We had booked a flight from Medford to San Francisco scheduled to leave in the evening. We planned to spend the night near the San Francisco airport, and then fly to London the next day. Our flight was set to leave Medford at 6:00 pm. At 3:00pm we got a message from United saying our flight had been cancelled but the four of us were booked on a flight that would leave at 6:44 pm. We were also traveling with my parents, and they did not get rebooked on that flight but on a flight the next day at 6:00 pm. They decided to rent a car and drive down to San Francisco. When we arrived at the airport, they said our flight was delayed until 9:08 pm. Around 7 pm they told us it was delayed until 9:40. At 8:00 pm they told us if it does not take off by 9:40 it would be cancelled. Panic set in. The only other flight available was through Seattle which would have gotten us to London a day late. Thank God about 9:15 pm they told us it will take off. Yea, as we were thinking we may have to drive. We arrived at the Hyatt in San Francisco about midnight. My parents had arrived about 11 pm.We met my brother, sister-in-law and nephew for breakfast before heading to the airport. Our flight was uneventful.
Day One, March 18, Sat.
We arrived at London Heathrow about 7am. We were renting an apartment and they were providing drivers to take us there. Our drivers were there, ready to pick us up and take us to our apartment at 52 Cadogan Lane. We booked the apartment through Great Trips Unlimited. This was a very nice neighborhood, with boutique shops and a great grocery store called Whitehouse. The furnishings in the apartment were a bit sparse but it is a fairly large apartment with 3 bedrooms and 2 1/4 baths, a sitting room, kitchen and eating area. It was nice to have the extra room and the washer and dryer, but we did wish the area had more cafe’s and less boutiques. Next time we would probably stay a bit closer to Harrod’s.
We freshened up then headed out about 10:30 am. We decided to go to Bumbles at 16 Buckingham Palace Rd., but when we got there, we discovered it was not open for lunch on Saturdays. We went about two doors down to Café Panini and had a nice lunch. It was quite chilly outside, especially when the wind kicked up so we decided to take the tube over to Parliament Square. We found the tube very easy to navigate. We saw Big Ben, found Lord George Canning’s statue (he is an ancestor) then headed to Westminster Abbey. I think Westminster Abbey is one of my favorite churches. It was beautiful and steeped in rich history. We were fascinated by the people buried in the Poet’s Corner and moved by the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We followed Rick Steve’s tour through the Abbey and found it very helpful and informative.
When we came out of the church there was a very large anti-war protest/rally going on. It was peaceful but a lot of people were carrying signs saying Bush is the #1 Terrorist and Free Palestine, Stop the Israeli Occupation!
We walked down Whitehall and saw 10 Downing St. which was heavily gated with two armed guards. We walked up to Trafalgar Square and St. Martin’s in the Field but turned out the kids did not want to do a brass rubbing. We were all beginning to fade so we headed back to the aptartment, but first made a quick stop at the Waitrose grocery store for a few items.
We went back out about 5:30pm for dinner. We were not sure where to go, but headed over to Harrod’s. Went down to the food court, it looked great but we really felt like sitting down and being served. We headed outside and ended up at Patisserie Valerie (32-34 Hans Crescent – across from Basil St.). We all enjoyed our meal: favorite dishes were the French onion soup and a chicken and mushroom dish (62.75 pounds for 6)
Day Two, March 19, Sunday
We got up and walked over to Sloane Square and found a place to eat breakfast. We ended up at Oriel’s (163 Eversholt St.). Stephen had an omelette and the kids had delicious yogurt, berries and museli, the rest of us just had croissants.
We took the tube from Sloane Square to the Tower of London. We loved the tube! It was easy to use, great for getting around the city, especially when it was cold. It was still cool, but there was blue sky and the sun was shining!! It looked like it would be a beautiful day.
We got to the Tower about 10:15am (It was Sunday, so they did not open until 10am). There was only a short line for the tickets. We headed straight to the Crown Jewels, and passed quickly through the Disneyesque setup for when the lines are long – although we did enjoy watching some of the videos. The crowns were truly spectacular!! My favorite one was the small all- diamond crown from Queen Victoria. There were so few people there we walked on the moving floor to see the jewels again – Michael attempted to moonwalk on it.
