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Welcome to London

London 1
A view of Trafalgar Square and Canada House

London, England is an amazing city. It marries a long tradition and history with 21st century modernity, and this vibe was evident in what we were able to do and see during our four-day stay in London.

As many a travel site has commented, London is an expensive city to visit.  The British pound is one of the strongest currencies on the market, and that alone makes it expensive for an overseas visitor.  Even with the relatively manageable 1.28 USD to GBP exchange rate at the time of our visit, I noticed the increase in our average daily expenses. To keep costs down, we purchased London Passes with the Oyster travel card. This cut the cost of transportation and sightseeing by an estimated 250 GBP for the family. We also utilized budget sites such as Groupon for some of our activities.

The great thing about London, however, is that great fun can be had even on a budget.  There are many free and low-cost museums and attractions, including the renowned British Museum.  We were able to view artifacts from thousands of years of human history without cost. Even walking through the city was an adventure in itself. We were able to enjoy the sights, get some exercise, and not pay a crazy amount of money.  On the third day in the city, we watched the changing of the guards in front of Buckingham Palace.  This bit of tradition was also free to enjoy. From there we walked to the Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Abbey, both included in the London Pass.

Jacob by the Canada Gates entrance to Green Park by Buckingham Palace

There are a few attractions that are not included with the London Pass and are not free. The London Eye observation wheel is one such attraction that is fairly expensive, in my opinion.  With prices for standard admission starting at 28 GBP, this is one ride that can add up pretty quickly, especially for families. There are combination packages that can be purchased that can give a bit more value for your money. We did not take a trip on the London Eye, to the disappointment of the boys, but we did enjoy the view of the structure from the Thames and from the Shard at night. And of course, it doesn’t cost any extra to visit the gift shop, where Jacob insisted on purchasing his souvenir.

The Christmas season was in full display when we visited at the beginning of December. As such, the city was all decked out for Christmas, and there were several Christmas markets open that were a quick tube ride from where we were staying. The kids really enjoyed looking for handmade gifts for Grammy and our dog. They especially liked the dessert offerings, and were willing to do some extra walking if it meant choosing a treat.

Enjoying the Christmas market. Jacob and Sami were impatient to get some dessert and hot chocolate.

We did enjoy the fabulous shopping and dining while in the city.  Part of Emily’s birthday gift was a trip to the Glossier pop-up in Covent Garden.  She frequents the store on Melrose in Los Angeles, and was super excited to visit the London pop-up. She was at home among the bright floral walls and skin care and beauty items that I’m pretty clueless about. Interestingly enough, the pricing was a bit different in the U.K. than back home. As a result, it was actually a little cheaper to pick up various beauty items for her friends even with the conversion than it would have been in L.A. As for dining, we had our back home favorites, from Taco Bell and Chipotle to the higher-end Din Tai Fung dumplings. The kids really liked Pret A Manger, a reasonably-priced grab-and-go coffee and sandwich shop based in the U.K. There are locations in the U.S., mainly in Chicago, and the kids were excited to learn that there is one in the Los Angeles area. Up until they found out that it was inside the international terminal at LAX.

There is so much to do while in London, no matter what your budget.  I’ll be sharing in more detail some of what we did while in the city in the next several posts. I will say though, four days really was not enough time to get to know London. I think we’ll have to plan another trip. Cheerio!

Enjoying the London air on the walk from Covent Garden to lunch

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