London - England

April 2017

For our kids’ April 2017 school vacation, we decided to fulfill my son, Jacob’s, bucket list destination by heading to London for 4 days. This would be followed by a 5-day stopover in Iceland on our way back home.

Because this trip covers two (very) different countries, we are splitting this into two separate recap articles on the site. This is the first part of the trip, covering our time in London and the UK. The second segment (which we will post soon) will focus on the Iceland leg of this journey

Day 1 – Traveling to London, Plus Westminster and The London Dungeon

For the third time in less than two years, we would be flying IcelandAir to Europe. We used this company when we visited Iceland for our first trip to that amazing country in 2015 – an experience which inspired the creation of the Hopeful Wanderings website. We would return to this airline for our trip to Paris in 2016. The convenience of this carrier, coupled with an amazing price that we found on round trip tickets (seriously, the round trip price from Boston to London with the Iceland stopover was less than $400 per person) was really what convinced us to book this trip in the first place. The price was so good, we just couldn’t pass it up!

Our flight left from Boston on Sunday, April 9th at 9:30pm. This is the same flight time that we have had on all our trips with IcelandAir. It is a 5-hour flight to Keflavik Airport in Iceland, but adding in the 4 hour time difference, it means that you land at 6:30am, Iceland time.

As usual, we were unable to sleep on the flight (I honestly envy people who can sleep on a plane), so by the time we got on our connecting flight to London at 7:45am, we were all exhausted and in need of some sleep. Thankfully we got at least a little rest on the 3-hour trip to the UK, because we knew we had a busy day ahead of us once we arrived!

Our flight landed at Gatwick Airport around 11:30am, London time. Gatwick is a bit outside of central London, but it is super easy to get into to the city. The Gatwick Express, which is accessible right from the airport, had us at London’s Victoria Station in just 30 minutes and for about $60 for the entire family.

Victoria Station is a major hub in London, similar to Grand Central in New York. That is what I was reminded of as my family entered the station, dragging our luggage behind us. Truthfully, I was a bit overwhelmed and confused as I made my way into Victoria. I knew we had to get on the Underground, London’s subway system, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to do so. Someone on the train had told us all to get “Oyster” cards to ride the Underground, so I got in line to make that purchase.

Victoria Station

Oyster cards are basically passes for public transit in London. A plastic card will cost you 5£, which they will refund when you return the card. You can either charge the card with a set amount, like a debit account, and use it until the funds run out, or you can have it set up for a specific number of days and get unlimited rides during that time. The “unlimited rides” option is what we opted for, if for no other reason than we didn’t want to have to deal with recharging, etc. Since she is only 10-years old, Holly rode the Underground for free, so we got our three Oyster cards and headed down to the subway.

If you’re anything like me, your first trip to the London Underground will be intimidating. There are lots and lots of possible lines to take, tons of people rushing about, and bustling activity everywhere you look. It’s ok. Take a deep breath and do not be overwhelmed by the Underground. There are plenty of attendants around who will answer your questions and tell you where to go, and once you ride the Underground a few times, you will get the hang of how the lines work and wonder why you were intimated by it in the first place. The entire system is really incredibly efficient and fast.

A sign for the London Undergound
Gloucester Road stop on the London Undergound

One other note on the London Underground – I immediately became infatuated with the logo design for this transit system. The simple design of a red circle with a blue band emblazoned with the word “Underground” is not only iconic, it is so versatile. This same design is used at every station, with the words replaced with the station’s name. Even the ubiquitous warning to “Mind the Gap” can be seen across the system written with this same logo. As a designer, I completely appreciated the genius of this design and would be remiss if I did not mention it in this recap.

Our stop of Gloucester Road was just three away from Victoria - a ride which took only a few minutes. Coming up out of the station, we saw our destination, Montana Hotel, right across the street.

Like many major cities, hotels in London are expensive and the rooms are tiny. Our room had one double bed and two single beds (plus a desk, chair, and wardrobe) all crammed into the tiny space. There was barely room for the 4 of us to move, but the room was clean, the staff was super friendly and helpful, and the location of the hotel was ideal, being across the street from a subway stop and within walking distance to Kensington Gardens. In summary, it may have been small, but it was perfect for us!

