This post is waaaaay overdue – but better late than never! Last summer Adam and I traveled to Europe and visited three amazing cities – London, Bruges and Amsterdam! We had ten jam packed incredible days and I am going to share with you what we did, where we stayed, where we ate and most importantly some travel tips to make your vacation as incredible as ours!
London was our first stop of this amazing journey and where we spent the majority of our time. First, let’s start off where we stayed. We stayed in an area called Holborn, at a great boutique hotel called the Hoxton Holborn. We absolutely couldn’t have been happier with the hotel and with the location. Holborn is a very central neighborhood in London and the hotel was about a block from the Underground and this was key! We were around the corner from the British Museum and walking distance to many of the popular sites (Buckingham Palace, Covent Gardens, Soho, Piccadilly Circus). The hotel itself was a happening place – the lobby had a hip feel to it and was a popular hangout and had a great coffee shop and restaurant. The front desk staff was amazing! They provided incredible advice and always had a cold bottle of water waiting for us to take on our journey or up to our rooms. Our room was great – it was a big room with a large bathroom and plenty of storage for all of our stuff! It had a funky and comfortable feel to it and was very large by European standards! The hotel had a restaurant in the bottom level called the Chicken Shop – we stopped there for a snack and it was probably one of our favorite meals! The chicken was incredible! Hands down, we would not only recommend this hotel, we would urge you to stay there – it far exceeded our expectations!
Couple of things we did as soon as we got to town – first we got an Oyster Card for the London Underground (that is their subway). We put about £25 on it and it got us through the entire time we were in London. We pretty much used the Underground exclusively – I think we took two Ubers (download the London app if you are planning on using Uber) – but other than that we walked or took the Underground everywhere. The other thing we purchased was the London Pass (click my affiliate link to check it out). (We actually ordered this online before we went and then picked it up when we arrived there.) The London Pass was a great deal for a few reasons – first it saved us money! YAY! Second, some of the attractions we were able to skip the long lines with our pass! YAY! Third, we had planned on seeing most of the places on the pass, but went to a few that we probably wouldn’t have gone to (and we were happy that we saw them!) You will want to decide how many days you need when you order it – we had it for two days and that worked out perfectly for us! Plenty of time to see everything we wanted to!
We lived and breathed by Trip Advisor – it is how we found our hotels and used it to find great restaurant while we were exploring the cities!
Now let’s go through the day-by-day itinerary:
Day 1 (arrival day) – We arrived first thing in the morning. We took the Heathrow Express (which saves a lot of time and money) to the city and checked into our hotel and headed to get some breakfast. From breakfast we went to the London Eye. We ordered tickets online ahead of time for the London Eye as the lines can get really long (especially in the summer) – I would totally recommend this. We would have had to wait for at least an hour and this way we basically walked right on. The London Eye was very cool and even if you are afraid of heights I wouldn’t miss this. It has these huge pods/cars that are literally the size of a room. If you are nervous you can sit on a bench in the middle of the car. The view is incredible and you can really get a lay of the land. After that we just went wandering. We walked past Big Ben and Parliament (and yes, Adam must have said “look kids Ben Ben & Parliament” as many times as Chevy Chase did in European Vacation), Westminster Abby and through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace (before you ask…we did not see the changing of the guards…we planned to, but couldn’t get there at the right times for it.) Buckingham Palace was closed for tours when we were in town, which was a big bummer! After that, it was time to go back to the hotel for a nap and shower and then head out to dinner. We headed out to walk around Covent Gardens were we grabbed something to eat and just walked around and people watched.
