An English Christmas Trip 2013 – Planning Out the London Portion of Our trip

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We’re at the 70 day mark – 70 days until we arrive in England for a massive 33 days. It’s coming up fast. Which means it’s time to really get stuck-in planning this trip.

As promised, I want to give everyone an insight into how we plan these trips so that they can help you when you plan your own. At the end of the day, however, this is our trip and how we do things may not work for everyone. We’ve traveled to Britain almost a dozen times, so we have ways of doing things that we’ve learned over the years.

First off, we’re in London for a total of 8 days, we arrive December 12th and leave on December 20th (for Christmas in Dorset).

It’s the perfect time to be in London – it will be at its most Christmassy and judging by previous year’s weather, the weather should be pleasant.

That said – there’s a TON of Christmas stuff going on in London but as this is also a trip to London, we want to cram in things that we’ve wanted to do over the last year, but haven’t been able to.

First – Some Words about Where we’re Staying

Because we’re traveling with young kids, we’re avoiding hotels. We stayed in some hotels and B&B’s on our last trip with Anglotopia Jr. and it’s putting it mildly to say it was a disaster. The kids need their own rooms and the only way to do that affordably is to rent an apartment.

We’ve rented flats in the past and it’s been a great experience. We get our own ‘home’ while we’re in London and it will help the kids adjust to being abroad. Best of all, they have their own rooms so bedtime should go well. We love being temporary locals – it’s the best way to travel.

We’re staying in a flat in South Kensington that we booked with London Connection (check out their nice new website), who specialize in renting out London flats for American travelers. We’ve had a great experience with them in the past and we trust them – which is very important when it comes to booking something like this.

You can read more about how we booked our flat here.

Step 1: Make a Massive List

Through running this site we become aware of new attractions and events all throughout the year – some really cool, some we have no interest in. But being privy to this information allows me to keep an ongoing list of things I’d like to do on our next trip to London (and there is always a next trip planned in this household).

So, over the last year, I’ve been clipping things, putting things aside, making notes in guidebooks and all around building a massive list.

Step 2: Cut Massive List in Half

We’re only going to be in London for 8 days, when we sat down to trip plan the other night, we quickly realized that we weren’t going to be able to do half the things we wanted to do, so the first task was to remove the things that we just wouldn’t have time to do.

We have a few challenges to manage with this trip. We may have 8 days and this is our longest trip to London yet, but this is also a business venture. We have to cram in business meetings with our partners, visits to attractions to write about, etc.

On top of all that, we’re going to have a 2 1/2 year old and a 6 month old with us.

It’s going to be a busy trip!

So, what items didn’t make the cut this time around?

One of the big things I wanted to do was visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and I’ve been wanting to go since it opened.

The problem is that our kids aren’t really old enough to appreciate the place and it’s not really going to be worth it to schlep them across London on the Tube then the Train, then a bus to get there. I considered going by myself and letting the family do their own thing for the day, but that’s not particularly fair to Mrs. Anglotopia (you’d understood if you hung out with our toddler for a few hours). It’s a thing that will take all day and there’s just not a going to be a free day for me to get away to do it.

So, that’s off the list. Painfully.

Here’s a quick list of what else didn’t make the cut. We have to be merciless.

  • Hampton Court Palace – We’ve never been but again, this is a day trip requiring several public transportation connections and it’s just not something we want to attempt with the kids.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum – While I love the new modern take on Sherlock, I’m not really that big of a fan anyway. I’ll save this for another trip.
  • World War II London Bus Tour – Not Running during our stay and since Mrs. Anglotopia wants to do it as well and it’s not appropriate for kids, it doesn’t make the cut.
  • Secret War Exhibit at Imperial War Museum – While this exhibit sounds fascinating, the rest of the museum is closed for renovations and Lambeth is kind of out of the way anyway.
  • Ice Skating – You know the scenes of a Christmas London from Love Actually where people are Ice Skating? Totally want to do that. But as our toddler is not old enough to ice skate and our baby would have to be held by someone (Mrs. Anglotopia is a terrible ice skater), ice skating is not in the cards. Re-enacting Love Actually will have to wait.