Our original plan for our first day in London was to head to Baker Street to see Sherlock’s home and visit Madame Tussauds. Unfortunately, everything seemed to be running a bit behind for us, and by the time we would’ve gotten to that area, the museums would’ve been near closing time. We decided to change our plans and make our way to Westminster instead. We would start our time in London by seeing its arguably most icon landmark – Big Ben.

The subway ride from Gloucester Road to Westminster was another quick one, taking only a few minutes. Honestly, the transit system in London is so good that as long as you are near a stop, you are literally just minutes away from nearly anywhere in the city.

Coming up out of the station, I smiled as Jacob spotted Big Ben and exclaimed, “Mom, look! It’s Big Ben!” Jacob had wanted to visit London for some time, so to see how excited he was in that moment made the sleepless flight and challenging day of travel totally worth it.

Parliment and Big Ben
Parliment and Big Ben

On a more somber note, this subway stop brings you up right at the bridge where there was a terror attack just weeks prior to our visit. Memorial flowers still line the bridge where four people were killed and over 50 injured when a man drove a car into pedestrians walking along that bridge. I could only imagine the horror of that day as I said a prayer for the victims of this senseless attack.

After paying my respects at the bridge, we headed over to the London Eye, the city’s massive Ferris wheel. We bought some tickets for a ride later in the evening. One note to be aware of is that the Eye, and many of the other attractions in London, handle entrances based on specific times. You may be able to buy a ticket now, but that does not mean necessarily you get right in line at that time. In most cases, or at least in my experience, the ticket you buy now includes a time when you need to return to actually queue up for the ride. Our ride time for the Eye was a few hours away, so we grabbed some fish and chips for dinner and made our way over to a nearby attraction called “The London Dungeon”.

The London Eye

The London Dungeon features 19 interactive shows, plus 2 underground rides (one is a flume-like water ride and the other is a freefall-style ride) which tell stories concentrating on the darker parts of London’s history. These tales include the plague, the Great Fire of London, Sweeny Todd, Guy Fawkes, and of course – Jack the Ripper. The attraction is essentially a haunted house style experience, but instead of actors jumping out at you for cheap jump scares, the Dungeon feaures actors and actresses giving short performances that are a mixture of funny and gross with a few frights thrown in for good measure. It was a fun way to pass the time, but Holly certainly did not care for the experience, especially when I was selected to sit behind a curtain while a surgeon pretended to knock my brains out with a mallet. Holly was ready to jump out of her seat to kick the guy. She was not happy at the thought of anyone hurting her Daddy!

The London Dungeon
The London Dungeon

The entire London Dungeon experience took about 90 minutes. It was fun, but perhaps a bit too long as it started to drag a bit towards the end. We ended up skipping the freefall ride, which is the final stop on the attraction, because Holly was too short to ride. This was fine with Sarah and I since we do not care for thrill rides at all. Holly’s height saved us from having to get on a ride that probably would’ve made us feel sick anyway!

We had initially entered the Dungeon in order to kill some time (pun intended) so we could ride the London Eye later, but we ended up killing too much time! Once we exited the Dungeon, our long day of travel had caught up to us and no one wanted to wait in line for another ride. We decided to head back to the hotel and end our first day in England, hoping that we would be able to return to the Eye for a ride later in our trip.

Day 2 – Bus Tour to Windsor Castle, Lacock, Bath, and Stonehenge

Prior to our trip to London, we had booked a day tour with a company called Golden Tours. This 12-hour tour would take us out of the city to see some of the British countryside, including stops at Windsor Castle, the towns of Lacock and Bath, and finally a visit to Stonehenge, which was the number 1 place I wanted to visit in the UK.

Our tour left at 8:00am, so we needed to get up early to start our day. Jacob had his heart set on “a full English”, so that is exactly what he ordered for his first London breakfast.

