Three Very Different Visits to London and What We Did

This week’s blog posts are about London! Today, an overview of the different things we’ve done on our various visits to London then on Thursday I’ll share a recipe for my take on the grilled cheese at Borough Market.

We love visiting London. We spent our first Christmas as expats there and a couple Valentine’s Day weekends too. It is a fun and easy getaway from Ireland.

When we went for Christmas (2008), we booked a room at the Millennium’s Hotel Bailey, across the street from the Gloucester tube stop. We chose this because it is in a lively, yet peaceful area and the hotel has its own restaurant. Through the hotel website, we reserved our room at a rate under £100/night, including breakfast for both of us. I checked and this rate seems to still be available. We arrived and took the Underground to our Tube stop and settled in. It was Christmas Day when we woke up the next morning. The hotel lobby was beautifully decorated and breakfast awaited us. After that, we bundled up and took a taxi to Trafalgar Square where we joined a London Walks Charles Dickens’s Christmas Day London Tour. It was £7 per person and lasted two hours. There was quite a crowd for the walk and though we are not avid fans of Charles Dickens, we are avid readers and enjoyed walking around London with someone who knew where he was going. Our London Walks guide was an American gentleman who made the stories come alive with humor and detail. On that trip, we opted to purchase two tickets for the Big Bus Tour. We had 48 hours to ride their hop-on, hop-off buses as much as we wanted AND could take advantage of one of the Big Bus Walking Tours or go on a cruise of the River Thames. The 48-hour time limit is a promotion, but it seemed like one day would have been ample. It is helpful if you want to see the city while getting around to the sights. Might be wise to make a plan to make the most of the Big Bus ticket while you have it and visit places closer to where you are staying when you do not have the Big Bus. We never needed to take taxis because we used the Big Bus as our transport that entire visit.

Ice Skating at Tower of London

When we went for the first Valentine’s weekend (2011), we stayed at the InterContinental Park Lane which was central and close to the park for long walks or morning runs. That visit, we explored more dining options because more things were open than during our previous Christmas visit. We had afternoon tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace, visited the Apple store, and visited more museums. After a visit to Victoria & Albert, we went to L’Opera for dinner.

Tower Bridge

When we went for the second Valentine’s weekend (2015), we stayed in Greenwich for a change. To reach Greenwich from Cork, LB and I flew to Heathrow then took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station where we met my husband and walked through the city to enjoy the sunshine and reach the Thames Clippers to get to Greenwich by water. We booked in at the Mercure which is now the DoubleTree by Hilton London Greenwich. We celebrated a friend’s birthday at Meantime Brewing and explored the Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark. The visit to the Greenwich Mean and Observatory was also a must. Greenwich has a great food market and we lunched at Goddard’s one day which is an institution.

We learned a few things about London, a few of which…
* TKTS in Leicester Square is the place to go for half price theatre tickets. Accept no imitations.
* Big Ben is the nickname for the bell, not the clock or the tower.
* Free Museums are abundant and include: The British Museum, Sir John Soane’s Museum, Natural History and Science Museums, Victoria & Albert Museum, Imperial War Museum, and National Maritime Museum. There may, however, be a charge for guided tours or special exhibits.
* Go early to Saturday markets, such Portobello Road Market or Borough Market. Great place to pick up a sandwich for lunch later.

It is good to have an Underground map handy so you know where you are going and how to get there. A bus map is also helpful. Of course, be sure to mind the gap.

Hope you enjoy your visit to London!


  1. Freckled Past says:

    The Millennium’s Hotel Bailey was in an ideal location for the Tube (Gloucester Road), Big Bus Tour, and a healthy walk from Kensington High Street. The price was right for its convenience. The breakfast was disappointing, so if given the choice between a rate including breakfast or Internet, I’d choose the Internet. Lovely tea at the hotel restaurant that is a great price and quantity. Overall, recommended if you are used to the smaller rooms European hotels offer.

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