When Alex found out his company was going to be moving him to London for a few weeks to be on the set of a movie, we jumped at the chance to join him. 9+ hours on a flight? A 6 hour time change for a 4 year old and 1 year old? Living in a hotel for 10 days with 2 adults and 2 kids? Wandering the streets of of a strange city by myself with the toddlers? Yes we are totally crazy! But we wanted to take advantage of the fact that our kids were young, there were no school obligations, and a completely paid for hotel in an adorable, family friendly neighborhood. We knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience an incredible city with our favorite little people.
Once we found out exactly where we would be staying, in the adorable family friendly neighborhood of South Kensington, we started researching and asking friends for advice on activities for crazy young toddlers. Since Alex was going to be working all day, it was basically just me and the kids running around the city by ourselves. Exhausting and daunting on any given day, throw in an unknown city, jet lag, a pregnant mama, and unpredictable weather, we knew we needed an arsenal of possibilities for things to do throughout the day. We were lucky to be right across the street from a grocery story, a pharmacy and a tube station so we could easily access any part of the city.
We arrived mid day Sunday after flying all night. We *mostly* slept on the plane, so we were hoping to start fresh and enjoy our day. Since we knew Alex would have to work all week, this was our chance to spend the day with him and explore. We quickly checked in to the hotel and hopped on the tube to visit the Sea Life London Aquarium. The aquarium is right on the river so we were also able to see the London Eye and Big Ben. Unfortunately, we were all exhausted and it was extremely crowded since it was the weekend, so the entire afternoon is pretty hazy. Luckily I took a million pictures!
We decided to call it a day in the late afternoon and head back to our neighborhood. We picked up some groceries at the market and found an adorable little Italian restaurant called Ask Italian right next to our tube station. It was everything we needed, pizza, pasta, wine (for Alex) in a quick and easy setting. Then we headed back home to crash for the tonight (or so we thought).
Since our apartment had a pullout couch in the living room plus a bedroom with a king bed and a crib for Lake, Alex slept by himself in the living room since he needed to be up and ready to go at 6am the next morning. Right around 2am, both kids were up. And I mean up, wanting food, wanting to play, acting as if it was 6pm and they had just taken a quick nap. Because basically, for us, it was. The funny thing about jet lag with kids is that you have it too. So my body was awake as well, and it wasn’t nearly as torturous as you would imagine being awake in the middle of the night. We turned on a movie, had a few snacks, and all fell asleep a couple hours later and woke up the next day at noon. Gotta love hotel blackout curtains!
After sleeping in, we had some breakfast in our room and made a plan for the day. Adam’s only request before coming to London was to go on a double decker bus. So we decided to buy tickets for one of the “hop on hop off” double decker bus tours. It turned out to be the best decision of our entire trip. The kids rode for free and my ticket was around 50$. Since there was a spring time special going on, we got an extra day for free plus a boat tour on the river. We took the tube to one of the main bus stops and hopped on. It was a beautiful warm sunny day so we sat on the top of the bus in the open air. We had headphones to listen to the tour guide, which Adam was surprisingly interested in. The bus also had an adorable kids map and activity book so they could follow along. We cruised around for about an hour, then stopped at the Tower of London so we could check it out and jump on a boat.
After the boat tour on the river, which included some amazing views of The London Eye, London Bridge, and Big Ben, we stopped at a diner for a quick lunch. I knew Lake would have to nap at some point so we hopped on the bus to head back to our apartment. Then the most magical thing happened, I asked her if she wanted to snooze on my lap on the bus, and she curled up and went sleep! Success! So Adam and a sleeping Lake and I cruised around the city in the sunshine on the top of the bus and took in the sights. Adam and I both found our favorite buildings, his was The Royal Courts of Justice and mine was St. Paul’s cathedral. After our ride we took the tube back to our neighborhood and met Alex for dinner. It was a perfect first day. That night after Alex was done with work we walked to what would become another family favorite restaurant, Da Mario. We ended up eating here at least 3 more times. It was the perfect authentic Italian menu with salads, pizza, and pasta. And was Princess Diana’s favorite too!