Golden Tours has an office on Cromwell Road, just about a 5-minute walk from our hotel, so we made our way there to check in and wait for the bus to arrive. This was the first time I had ever booked a day-long tour like this. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect and I was honestly a bit nervous for the experience. My entire family suffers from motion sickness (some more than others), so I was worried that all day on a bus would be a problem for us. Thankfully, the bus was big and very comfortable. Between that comfort level and the motion sickness medicine we took, the entire family felt fine. In fact, the ride was so comfortable that we were able to take naps along the way, which helped since we were still a bit groggy from our travel experience the day before.

As soon as our bus took off, our guide cautioned us that we were in for a very full and very hectic day. That is one thing I learned from this tour – if you book a trip that visits 4 places in a single day, you get the advantage of seeing lots of stuff all in one shot. The downside is that you do not get to spend much time in any one place. Our guide warned us of this, probably to set expectations so everyone on the bus knew what we had signed up for.

Our first stop of the day was Windsor Castle. Tour groups arrive at Windsor before the gates have even opened, each tour hoping to be among the first in line so that they can get their group in as quickly as possible. Once the gates opened, the line moved pretty quickly and we were inside the grounds, which are immense. It was really interesting to find this castle right in the middle of an otherwise busy city. I’ve always imagined castles being remote places out in the middle of the countryside, but in England, they are right in the city with the hustle and bustle all around them.

Arriving in Windsor
Waiting to enter Windsor Castle

Upon entering the castle, our guide told us to head immediately towards the State Apartments and Queen Mary’s Dollhouse. We only had about 90 minutes in Windsor, a place that some people spend the better part of a whole day, so we had to move fast. We started with the State Apartments, since they had a shorter line. There were no photos allowed inside the apartments, so I have none to share with this article, but we basically went through a number of rooms containing various pieces of furniture, art, and armor. Attendants were stationed in each room to answer questions or point out things of interest to visitors.

The ground of Windsor Castle
The ground of Windsor Castlen
The ground of Windsor Castle
The ground of Windsor Castle

Upon leaving the apartments, we found the line for the dollhouse to have grown. Rather than spend what little time we had left at Windsor waiting in that line, we decided to explore the grounds a bit more. Part of that time was spent in St. George’s Chapel. Again, no photography was allowed in the chapel, so all I have to share are a few shots from outside the building (here’s some pics of the inside, as found on Google).The Chapel itself is pretty large and very detailed. I always enjoy walking through old churches, and while this one was not as impressive as the time we spent in Notre Dame in Paris, it was still a really wonderful building and I was happy to have been able to see it.

St. George's Chapel
Posing with a guard at Windsor

Our hour and half visit to Windsor flew by, and before we knew it we were back on the bus and headed to Lacock. Lunch boxes were provided to us, consisting of a sandwich (cheese with cucumbers and chutney), a bag of crisps, a cookie, raisins, and a bottle of water. Finishing our lunches on the bus, we arrived in the small village of Lacock a short time later.

Lacock is known for its unspoiled appearance. There are no street lights, satellite dishes, or any signs of technology anywhere. Because of this, the village and the nearby abbey are often used to shoot period pieces, including lots of Jane Austen works. The area was also heavily used in the Harry Potter movies, something my entire family was very excited for!

Lacock Abbey

Unfortunately, we only had about 45 minutes in Lacock, which was barely enough time to get off the bus, walk down a few streets, and get back to our seats. We did not have time to visit the Abbey, which is where many of the classroom scenes in Hogwarts were filmed for the Harry Potter movies. Once again, this is the drawback of a tour like this – you do not get enough time to really explore any one destination. If we ever return to the UK, we absolutely plan on spending more time in the English countryside, especially in the village and abbey at Lacock.

The village of Lacock
The village of Lacock
St. George's Chapel
Posing with a guard at Windsor

Back on the bus, we headed towards Bath. This is a very popular destination and is a part of almost all Stonehenge tours. As we pulled up towards the town, we saw numerous other tour groups filling the streets of this area.