Step 3: Build in Flexibility

Because we’re traveling with two very young children, we have to be very realistic about what we can achieve in a day. Realistically we can do one thing in the morning and one thing in the afternoon and nothing in the evenings to keep the kids happy. Happy kids = happy parents. Most evenings we’ll eat dinner in our flat and put the kids to bed on their normal routine – then Telly time!

So, there will be another list of things we REALLY want to do and a list of things that we will be sad if we can’t do, but it’s not big deal if we don’t.

Step 4: Start Dreaming

This is the best part, once we have a realistic idea of what we can do, we can now plan to make the most of every minute in London. What we do is print off a Calendar in iCal on the computer and then start filling in the blanks. This is my favorite part of trip planning.

Events We’re Doing No Matter What

There’s a few things we’re going to do that we’re planning the trip around. The first is that Mrs. Anglotopia’s 30th Birthday falls in the middle of our trip in London, so we’re planning a fancy dinner out at a very nice restaurant (to be determined) with some very close friends of ours.

The second major event is we’ve always wanted to go to a London play and despite this being our 10th trip to London, we haven’t been to one together. So, we’ve decided to see Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense starring Stephen Mangan (Episodes) and Matthew Macfayden (Pride & Prejudice). It sounds really cool and we’re big fans of the Jeeves & Wooster TV show.

Thankfully, we’ve lined up a baby-sitter for those two nights, so we can go enjoy ourselves and the kids will be with someone we trust implicitly (my mother Dowager Anglotopia, who is going on her own trip to England at the same time and will be in London at the same time).

Another event that is happening no matter what is I’ve booked a ticket to take a tour of the Houses of Parliament. I have always wanted to do this and I’m finally going to get the chance. The tour is not appropriate for the kids, so Mrs. Anglotopia will have to sit this one out (she’s a bit sad about this).

Also, this isn’t something I would normally do on a trip to London: I’m going to the movies. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug opens the day we get to London. I’m a HUGE LOTR fan so there is no way I’m going to wait until our trip is done in January to see it at home. I’m hoping to see it on the big screen Odeon theater in Leicester Square.

Whew – that doesn’t even scratch the surface but I wanted to give you all an idea of what we’ll be doing. We’ll write another post with some other things we plan to do. And of course, when we return we’ll be telling you all about it.

I haven’t even gotten to all the Christmas themed things we intend to do – I will save that for a later post.

What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do in London but haven’t been able to do?

Comments

  1. avatarnic says

    Don’t wait too long to decide where you’ll be eating, it will also be Christmas office party season and places will get booked up!

    Have fun, I’m jealous!! Fingers crossed I’ll make it home next summer (hard to predict which four days will be summer ;) ha!) to take my kids fishing with their granddad.

  2. avatarStefan says

    Its nice to make a chrismas trip. I love chrismas shopping last year we were in londen. the hardest part was finding a good and cheap hotel. I used to use sites like
    Travelocity, but I quickly found the better way to find
    deals is to go to the second level – those sites like
    http://Cheapwaytostay.com. who compare the
    hundreds of diffrent booking sites in one single
    search. So you not only see trivago or expedia deals
    but ALL of them in one place. I must’ve save
    alot of money.

    • avatarDenise says

      Whenever we go, the first place we always check out for price is the Forum Holiday Inn in Kensington. Next is the Baileys Millennium. (4 stars) These hotels have the best prices are close to Gloucester tube station which has 3 lines running into it, there are food stores & pubs & many tourist sites in the area ………& it is safe! I have stayed at numerous hotels just to see what other areas have to offer ……but we always come back to the Forum. You can’t beat it.

  3. avatarPhilip says

    Good point just made about Christmas season bookings. Lunches and dinner bookings are already well underway here.

    You may also want to consider the Christmas markets in town, too. We’re off to this one, filled with little vendors from Cologne (Koln) Germany on the South Bank, near the London Eye: http://www.londontown.com/LondonEvents/Cologne-Christmas-Market/d624d/imagesPage/26502/.

    We’ve used sitters.co.uk for babysitters ever since our little one was born. Perhaps that might help some times as well?

    Safe travels!