Day 2 (first full day) – We started out with a quick breakfast and headed out to Parliament. Parliament tours are only on Saturday’s and most weekdays that Parliament is out on recess. When we were there, Parliament was in session so we could only do Saturday. Be sure to book this in advance as they do sell out! The Parliament tour that we did was a self guided audio tour, which we really loved. Kids may find it a little boring, but we loved the history, artwork and the tour of the buildings. After Parliament, we went right across the street to Westminster Abby. This is where the London Pass really came in handy – the line to get in was around the corner, but we only had to wait about 10 minutes! Again, we did the self guided audio tour – we spent a good amount of time in here – there was so much interesting history! At this point we were very ready for some lunch – we stopped by The Red Lion – this traditional English pub has been around since 1434! Their most popular dish is the Ale & Pie tasting board – Adam and I shared one of these, and the pies were delicious (the ale wasn’t bad either!) After lunch we went to one of our favorite attractions – Churchill’s War Rooms – this is probably the most over-looked museum and it was by far one of our favorites (Adam could have spent all day in there, but after 2 hours, I had enough). After the War Rooms we took the Tube over to Borough Market – this is a outdoor farmers market where we picked up some snacks and a delicious Prosecco Spritzer (this must be made at home, it was delish!!) Don’t miss this – the line can be long, but it is well worth the wait! Then it was back to the hotel for a rest, shower and out to dinner!
Day 3 – We got up early and headed to the tube towards the Tower of London. We got there right when it opened and opted to use the self guided audio tour. The Tower of London is HUGE – there is so much to see! It is really a little city unto itself – this is where the Crown Jewels are kept (that was our first stop) and then we made our way through the torture chambers, the tower where Anne Boleyn awaited her beheading and just wandered through the historic buildings. After the Tower of London, we grabbed a quick bite on the go and headed to London Bridge – London Bridge is a quick stop, but make sure you have good shoes on because you will be walking up a ton of stairs (and down too). You can get some cool pictures when you are on top of the bridge through their glass floors that looks down from the bridge! (this would have been a great selfie stick picture opportunity for the two of us, had I not lost it that day (note….selfie stick #1)! After the London Bridge, we headed towards Kensington Palace (this is where William and Kate live). Kensington Palace is in the middle of Kensington Park, which is a gorgeous park to hang out and walk around (you can also rent bikes). Kensington Palace was very pretty, but it was one of the sites we probably could have skipped. I think we may have been over the “royal” history at this point! We left the Palace and walked through the neighborhood of Notting Hill. There are some cute shops and restaurants in Notting Hill. We headed back to the hotel for a quick rest and a shower! One of the highlights of the day was that evenings Jack the Ripper Tour. This was super fun and a great walking tour. London Walks is a great tour company that you don’t have to book ahead. You go to the website and see the schedule of the tour you are interested in. Then you just show up at the location provided and pay on the spot. The tours were very inexpensive (£10 per adult, but only £8 if you had the London Pass) and the tour guides were AMAZING. For the Jack the Ripper tour, if you go, try to get a tour with Donald – he is the Jack the Ripper resident expert and was a complete character! The tour was about 2 hours and it should not be missed. We would have loved to try some of the other London Walk tours – next time for sure!
We started out early and headed to Camden Market. This is an outdoor market that has EVERYTHING! Food, crafts, souvenirs. It was a great day of shopping and there is a ton to see. I would say to go there around lunchtime and grab something to eat. There are a bunch of unique outdoor food stalls and one looked better than the next. Give yourself a few hours to wander around and get lost throughout the maze of vendors and shops. After the market, we went for a quick stop to Trafalgar Square and ran through (literally) the National Gallery. We are not really the art museum types, but if you are you could spend a ton of time in the Gallery.
Next – Wimbledon…. this one takes it own paragraph. Adam talked about going to Wimbledon as soon as he heard we would be there when it was taking place while we were there. I was not a huge fan…didn’t want to take the time and tickets were outrageously expensive and hard to come by. So Adam did his research and found out that every day there are “grounds” tickets that are sold on site for that day for only £20! Grounds tickets give you access to all of the courts except the reserved seating, such as Centre Court. So, that afternoon we decided to take our chances and see if we could get in. We took the Tube directly to Wimbledon (got directions from our waiter at lunch) and it was a short walk from the train station. We could have never been prepared for what we were about to see. What is known as the “same day queue” was a huge park filled with thousands of people waiting in line (some even camping out in their tents). The Wimbledon staff basically told us that there was not a chance we were going to get tickets that day. We didn’t believe them….we should have. We took our spots in line and after about an hour and a half and no movement and the grounds about to close, we gave in and headed back to London. (this story will continue).