We arrived just in time for the next Yeoman Warder’s tour. Very interesting and informative. We went inside the one tower that has the graffiti etched by former prisoners. Next we went to the White Tower where the armory is. There were a lot of guns and swords. Looking at Henry VIII’s armor one could see how highly he thought of himself (This theme is echoed in his wax statue at Warwick Castle – obviously he was very concerned about protecting something!) Michael loved the guns and swords and he took a lot of pictures – thank goodness for digital cameras!
We made the short walk along the Thames to the Tower Bridge. We walked across and back again. Fabulous views of the city, Tower and river.
When we arrived we noticed a Wagamamma right across from the ticket booth for the Tower when we arrived, so we went there for lunch. We enjoyed chicken ramen, seafood ramen, spicy noodles, edamame, and gyoza (68.35 pounds for 6)
It was Sunday so we decided to go to one of the markets, and took the tube to Camden Town to the Camden Market. It was VERY crowded with a very young crowd. To be honest, this was what I thought all of London would be like. I was glad it was not, but enjoyed walking around here for the afternoon. There were shops after shops and people, people, people. My mom bought a ring (7 pounds), Lauren a little sundress (14 pounds), and Michael got a cool England sweatshirt (10 pounds) and a Beckham soccer jersey (9 pounds).
Lauren was excited to get her picture taken in front of the Camden Lock sign that Kate Winslet stood in front of in the American Express commercials.
Took the tube back to the aptartment about 5:15 and rested. Headed out about 7pm for dinner. We ended up at Chelsea Kitchen at 98 King’s Road. Stephen had spaghetti Bolognese, me fried shrimp, Michael and my Dad fish and chips, Lauren steak and my Mom hot pot stew. Then for dessert the girls had ice cream, and the boys had sponge cake with jelly in it and custard poured over. This restaurant was good but not great.
We walked back to the apartment along Kings Rd. Very nice looking shops, and we explored Partridges a fabulous grocery store.
My parents said they love London. They loved how clean it is, quaint, and very interesting. Michael said he prefers the hustle, bustle of Rome.
Day Three, March 20, Monday
We got a bit of a late start as it still seemed difficult to wake up early in the morning. We ate breakfast at the Chez Gerrard near Victoria Station. It was a buffet with eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, fruit, croissants, yogurt and cold cereals.
We headed to the London Eye. We waited in a 15-20 minute line to buy tickets, and then got right on. We found throughout this trip that lines were mostly non-existent even in the most popular places. The London Eye was spectacular and we all enjoyed seeing the sites and taking pictures. This was one of my Mom’s favorite things to do.
We took the tube to the North Lambert stop for the Imperial War Museum. We went through the D-Day Exhibit and the exhibits about all the conflicts since WWII. We realized this museum had a lot to see, and we decided to narrow the rest of our visit to the Blitz Experience, Trenches Experience and the Holocaust Exhibit. The Holocaust Exhibit was excellent. Great visuals, a lot of information and very moving. They did an excellent job of building up the story. Lauren was ready to go, but the guys stopped to admire the tanks and rockets in the main hall.
We walked across the street to an Italian restaurant recommended by one of the museum docents. It was called Perdinos. We had paninis, pizza, potato leek and minestrone soup. The food was quite good and the service was excellent. We enjoyed chatting with our charming servers who were from a mix of Eastern European countries.
We had no idea we would spend so much time at this museum. We had originally planned to also do the British Library or British Museum this day, but the kids were “museumed” out, so instead we took the tube to Leicster Square to see Chinatown and get Bubble Tea. We had the names of two restaurants that serve it. The first place would not let us just order drinks. My parents were tired so they headed back to the aptartment. We persevered and found Bubble Tea at HK Diner (22 Wardour St.) and sat at the bar and enjoyed our drinks.
We took the tube to Knightsbridge and went into Harrod’s. To be honest Harrod’s was a bit overwhelming to me. Stephen did find a nice cashmere scarf which he sorely needed as it was still cold. We went down to the food court and bought some treats for after dinner. Then we had dinner at the Tapas Bar on the LG level of Harrod’s. It was the best meal we had so far in London. We had gambas, fried calamari, a Spanish cheese platter and Serrano ham (48.20 pounds for 4). Everything was excellent.