After our first great day on the bus, Adam decided he wanted to do it again. So we took the bus to a new part of the city, Oxford and Regent Streets. We knew we wanted to see Hamley’s toy store, so we jumped off and explored. The kids played in the toy store for at least an hour, we found a few adorable cobblestone streets to run around in, and sauntered into a charming hip diner for lunch.
After lunch we decided to see if Lake might fall asleep on the bus again. We walked up and found seats and said, “Lakey do you want to snooze on the bus again?” She said “Ya!” and laid down on my shoulder and went to sleep. We couldn’t believe it. So we rode around, making sure to pass Adam’s favorite building again. He called it the haunted palace because of the dark, Gothic architecture and dragon statues and gargoyles. Then we hopped on the tube back to our stop. When we made it back to our neighborhood, we stopped at the little cafe across from our hotel for snacks. The kids had been eying the pastries and cookies in the window since we arrived. It quickly became one of our go-to spots. That night after Alex was done with work, we met one of our dearest friends for dinner at a nearby restaurant called Wildwood. She was also in town for a couple days shooting a movie. Love our small little world!
By this point we had made a conscious decision to keep the kids on a late to bed late to wake schedule. With Alex working until 7 or 7:30 each night, it was nice for us all to have time together to have a late dinner after he got home. Then the kids and I would sleep in until 10:30 or 11 and head out of the apartment around 12. Being with the kids by myself all day, this gave us plenty of time to explore without getting overly tired and worn out by the end of the day. Wednesday we decided to stay closer to home and have a lazier day. After two days of go go go, we all needed a little breather. I had forgotten my stroller (the biggest traveling mistake EVER) so we rented one from a local company for the remainder of the trip. It was a double MacLaren which was pitched to me as light weight and easy to maneuver, but sadly it was neither. So after struggling with it for a few blocks, I realized really quickly that we were going nowhere fast. So we made a last minute lunch decision and stumbled upon a gorgeous local garden where we spent our afternoon. Every time we left the hotel I filled my bag with coloring books, markers, stickers and various other activities so if we were ever caught waiting too long somewhere the kids would have something to do.
Wednesday night Alex was stuck at work late, so after a nice quiet nap in the hotel, the kids and I sought out some yummy fish and chips. After a quick google search (seriously how did people travel before internet?) we hopped on the tube for one stop to Earl’s Court and walked out of the station into yet another charming little neighborhood. Our destination, a pub called The Blackbird, was everything we hoped it would be. Warm, charming, and bustling with people holding beers and eating yummy comfort food. We walked in and they found us a table right away, probably a bit desperate to prevent a meltdown from my two young kids! At first I was a little concerned about bringing them to a pub, but as usual they ended up surprising me. The pub even had a kids menu, making kids size portions of their homemade pot pies and fish and chips. The kids shared fish and I ordered a classic chicken pot pie. After the kids devoured their meal and helped me finish mine we ordered a giant brownie fudge sundae. It was such a fun little adventure. We walked out feeling full and proud.
Thursday rained and rained and rained. We knew it was bound to happen, it’s actually surprising we got such beautiful weather in the London spring for three entire days! Luckily we were a only block away from The Science Museum, which was on the top of our activity list. So we braved the windy storm and headed to the museum after first stopping into a cafe for some hot cocoa. Lake was very impressed with her first hot cocoa, despite the fact that it was basically steamed milk with a drizzle of chocolate on top! The Science Museum has an amazing basement filled with activities for kids. My kids never wanted to do anything at the same time, so it was a lot of running around for me, but they had a blast exploring. After the museum we napped in the hotel and took a nice long warm bath. Since our hotel room didn’t actually have a bathtub we made do with the hand held shower. Sometimes when traveling with kids you have to get creative! The rain had stopped in time for dinner so when Alex got home we walked down the street to Byron Hamburgers. A chain found all around London that got great reviews for being easy and laid back with delicious hamburgers. We ate burgers, fries, mac and cheese and milkshakes and had an all around yummy dinner.
On Friday we spent the day visiting Alex on the set of his movie, Beauty and The Beast. They were about to start shooting so we walked around the stages to see the incredibly talented crew put finishing touches on all the sets and costumes. It’s going to be a gorgeous movie, and it’s so fun to see all of the beloved characters like Cogsworth and Lumiere come to life. We capped off the night with another dinner at Da Mario.
