After years of neglect, I finally made my way back to the city I love, London. My teenage son and I decided to take a last minute, quick trip to London to hangout for a week. I was able to find a non-stop from Los Angeles to Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic ($1150 each). The 10 hour flight to London was a breeze, we boarded the plane around 9 pm, our flight departed at 10 pm, we were served dinner right after takeoff and then we went to sleep and about eight hours we were landing. In the morning prior to landing we were served a snack which consisted of a muffin and granola bar. On the return flight which departed at 3:45pm, we were served dinner, pudding, ice cream and a slice of pizza. The food was pretty good but the in flight entertainment was a little lacking. The choice of movies left a little to be desired.
I had arranged for a private transfer to our hotel which was the same cost of a group transfer. The private transfer cost about $180 round trip. Our driver was waiting for us after we cleared customs. It was very easy and convenient.
We stayed at the Park View Hotel which I booked though Vayama.com for $820 for 6 nights. It is a small guest hotel located on the north side of the city next to Finsbury Park. It was a budget style hotel with very basic and slightly boring rooms. We actually had to check in at the hotel across the street since the building we were staying in had no front desk. Our building was similar to dorms; you walked through the front door into a hallway where the first 3 rooms were located. Our room was on the second floor. There was no elevator, only narrow stairs. Fortunately we each only had a small suitcase we had to lug up the stairs. The hotel served a complimentary continental breakfast each morning that consisted of Cornflakes, toast, oatmeal, ham, cheese, juice and tea, which is pretty standard for a European continental breakfast. We had the exact same breakfast when we were in Amsterdam. The nice thing about the hotel is that it was just a five minute walk away from the Tube station. It was just a short Tube ride into the city center. Even though the hotel was very basic it served its purpose. It was clean, conveniently located and was a good price and since we didn't spend a lot of time in the room it was a good choice for us.
I purchased a seven day unlimited Tube pass for $60 each. You can purchase a reloadable Oster Card at any Tube station. Navigating the Tube is very easy to do and will it take you all over the city. On this trip we decided to just stay local and enjoy what the city has to offer. On our first day we visited the Tower of London. While this was my third visit to the Tower it was my son's first. We pre-purchased tickets online so we didn't have to wait in the long ticket line. I paid $59.00 for two tickets through 365 Tickets. The line to get in to see the Crown Jewels was very long, probably about an hour wait however the line to see some other crowns in another building was much shorter. Of course the later in the day the longer the lines became. There was a nice display of armor including King Henry VII's suit of armor.
On another day we visited Kensington Palace which was hosting an exhibit of gowns worn by Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. The painted walls depicting old world scenes as you come up the stair case are stunning. After wandering around the palace we took a walk around the small garden out back. There is a nice park adjacent to the palace where you can rent bicycles and enjoy a leisurely ride through the park. It's a lively with lots of people walking, riding bicycles, playing ball and picnicking.
We also took tours of the Sherlock Holmes House and the Benjamin Franklin House. The Benjamin Franklin house was the boarding house Franklin lived in during his years in London. This is a guided tour where you are lead through the empty rooms by an actress who plays the role of the owner of the boarding house. With the help of some short video clips she tells you about Benjamin Franklin's time in London. It was an interesting tour but I wish they would have had some furnishings in the rooms so you could get a better feel of what it would have been like while Franklin lived there. The Sherlock Holmes house was very enjoyable. The narrow, four story house with its creaky floors is filled with items from his time period.
Of course no trip to London would be complete without doing some shopping. Two of my favorite stores are Mark & Spencer and H & M. Both sell quality clothing at a reasonable price. We also stopped by Hamleys Toy Store down on Regent St. Its seven floors are filled with every toy imaginable. At Hamleys you are encouraged to tryout the different toys. There are stations setup throughout the store with employees demonstrate different toys. It is a bit like a circus, while browsing around the store we were shot with an air canon, hit in the head with a plastic balloon and got a hug from a giant ostridge. It was a fun experience, I highly recommend checking it out if you're ever in the neighborhood but be warned if you have any kids with you it will not be a quick visit.
After a stroll through St. James Park we went across the street to the Cabinet War Rooms, the underground bunkers where Churchill stayed during World War II. It's like a mini city with bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and offices. The bunker housed several people and the war was run from here. The rooms have all the original equipment, furniture and papers and appears just as it did when they were in use.
Our week in London was wonderful, we had a great time and immediately began talking about what we want to do on our next visit.