This time last year we were exploring jolly ole’ London. After spending a week in Italy we stayed in London for a few days before flying home. It makes me smile just thinking about this time – what an incredible adventure! This was one of our favorite family trips, so I wanted to share just a few of our personal highlights from London:
Covent Garden – This was probably my favorite district in London. It’s a shopping and entertainment hub in London’s West End full of cobblestone streets, unique shops, the famous Apple Market and it’s seemingly endless craft stalls, and the Royal Opera House. Street entertainers and pedestrians fllled the car-free streets, so that everywhere we looked there was something fun to take in. Neal’s Yard, a colorful corner street was another highlight of this area. The vibrant restaurants and shop fronts make this tiny corner one of the worst kept secrets and most Instagrammed spots in Covent Garden. We spent some time walking through the Apple Market looking at all the artisan stalls selling crafts & antiques, and Kingston stopped at a shop selling hats and scarves. He tried on every Newsboy hat until he found the perfect one… then didn’t take it off for 3 days! When we were leaving London he put on his hat and said, “Mum, I’m developing a proper British accent!” I told him he looked like a proper chap, and he misunderstood me thinking I called the hat a chap. So he still calls it his chap and wears it all the time. Best souvenir ever!
Sky Garden – This was an unexpected highlight for us! I read a little about Sky Garden before our trip, but we hadn’t heard much about it otherwise. It’s definitely something I recommend if you visit London though! Sky Garden is a multi-story indoor public garden located at the top of the “Walkie Talkie” skyscraper. The famous enlarged glass dome houses three stories of lush public gardens and offers panoramic views over London. The space includes two restaurants, a bar, observation decks, and an open air terrace that provides views across the Thames. It’s FREE to visit, but you need to reserve a time slot ahead of time. If you can snag a spot at sunset, grab it!
Tower Bridge – Tower Bridge was completed in 1894. So, it’s practically brand new! The famous bridge crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and has become an iconic symbol of the city over the years. It’s often confused with London Bridge, which is about half a mile upstream (and not nearly as impressive!) There’s a cool tour that allows you go inside Tower Bridge and get incredible panoramic views of the city. I definitely want to book that next time! You can learn more about it here. On our way to the bridge we also passed the Palace of Westminster (also known as the Parliament building), Westminster Abbey, and a scaffolding covered Big Ben. The beautiful clock has been undergoing a face lift for the last few years, so now we have to go back to see it uncovered in all it’s glory.
Abbey Road – “Here comes the sun (doo doo doo). Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right!” This was my favorite London adventure! One morning we hopped on the tube and went to St. John’s Wood early enough to beat most of the crowds. When we got to the Abbey Road “Zebra Crossing” there were just enough of us crazy tourists there to take turns risking our lives taking pictures for each other. 😉 It was ridiculous – the traffic was backed up, and all the cars were honking, and it was a morning I’ll always remember! We kept telling Kingston that one day he’ll realize why this was such a big deal. We walked around St. John’s Wood afterward and stumbled upon a fun thrift store and The Ivy, a quirky breakfast spot that we all enjoyed. The restaurant also has locations throughout England!
Buckingham Palace – We stayed at The Resident Victoria just down the road from Buckingham Palace, so we walked over one morning to watch the Changing of the Guard. The preparation leading up to the event (police clearing the streets as crowds lined The Mall) was more exciting than the actual changing of the guards. Ha! There was a lot of “Wait, what’s happening? Are they doing it yet? Is that it?” from the crowd. But I’d totally do it again, because we saw THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE! 🙂 Did you know that you can tour Buckingham Palace at certain times of the year? The schedule is determined by the Queen’s holidays at other royal properties (because you can’t visit if she’s in residence.) And unfortunately, she didn’t check with us first before planning her adventures last year, so our schedules didn’t line up. One more thing to add to the list for next time! After the pomp and circumstance we wandered through Saint James’s Park and watched children feeding ducks and families relaxing in the sunshine. I love when big cities are full of parks, because they’re the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city!
Chelsea Stadium – We tried to get tickets to a soccer game while we were in Europe, but the games are such a big deal that the coveted tickets are almost impossible to come by. So we settled on the next best thing and booked a behind the scenes tour of Stamford Bridge, the stadium where Chelsea Football Club has played since 1905. Our guide was witty and knowledgeable as she took us through the press room, dressing rooms, and even through the players’ tunnel to the dugout to give us a feel for how the players prepare for a match day. Of course, Anderson was like a kid at Disney, but King and I really enjoyed it too!
We also enjoyed walking (and eating our way) through China Town, walking up on a Petting Zoo in a busy urban square, sitting by the fountains in Trafalgar Square after dinner, snapping pictures of Kingston at every red phone booth, taking the tube and the double-decker buses all over the city, and (of course!) eating delicious food! I want to mention that London is an expensive city to visit (even more than New York City), but it’s also a really easy European city to navigate. The people are friendly, and there’s typically no language barrier for English speakers. I think it’s the perfect city for a first visit to Europe!