The first story of me I will tell you is of my London trip a few weeks ago. My first trip to the big smoke was in 2010 and I’ve been back every year since, except 2012, at least once. Last year I was there twice and I will go again in August this year.
I don’t live in a city, I live in that mid-way point between town and country, but I kind of like that. Countryside on my door step, half an hour from the city, half an hour from the coast. I get to live an easy, quiet life.
So I do like a trip to a busy city! Where I seek out parks and quiet places, odd I know. This trip was with my Mum and sister, part of my sister’s 40th birthday present and part escape for everyone.
I am an obsessive researcher when it comes to holidays, I should have been someone’s private travel agent as I would quite happily sit for hours scouring the internet for flights, hotels, activities, day trips….. I definitely missed my calling in life. Anyway, this trip was no different and I spent the months leading up to it reading TripAdvisor forums, taking screen shots of Instagram posts and generally obsessing over all things London-like.
Although I do all this obsessing, I don’t like to have a fixed itinerary. I read posts on TripAdvisor where people are at The Tower of London at 8.30am, have lunch at 12pm, next attraction t 1.15pm, next attraction at 2.30pm, afternoon tea at 3.30pm, dinner at 6.30pm, theatre at 7.30pm, evening walk at 10.30pm, bed at 11.30pm……blah blah blah. When do these people pee? Or stop to look at what is around them? I like to have a rough idea of what can be done in a day but it is completely open to change depending on the weather or whatever I come across on the way to something else.
This trips rough idea was completely based on the weather being good, I was pretty screwed if it rained.
We were setting off from Glasgow airport on a Saturday afternoon with good old British Airways as always. I love airports. Genuinely love them. When I’m going away anywhere I would happily show up at the airport hours before I need to. I also love plane food, which apparently makes me weird.
I won’t give you an hour by hour breakdown of what we did, that will be a little boring, I’ll just give you a run down of what we saw/visited and how I found it.
I know, it’s the most expensive train journey ever, but thanks to my TripAdvisor research I discovered the 90 day advanced saver tickets, set a reminder on my phone and bought these. The HE goes to Paddington which is 1 stop on the Circle line from Bayswater, the nearest station to our hotel. I COULD NOT COPE with being on a hot, sweaty tube for an hour so I am more than happy to spend the money on the HE (I’ve also got 90 day advanced tickets for my August trip).
When we arrived at Paddington we discovered that my (not so) meticulous research failed me as I missed the fact the Circle line was shut over the weekend! For some reason this threw me into serious confusion about how to get to the hotel. I spoke briefly to a station worker who told me about buses outside the station, then I thought about walking as it would be a 15-20 min walk, until my sister suggested what should have been the most obvious solution – “Why don’t we just get a taxi?” 5 minutes and £7 later we were outside out hotel. Easy peasy!
LONDON HOUSE HOTEL
I discovered this hotel in 2011 when trying to find one which would accommodate my Mum, sister and me in the one room. My sister ended up not coming along on the trip but I still booked the hotel (twin room) because the price was right. On the trip we found the hotel was right too and I’ve stayed there a further 5 times since (including this trip I’m telling you about). It’s not a luxurious hotel, its simple, clean, comfortable and it’s cheap. Well, I think good value for money would be a better phrase to use than just cheap. For this trip, which was Saturday to Tuesday, I got a family room consisting of 1 double and 2 single beds for £412. That’s £412 for the whole trip for three of us, not each as my Mum thought when I originally told her the price. For my August trip, also over a weekend, I have a room for 4 nights costing £303. Yes, I could stay somewhere a bit more fancy, but I am out the room early and back late, maybe back in it for an hour in the afternoon so I’d much rather use the money I’ve saved on the room elsewhere.
Anyway, our room was clean and comfortable. It still had plenty of space to move around, store luggage and also had a wardrobe with a small fridge and safe in it. The bathroom was a bit compact but we were only ever going to be in there one at a time so it’s not really an issue!
This was my first time staying in a room which faced onto the back lane of the hotel, I found it much quieter that rooms at the front. The hotel obviously can’t do anything about street noise and traffic, it is London after all!
The hotel serves a continental buffet breakfast for £7, which we had on 2 mornings. There is a good selection of cereals, pastries, toast, fruit, meats, cheeses, muffins, juice, tea, coffee and boiled eggs. Supplies are replenished quickly and staff keep the room clean. Rooms have to be paid when you arrive (if you haven’t paid in advance) however breakfast is paid upon checkout.