The big attraction is Bath is the Roman Baths and Grand Pump Room. Our guide took us over to where these baths were located, but warned us that we did not have time to wait in line to see inside since we had to be back on the bus in 90 minutes. This was fine by us, since we had no real interest in this attraction. Instead, we decided to find a quiet place to enjoy some afternoon tea!

Afternoon tea is a quintessentially British thing that Sarah absolutely wanted to try it. We ended up popping into a small tea house called The Bath Bun which was located just a few streets from the crowds milling about the Roman Baths. We ordered our afternoon tea and were super excited when our waiter brought us a three-tiered tray complete with sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, and a few of the shop’s signature Bath Buns. This final piece of the tray replaces the British desserts that come in most afternoon tea orders, but it was a wonderful substitution! The Bath Bun is a sweet roll made with crushed sugar on top and candied currants. It was incredible, as were the sandwiches (we opted for two kinds - ham with ground mustard and brie with cranberry) and the scones. The scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream became a particular favorite of our family and we would order these treats along with cups of teas every day for the rest of our visit to London.

Afternoon tea at The Bath Bun
Afternoon tea at The Bath Bun

Our bellies full of delicious goodies, we headed back to our bus for our final stop of the day – Stonehenge. This was the destination that I was most excited for, in part because it marked the second location that I would be able to visit from “The Halloween Tree” by Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury’s opus to Halloween tells the origins of holiday through visits to different times and locations throughout history. It is a book that I have read every October for many years. I had visited my first Halloween Tree stop, Notre Dame, when we went to Paris last year, and I was thrilled to now be able to add a second location on my “Halloween Tree Tour” by making my way to Stonehenge. This leaves just the pyramids in Egypt, Rome, and the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico and I will have completed my tour!

Stonehenge is an interesting place to visit. Our tour guide told us that people are either in awe of this ancient place, or they are complete underwhelmed, seeing it as just a pile of old rocks. I fall into the former category. I was amazed by the mysteries of Stonehenge and I was so happy we had made it a part of our time in England. We didn’t have time to go through the museum that is onsite at the visitor center, but I was OK with that, preferring to spend a little extra time viewing the stones.

Stonehenge

Unfortunately, you cannot get very close to the actual stones for safety and conservation reasons. This area sees so many visitors, that if they allowed everyone to walk amongst the stones themselves, the grounds would become damaged at this historic sight. The company that we went with, Golden Tours, does offer an option for a “private viewing”, which allows you to walk amongst the inner circle of stones in the late evening. Maybe if we ever head back to Stonehenge in the future, we will opt for that tour to try to get a bit closer to this mysterious monument.

Leaving Stonehenge, we began the 2+ hour drive back to London. Our bus dropped us back off on Cromwell Road, just a short walk from our hotel. It was nearly 8:00pm by this time and we were all starving. Luckily there were plenty of dining choices in this area, including the Gloucester Arms, a pub just down the road from the Montana.

Pubs in London are interesting places. In America, when I think of a “pub” I think of a bar – not a place I’d bring my kids for dinner. In London, pubs welcome families until 9:00pm. There is no problem sitting down with kids and enjoying some dinner and a pint, which is exactly what we did.

Driving through the British countryside
Dinner at The Gloucester Arms

One note about ordering at pubs in London (something I did not know until this visit) – the protocol is that you head up to the bar to place your order. The server will get you your drinks and ask you where you are sitting. Once your food is ready, they will bring it to your table. So do not just sit at your table expecting a waiter or waitress to come take your order. You will be waiting for a long time if you try that!

Day 3 – The Changing of the Guards, Sherlock Holmes, Madame Tussauds, Trafalgar Square, and the Best Meal We Had in London

Our third day in London began will a trip over to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard, an idea that seemingly every other visitor to London had as well. When we got to this area about 30 minutes before the 11:00 start time for the ceremony, there were already hundreds of people lined up and waiting.

