As cheesy as it may sound, my 2018 resolution was to visit a new country every month. With my personal goal in mind, I decided to take a last-minute trip to London with my son in March because believe it or not – I’ve never been to the UK (not even on a layover!).
While I normally like fast-paced and action-packed shorter trips, this one was slightly different due to some factors outside of my control. Not only was the weather unusually cold and snowy during short time in town, my 4 year old son, who hadn’t been sick all winter, came down with something while we were away.
Taking those factors into consideration, sightseeing was at a slower-pace and in spurts, only venturing out to a few places. Despite the weather and unwelcome illness, we still managed to keep our spirits high, have a blast, and get a taste of London.
Here’s how we spent our two days:
Fish & Chips
We were starving by the time we checked in and got settled into the Hyatt Regency Churchill for our two-night stay, so we headed straight to some fish and chips right away. Established in 1871, Rock & Sole Plaice is London’s oldest fish & chips restaurants and is popular with locals and tourists.
All of the fish is locally sourced, sustainable, and is still prepared using their 145 year old traditional recipe. We were able to get a table right away. Portions were large and delicious, and the prices were reasonable. I was a big fan of the “mushy peas” side too.
Free Walking Tour
One of my favorite things to do when I arrive in a new city is to participate in one of the free walking tours. Walking tours are not only a great way to familiarize yourself with new surroundings and meet other travelers, but it’s a great way to have access to a local expert at your disposal.
In between sites, I enjoy talking with the guides to some off-the-beaten path excursions and things to do during my stay. After settling in from traveling, we took one of the Free Tours by Foot London Walking tours, which started in the Piccadilly Circus area and continued into the West End.
The tours are entirely free and family-friendly. The tour guides work for tips, so be sure to take care of them if you enjoyed the experience. Registration ahead of time is encouraged, but not required.
Right after eating lunch, we took a stroll through the nearby Covent Garden historic shopping area. There are high-end stores, local artisan shops, open markets to buy produce and fresh flowers, and all kinds of dining options.
It was quite cold, so we hurried through, but I’d imagine this would be a perfect place to spend a spring or summer afternoon.
Fun fact: did you know that 6.6 million Brits said they would choose to skip a morning shower over a morning cup of tea?
I personally love indulging in afternoon tea and had amazing memories at the top of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. It definitely felt appropriate to treat myself to a traditional and elegant tea experience in London too!
As you can imagine, there are plenty of options to enjoy high tea in London. After doing research and asking around, I booked an afternoon tea reservation ahead of time at the Palm Court at Sheraton Park Lane, a short walk from Buckingham Palace.
Tucking away from the cold to have tea was nice way for us to stay warm and savor a favorite British past time. I’ll write a full review of my afternoon tea experience in another post, but the best part was unexpectedly finding out that SPG members get 10% off and that you can attach your Starwood number to the bill to earn points too.
Visit to the Strand
As you already know, tea is huge in British culture, and it’s a regular part of my life too. I decided to take a visit to 216 Strand (Twinings’ historical store) to learn more about the history of tea and sample some of the richest tea blends.
The Strand is a historic landmark and a full-service store housing everything you can imagine that’s Twinings tea related. There are even Twinings Afternoon Tea Master Class experiences that occur once a month on Saturday and Sunday.
For decades Afternoon Tea has been all about elegance, but it’s nice to go back to basics and bring the focus back to tea.
The classes are intended to walk tea-enthusiasts through centuries of Twinings and Afternoon Tea history, teaching you everything from where the tea comes from, how it’s made, to food pairings based on the blends. This seems like the most authentic experience any tea lover can ask for.
The 2018 dates are as follows:
- May 19 & 20
- June 29 & 20
- July 14 & 15
- August 18 & 19
- September 18 & 19
- October 20 & 21
- November 24 & 25
The cost is £40 per person, and you can reserve your spot ahead of time by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buckingham Palace & the Changing of the Guard
After enjoying a full day of tea, we walked on over to Buckingham Palace. It was snowing pretty hard by this point, so the area was pretty empty, making it easy to snap pictures without too much of a crowd. I found it interesting that the guards were standing in enclosed ‘containers’ because of how cold it was.
With that being said, we didn’t get to see the formal Changing of the Guards ceremony (marching band, parade, etc.) when the The Queen’s Guard soldiers change their shifts every two hours.
Here is a good resource to keep handy that provides more information and highlights some of the best places to watch the historic and special Changing of the Guards ceremony.
Ride a Double Decker Bus / Public Transportation
Taxi and Ubers are not only expensive in London, but they’re also super slow, especially when there’s traffic. Public transportation is easy and the way to go.
You can purchase an Oyster card to ride on all metros and buses, and the best part of it all is that kids under 11 ride free.
My son really enjoyed riding on the top of the double decker buses, and you can take the many of the bus routes for a full loop to take everything in then, and then you can go back and stop at locations of your choice. It’s a much better alternative to an expensive tourist Hop On, Hop Off bus!
Skip the London Eye
Coca Cola’s London Eye observation ferris wheel seems to get all the hype as a “must see” attraction, but I don’t understand the appeal at all. After walking to the attraction, we skipped it all together. Not only were lines were long, prices were out of this world, and it just seemed like a completely underwhelming tourist trap.
Also keep in mind that as of last month, the Big Ben was almost completely covered with construction materials, so you would most likely walk away with disappointing views. I’d say skip this one completely.
I’m really happy I got to take an impromptu trip to London for the first time, to take in some of the highlights. Even though the weather wasn’t the greatest, we made the best of it and enjoyed some sightseeing, tea, and bonding. I look forward to returning to London again during the warmer months.
What are your favorite spots in London? What should I check out next time?