Day Four, March 21, Tues.
We decided that today we would take a break from the heavy site seeing and do some shopping and exploring. We split up and my parents did their own thing. We first went to breakfast at Oriel then headed to Buckingham Palace. Frankly, this did not “wow” any of us, but a must to cross off your list.
Next, off to Oxford and Regents Streets where we saw all the shops that had been mentioned by others on Fodors. First off was Topshop. This was a huge store with lots of stuff that teen girls love. We spent over an hour there, and Lauren found a cute wrap dress.
We took the tube to Covent Gardens. It was lunchtime so we had lunch at Rock and Sole Plaice (47 Endell St.) It was a small restaurant, most people get their fish & chips to go, but we were lucky to get a table for four. Basically, you pick the type of fish you want your fish and chips to be. We all ordered the traditional cod. It was excellent. We walked around the neighborhood. We really liked this area, smaller streets and charming stores. I thought someone had mentioned that it was kind of punk, but we did not notice that at all. We walked down to the Covent Market and the Apple Market Stalls. The Market Stalls are probably busier on the weekend, but there were still many open and I found a pendant of blue glass – recycled from stained glass windows (10 pounds) by Lily Gardner – her stuff has been in Elle and Vogue Magazines. Stephen and Michael watched the street performers while we shopped.
We stopped at a soccer shop called “Soccer Scene”. I was amazed that in London they used the word Soccer. Michael bought a Chelsea jersey and a soccer highlights DVD. ( Word of warning – do not by a DVD in England, it will not00 work on your DVD player at home).
Stephen was interested in going to Saville Road, so we took the tube over there. A lot of smaller men’s shops making “bespoke” and made to order suits.
We were set to meet my parents for dinner at New World Chinese Restaurant (1 Gerrard Place) in Chinatown before the theater. We had a nice dinner there, although not exceptional – better Asian food was to come.
We walked to the Prince Edward Theater to see Mary Poppins. The play was excellent. The sets and staging were incredible. All of the actors, including those that play the kids, Jane and Michael Banks, were fabulous. This show was definitely not just for kids, in fact very small children might be a bit scared. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.
Day Five, March 22, Wed.
We woke up earlier in order to catch the 9:36am train from Waterloo to Hampton Court. Unfortunately, when we got to Waterloo, our train had been cancelled due to signalling problems. We had to take a different train that required us to make another train change. We had to wait about 30 minutes for the second train so it took us about an hour to get there.
We did the audio tours for the kitchen and Henry VIII’s apartments; then went through the maze. The kids helped us find our way to the center and out!
Trained back and stopped in Bloomsbury for lunch. Stephen had found several restaurants recommended on Goodge & Charlotte streets. Many of them were full. We ended up having lunch at Roku, a fabulous Japanese restaurant (37 Charlotte Street). We ordered edamame, miso, softshell crab roll, yaki artichokes, yaki mushrooms, gyoza, duck and bbq spareribs.(117.17 pounds for 6) One of our more expensive meals, but everything was fantastic, and it was one of our favorite meals!
We walked to the British Museum. We tried to follow Rick Steve’s guide but apparently they had moved things around. The museum was quite confusing and the map was only minimally helpful. We did see the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, Egyptian mummies, “Ginger” and walked through the Asia exhibits.
Headed back to the apartment, with stop at a grocery store for breakfast goodies. Stopped at Patisserie Valerie for croissants, etc.
We separated from my parents for dinner. We decided to go to the Tapas bar at Harrod’s again for dinner. When we got there we found out they were having a private party and were closed. The party was called “California Dreamin’” and was a wine party with all California wines. We walked around Knightsbridge and ended up at Motcombs an Italian restaurant right near Waitrose, the grocery store. We had an excellent meal, and charming service. L-carpaccio & mushroom risotto (both excellent) S- beef stroganoff, M- crispy duck, J- partridge and S & J shared carpaccio. J & M shared a panettone bread pudding for dessert that was delicious, S- flourless chocolate cake.
