Hello from England!
My husband, two of our children and I just returned from a fabulous trip to London and Paris and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! We had a wonderful time touring and exploring for thirteen glorious, picture-perfect days. Over the next several weeks I’ll be sharing with you the fabulous places we visited, places we stayed, side trips to Versailles and Windsor Court, the Eurostar experience and of course, all the great foods we ate!
My husband had to travel for business to London and Farnborough, England. He had already been in England working when my youngest two children and I flew over to meet him. There are days when I dislike the fact that EJ travels so much on business but one of the rewards is that we can sometimes travel with him when our schedules permit and this was one of those times.
June is a lovely time to visit England. We found the weather to be slightly cool in the mornings and becoming pleasantly warm with a gentle breeze by the afternoon. Although this is lovely, it makes it extremely difficult to decide what to pack. I had no idea whether to bring long pants and a jacket or short sleeves and light skirts. In the end, I brought it all! In an upcoming post, I’ll show you how I packed (way too many) clothes in my one, relatively small carry-on.
The kids and I arrived in London on Wednesday morning. Before we left Houston, EJ arranged for a driver to pick us up at Heathrow Airport and drive us to Farnham which is about a 45 minute drive southwest of London.
Although EJ was working in Farnborough, the town of Farnham is quite close and is such a picturesque city, we decided to stay there. I’ll have more about Farnham in another post. It’s a pretty city to visit and rich in history. We took many pictures of the castle located there as well as the picturesque streets and I’m excited to be able to share them with you later.
The next day, we purchased tickets and boarded the train back to London. Traveling from city to city in England is so easy to do because of their extremely efficient and easy to navigate train system.
We arrived in London and caught a taxi to our hotel. For the first two days of our trip, we stayed at the Holiday Inn London – Mayfair. Finding hotel rooms that sleep four to a room is quite a challenge. Most hotel rooms in London and Paris only sleep two to a room. We found the Holiday Inn in Mayfair on Trip Advisor, read the reviews and decided to take a chance. We found the hotel very nice and in a great location. We were walking distance to the Green Park subway station (also called the Tube) as well as Green Park and Buckingham Palace.
Since our room wasn’t quite ready, we left our bags with the front desk and walked toward Buckingham Palace. The Changing of the Guards takes place at 11 AM and we arrived just as it started. There were so many people lined up waiting to catch a glimpse of this historic event. If you visit London, make sure you catch the Changing of the Guard. Marching to live bands, the old guard marches up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Soon after, the new guard approaches and the captains from the old and new guards symbolically transfer the keys to the Palace.
Since we arrived late, we didn’t get a great view but made a note to come back another time and arrive 30 minutes earlier. To add to our excitement, we actually saw the Queen pull into the palace! It all happened so fast and by the time I realized it was the Queen in the car passing in front of us, I could only take a picture of her driving away.
One of our favorite lunch spots was in St. James’s Park. Having a picnic in the park with Buckingham Palace in the background – what an experience!
We picked up sandwiches and bottles of water from the booth set up in middle of the park. The sun was shining, school children were playing nearby and we enjoyed a beautiful view of the graceful swans swimming in the lake nearby.
EJ and I thought that taking a river cruise would be a wonderful way to show the kids the beautiful highlights of the city. We caught the Tube down to the River Thames and chose the TRS Sight Seeing Boats at Westminister Pier. If you book your ticket online, you can get 50% off your ticket price. The cruise was a great way to begin our vacation. We passed under Tower Bridge, cruised past the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre, St. Paul’s and so many other landmarks along the way to Greenwich, where we disembarked.
Greenwich is worth a day to itself. On a previous trip, EJ and I took a Tube ride there and enjoyed touring the Cutty Sark, the tall-masted wooden ship built in 1869 and used for carrying tea.
Also in Greenwich is the Old Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum and historic Greenwich Market. The Greenwich Market was established as a fruit and vegetable market in 1700. It now is a covered market with stalls selling food, arts, crafts, and collectables. It’s fun to walk through the stalls and spend a little time browsing.
If you’re visiting Greenwich, be sure to stop at the gelato shop called Black Vanilla. This was our second visit to Black Vanilla and the gelato and cappuccino was just as delicious as we remembered it to be.
We boarded our boat back for our return trip back to Westminister Pier. We decided to eat nearby and then rode one of the red double decker buses back to our hotel.
A few additional notes if you’re planning a trip to London…
One of the first things I would recommend doing is to go to any one of the nearby Tube stations and purchase an Oyster Card. The Oyster card is a plastic “smart card” that allows you to put money on it and top it up as you need to. You can use the Oyster card on subways and buses throughout the city. With an Oyster card, rides cost about half the price of individual paper tickets.
We found the public transportation so easy to use. After a day or two, we felt completely comfortable getting around. If you happen to get turned around, as we did a few times, there are always friendly Tube employees everywhere you look who can help direct you.
We walked everywhere so be sure to have comfortable walking shoes. They are a necessity.
Getting from Heathrow Airport into London
Although international flights into London arrive at either Heathrow and Gatwick Airport, most flights from the United States go to Heathrow. Since my husband travels to London frequently, he usually takes the Heathrow Express (or Gatwick Express if landing at Gatwick) into London. If you are traveling as a family, they have discount family tickets which will save you quite a bit. For an inexpensive option, take the Tube from one of the airports into London. It may take an hour to get there with all the stops, but you will definitely save some money.
More to come soon! Next, we tour the Tower of London, take the Eurostar to Paris and explore Versailles!
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