After our Wimbledon fail – we went for dinner in Covent Gardens at Sticks and Sushi. This was one of our favorite meals that we had in London. They have multiple locations and if you are a sushi fan, I would check it out!
Day 5 (our last day in London)
We started out the day at the British Museum. This is an incredible museum where you can see things like the Rosetta Stone, cool mummies, tons of other historical exhibits and all of the things that Britain plundered from all over the world. We downloaded the Rick Steve’s pod cast, which was about an hour long, and did our own quick self-guided tour. It was a great way to see the highlights of the museum. After that, we headed to Harrods and Oxford Street for some shopping. Harrods is a great place to grab some lunch – their marketplace is an incredible site (even if you aren’t going to eat there, you should just walk through it!)
Wimbledon part 2 – while we were eating lunch in Harrods, we were searching around the internet looking to see if there would be any way to still get in to Wimbledon before we left the next day. That is when we started searching twitter for #wimbledonqueue, which led us to start watching @ViewFromtheQ on Twitter. This was our key to Wimbledon. We started seeing real time updates on what was going on in the line. While were eating we saw someone tweet that there was currently NO LINE to get in! We literally downed our lunch and ran to the Tube. 40 minutes later we were walking right in to Wimbledon! (Note, you cannot bring selfie sticks in to Wimbledon – #2 selfie stick now gone) Now, this ticket gets you grounds access. We got to see some great matches and could come and go into the smaller matches as we pleased. There was a line within the grounds that you could wait in for Returned Tickets – these are tickets that as people leave the event, they turn them in and the tickets are resold (proceeds go to charity) to people in the Returned Tickets line. We decided to give it a go. There were still a few matches left in the day and we thought it would be cool to try to see a Centre Court match. Once again, we lucked out – we were able to get two reserved seats for £10 ! We headed to our seats and were crazy excited that we cought the end of a match with Serena Williams – it was AMAZING (she turned out winning the entire tournament!)
After Wimbledon we were starving and took the train back to Covent Gardens and had one of our favorite meals at Barrafina – this was a great tapas restaurant – please note, the wait can be long, as it is a small restaurant with only counter service, but well worth the wait!
The next morning we were off to our next stops – Bruges (Belgium) and Amsterdam – stay tuned, those posts are coming soon!
Couple of quick tips and notes…. We found some amazing apps that we LOVED.
The first one is called Postgram. Basically, it takes pictures from your phone and turns them into postcards that you can send directly from your phone. It is super easy to use and the post cards arrive in 3-7 days. Each card costs ¢.99 and that includes the postage! So much easier and more personal than sending a store bought post card (and a great keepsake!)
The next is Tube Map – this was essential for getting us around London with no problems! It helps to navigate the Underground and can easily get you from point A to point B with no problem!!
The other essential was Trip Advisor – we lived, ate and breathed using this app! It was TOTALLY our go to for everything!
- Bring a good raincoat that packs down easily. We loved our Northface rain jacekt – it packs down nicely and stows in the front pocket – easy to throw in our day pack!
- Bring a power strip and an international adaptor. Plug the power strip into the adaptor and you have a ton of plugs for your devices to charge up at night.
- Bring an extra phone battery or juice pack (a Mophie or OtterBox charging case would have been amazing). We used our phones for GPS and navigation the whole time. This sucked the life from our batteries. We always had one or two of these in our day pack and used them every day!
- Bring two pairs of good walking shoes. It is nice to change them up every other day and keep your feet fresh!
- Bring a good, lightweight, day pack. We really used this a lot to carry all of those things that we may need throughout the day, so we didn’t have to run back to the hotel (sweatshirt, raincoat, phone batteries, water bottles, etc)
- While out and about, purchase some local maps and make these super cute DIY Map Coasters from Country Chic Cottage. It is a great way to remember your trip every time you say CHEERS!
Questions? Bring ’em on!
Oh…and be sure to check out some of my other travel articles! (just click on the pictures below)
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