyed reading several of the books about Paddington Bear by Michael Bond and all of our kids really wanted to see the station where the original story takes place. Michael Bond passed away in 2017 and they had a sweet tribute to him at the station.
After finding a few souvenirs, we went on a wild goose chase to eat at an Indian restaurant that hubby said was exceptional. We never found it but ended up eating here. It was super spicy…even for me.
Day Four: Oxford!
This was on my bucket list as far as places I wanted to be sure to go to while we were visiting England. I have admired C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and in more recent history, the late Christian apologist, Nabeel Qureshi who all have ties to the University of Oxford. My family was a bit reluctant to go but they were good sports to indulge me for one day. 🙂
Getting to Oxford required two modes of transportation, our trusty Tube and a double decker bus ride (ironically called the Oxford Tube which was very confusing) to the town of Oxford. It was a peaceful hour or so long bus ride from London to Oxford. Once we arrived in Oxford, we met our tour guide for the day. He was a delightful gentleman and catered our tour to our interests, mainly places pertaining to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world and has thirty eight colleges on campus; we toured two of them; Christ Church College and Magdalen College.
Our tour guide David, also took us to where J.R.R. Tolkien lived with his wife in Oxford. The home is now used as campus residences.
Our tour guide then took us to Bodleian Library, a non-lending library on campus with a rich history.
We then briefly took a break from university touring and our tour guide showed us one of the oldest pubs in town. We really wanted to eat at this pub due to its popularity with Lewis and Tolkein but it was sadly closed all day due to a private event.:( Our tour guide assured us that this place was just as good and every pub in Oxford was sure to have been frequented by both literary figures.:) We took a series of winding passages and landed at The Turf Tavern.
After our tour guide showed us the pub (we returned to it later for some beef pies and pints), he took us to Magdalen College (pronounced Maudlin). C.S. Lewis taught here and while at Magdalen, wrote many of his books that we are familiar with. It is said that the many of the statues around Magdalen gave Lewis inspiration for the frozen animals in his Chronicles of Narnia. We were able to tour the college on our own as our tour guide had another appointment with another group that afternoon. It was nice to tour Magdalen leisurely at our own pace.
After lunch, we took a walking tour of the grounds surrounding Magdalen. It was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed our stroll.
After our tour of Magdalen, we headed back to the Turf Tavern for some nourishment before our long journey back to London during rush hour. Such a fun day; I would have loved to have spent another couple of days in Oxford.
Day Five: Millenium Bridge, a visit to Canonical and Borough Market
After our long day in Oxford, we were all really tired on this day so we took things a little slower. We started the day with a trip to hubby’s London office. The kids really liked the sound-proof pods.:)
After the visit, we headed to Flatiron Square, just a short walk from the office and also not far from our next stop, Borough Market. Flatiron Square was really busy for the business crowds as it has food trucks, food vendors and restaurants and a fun outdoor space.
After lunch we did the Bankside walk, along the South Bank of the River Thames.
We then went to Borough Market, London’s oldest produce market. This was really fun experience for me since I love everything food-related.:)
The kids opted for gelato for dessert at Borough Market but I opted for a sweet roll.
After Borough Market, we walked across the London Millennium Footbridge. It allows pedestrians to connect to the city of London from Bankside.
After the Millennium Footbridge and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, we took a Tube to an area of London called Knightsbridge so that we could get some souvenirs from the Harrods department store. It is the largest department store in Europe and has 330 departments.
After Harrod’s we had dinner here. I didn’t realize it was a chain Lebanese place but the food was good.
Day Six: 221b Baker Street, British Museum, Covent Garden, Holland Park
Our last full day in London found us all a bit tired and sluggish. I would have loved to have added another museum to the mix but the kids were really struggling by this day. We started our day off with something on my 10-year-old’s wish list: a visit to 221b Baker Street, the address of Sherlock Holmes. There is a museum at this location but we just went into the gift shop.:)
After the Sherlock Holmes stop, we went to the British Museum.
The museum also had an exhibit on Assyria and India that we briefly toured. The kids were tired and a bit cranky so we decided we’d better head out. We had lunch at a pizza place in Covent Gardens.
After the Covent Garden area of London, we decided to nix all other plans and take the kids to the park, always a great plan. The weather was turning cooler and we could tell our kids just wanted to do what kids do best, play! We took them to Holland Park. The park was pretty much deserted and we spent a few hours here.
We grabbed an early dinner at a neighborhood Indian restaurant and got to bed since we were leaving the next day. We got up early the next morning and wheeled our suitcases to the Tube and got to Heathrow in time for an early breakfast and our flight. Overall, the kids did great and we had a wonderful time in jolly ol’ England and now I am ready to move across the pond. 😉