That weekend Alex’s parents flew in from New York to join us for the remainder of our trip. It was so fun for the kids to show them all of their favorite spots in the city. When Alex and I visited in November to scout out where we would want to stay if we brought the kids, we stumbled upon the most adorable restaurant in the basement of the Ampersand Hotel. We started the weekend by taking Mimi and Grandad there for brunch, followed by a day at the Natural History Museum. Saturday night we took them back to Blackbird pub, where we feasted on fish and chips and pot pies.
Sunday we attempted to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Adam had been seeing things about the “soldiers” all week and was dying to see them in person. Sadly, it was hot, crowded, and in my opinion poorly choreographed. Only about 50 people out of the 1000 person crowd could see anything. But the palace and the grounds are gorgeous, so we enjoyed the sunshine and some pastries on the lawn. That afternoon we met some friends at a park and got ready for a yummy Chinese dinner at Royal China in Marylebone. It was delightful. Lake ate her weight in peking duck and the rest of us had a feast of classic Chinese dishes. I highly recommend a visit here!
With Alex back at work, we decided to take the kids on a quick trip to Notting Hill. Adam was excited to pick out some souvenirs and post cards for his friends, and I really wanted to make a stop in The London Tree House, an adorable toy store I discovered when I was there in November. It’s a tiny shop filled with merchandise with all the modern day English characters, Peppa Pig, Maisy, Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, and Paddington. We love so many of these stories but they are hard to find in the US so we had fun finding plates, bags, and aprons with some of our favorites. That night we had an early dinner with the grandparents at Da Mario (again!) and planned to meet Alex for a later dinner/dessert when he was done with work. Alex had yet to see Adam’s favorite building, the “haunted palace,” so we jumped on the tube and headed to the other side of town. The tube had become the highlight of Lake’s trip, every time she saw the tube station symbol she would point and shout “tube! tube!” and every time the train would stop she would say “more! more!” After Adam showed daddy all of his favorite dragon statues and gargoyles, we found a cute little French Bistro for french fries and ice cream. While we were at dinner a lovely man came up to our table to compliment us on how well behaved our children were, and told us when his boys were little they loved a museum called The Wallace Collection, which houses rooms of old battle armor and even had a few pieces for kids to try on themselves. Knowing Adam’s current obsession whith knights, swords, soldiers and shields, we knew this museum could be right up his alley. We made immediate plans to take him the next day.
On our last full day in London, Mimi and Granddad were heading out of the city to visit daddy at work, so Adam, Lake and I sought out The Wallace Collection and spent the morning oohing and ahhing over helmets, shields, chains, and armor. All joking aside, the collection is very impressive and the building (an old English mansion) is breathtaking. The tip from the kind stranger at the restaurant did not disappoint. After getting caught in a quick hail storm (terrifying), we met Mimi and Granddad at Tommi’s burger joint in Marylebone which was the perfect pit stop. Then we hopped in a cab to Oxford Street. I was desperate for a quick visit to Liberty and I knew my mother in law would fall in love with the fabric room. Lake and Adam did not fall in love with the fabric room but they survived and we rewarded them with a stop at Hamley’s toys for a few more books and activities for our upcoming flight. For our last dinner we took Mimi and Granddad back to Wildwood which had loved. After dinner we took a slow walk back to our hotel, past our tube stop, past our favorite cafe, taking in everything in our adorable little neighborhood that we called home for the past 10 days.
The next morning we woke up, said goodbye to daddy and our hotel (he was staying for a few more days), walked to Paul’s for one last beignet and croissant, and headed to the airport. We had such an adventure filled 10 day trip, and we truly felt like we saw so much of an incredible city. Adam still talks about going back and visiting the haunted castle and riding on the double decker buses. And while flying 9+ hours to another country with a 4 year old and a 1 year old seemed daunting at first, I am so glad we got to experience this with them and expose them to a place with so much history and character. They continually amazed me throughout the trip with their resilience and excitement to see new things. I know this is a trip that we will all talk about for years to come.