As most of you probably saw from Facebook and my “yup, we’re here” post, my family was in London. It was probably the quickest actual “trip” we have taken thus far in our two years in Europe, but do I have any regrets about it? Not a single one!!
So let’s recap. We left for London at 3:30 Friday morning (yes, the middle of the night) and got home at 10:15 on Saturday evening. So in total actual time, we had just over 24 hours (including sleeping time) to explore. Now yeah, I know most of you think I’m crazy – and maybe I am (WE – as my husband agreed 😉 ) but again, not a single regret.
So what sparked this very short visit? Big Ben… I found out late last year Big Ben was going to have renovations done, silencing it until 2021. Up until Monday the 14th of August, no date was out on when renos were going to commence, so I had time. Between my husband being away for work, kids school, etc, planning a trip just wasn’t working out. When I found out on the 14th of this month renos were starting in literally a week, I had to act fast! Talked to my husband, he got Friday off of work (he only found out about this on the Wednesday), and so I was able to plan properly. We wanted to go from Friday-Sunday, but a big bowling tournament on Sunday forced us back on Saturday instead. We decided we were okay with the shortness, and if we need to go back because we missed something, then so be it.
I looked at flights and even though I knew they would cost an arm and a leg, I checked anyways. It was going to cost us 1000-1300€ for the overnight – no way! So I checked out the Tunnel going between Calais, France, and Folkestone, UK. This is a train you can go on with your car (like a ferry, but underground), and get off on the other side and head to where you gotta go. It is about a 35 minute ride under the English Channel. I checked between a few different times, including even leaving Thursday night, and leaving in the very early morning on Friday was the cheapest way. We got what was called a “overnight short stay” – which was 56€ each way. The only way to get that is to stay only one night, coming back before midnight the next day – exactly what we were doing. We could have paid an extra 80€ each way for the Flexipass – where you can take the chunnel pretty much anytime, within that one night stay, but I know my family. We are not ones to be late, and I knew we would make our times no matter what.
Takes me no time at all to pack. One change of clothes was all we needed; even though I packed two each – just “in case”. We got into the car at 3:30am, and started the three hour drive. To save money, we took our smaller car instead of our giant Land Rover. The higher the vehicle, the more you pay for the tunnel. That’s great, but the only problem is I can’t drive the smaller car, only my husband can (we are working on this soon!). It was a long drive for my hubby alone, but he did it. The kids fell asleep within the first hour, I kept myself awake, and my hubby and I talked to keep us going. By the time we got to the tunnel he was ready for a nap. You check in (as you would for an airplane), and then pass through customs before you even get into the UK – makes it easy to just drive off when you get accross not having to worry about it. We got there early, so we were able to get on the earlier train free of charge; better to get into London earlier!! Getting on the train was simple – you drive as far as you can until the person in charge tells you to stop. You park the car, put windows halfway down, and wait. Literally wait. My hubby fell asleep until we got to the other side (well as much as he could with kiddos arguing) which took about thirty-five minutes. There is an announcement as you disembark saying to make sure you remember to drive on the left side (as everyone knows, the UK drives on the opposite side of the road!). We thought the announcement was quite funny.
The drive into London was fairly easy (coming from the person who wasn’t driving on the wrong side of the road lol), besides a bit of traffic closer to London itself. It’s a good thing we didn’t get a hotel downtown – driving would have been impossible. We got to our hotel by 9:00am and asked them if we could park our car for the day. They said no problem at all. They even had a room available, and let us check in free of charge. This was going to help our day so much!! Instead of worrying about leaving downtown to check-in, or having to cut our day short because check in closes at a certain time, we had all day to literally explore!
We found the closest train station, and bought an all day Zone 1-4 pass – good for overground (trains) and underground (the Tube – metro). The kids were free, and adult ones were 12.50£gbp (20$ Cnd). One train stop, one metro trip, and we were exactly where we wanted to be – Big Ben! As we were stepping out of the metro car, I looked at the time, and it was 10:57. Perfect timing – and not even done on purpose. We head towards the exits, and literally, as we stepped outside, you hear the bells! The bells that in three days would be silenced for the next four years! You look up, and there it is! Big Ben is freaking amazing. And huge! Pictures just don’t show how amazing it actually is! Being here is some place I have always wanted to be standing, and here I was. I looked down at the boys, and the looks on their faces… They were in absolute awe – and that look doesn’t happen for just anything. Getting them to look away was tough.
We decided to walk around Westminster Palace – and here I was thinking it would be a quick walk, and back to the clock. NOPE! Not even a little bit. You just keep walking, and walking, and walking, and the building never ends! This palace was enormous! We didn’t realize it was right next to a park, so we decided to walk through – let the kids move and not have to worry about cars and crowds. Walking through was very nice, and had a great view of the palace, and The London Eye. Plus the kids being able to run “to the next tree / to the next pole” was great! We walked to the end of the park, crossed the bridge, and walked along the Thames River. All along the bridge was small lookouts to see the palace. After the first one, the kids insisted on stopping at every one to take new pics – who can resist when the kids ask for a pic 😉 The bridge, and the entire walk along the water had an amazing view of Westminster Palace.
We walked back to Westminster Palace by way of the bridge closest to the palace. Hubby, kids and I took our trip “selfie” with Big Ben in the background.