The hotel is a few minutes walk from Bayswater tube station on Queensway and a little further down the street is Queensway station so you have options of several tube lines and can probably get anywhere in central London in 30 minutes. At the end of Queensway, around a 5 minute walk from the hotel is Kensington Gardens which is a great little oasis of calm and peace in the city. Of course it is home to Kensington Palace and leads on to Hyde park so you can spend quite a while there. My favourite thing to do is sit on a bench at the edge of the pond and watch the world go by……before making a swift exit when the ducks get a bit too close for comfort! Queensway has restaurants, pubs, fast food outlets, Sainsburys, Tesco, souvenir shops, Boots and the Whiteleys shopping centre – which has lots of empty units in it. There is also a ten pin bowling centre next to the shopping centre but I’ve never ventured in there. Needless to say there is plenty to do nearby if you don’t want to go far.
Back to the hotel, as I said, you won’t be staying in the lap of luxury and it is not entirely perfect but I now know what to expect and I’m happy to continue returning there so would recommend it to others. They have a wide range of rooms from small single (which I have stayed in and it is very small, but I’m only in the hotel to sleep) to family room.
ZIZZI – TOWER HILL
For our arrival evening, Saturday, I booked tickets to go to the Sky Garden. Again I set a reminder on my phone for the Monday 3 weeks before we arrived and just after 9am all the slots were made available. I booked for 7.45pm as I thought that would give us plenty of time to get from the airport to the hotel, have dinner then get to the Sky Garden, but more on that later!
I chose Zizzi at Tower Hill as it was a 5 minute walk from the Sky Garden and I also had a £25 voucher to use. I made our reservation on the Opentable app and when we were running a little late from the airport, cancelled our original time and re-booked for 30 minutes later. This was a good idea as with the Circle line being out of action we couldn’t go direct from Bayswater to Tower Hill so travelled to Liverpool Street station then walked the 15 minutes to the restaurant.
If you’ve eaten in one of the Zizzi chain restaurants before then you’ll know what to expect. Service was prompt and the food good(seabass, lasagne and chicken then chocolate pudding and 2 portions of gelato). We also had wine which is always fun!
THE SKY GARDEN
I wish I could give a glowing review about the Sky Garden, I wish I could give any review about it but we didn’t even make it close to the front door! We arrived at 7.30pm for our 7.45pm booking to be greeted with a very large queue snaking around the side of the building. I asked one of the security looking types if we join it even if we have a booking and showed him our tickets. “Join the queue” was the answer and so we did.
And we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. We shuffled along ever so slightly every 15 minutes or so and more and more people joined on the end of the line. There was no information from anyone about what the hold up was or the time it was likely to take to get everyone in. At 8.25pm we gave up. There was easily 80 people in front of us in the queue outside and there was around another 50 people in the foyer plus a queue for the lifts (I had plenty of time to count everyone!). Darkness would be falling soon and it closes at 9pm for those with tickets so I felt what was the point in waiting any longer? The tickets were free, we weren’t losing any money, only our time. I don’t know if this is a common occurrence or if it was a one off problem. TripAdvisor or social media didn’t throw up anyone else having the same experience so maybe we were just unlucky or I simply didn’t know what to expect.
It’s fair to say I won’t bother trying it again though! I hope everyone else has better luck than me.
We hopped on the tube and got off at St Pauls to take some photographs, before getting back on the tube and continuing to Queensway.
(Note: I’ve been inside St Paul’s on a previous visit and would thoroughly recommend it, it’s absolutely beautiful. No photographs can be taken inside so you can actually concentrate on taking in the scene instead of trying to get a good Instagram shot. If it’s a clear day and you are fit enough, take the stairs to the top and marvel at the amazing views over London. Go early to avoid the crowns, especially if going to the top, as the stairways are narrow.
I loved Spitafields the last time I visited so we went along around 10am on the Sunday morning. This time I found there was an awful lot of clothes for my liking, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be to someone else’s! Plenty of stalls to browse, notonthehighstreet.com also had a pop up event going on and there are of course the restaurants and cafes surrounding the market too. It was so hot on this day, I think the temperature peaked at 26 celcius and it was just too hot to walk about the market area for long so we made our escape after a browse around both areas and a couple of small purchases – a notebook and a trinket box (my two MAJOR obsessions in life).
I’ll be back again Spitafields!
As it was so hot we decided to make a pit-stop into Patisserie Valerie at Spitafields. We managed to get an outside table and after a ten minute wait placed an order for 3 fruit smoothies. We waited another 20 minutes for these smoothies to be delivered to the table and if we weren’t there to rest our hot, sweaty feet and people watch, I may have been a tad annoyed. Smoothies were delicious and as pricey as you would expect (around the £5 mark I think). I expect London to be expensive though so I am never surprised by the prices. If I really didn’t want something I wouldn’t buy it!
On asking for the bill we waited another ten minutes when I eventually got up to go in to the counter to pay. Our waitress met me on her way out and snapped that she was just bringing the bill, pulling it out her shirt pocket. I did not rise to the snapping, she appeared to be the only waitress on and was a little harassed. I have spent many years working in hospitality, I know the stresses that come with it but I also know that it takes nothing to inform your customers of any delays and they are generally understanding of this. The wait times that we and several other customers had were a little ridiculous considering the area was not all that busy. I would, however, go back for one of their fabulous cakes if I was in the area!
