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Spring Break in London with newbies and old pros


Feb 27th, 2011, 12:00 PM
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Spring Break in London with newbies and old pros

We found amazing airfare to London ($300 r/t from Houston!! Hard to believe, but we booked it and have confirmations in hand....), and are taking an impromptu trip from 3/9-3/16. We'll have 5 1/2 days on the ground.

In our group will be me, DH, DS, and DD (all of us have been to London numerous times), as well as 4 of our kids' friends. All the teenagers are 17-19, so we don't have to be joined at the hip for the entire trip. We booked a condo through VRBO that will sleep all 8 of us -- in the Clerkenwell area. Not the most close-in neighborhood, but it fits the college students' budgets, and will allow us to do breakfast and take-away dinners at "home."

DH and I have been to London 8 times -- we are quite happy to just wander around and see what we happen upon. I would love nothing more than to spend the whole trip exploring old Churches in London, but that would drive everyone else batty!

The planning challenge we have is putting together a loose itinerary that hits some of the major highlights for the newbies, but also takes in some lesser known sites for the rest of us. I'm mainly interested in your suggestions for some of the lesser-known sites....

Here is what I'm thinking so far:

Major Highlights that everyone should see at least once (or sites that the kids say they're interested in):
Tower of London
The Globe
go inside either Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's (I'm thinking St. Paul's -- none of us has ever climbed up into the dome...)
Windsor Castle and Eton -- spend a full day -- see the changing of the guard here, if any of the kids are pining away to see it....
a Beatles tour -- all the kids want to do this -- would taking one of the London Walks be the best, and most entertaining, way to do this?

Other things that I think are fun/interesting:
Cabinet War Rooms -- I was last here about 10 years ago, and haven't seen the new Churchill Museum
Borough Market
Temple Church (I thought the kids might be interested in this, since they've all seen the DaVinci Code).

We are all really excited about this trip -- I think it's going to be great fun seeing London through the eyes of these newcomers! My question for the Fodorites is:
What sites would you include that I have forgotten about?

annettetx is offline  
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Feb 27th, 2011, 12:07 PM
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If they're 17 to 19 I would give them a couple of maps and guidebooks and tell them to have at it. No reason for you to be involved at all.

Things I think can;t be missed in London

Btitish Museum and Library (Magna Carta)
V & A
Boat ride on the Thames
At least one visit to a theater
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Feb 27th, 2011, 12:13 PM
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Borough Market is only open Thurs thru Sat so keep that in mind (its my favourite part of London). This is a good one to hit with the Tower as you can walk between them over Tower Bridge. Try to get to The George pub on Borough High Street right outside the market...its historic and a great place for a refreshment.

If the kids are old enough to drink, a pub walk with London Walks is a fun way to spend the evening. They take you on a walk and you go to I think 4 interesting pubs for drinks. Check out the options at www.walks.com

The Cabinet War Rooms are fantastic. Other museums that might interest are the British Museum, The V&A museum, Museum of London (which is nearish to where you are staying and St Pauls) and the Imperial War Museum.


Enjoy London!
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Feb 27th, 2011, 12:14 PM
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Also check out www.tkts.co.uk to see whats playing and what the prices are like in the theatre.
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Feb 27th, 2011, 12:16 PM
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Thanks ny!

We are planning to go the half-price ticket booth and see what we can get... (my husband thinks it would be great to see Keira Knightly in "The Children's Hour." My son loved Spamalot last time we were there, but it doesn't look like it's playing now.)

We've done a boat ride on the Thames before and loved it, but I was thinking it might be too cold to be enjoyable in early March. But maybe the weather will be better than I expect, or you can see enough from inside the boats to still enjoy the ride?
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Feb 27th, 2011, 12:21 PM
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Thanks, jamikins! The college kids are old enough to drink in London, and I know they are looking forward to being able to have a drink in a pub. I love the suggestion of the George!

I figure that we'll go to Borough Market either Thursday afternoon when we're focusing on walking around and staying awake(!), or Friday morning. From past trips, Saturday's always seemed mobbed with people...

Will many of the stalls still be open on Thursday afternoon? Or do some people close up shop and go home?
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Feb 27th, 2011, 12:27 PM
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I responded in your other post - but Fridays to me are the best times to go to Borough Market. I would do the Tower first - spend 3-4 hours, then walk across Tower Bridge and into Borough Market for a later lunch. Or head to Borough Market for an earlyish lunch and then walk to the Tower for the afternoon. Thurs is still fine to do the market, just less might be open.

Another good pub around there is the Market Porter, they sell lots of microbreweries' beers. My hubby once had one called Piddle in the Hole - he found that hilarious!