Day Six, March 23, Thursday
Today we had our Astral Tour to Oxford, Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle. Our van picked us up promptly at 7:45 am. We headed to a place where we picked up some others. There was only one other family on our bus a grandmother & grandfather and three older teens/early twenties. We drove to Oxford about 1 hr. 15 min. We were greeted by our guide Debbie, an informative and energetic guide. We went in the building that was used as the infirmary for Harry Potter. She also got us into the Exeter College and into their chapel, which is stunning.
We shopped for 5-10 minutes and got a t-shirt for Lauren and sweatshirt for me and Oxford shirt for my Dad. Back on the bus and we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon to Shakespeare’s house. I actually enjoyed it more than I was expecting to. His home was well restored with interesting artifacts and there were guides strategically placed to tell stories and answer any questions. Stratford-upon-Avon was a cute town with the street outside of Shakespeare’s house being pedestrian only lined with little shops. We headed to the Garrick Inn down the street and to the right, recommended by my Fodor’s friend Carol. We had a great lunch M- fish & chips, L- pasta, J- sausage & mash, S- hand-carved ham sandwich. Stephen’s was the only disappointment as there was little meat on the sandwich. We had about an hour to eat lunch and wander so we walked down the street and bought some chocolates in a shop. (1:30 pm.)
Back to the minivan and we drove-by, stopped long enough just for a picture at Anne Hathaway’s house and Mary Borden’s house (Shakespeare’s mother).
We arrived at Warwick about 2:15 and were given until 4:30 to explore. We enjoyed all the many displays. Michael particularly enjoyed the armor and climbing up the Guy tower. Incredible views if you can make it up. It was not crowded at all, although the demonstrations (trebuchet, jousting etc.) did not start until April.
We really enjoyed this tour, and it was one of the highlights of our week in London. I would recommend it if you are going in the off- season. My only thought being, you might want to spend more time at Warwick if the demonstrations, etc. are going on. If we return to London in the late spring – early fall, I would definitely return to Warwick on our own to see more. However, since none of those things were going on, the two hours and 15 minutes we did have were ample time to see the regular exhibits at Warwick.
Back on the minivan, we got dropped off at the South Kensington tube station about 6:30 pm and tubed to Leicester Square. Had our best meal at China Experience (118 Shaftesbury Ave.) Everything there was delicious and we had a lot of different food. For dessert, Lauren had steamed custard buns (which were excellent) and Michael had mango grapefruit tapioca pearl, which is like soup with small tapioca pearls in it. (54.90 pounds for 4).
Day Seven, March 24, Friday
Our last full day in London. We split up from my parents as we had different things we wanted to see. We got pastries at Patisserie Valerie and went to St. Paul’s cathedral. The dome was fascinating. We climbed up to the Whispering Gallery. Then Michael wanted to climb all the way to the very top, so we all followed. A total of 530 steps, very narrow & windy towards the top. We ended up outside very near the top of the Cathedral. Back down we went. We sat and listened to a tour guide give details to high school students. Very interesting. Down through the crypt and out.
We went back to China Experience for dim sum lunch, and had another incredible meal. (37.45 pounds for 4) I can not wait to go back to London just to eat there! (Sadly, we have heard from other friends that we recommended this place to, that it has now closed).
We took the tube over to Notting Hill and Portobello market. Many antique shops had their wares outside and then there were the food stalls. Not nearly as many as on the weekend, I am sure, but it gave us a chance to explore the neighborhood. I purchased a silver ring and Michael an antique looking Pinocchio marionette to go with his Pinocchio mask from Venice last year.
Took the tube to Knightsbridge and went into the Smallbone and Aga stores, two stores Stephen wanted to see.
We went back to the apartment to rest up before dinner. We had dinner at Maroush, a Lebanese restaurant at 38 Beuchamp Place. We ordered tomato & onion salad, falafel, pastry with spinach, mini sausage and lamb shwarma. Everything was delicious, and the service was superb. The maitre d’/head waiter treated us very well.
Came back and packed for our departure to Paris the next day.
Read about Paris here: