Ryan had to be in Kenya for work in January, and when he realized he was connecting through Heathrow Airport, he wondered if I’d like to meet him there with the kids for a week in London. He didn’t need to ask twice! London has been on our list for a long time — we’d never been there together — and Hugh is about to turn two, so it was the perfect excuse to squeeze in one last flight with him on my lap.
London is a really easy family trip, especially for east coasters. Plenty of direct flights, and it’s only about 6 hours from Boston… seemed as good a time as any to try a red-eye on my own with the kids.
This is where I feel I should have some horror story about meltdowns or spilled beverages… but I don’t have one! It all went remarkably smoothly — we even ended up with extra seats, and both kids slept most of the flight. After getting through customs, we met up with Ryan in baggage claim, grabbed a cappuccino, and headed off to London!
Heathrow is 45-60 minutes outside of London, and there are a few ways to get into the city: Heathrow Express train (15 minutes!), underground, car/taxi, coach (bus). The Heathrow Express is great for saving time, but it’s pricey and still would have required multiple underground transfers to get to our apartment rental. If Ryan’s flight had been delayed, I would have had to manage that solo with two kids, a stroller, and luggage… have you seen the escalators in the London underground? No thanks!
Victoria Coach Station (London’s main bus terminal) was an easy 10 minute walk from the apartment, so I was happy to sacrifice a few extra minutes of travel time and take a National Express coach.
When traveling with little kids, you spend a lot of time in your accommodations, so it really makes a trip if you can find a lovely place to stay. We usually plot out all the top things we plan to do, then look for an apartment that is centrally located to those activities. And, an apartment is key — after long, busy days on the go, our kids need an early bedtime, and we want space to enjoy a late dinner, read, and hang out without waking them.
This time, I couldn’t find exactly what we wanted on Airbnb (my usual go-to), but I did find this 1-bedroom flat on FlipKey, Trip Advisor’s version of Airbnb. Spare, clean, quiet, and so conveniently located — we loved it!
There is so much to capture from any trip, and I do plan to write more specifically about various aspects of this one, but, for today, I’m going to outline our basic itinerary.
We typically plan one primary activity per day, then have a list of nearby activities and restaurants to add on if everyone is in good spirits.
This itinerary outlines what we actually did, with the primary activity in bold:
- Arrive in London / check-in at flat
- Pick up groceries and diapers
- Nap! (Ryan, not jet-lagged, went down to a pub to read)
- Walk along the Thames to Westminster Abbey for evensong
- Pint and snack at St. Stephen’s Tavern, across from Big Ben
- Fresh gnocchi and sage cream sauce for dinner at the flat
- Portobello Road Market (open all day) / wander Notting Hill
- Late lunch at the quirky and cozy Beach Blanket Babylon
- Marmalade sandwiches and early to bed for jet-lagged kids
- Cheese, olives, wine, leftover gnocchi for grown-ups
- 11:15 AM Sung Eucharist at Westminster Abbey
- Sunday lunch at the Prince Alfred Pub — best Steak and Ale pie!
- Kensington Palace (book in advance): royal apartments tour, Princess Diana’s dress collection
- Quick pop-in at the National Portrait Gallery (really pushing the limit!)
- Snack and straight to bed for kids
- Excellent Indian take-out from Pimlico Tandoori
- London Transport Museum (kids free, adult tickets good for 1 year)
- Coffee and lunch at Victorian coffee house, Syrup of Soot
- British Museum
- Late afternoon cream tea at Ham Yard Hotel
- 7:00 AM take X90 bus to Oxford (~100 minutes)
- Walk the city to see Ryan’s favorite spots (he did a year-long program at Oxford) and Harry Potter highlights
- Coffee and pies at the Covered Market
- Peruse Blackwell’s Bookshop
- Snack at the old, hidden Turf Tavern
- 2:00 PM Private tour of C.S. Lewis’ home, the Kilns
- Afternoon tea back in town
- 6:00 PM Choral Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral (boycotted by Hugh)
- 7:30 PM X90 bus back to London
- 9:00 AM Tower of London (We pre-booked to save a few pounds, but it turned out to be the rainiest day of our trip! Rookie move.)
- Lunch at the New Armouries Cafe inside the tower – quite good for a museum cafe, tons of kid-friendly options, and nice relief from the rain
- Naps for kids back at the flat (Ryan popped down the road to the Tate Britain)
- 4:30 PM Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason, The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
- Explore Fortnum & Mason food hall (pick up snacks for later!)
(This was our “open” day — nothing booked in advance. We toyed with adding another museum, but ended up taking it easy, ducking in and out of fun shops we hadn’t had time to explore earlier in the week.)
- Shopping on Oxford Street (the best souvenirs are clothes and art!)
- Pick up sandwiches and tea from Marks & Spencer
- Afternoon tea back at the flat, with leftover cake from F&M
- Naps for kids (Ryan dashed out for an hour at the Churchill War Rooms)
- Dinner at neighborhood pub, St. George’s Tavern
- 6:00 AM Coach back to Heathrow
- 9:20 AM Flight home to Boston!
So there you have it — a week in London! Beautiful places, new adventures, quiet evenings, plenty of good food and drink. We skipped some big tourist spots Ryan and I had both seen before and just didn’t fit our priorities for this trip… but, we’ll be back, I’m sure.