A very brief comment on Greenwich, we got the DLR to Cutty Sark, picked up a picnic from Marks and Spencer and sat in the small park area next to the Cutty Sark to eat and watch the world go by. As I mentioned before, Sunday was HOT so we did walk up to Greenwich park and thought about going to the Observatory, however my Mum felt the walk was a bit too much so we enjoyed a spot in the shade with some more people watching (which happens to be one of my favourite hobbies). I have been in the Observatory before and it is well worth a visit, on your own as I did or as a family.
We hopped on the Thames Clipper back to the London Eye (using Oyster cards) and this was a much more pleasant way than tube hopping. It did get a little bouncy at one point when we pulled out of a stop and were about to go under a bridge – certainly got my heart racing! I’m no sailor, that’s for sure!
Partial view of the Cutty Sark from our picnic spot
THE CHAMPION PUB
Back at the hotel, I took to Google (using the hotel’s free WiFi) to find a dinner spot close to us as we were so tired from the heat and the walking. The Champion pub was a 5-10 minute walk away through the quiet Bayswater residential streets. It’s a seat-yourself-order-at-the-bar kind of place so we browsed the menu and chose the Sunday roast – on pork, one beef and one chicken. I ordered food and drinks at the bar (glasses could be doing with a better clean) and they brought cutlery and the food over once it was ready. A huge, delicious portion of Sunday roast on every plate. The only complaint would be that they were a bit heavy handed with the gravy, might be nice to have it in a separate jug, but I ate it all the same!
Staff were friendly and going from the decor and info up around the pub they are big on craft beers so if you are a fan it might be one to check out (1 Wellington Terrace – across the road from Kensington Gardens). I’d come back here, even just for a drink, even if I was on my own. They have tables on the pavement and I think there may be another outdoor area towards the back. Inside is a mis-match of tables and chair and old church pews, really adding some character.
We didn’t do dessert, instead we wandered into Kensington Gardens and bought 99’s from The Broadwalk Cafe then found a spot next to the pond to relax for a while.
Kensington Gardens sunset
Outside The Broadwalk Cafe
GENERAL COMMENTS ON SUNDAY
What I loved to see was the parks being so full of people enjoying the sunshine in such a pleasant way. Families playing with their children, groups with their cool boxes and picnics, individuals lying back reading a book or simply soaking up the sunshine. In Kensington Gardens in the evening there was a group of people playing music, doing salsa dancing and having the time of their lives. No one hassled each other. People were drinking in their groups but there wasn’t that one annoying drunk who went around each group bothering people. There were no fights (that I saw). One man was going around doing tricks on his roller blade, music playing, having the time of his life. There was very little litter. The litter bins were full to bursting and had at least 20 bags around them, but the fact that people bothered to clean up after themselves and respect the beautiful parks they have delighted me. Great work London.
This is really a weather dependent trip, as in you probably wouldn’t want to go if it was bucketing down with rain. As good weather was predicted I bought our tickets online, buying them for the Sunday but they can be used within 30 days of this date, we visited on the Monday. It was straightforward to get there; on the District line at Bayswater to Earl’s Court then onto another District line train to Richmond and hopped off at the Kew Gardens stop. It’s then 5-10 minutes straight down the road from the station. Easy peasy.
We were told on entering that some of the park was shut off due to moth spraying, actually MOST of the park was shut off for this but there was still a sufficient amount in use to pass a few hours. I really think you would need at least a full day to fully enjoy all the gardens have to offer.
What did we do? We simply wandered, taking everything in. We stopped in at the White Peaks Cafe for a refreshment (where the counter assistant tried to short change me, as soon as I started to challenge my change he pulled out the additional money owed – £10 – before I even finished my sentence. We had lunch in the Pavillion Cafe which has a lovely selection of salads, sandwiches and hot food with such pleasant staff. I think it could be a little manic on a busy day but thankfully it was quite quiet so we were served promptly and had plenty of tables, inside and out, to chose from. We walked the treetop walkway (there is a lift to get to the top if you can’t manage the stairs. We walked some more until our feet could take no more walking! Then it was back to the tube and the hotel to relax for an hour or so.
SOPHIE’S STEAKHOUSE, COVENT GARDEN
The rain came on Monday night, although it was still very hot. After a quick mooch around a packed Covent Garden we came across Sophie’s on our hunt for a dinner venue and a hideout from the rain before the theatre (29-31 Wellington St). We asked if it was OK to have soft drinks and sit for a while before ordering dinner (it was only around 4.30pm when we arrived, show didn’t start until 7.30pm) and they were more than happy with this. We ordered from the pre/post-theatre menu which was a very reasonable 2 courses for £15 or 3 courses for £18. We went for 2 courses each ordering 2 portions of the chicken, 1 steak and 1 creme brulee and 2 chocolate mousse. The steak was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. We all had wonderful things to say about all the dishes and the staff were so friendly. After dinner we ordered a glass of wine and a couple of vodkas and were also brought a small taster of a cocktail in a shot glass.