I should’ve expected these crowds. The staff at our hotel, as well as a Londoner we met on the train on our way into the city, had both told us to avoid this ceremony and to instead go see the Changing of the Horse Guard instead. I honestly wish we would’ve listened to that advice, because there were so many people at Buckingham Palace that we simply gave up after a 25 minutes and decided to skip the whole thing. We did see some of the guards making their way towards the Palace and we heard the bagpipes playing, but that was about all we could see through the crowds, so we took off. If you visit London and want to see this ceremony, my suggestion to you is to either arrive really, really early to get one of the prime spots or listen to the advice we were given and try for the less crowded Horse Guard ceremony instead.

The crowds at Buckingham Palace for the Chaning of the Guards
The crowds at Buckingham Palace for the Chaning of the Guards

As we were leaving the area, my daughter spotted a stuffed Paddington Bear toy inside a shop window. Our whole family loves the Paddington stories and we had promised Holly she could get a real London Paddington on this trip, so one of those bears came away with us right then and there (note – this is why you will see Paddington with us in all the rest of the pictures from this day).

Leaving Buckingham Palace, we returned to the Underground and made our way towards Baker Street, which is where we would find the home of Sherlock Holmes as well as Madame Tussauds.

Our first order of business was to check in at Madame Tussauds. We already had tickets for the museum, but as we learned from our experience at the Eye, you also need a timed ticket to actually get into the attraction. We waited in line for around 20 minutes to get tickets that allowed us to return in a few hours. This left us free to make our way toward 221B Baker Street.

One of most iconic addresses in history, 221B Baker Street is the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson. At this location today you can visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum, which is essentially a townhouse set up to represent the dwelling as described in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Unfortunately, as we arrived at the address, we found the same scene we had encountered throughout most of London – a long line of people waiting to get in. With only so much time to eat lunch and then head over the wax museum for our timed tickets, we decided to skip the museum (although Sarah did sneak a peak and snap a few shots of a model flat in the basement when she used their bathroom). We did, however, get to take some photos in front of the doorway to 221B and we browsed in the gift shop for a bit. Jacob even decided to come away with a nice deerstalker hat, which you will see in the rest of the photos from this day (he refused to take it off for the rest of the time he was in London).

221B Baker Street - the home of Sherlock Holmes
221B Baker Street - the home of Sherlock Holmes
221B Baker Street - the home of Sherlock Holmes
221B Baker Street - the home of Sherlock Holmes

After a quick lunch of some pizza, we returned to Madame Tussauds and made our way inside. Honestly, I did not want to visit this attraction, but Sarah thought that the kids would like it, which they did. Fair warning, however - this place is insanely busy. It is also one of the strangest places you are likely ever to visit. Seeing crowds of people from all over the world take selfies with wax representations of famous people is just a very strange scene. There was very much a Twilight Zone-esque aspect to the whole experience.

The London version of Madame Tussauds is not only very busy, it is also huge. Sarah and I had actually been to the Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas many years ago, so I expected a similar experience in London, but this location is much larger and more complex than the Vegas one. It includes rooms dedicated to sports, fashion, world leaders, entertainment, and more. It also features an odd sit-down ride with the kind of animatronic characters you would see at Epcot world circa 1990, a 4DMarvel cartoon experience, and a whole section of displays dedicated to Star Wars (which is the end of the museum).

At Madame Tussauds
At Madame Tussauds
At Madame Tussauds
At Madame Tussauds
At Madame Tussauds
At Madame Tussauds
At Madame Tussauds

As I said, the kids enjoyed the experience, but man is that place overwhelmingly bizarre.

After the chaos of Madame Tussauds, we needed our afternoon tea pick-me-up, so we stopped in at the Sherlock Hotel for some tea, hot chocolate, and scones. With our bellies full from this afternoon treat, our next stop would be Trafalgar Square.

A popular gathering place in Central London, Trafalgar Square was pretty packed when we got there. Various buskers were about drawing pictures, playing music, or wearing costumes and hoping for a generous donation from the tourists who were passing through the area. We ended up stopping to watch a performance by a man who did a limbo-style routine underneath a flaming stick while a board of nails was placed under the bar. It was an interesting and amusing performance and the kids really enjoyed the spectacle of this entire area.

