Happiness is .. visiting London for the first time.
As you may have caught in our stories last in September, Jesse and I crossed the pond to the big city, London. What inspired this trip? Aside from one of many bucket list vacations, London was quickly moved to the top once the Crown was released on Netflix. This may be the BEST series I have watched to date (it bored Jesse, but I was hooked), and I am impatiently waiting for Season 3 to launch this November. Secondly, as a family we did our DNA tests earlier this year. Turns out I am largely English, who knew? Third, my sister in law offered to stay with our kids for a week, “pick a destination, and get out of town” she stated. Without hesitation, we booked a week away, also with major research and development in mind, the architecture and history is simply stunning and nothing compares in the Midwest.
I spent many weeks (months actually) planning for this trip, reading all the blogs, asking our friends and clients where to visit, must see, must skip, all the things. I came up with our very own itinerary, and this is what it looked like:
We took an evening flight from Minneapolis, so we could sleep and arrive in London mid morning. We had no problem staying awake all day, after we checked into our hotel, The Wild Aparthotels in Covent Garden. I was after a boutique hotel, centrally located, this did the job. We’d go back, rooms are quaint, many walkable pubs, restaurants and shopping.
We spent the afternoon walking the Thames River, stopped by the London Eye, Big Ben, which was under construction, and UK Parliament. We did the self guided tour once inside the parliament, with the current political climate of England, this was a must see. You do not need to book tickets in advance, although we did do this online and saved a few dollars in ahead of time.
Afterward we ventured back to Convent Garden, all of this is walking distance, we covered 6-7 miles this day alone, so not unreasonable. We closed the day out with dinner at the Lamb and Flag, highly recommended by A Lady in London. All of her blogs are worthy or a read if you’re planning a trip in the near future.
Well rested, we ventured out to Buckingham Palace. We also opted to walk, many people strongly advise the Hop on and Hop off bus. While we did not do this, if we had our kids along, it would have been a must. But we had nothing but time, streets to walk, pubs to visit and tea to sip. It was in our better interest to venture out and get lost in the sights surrounding us.
While it was ‘off’ season in late September, there are 8 million people living in this city, we found Buckingham Palace to be very crowded. Many field trips with grade school aged kids, we managed, but did feel rushed/crowded moving through the various rooms. With our self guided head sets on, we hung in there, but without a doubt the interiors of this building are breathtaking.
We managed to find a few places to stop and eat throughout the day, nothing notable, just quaint and off the beaten path when possible.
We took the tube daily and everywhere. I think Jesse could have passed on this aspect, but once we got used to it, there was no other efficient way to travel in my opinion. I am a mass transit user here in Minneapolis, so the tube was actually refreshing and a well run means of transportation that I only wish we had back home. We landed back on the river and explored The London Bridge, the Tower Bridge, The Shard (rooftop views are amazing so we were told, but weren’t up for the $25 per person admission to see it).
With a few bursts of sunshine, we sat outside the Tower of London where the Crown Jewels are held. Eek .. we never went inside. My only regret, but we were exhausted and wanted to rest. So we watched ALL the other tourists do the tour, we imagined and discussed what was inside, I guess we will have to go back to find out.
We were off to Bath, England. This was one of our favorite days, we escaped the hustle and bustle of the city and took the 90 minute train to Bath. It was quiet, we had a table and 4 chairs to ourselves, caught up on emails, I read and drank coffee. Once in Bath, it was fairly quiet most of the day and strictly followed this blog for things to do.
A few highlights were Lunch at Framptons, The Pulteney Bridge, The Royal Crescent and The Bath Abbey, all of which is walkable from the train station. We even captured a future Netflix film being taped at The Real Crescent called Bridgerton, set to release in 2020.
A rush hour train back to London at 5pm wasn’t the best idea, while we had plans to stay for dinner, we opted to get back to the city and find dinner. We were standing room only on the GWR for 90 minutes. Once back in London, we found the nearest pub a quick bite and beverages.
We spent the day wandering Picadilly Street to Kensington via Hyde Park. This was a culture walk, many tourists, middle class to upper class neighborhoods and shopping. We ran through Harrods department store as well, but we found this to be a tourist stream as well, so ducked out shortly afterward. After a few hours of walking, coffee and heavier rains this day we took the tube back to our hotel.
Our dinner plans were previously booked for a private Chef dinner on the North side, Hackney Borough. We highly recommend this dinner experience via Eleven98. We sat with a couple from England, near a few others from Norway, and a couple all the way from California. The 5 course dinner brought us well into the night, leaving us a bit uneasy about the trip home as we weren’t super familiar with our location and how to best return. The gentleman working the tube station was helpful and quickly redirected us to another station, in which we found a 2 station stop back to our hotel. In hindsight, Uber would have been the way to go, quick and easy.
In all honesty, by day five we were ready for a change of scenery. Covent Garden was generally over crowded, busy and full of tourism. We headed out to Notting Hill via the tube, thankfully we saw there was a large street market there every Saturday. So we knew we would hit the crowds again, but could easily find quaint options to duck into. The street fair was 100 times larger than we anticipated, and yes you guessed it .. packed with people. We ended up grabbing a few souvenirs for our kids here, found some fantastic food stands, and would definitely recommend this as something to do and see. I even found an authentic Harris tweed jacket for myself!
Nearby, which was the main draw to Notting Hill was the The Churchill Arms Pub. England is known for the floral adorned facades, but this one was well worth the visit. It dates back to 1750, frequented by Chuchill’s grandparents and now hosts a popular Thai restaurant tucked away in the back of the restaurant.
Contrary to our sentiments from the previous day, we decided to stay in our backyard, Covent Garden, close to our hotel to check back into frequently. Without much of a plan we hit a few of the notable places we had written down prior to our trip there. Kicking it off with 26 Grains, a porridge breakfast with hot tea. This was a vacation highlight for me, I truly felt immersed into the culture and scene of the locals. The breakfast was amazing, healthy, and of course IG worthy!
This is what all of Covent Garden looks like, pubs and shops everywhere. Several local retailers, and the usual big box stops too. We nestled into this pub for lunch, maybe even a few times throughout our stay as it’s close to our hotel and offers good people watching.
On our final day we split our time between the British Museum and walking though the northern part of the city, which we found to be very quiet. Could be that it was the weekend. I was so thrilled to find Persephone Books online before we had traveled to London, the vibe and overall mission of reprinting women literature from the mid century, with nondescript covers had me yearning for more. I grabbed several books, and stocked up for holiday gifts too.
London was a success! We would venture back again, but would choose our favorite things to do and make it a shorter stay, and then venture out to the country to immerse ourselves into a working vacation with quiet coffee + tea shops, less activity and more rest, ha! Since this was our first visit, we had a blast covering so much ground. London is the perfect blend of history and innovation, my kind of city!