I know its a chain, but it’s a good one and the pre/post theatre menu is excellent value for money. Drinks are expensive (£9 for the vodkas – with no mixer) but it’s London people!!!! One thing to note – they automatically add on a service charge, I was planning to leave a good tip anyway as food and service were great, but some people may not notice the charge if they do not have a good look at the bill.
BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL
I’ll admit now, I did not know who Carole King was before seeing this show at the Aldwych Theatre. My Mum chose the show as we bought her ticket as part of her mothers day present (I think tickets were £69.50 each? Or maybe £49.50? Can’t quite remember) and I was a bit sceptical about how good it was going to be. Oh how I should not have worried! A great show from start to finish, with a good bit of humour in it. I may not have known who Carole King was beforehand, but I certainly know all of her songs so it was very enjoyable. Nice little theatre too, we had three seats at the end of an aisle (I get slightly panicked in the middle) and there was plenty of leg room so I didn’t find myself fidgeting half way through! The only problem is the same problem with every small theatre – lack of toilets and those they do have never bloody work and stink to high heaven! A small price to pay for a very good show though!
I use theatremonkey.com to find good seats before booking any shows, it gives info on seats with restricted views, etc. and I’ve always found it really helpful.
THE ORANGERY KENSINGTON PALACE
As a treat, and to pretend we were a teeny, wee bit posh, we decided to forego the hotel breakfast on our last morning and go to the Orangery as it was only a short walk away in Kensington Gardens. The only problem with this was it was pouring with rain on Tuesday morning and by the time we hit Kensington Gardens my mother and I discovered our rain jacket hoods were not at all waterproof and our hair was soaked! This provided much amusement as my Mum was in a major huff about her hair being ruined (she still gets tormented about it now). We arrived at The Orangery at 9.55am and the staff were putting umbrellas on the outside tables. I asked one if they opened at 10am and he said yes then turned away. Now, as I said earlier, I work in the hospitality industry. 5 minutes before opening on a wet, dreary morning, I would have let three potential customers come in and sit in the dry, warm restaurant for the massive 5 minutes before service started as the restaurant MUST have been set up by then. No such offer, points lost Orangery for your one member of staff who could have been a little kinder.
When we actually got inside, we were served by a lovely, polite waiter (while the umbrella putter upper stood at the host station fixing his hair) although I failed to get his name unfortunately.
Our order was for 2 freshly baked croissants – one with ham and cheese, the other with butter and jam and waffles with caramel apple and cinnamon cream. They had no fruit juice (apple and orange) so a delivery may have been late but maybe they need to increase their orders? Food was delicious, I did descend into hysterics when my sister dropped some of the cinnamon cream from her plate onto her bright white top. I am clearly not suited to these posh places as I think the environment contributed to my hysterical episode, it probably wasn’t even all that funny!
I think The Orangery is probably a one off for me. Definitely a good spot for breakfast or lunch if you are a tourist but I doubt I’d go there every time I visited London.
And so concludes my London trip. We possibly would have done a bit more if it had been cooler weather, it was too hot to walk about for hours and hours, but we definitely enjoyed seeing the sunshine and relaxing in the parks. Although it was raining in London on the Tuesday, we arrived back in Glasgow to glorious sunshine which continued for the rest of my week off thankfully!
I should mention, I have a tube map app on my phone which is so easy to use and I’ve been using it since my first trip. Simply enter your start and end point and it will give you the route to take.
I also use visitor Oyster cards and top them up on arrival. Anything you have left can be refunded at the end of a visit, there’s normally a few £’s left on mine which I tend not to refund as I know I’ll be back!
My tip for London – don’t over-plan. Have a rough idea of things you AIM to see but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to see them all. If you rush around from site to site you will only look back and be sorry you didn’t get to spend more time in certain places. I appreciate people travel from far and wide and London may be a one off trip, so do the things you REALLY, REALLY would love to do/see but prepared to be distracted along your way or change course from time to time, that is often what brings the most fun from any trip.
Not sure what to do on your trip? Buy or borrow a guidebook. Old copies may have wrong prices, the odd place may be closed, but they can still be useful. Look on TripAdvisor ‘Things To Do’ and browse the forum, ask any questions you have, but be warned – use the search function first to establish if your question has already been asked. Use social media – I follow London pages or Londoners on Instagram and screenshot anything I find interesting as a potential somewhere to see on my next visit!