Travel Exchange | London Family Vacation
Welcome back to another edition of our Travel Exchange series. I’m absolutely thrilled to have on the blog today Kate with Have Diapers Will Travel, who tells us all about her London family vacation, and what makes this city so special for family travel.
I’ve been to London a few times, and like so many other people, it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. But I’ve never taken my own family there. A London family vacation is high on our family travel bucket list (my girls have friends from London, with their adorable English accents, plus they’re obsessed with Harry Potter), so when Kate mentioned doing my series on London, I said absolutely!
Kate lives in Central Florida with her husband and two young boys, but grew up in England and spent her childhood traveling in Europe. She says she actually caught the travel bug on a volunteer trip to the West Coast of the U.S. during her first year at University. Since then she’s absolutely loved to travel, and continues to do so today with her young family. Due to her husband’s work schedule, however, it’s often just her and her boys traveling alone…I have to say, I love that! Nothing’s stopping her.
Below is my interview with Kate about her London family vacation during Christmas time. It sounds magical:
How did you decide on London as a destination to take a family vacation?
We were going to be in England over Christmas visiting family, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to visit London to see the Christmas festivities. Although I grew up in England, we very rarely visited the capital city and I’d never really spent any time there during the holiday season. New York City is my favorite place in the world at Christmas, and I was really excited to see how London compared.
This was a very special mommy and son trip, so it was just myself and my then 4-year old, Harrison (my then 8-month old baby stayed with my husband and family back in the Warwickshire area). My younger sister tagged along for some of the trip to act as tour guide since she often travels to the city for work.
What time of year did you go and how was the weather?
We visited in the middle of December, so not surprisingly, it was very cold. We were lucky that, although we didn’t see much sunshine, we also didn’t have to put up with any rain and more importantly, there was no snow! Although I love the snow, in a city where we knew we’d be doing lots of walking, I was quite pleased that it stayed away!
Where did you stay and how did you discover it? What were the accommodations and amenities like?
We gave a lot of thought as to where we would stay; we didn’t want to be in a super touristy area since the tube lines would be very busy around that time of year, but we also wanted to be close to the main attractions we wanted to see. There are hotels in London to suit most budgets and tastes, and we ended up choosing a Doubletree by Hilton in the West End for its great location and reasonable price (well, reasonable for London anyway!) The rooms were quite small, as they often are in European cities, but very comfortable, and my son was gifted a teddy bear upon our arrival, which I thought was a nice touch. As Hilton Honors members, we received a complimentary hot breakfast, which was a really nice way to start the cold days of exploring.
What kind of activities did you do on the trip?
Although the main reason for the trip was to take in the city over the holidays and see the Christmas decorations, we did have a few other things we wanted to get done. On our arrival day, we took a double decker bus (probably the highlight of the trip for my son!) to the river Thames and walked over Tower Bridge to the Tower of London; we even got to see the drawbridge raised for a boat to pass through. Harrison desperately wanted to see a soldier, and we were lucky enough to see several around the tower, as well as getting to see the Crown Jewels on display. We also visited the British Museum, which was a huge building with lots of things to see and some great exhibits to keep little ones entertained.
Another highlight was taking in a show in the West End. We chose a family friendly production of The Snowman, which was Harrison’s first theater experience, and it was a wonderful experience, with lots of children and their families enjoying the show. We really enjoyed how Christmassy the city felt; there were fantastic light displays (those on Oxford Street were our favorite) and plenty of Christmas markets where you could grab a hot chocolate or a warm sausage sandwich as you browsed the stalls for last minute gifts.
What were the highlights for you? And the kids?
Harrison really enjoyed the Tower of London; it was a great place for kids to visit, with lots of interactive exhibits and places to explore. He absolutely loved seeing the soldiers outside guarding the tower too, and if we visit again, I’ll definitely take him to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guards. His very favorite thing, however, was riding upstairs on the double decker buses – I’m not sure he would ever have cared if we’d gotten off!
For me, just seeing the city at Christmas was a real treat; there was a real sense of excitement in the air as the days crept closer to Christmas day, and there were so many unique seasonal places to eat and shop.
How was the food? Did you discover some favorite restaurants?
Like any big city, London has such a huge array of food offerings, ranging from eye-wateringly expensive to very reasonable. There are a lot of big chain restaurants, and we did eat at one of those, the Rainforest Cafe, to pacify Harrison and his pleading for chicken nuggets! But we found some amazing little pubs and local restaurants by looking for reviews online and asking local Facebook groups for recommendations. Our favorite places to eat ended up being the Christmas markets, where there were endless stalls with food from all different cultures for sale; I loved the roasted chestnuts and mulled wine, and Harrison loved the freshly made waffles with powdered sugar and homemade strawberry jam.
Were there any challenges?
London is a city that very much relies on public transportation, or even better, walking to your destination. Harrison loved using the bus system and I liked using the tube, but we very much relied on my sister as a local expert when it came to reading the maps and schedules; I’m not sure we would ever have gotten to our destinations on our own! There was a lot of walking involved, especially for a 4-year old, and his feet definitely started to get tired by the end of our trip.
What are your top tips for taking this kind of vacation?
My first tip would be to research the weather, as so much of the time is spent outdoors. We were fortunate to have no rain, but we packed our umbrellas and rain jackets just in case. We all had warm jackets as well as hats and gloves, but layered our clothes so that we could easily take things off as we warmed up inside restaurants, shops, or other indoor attractions. Since so much walking is involved, comfortable shoes are a must, especially for kids. If you’re traveling with very young kids, I would suggest a baby carrier over a stroller, as it can be a pain to get them on and off buses and trains.
I would also suggest doing some research into how to get around (so you’re not left staring blankly at a tube map like we were!) as well as choosing what it is you most want to see; it’s impossible to see everything in one trip, so it’s a good idea to prioritize and figure out what are the must-do activities for you. If you do visit at Christmas, try to see the unique seasonal offerings, since they’re what make the city so much fun over the holidays.
Did you feel the trip was good value for what you got?
London is an expensive city, no doubt, but I came away feeling like we did get a good value for money. The hotel was fairly reasonable for a city hotel, and bus/tube transportation was really quite affordable. Some attractions can be expensive, although many do offer varying rates depending on when you visit, as well as giving discounts for students, children, etc. Our main expense was food, although if you do your research, you can find some very reasonably priced meals outside of the main tourist spots.
Would you recommend this vacation to others?
Absolutely! London at Christmas was truly magical, and I’m so glad that Harrison and I got to experience it. Visiting at such a young age, I wasn’t sure what he’d remember from our trip, but he still talks about the Tower of London and walking over Tower Bridge!
Thanks so much for joining us, Kate! Who’s dreaming of a London family vacation now? You can find Kate on:
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