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Trip Report Christmas in London; New Year's in Edinburgh

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I see many queries about Christmas in London, so I wanted to offer our experience as I certainly appreciated all the help I received from helpful people on the boards. We were not trying to see it all. My adult son & I were escaping what had been a sad year for us, and the trip was a wise and refreshing decision. I was last in London 40 years ago, and son was last there 20 years ago on a high school trip.

With my late husband, I would have been considered a budget traveler – Priceline’s “name your own price” often worked for us. Son does a lot of corporate travel and has developed “champagne” tastes (IMHO.)

Keep in mind that my definition of “cold” is probably different than yours. I’ve lived in Florida since I the age of 2 and son is a native (but he did live in NYC for a number of years.)

London weather: rainy Christmas day. Otherwise, highs of 45 – 50F, lots of sun.

December 23: overnight BA, Tampa to Gatwick

December 24: Thames Link into St Pancras International

London Hotel: St. Pancras Renaissance. We needed to stay at a Marriott property because son needed several days more to retain his platinum elite status, and St Pancras Renaissance was substantially less expensive than our other choice, County Hall. The room (modern wing) was rather bland standard Marriott/Fairfield issue, but what made our stay special was the Chambers Club, which we were able to access because of son’s platinum elite status.
Chambers Club was far beyond the traditional Marriott lounge with custom breakfasts, afternoon tea, pre-dinner canapés, evening cocktails,etc. It is absolutely gorgeous. (Another advantage: we usually only purchased one meal a day as so much food & drink was free.)
Another plus: Train and bus access was optimal because of King’s Cross.
Note: Without the Chambers Club, this hotel would not be a choice for me when I travel alone. For the family with platinum elite status or the $$$$ for a Chambers wing room, the treatment is royal.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland: I was expecting a Christmas Market. Instead, it seemed we were at a much chillier and windier version of the Florida State Fair. The festival was packed. On Christmas Eve, the majority of the large crowd was family groups. It was fun to see the lighting and so many different families from different cultures all enjoying the rides and the food (and spending a small fortune.)

Carols by Candlelight, Royal Albert Hall, purchased in advance: According to the RAH website: “Celebrate in elegant style with this exquisite concert of carols and seasonal classics staged in full 18th Century costume in an evocative candle-lit style setting.”

This was delightful spectacle. The hall was magnificent; every seat was taken, and everyone enthusiastically sang carols. My “festivus for the rest of us” son commented that even he enjoyed it.

Food: the only meal purchased on the 24th was at Verdi Italian Kitchen at Royal Albert Hall. It was o.k. However, everything else at RA was fully booked by the time we started thinking of food!
Transportation: Tube (7-day Oyster Card, Zones 1-2) to Hyde Park; taxi to Royal Albert Hall; Bus back to King’s Cross.

December 25: Santa left us a large red stocking on our door with a clementine, a large iced shortbread Santa, some gingerbread cookies, and a cracker filled with chocolate. We were moving slowly this morning; breakfast was at the hotel. We walked (about an hour) to the Cumberland Hotel for the pickup of our 2 p.m. city tour with Golden Tours. After the tour we opted to be dropped off near Big Ben, did a bit of sight seeing, and picked up Golden Tour’s hop-on, hop off bus to get back to Kings Cross (free with our tour receipt.) We really enjoyed getting a feel for the locations that we would see later in the week, and a big plus was not being stuck in normal London traffic. We opted for the tour that provided a live guide rather than pre-recorded hop on, hop off information. In addition to Golden, Big Bus was running tours as was another group whose name escapes me. All of these buses were packed with people.
Note that by about 3:30 the sidewalks were thronged with people near all the major attractions. Any casual spot open (Pret a Manger, etc.) was absolutely swamped with long lines for the restrooms. There was even a long line at one of the iconic phone booths for picture taking. It was rainy and cold, but tourists were out and about.
Transportation note: No public transportation. Taxis (with a holiday surcharge) were plentiful as was Uber. The braver souls were utilizing the Santander bike rentals (aka Boris bikes.) I actually had downloaded the Santander app but chickened out when faced with the reality of bike riding. Some of the HOHO buses were making the rounds although attractions were closed.
Food: the only meal purchased was dinner. (Lunch was a Kind bar.) While we ate at our hotel, there were a number of restaurants open. (The St Pancras Renaissance provided us a long list for 12/22-12/28 several weeks before our travel as their restaurants were fully booked.) Once again, we did not plan ahead, but we were able to order dinner in the Chambers Club. Also, we saw more than a few Indian restaurants that were open.
December 26, Boxing Day:
I found this day hardest to plan because the big ticket museums were all closed, and we did not want to do a full day trip to outside of London.
We started with a bit of retail therapy, but abandoned that idea as the sidewalks were so packed by about 11:30 that we couldn’t move. At opening, the line to get in Harrods was over a block long at several of the entrances. I don’t need anything badly enough to get in that kind of crowd!
It was sunny, so we headed to the London Eye; I had splurged on “use any day” fast trak tickets before leaving home, and they were worth every penny as lines were long. We had a minimal wait and great views. We wandered through Southbank Christmas area and walked across a pedestrian bridge to the tube station.
Pre-theatre dinner was at Ivy Market Grill (really good! one of my favorite meals on this trip) and it was on to see Dreamgirls (purchased in advance) at the Savoy Theatre.
I headed back to the hotel and son did some bar hopping/clubbing. (Mom was definitely not invited!)
Transportation: tube
December 27: crowds, lots of crowds! We obviously weren’t the only vacationers in town. Those who celebrated Christmas at home had now joined us.
We started the day by catching part of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace with thousands of others, and then we walked to Westminster Abbey and toured. A late lunch was at the Abbey.
We took the bus to Piccadilly Circus and son did some shopping in stores with brands not seen in our area of the states.
Son headed out for the evening; I walked through St Pancras International, visiting shops.
Transportation: tube, bus & foot
December 28: Tate Modern - spent about 3 hours here, but certainly did not have enough time to really see all there was to see. The buildings themselves are strikingly gorgeous.
Borough Market: we walked from Tate Modern and ended up having fish & chips for lunch at the market.
Dinner: Zuma
Transportation: bus, tube, and foot
Regret: I had no idea the Christmas light show at Kew Gardens was a must-see until others at breakfast were raving about it. I tried to get last minute tickets, but it was sold out.
December 29: Morning was the British Museum. Then it was on to Edinburgh.
The afternoon was a delayed flight, schlepping luggage through the tube to DLR, up and down stairs, to London City Airport for a flight to Edinburgh. Once there, son headed out to explore, and I did laundry as our hotel had a free laundry.
Transportation: bus, tube, DLR, plane, Uber
Biggest regret of trip: We should have taken the train! The flight was booked before son booked the hotel. The train station was quite literally next to the hotel as was access to either Gatwick or Luten. Instead we hauled our luggage (luckily carryons only) up and down, up and down, and LCY was nothing to write home about.

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