Weather wise in March you could get anything so bring layers. If you hit a nice day you always have the option of the cruise.

Another nice walk to keep awake is the walk from London Bridge to Waterloo - or vice versa - along the Thames. Lots of pubs for a quick break or pick me up Plus great views of St Pauls and Big Ben/Parliament from the southside of the river as you walk.

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Feb 27th, 2011, 12:30 PM
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Oh forgot to add that Southwark Tavern at Borough Market is a good bet as well. Go downstairs and you can sit in little cells that they call debtor cells. Quite atmospheric

So thats 3 options so hopefully you can find a seat for a drink in one of them! The George is worth a look either way, they have a lovely courtyard for a drink if you hit nice weather - but do walk through it, its very cool. We were sitting outside at the George on Thurs after work in t-shirts as it was warm and they have heat lamps out.
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Feb 27th, 2011, 04:59 PM
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Definitely climb to the dome in St. Paul's if the weather is half decent. BUT how cool to go to Westminster Abbey near The Wedding, too. So maybe both? I know--time is short!

If they like Shakespeare and that is why the Globe, then don't miss Southwark Cathedral right next to Borough Market--shome Shakespeare connections I'll challenge them to explore!

And the British Library if in British Museum neighborhood?

(My college aged daughters recos are The Tower, the British Museum and British Library, the icon photo ops along the Thames, the parks, seeing a play----and Stonehenge or Oxford as a day trip!)

I haven't been to the Churchill rooms which certainly get good reviews, but i can highly recommend the the Imperial War Museum (free!); my college-aged daughter really enjoyed it last August.
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Mar 6th, 2011, 09:20 AM
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Thanks for all the great suggestions! I intended to get back on here sooner, but work got in the way (darn it! But we have to pay for the trip somehow!)

Most of the kids are old enough to drink -- they are looking forward to breaking up a day of sightseeing with a pint! The pub suggestions are much appreciated...

We're slowly but surely putting together a general plan, which looks something like this right now:

Arrival Day -- Thurs 3/10 -- try to keep ourselves awake during the afternoon by going on a walk-about through the Westminster, St. James, and Covent Garden areas: see the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey; walk through St. James' Park (my daughter's favorite!); see Buckingham Palace; walk up the Mall to Trafalgar Square; maybe have tea in the Cafe in the crypt of St. Martin in the Fields, end up at Covent Garden. Dinner and an early night.

Day 1 -- Fri 3/11 -- Tower of London; Borough Market; Southwark Cathedral (perhaps just me while everyone else goes on to the Globe. I'm a sucker for old churches. My family's enthusiasm for them only goes so far); the Globe; walk across the Millennium Bridge; maybe Evensong at St. Paul's (a couple of the kids are talking about wanting to go to church while we're there); maybe a pub walk.

Day 2 -- Sat 3/12 -- nothing much set yet, but my husband and several of the kids have picked out a pub to watch the Arsenal match. The rest of us will have to come up with a plan for the early evening.

Day 3 -- Sun 3/13 -- open
Day 4 -- Mon 3/14 -- open
On one of these open days -- depending on the weather -- we plan to go to Hampton Court Palace and then make our way to Richmond via Teddington and Twickenham (with a mandatory stop at the White Swan). When my husband's company had an office in Hampton Hill, we "lived" in Teddington, and so we want to revisit some of our old haunts.
I was excited to read that Strawberry Hill is being renovated and will be open to the public. Unfortunately, we are a couple of weeks too early to see it!

Day 5 -- Tues 3/15 -- day trip to Paris. Eurostar tickets already booked.

Day 6 -- Wed 3/16 -- fly home
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Mar 6th, 2011, 10:17 AM
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Friday March 11, just to point out that Southwark cathedral has choral evensong at 17:30, if that would happen to fit your schedule better.
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Mar 8th, 2012, 02:40 AM
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Annettetx, I've so enjoyed reading this, and so many others of your topics. May I beg a favor? My siblings and I have a trip planned in a few months that is very similar to the one you made around 2004 (Scotland/England). In fact I based my itinerary largely on your posts. I would so appreciate your insight on my current thread at this link:


Thank you so much!
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Mar 8th, 2012, 08:10 AM
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They might enjoy a ride on the Eye at dusk and it is a short wak from Borough Mkt( my favorite place in London) The Golden Hind is about to reopen after renovations and restoration but it might be a bit too soon. I know it will be reay for the Jbilee Flotilla down the Thames.
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Mar 8th, 2012, 09:15 AM
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If you are still interested on seeing churches while everyone else off doing something else, the Friends of the City Churches have a map available that lists the existing churches and church ruins within the City. You can probably knock off three or four in an afternoon. I was able to do 17 out of the 47 listed last summer over a couple days. It was very interesting to see the differences and similarities of the Wren churches. Just remember that Saturdays there are often weddings.
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Mar 11th, 2012, 08:55 AM
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If you like old churches, I'd definitely put St Bartholomew's in Smithfield on your list (aka, the Four Weddings & a Funeral church). It's been in continuous use since 1143. Plus the Smithfield area has lots of good pubs and restaurants.
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Mar 11th, 2012, 09:03 AM
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This is an old thread from last year. The trip's long over.
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Mar 31st, 2012, 07:50 PM
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The trip is indeed long over. And with no trip in my immediate future, I'm living vicariously through everyone else's trips...

Thank you for the link to the "Friends of the City Churches" group! I'll definitely bookmark that for future trips!

In case anyone is still following, this is what we ended up doing last year:

Day 1 -- Thursday 3/10
Our plane landed late (of course) so we couldn't do as much walking about as we had hoped. We did take the kids down to the Westminster Abbey/Houses of Parliament area so they could take the requisite tourist photos of them selves with Big Ben in the background. After that, we found a pub for the first pint of the trip and then had pub grub for dinner somewhere in the Leicester Square/Covent Garden area.

Day 2 -- Friday 3/11
We split up this morning, and sent all the kids to the Tower of London while DH and I went to St. Bartholomew the Great. We were just about the only people at the church, and were treated to commentary from the excellent Senior Verger there! I told the verger I had read about his hospitality and knowledge about the church he tends on the Fodors board, and he was flattered that he has such a great reputation!

We all met at Borough Market, which the kids loved!

We split into 2 groups for the afternoon, with some of the group going to the Globe, and the rest of us to the Cabinet War Rooms.
I'd been to the Cabinet War Rooms before, but not since the opening of the exhibit about life in the bunker or the Churchill Museum. They were both fascinating! The museum was a great combination of high tech, interactive exhibits and memorabilia from Churchill's life.

We finished the day with a walk through St. James' park, photos by the lions in Trafalgar Square, and the requisite trip to Harrods (where I bought an oil cloth tote that's a lovely reminder everyday when I go to work of our trip).

Day 3 -- Saturday 3/12
We spent the bulk of the day at St. Paul's -- did the audio tour, then climbed to the top. Fantastic!
That night, we met friends for dinner at a fantastic Indian restaurant somewhere in Kensington.

Day 4 -- Sunday 3/13
In lieu of paying for a Westminster Abbey tour, we went to Sunday morning services, and then just walked very slowly out of the church. The sermon that morning was given by a nun who we then saw seated near the alter at Prince William's wedding 6 weeks later! We were seated in Poet's Corner of the church, which was fabulous, but if we had gotten there earlier, we would have had a chance at being seated in the quire!

Sunday afternoon, we just poked around. Everyone (it seemed) was in Trafalgar Square celebrating St. Patrick's Day, so we had fun people watching over a pint. This was the day, also, that I allowed myself to wander at will through bookshops and spend the rest of my souvenir money. I don't know what it is about London bookshops, but they seem much more enticing than ours over here, and I generally come home with suitcases made heavy by books that I couldn't resist buying!

Day 5 -- Monday 3/14
We spent this day at Hampton Court Palace, and then made our way through Teddington and Twickenham before ending the day with dinner in Richmond at Don Fernando (one of our favorite restaurants from previous trips -- excellent tapas!).

Day 6 -- Tuesday 3/15
Day trip to Paris. This wouldn't have been my first choice of ways to spend the day, but several of the kids we were with REALLY wanted to see Paris, so we booked Eurostar tickets leaving early in the morning and returning that same evening.
Again, we spent most of the day just poking around. Started out at the Eiffel Tower, found a bakery for lunch, went to Notre Dame, did a little shopping on the Ile Saint-Louis, had dinner in a brasserie, then returned to London.

Wednesday, 3/16 -- we returned home.

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Apr 1st, 2012, 03:54 AM
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Sounds like a lovely trip, thanks for reporting back!
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Apr 1st, 2012, 02:16 PM
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Thanks for telling how the trip turned out.
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Apr 1st, 2012, 04:26 PM
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Sounds like a great trip. I think it's awesome that you planned it on such short notice (yay for that fab airfare!) and that you took 4 of your kids' friends.
Thank you for following up with your report - everything sounds really fun. You packed a lot in! I am going to London for the first time in July and am taking notes...
Kudos on your Paris day trip. Sounds perfectly doable
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