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Leaving Trafalgar Square
Back at Westminster

From Trafalgar Square, we could see Big Ben in the distance. Rather than jump back on the Underground, we opted for the short walk over to Westminster to see if we could get onto the London Eye. Even though our “timed tickets” were for a few days prior, we had never used them and the attendant for the queue to the ride was kind enough to let us into line so that we could ride.

The queue for the London Eye was pretty long, but it went very fast. Each “pod” on the Eye holds probably a dozen people or so and the ride never really stops moving (they only stop it when they need to assist a handicapped passenger). This means that they are constantly moving people on and off this attraction, which helps the line go quite quickly.

The London Eye
The London Eye
The view from The London Eye

The ride itself was a very enjoyable one that lasts about 30 minutes. You get a great view of London along the way and we were happy that we had made time to get back to this area for this experience.

Our day ended back on Gloucester Road with dinner at a restaurant called Da Mario. Our tour guide from the previous day had told us about this restaurant, which she said was Princess Diana’s local pizzeria (a claim which is also written on the steps of the restaurant). Apparently she used to bring Princes William and Harry to eat at this location. Well, if it was good enough for royalty, it was good enough for us!

The restaurant itself is much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside thanks to seating in the large level below ground. That is where we were seated. Our entire family ordered pasta dishes and we enjoyed one of the best meals we have ever had. The food was so fresh and delicious and we had lots of laughs at that dinner. Honestly, not to take away from any of the amazing things we saw in London, but this meal experience is one of my favorite memories of the trip. It was so nice to just all be together and happy. Sarah and I wound up drinking an entire bottle of wine and were in high spirits and silly so the kids found us extremely amusing. I will remember this meal for many years to come.

An iconic London phone booth
Dinner at Da Mario

Day 4 – The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and Kensington Gardens

For our final day in London, we decided to head over to the “Bloody Tower”, which is what our server at breakfast that day called The Tower of London.

We checked out of tour hotel after breakfast, but had them hold onto our luggage so we could enjoy the day. Our flight out of London was not until 10:00 that evening, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the day and see as much as we could see.

After a ride on the Underground all the way to Tower Hill (this was our longest trip on the subway, but it still was a quick 15 minutes or so at most), we emerged before the imposing Tower of London. Like the other castles and palaces we had seen on our trip (Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace), the Tower of London sits in the middle of an otherwise modern and bustling city.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London

We bought our tickets and headed inside. As you make your way into the gates of the Tower, you come across a trio of lions sculpted in a wire-like material. There are animal sculptures like this all throughout the Tower’s ground, depicting the Royal Menagerie that was once housed in this fortress.

Sculptures of The Royal Menagerie
Sculptures of The Royal Menagerie
Sculptures of The Royal Menagerie
Sculptures of The Royal Menagerie

There are really only a handful of things to see at the Tower of London, and we decided to start by visiting with the Ravens.

Legend has it that Charles II wanted the wild ravens removed from the Tower, but a prophecy foretold that if the ravens ever left the Tower, it would fall along with the kingdom. Instead of killing the birds, Charles II had them protected and they have been a part of the Tower ever since.

The Ravens at The Tower of London
The Ravens at The Tower of London

Today, there are 6 ravens that make their home at the Tower of London. They have had their wings clipped, so they cannot fly away. Visiting the Ravens, you will find some in cages and others milling about freely. One of the attendants at the Tower told me that they give each of the ravens time out of their cages each day, but that since the birds are very territorial, they cannot allow all of them out of the cages at once or there would be fighting amongst them.

Leaving the ravens, we next came to the White Tower. The central tower at the Tower of London, this large fortress holds multiple floors displaying a variety of armor and weapons. There is also a gigantic dragon made from armor and weaponry on the top floor.

