London Vacation

Sorry for the sudden disappearance but we had a little vacation planned... to London!  We packed up the family and flew out on March 30th and spent 8 great days in this beautiful city. I lived there for a semester in college so it was a homecoming of sorts for me, but Jim and our kids have never been there so it was a first for them.  It was also my kids' first trip to Europe. They've been to Mexico and the Bahamas but this was the first time out of North America.  The kids truly enjoyed the trip and I hope Elizabeth will remember parts of it forever.  Fortunately we'll have pictures to remind Alex!  I had fairly low expectations for how the whole thing would pan out and it was an experiment of sorts (not an inexpensive one) but it really worked out beautifully in almost every way.

So, here's a little play-by-play, some tips for traveling to London with kids, as well as some of my favorite pictures.

Of course, going to Europe with kids is quite different from going on a romantic vacation.  We went to Paris about 7 years ago before kids and it was one of the best vacations we have ever taken.  We knew this would be different so we treated it differently.  Our best decision (other than going) was to rent a flat instead of just getting a hotel room. I rented through London Connections (based in Utah) and everything went very smoothly from the outset. Our flat was in Knightsbridge which, if you are not familiar with London, is a very affluent neighborhood and home to two of the great London department stores - Harrods and Harvey Nichols. It's also very kid-friendly, very safe, and near two Underground stops so it was perfect for zooming around London every day.  The flat had also undergone a lot of renovations just before we arrived so the kitchen and bathrooms were all brand new - almost unheard of for a rental!  We took full advantage of the kitchen by frequenting the food hall at Marks & Spencer and one night at Harrod's, and then making our semi-homemade (but loads cheaper than restaurants) dinners.  We did have a sitter one night so we went to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen.  I'ma huge fan of Jamie's efforts to clean up school lunches so I wanted to try one of his restaurants.  It was fantastic and not crazy expensive so that was nice.

I don't think a day went by when we didn't ride a bus or subway and the kids LOVED it - especially Alex who did not stop counting double-decker buses until the very end of our trip!

We did some historic sights but mixed them in with things that are more kid-friendly - Natural History Museum, water taxi on the Thames to Greenwich, Science Museum, rides on the double-decker buses and Tube, London Transport Museum, etc.

The London Eye was probably a highlight for both of my ferris wheel-loving friends.  Well worth the Fast Pass if you decide to do it - saved at least an hour of waiting time I think.

The kids really loved the Tower of London...

and Greenwich...

They didn't love St. Paul's... I guess the amazing architecture of Christopher Wren is lost on them at this age!!

It was also the middle of the week so I think they were getting a little burned out on sight-seeing!  

Knowing when to say when is not one of my strong points but fortunately it's one of Handy Hubby's!!  On Thursday the kids were fried by 3 p.m. so Handy Hubby offered to watch the kids so I could go do a little shopping on Oxford Street.  Joy!!!!  I have the best husband!

On Saturday, we celebrated Elizabeth's 6th birthday by going to a Lindt Chocolate Easter Hunt - free chocolate please!  It was a real nice event and well done!

Of course, London is super expensive for Americans with the relatively weak dollar.  How'd we save money?  Renting a flat was the main way we saved money -  it was loads cheaper than even a standard hotel and we had more space (2 BRs and 1.5 BAs) and a kitchen. The living and dining room were absolutely huge for a flat.  We spent our evenings hanging out here which was so great.

We ate breakfast at home nearly every day (occasionally we bought pastries and bought them back to eat them) and we brought our lunch a few days which, together, probably saved us a few hundred dollars.  Even breakfast in a restaurant for the 4 of us could easily be $40, and lunch $50 or $60.  We did eat plenty of lunches out in cafeterias at the sights or at sandwich chain places (Pret, Paul, etc.). Fortunately my kids like ham sandwiches because they are EVERYWHERE there.  We only had 2 nice dinners out (and our friends treated us to 1 - not a money saving tip but so generous of them!!).  Other days we ate in or ate inexpensive places like Wagamama (yum!).  We also saved money on in-town travel by purchasing a 7 day travel card for about $45.  We got our money's worth by day 3!  We could even use it on the train back from Greenwich and we got a discount on the water taxi to Greenwich. 

So, that's the 4-1-1 on our trip to London.  It was a fantastic time and we have many memories that will last forever.  I'm already mentally planning another Europe trip but probably not for 3 or 4 years.  Maybe Italy?!