From there, we needed food. Other than a small bakery we’d stopped at between the train and metro earlier, we hadn’t yet eaten anything with sustenance. We decided Hard Rock Café was the best idea for food. We asked someone how far it was; he said thirty minutes, which was probably too far with the kids – he did not know our kids lol
On the walk, you pass by the London Eye, so you can get a great picture. Plus, walking lets you pass right by Trafalagar Square, meaning we wouldn’t have to backtrack later on to find it. Walk a little more, and you get right into Piccadilly Circus – pretty much London’s shopping district. If we had a couple days in London, sure I would have walked around to see what was there – only having a day didn’t make sense to lose time shopping. Plus, I’m not much of a shopper – I would get bored pretty quick…
Hard Rock Café was right up the street – finally! We get there, and oh no, there’s a line! We got worried, but decided to wait and see how long the line would be. Turns out it was only five minutes. The Hard Rock Café (restaurant) is right across the street from the Hard Rock Café Shop. We got a little machine that would beep and vibrate when our table was ready, and the lady gave the job to our oldest to hold it. It had enough distance so we could look around the shop, and not have the kids bored sitting on the curb waiting.
Our waitress was extremely friendly. She explained to us that the London restaurant was the first Hard Rock Café ever made. She gave us a free ticket into The Vault in the shop (original old school memorabilia) – actually gave it to Nathan because he told her he was the boss of our family; he thought the fact that the waitress listened was hilarious. Our meal was delicious – hubby got ribs as he usually does. The kids got pizza and burgers, and I of course had a hamburger too. Burgers are my thing – always! I had an Atomic Burger – spicy! Anything spicy for me, is the way to go! It was topped with a breaded jalapeno – one bite and my mouth was burning. One of the boys had to offer me ice from their water to help.. Even the bread I ate didn’t help. But omg was it ever delicious! Trust me when I say I would order it again!!
After lunch, it was about 3:00pm, and we headed towards Buckingham Palace!
To say we got stuck in a storm is an understatement! We got SOAKED! Hiding under trees was barely helping. Finally it slowed enough to brave walking around again. And within ten minutes it was sunny and we had sunglasses back on. London weather is weird. We walked back towards Big Ben since we knew where the metro access was, and tried to get into Westminster Abbey. We were about twenty minutes too late for the last admission of the day.
So one last look at Big Ben, and into the metro we went.
Next stop was London Tower Bridge. We got out of the metro, found a coffee shop for a much needed coffee, and as you step out to keep walking, poof, Tower Bridge is literally right there – amazing. I wasn’t expecting…this! It was beautiful. Across the bridge you see the London Tower too – we were going to cross and go see! We took tons of pictures of the bridge (the kids even sang London Bridge is falling down….). We saw a sign to go up to the exhibition in the tower with a family pass for 24.50£. This was something we wanted to do. Turns out, we only had fifteen minutes before last admission, and we still had to buy tickets. So we didn’t end up going up; in reality, looking back, we had time, we just didn’t know how long it would take to get from the admission to the entrance. Next time…
From here, we walked passed the London Tower which was very nice. Didn’t feel the need to go in, so we kept on walking. Last thing on my list of “to-do’s” was St-Paul’s Cathedral. I didn’t realize until I researched after the fact that this was where Princess Diana and Prince Charles got married. Now in the last two years of travelling Europe, we have seen a lot of churches – The Vatican included. We didn’t get a chance to go into St-Paul’s, but when I say from the outside this church is nicer than The Vatican, I’m not kidding. It was absolutely incredible to see. If we ever get back, I would love to be able to go inside!!
We walked towards the Millennium Bridge where a scene from Harry Potter is filmed (if you’ve noticed, a couple of my blog posts have to do with Harry Potter…). It’s not a “normal looking” plain bridge – check out the picture, it looks pretty cool!
From here, my list of “must-sees” was done – anything else would be a bonus! Since we had the all day public transport pass, we hopped on the metro and found the Tardis from Dr. Who.
Last, but not least, we hopped back on the metro and headed to the King’s Cross Train Station. As mentioned earlier, my finding Harry Potter locations has happened more than once since living in Europe. King’s Cross has an actual Platform 9 3/4 – where you can take a picture with the carriage going through the wall. Being 9pm already, I was not up to brave the long line with the three kids. I’ve been told he line doesn’t take long, but still. Maybe another day, but not this time. The kids were being sooo good, but I know when to push them, and this was not a line I was testing. But…. We did go into the shop – that was a must. There was so much for the kids to look at, they loved it! We were able to find the second illustrated Harry Potter book (we bought the first one in Porto, Portugal, in a bookstore where JK Rowling based the Grand Staircase…) at a very reasonable price. My oldest even asked me if we can start reading the books together – total score!
From here, we decided to head back to our hotel. We left King’s Cross at 10pm, and we were all done for. I looked at my hubby on the metro and said “we have literally been walking for ten hours!”. Someone next to us looked at us like “woah”.We figured we would find supper along the way and just bring it back to the hotel and eat it there. We were so tired, by the time we started the last minutes to our hotel, food didn’t even sound appealing anymore. Sure we were still hungry, but just too tired to eat. Within five minutes of being in our room, the three kids all passed out cold! Good thing we didn’t have to be awake at any specific time the next morning…
So to summarize, we spent about eleven hours in London. Eleven hours! And…. we saw all the stuff we wanted. Sure it was quick, but as mentioned at the very beginning, we do not regret one single thing about it. I asked my oldest son what he thought about London, and his answer was “I liked Big Ben and seeing the Ferris Wheel (London Eye) the most. And being the boss at Hard Rock”. It’s the small things that they remember – the stuff we probably won’t in a couple years, to him is still going to be a big deal.
London – check ✓