The White Tower
The White Tower

One of my favorite pieces in this collection was a sculpture called Harness by an artist named Seamus Moran. This sculpture depictured an armored bird and the description near the piece spoke about the futility of armor on a bird, pointing out that to don such armor would prevent the creature from flying. Instead of taking to the skies, the bird would be stuck to the ground and forced to fight. This piece spoke to me in a profound way, causing me to consider all the heavy burdens we place on ourselves, keeping us stuck to the ground instead of able to soar and perhaps reach our full potential.

In addition to the displays of weaponry and armor, the top floor of the White Tower also features a number of intractive games for kids. Jacob and Holly were able to “dress” King Henry VIII properly in his armor, the first group that was able to do so in the time that we were up on this floor!

Armor displays at The White Tower
Armor displays at The White Tower
Armor displays at The White Tower
The Keeper dragon sculpture at The White Tower
Harness sculpture by Seamus Moran
Successfully dressing King Henry VIII in his armor

After touring the entire White Tower, we made our way back outside and decided to enter the line for the Crown Jewels – and what a line it was! Similar to a number of other times on our London trip, we opted to skip this attraction rather than waste our day in line.

At this point there was not much more to see at the Tower of London. There were more displays of military gear and armor, but we had seen quite enough of that already, so we left the Tower and made our way over to Tower Bridge, which is just a short walk away.

Many people confuse Tower Bridge with London Bridge, but the Tower Bridge with its iconic pair of towers is what people often think about when they imagine London Bridge. We walked along the bridge and considered going up in the Tower, but (yup, you guessed it), the line was crazy long.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

It may seem as if we skipped quite a bit in London thanks to our reluctance to wait in lines, but I really don’t feel like we missed much. If there was something we really wanted to do, we took the time and waited in line. Other attractions that weren’t as interesting to us are the ones we bypassed. There really is so much to do in a major city like London that you kind of need to be selective if you want to make the most of your time and see the things that are most important to you.

Wrapping up our time in London, we took the Underground back towards Westminster to get some lunch and take a few pictures in front of Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
Westminister
Westminister

We elected not to go inside the Abbey, not because of the line this time, but because of the price. London gets expensive, between the food, the admission prices, the transportation costs, etc., so we were not keen on dropping another $60 or so to get into the building. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see inside, but it was honestly getting later in the day and I knew we had a challenging travel experience ahead of us that evening, so we decided to head back to the hotel and one more stop on our London trip – Kensington Gardens.

I’ve wanted to visit Kensington Gardens for many years after having read “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”. I’ve always identified in some ways with “the boy who refused to grow up” and since the gardens were just a short 10-minute walk from our hotel, there was no reason not to pay it a visit before we left the city.

Walking through the park, which was teeming with activity on a warm April afternoon, was a wonderful way to wrap up our time in London. We casually strolled along as we sought out the Peter Pan statue. Along the way, Holly stopped to pick some flowers so that she would leave them for Peter at his statue. London as a whole, and really all the areas of Britain we visited, were extremely family friendly and everyone had a great time. We made really great memories during our time in the UK.

Picking flowers in Kensington Gardens
Kensington Gardens
Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens
Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens
Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens
Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens

Heading back our hotel, we grabbed out luggage and entered the Underground. I was honestly a bit concerned about this since we were traveling at peak time in London as we tried to drag out 4 bags of luggage with us. Thankfully the ride from Gloucester Road to Victoria was smooth (so smooth that Jacob took a little nap on the way) and once in Victoria we were able to jump onto the Gatwick Express. The train we got on had just arrived and we were among the first ones onboard, which worked out wonderfully since, by the time the train left the station, it was jam packed. This was Thursday evening before the Easter weekend so many Londoners were headed out of the city for a weekend holiday, making what I am sure is normally a busy commute even that much busier. Our timing was perfect, however, and was made our way to the airport without any troubles.

Checking in our bags and grabbing some dinner, we took a few minutes to catch our breath as we waited for our flight which would take back to Iceland for the second part of our European vacation.

Want to continue reading about this trip? The Iceland portion of the experience will be coming shortly – so check back soon!

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