  4. avatarBarbara W says

    You may want to go to Hyde Park as they do a big Christmas Fair, German X-mas market, ice rink, kiddie rides, a circus, ferris wheel, food and of course outside when it gets dark early and it is all lit up makes it more fun. It takes place down by speaker’s corner and I took the tube and see Hydeparkwinterwonderland.com for more info. It begins 22/11/13 through 5/1/14 and open from 10am to 10pm but the night is the best.

  5. avatarShannon says

    Traveling with a small child really changed the way I travel…for the better! It taught me to relax and travel more like a local, visiting the playgrounds, parks, and coffee shops just as much as the touristy things. One of my best memories of London after many trips there without kids, was visiting the Diana Memorial Playground at Kensington Gardens with my 5-year-old. It has a Peter Pan theme, complete with almost-life-size pirate ship, alligators in the sand, teepees, and more. We also enjoyed the playground near the London Eye. Great pictures with the huge structure in the background. We met many London mums this way, as our kids would play together. It was such a different experience from being just a tourist with no way to connect to locals. Kids give you an “in.”

  6. avatar says

    I’ve always wanted to go mudlarking with a guide. I go down to the riverside and poke about a little, but there are always quite a few others doing the same, and even when I find something, I have no idea if it fell into the river last week or 2000 years ago!

    I was in London last Thanksgiving and I really enjoyed the Southbank Christmas market and the Scandinavian Christmas market at Rotherhithe. And all the Christmassy lights on Oxford Street!

    Oh poo, now I’m desperate to go back again for some Christmas cheer . . . :)

  7. avatarJane R. says

    We spent a lovely Christmas at the Goring many years ago (before it was used for Kate’s wedding party and suddenly became chic). They did a nice Christmas dinner and gorgeous Boxing Day buffet. I know you all have other plans, but this info might be helpful to other planners. Enjoy!

  8. avatarValarie says

    When preparing for my trips to London, I look at all the notes I’ve taken about places I want to see (compiled from all kinds of places, from Anglotopia to Britain magazine to books I’ve read), then sort them out by neighborhood. We visit the top 3-5 things that are most important, then can easily refer to the neighborhood list to see what else is around it. Of course, we’re also amenable to throwing the whole plan by the wayside if we feel differently on a particular day, but even then, preparation is a big help – we can just pick something else to do from the neighborhood list that’s more in keeping with our mood.

    One random tip: If you eat a later lunch (say, after 2 or 2:30), you can get in to a lot of places that are normally booked. I’ve had this at several hotels in Vienna that had stunning views. There’s no way we could’ve gotten into their packed restaurants for lunch, and we didn’t want to spend big money on dinner. So we went at 3pm, and got window seats both times.

  9. avatarDeborah says

    Jonathan, I have just recently discovered your website– Love it! My husband and I are always trying to figure out how we can move to England also— haven’t figured it out yet.

    We made our first London Christmas trip last year. It was so much fun. We went to both the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and the Southbank Christmas Markets. It seemed as if they were both run by the same company, they had the same booths and items to purchase. Still fun–but wish we had known that they were basically the same.

    We did make it to the Belgravia Christmas market– that was nice, seemed totally local with a much more home town kind of feel. Great food, music, and nice booths. This year it will be on the 1st of Dec. I know you wont be in London until the 12th, but maybe another year……

    While in London we stayed at the Rubens Hotel– a little pricy but so nice, it is across the street form the Buckingham Palace Royal Mews. They make you feel right at home upon arrival. My husband loves the breakfast buffet. We are thinking about staying at the Lime Tree B&B in Belgravia on our next trip, have you ever stayed there??

    After a few days in London we headed out to the Cotswolds for a week. Stayed at Bruren Holiday Cottages. We have stayed there every trip we have made over the last 11 years. They cater to children visitors also. Bruren is out in the country side, close to Burford, Stow on the Wold and Chipping Camden.

    The Bath Christmas market was wonderful. We arrived late afternoon, after the sun had set. All the lights around the city center were so pretty. The different booths were arranged all around the streets, easy to just wonder around and find little treasures. It was a little cold, but that made the hot chocolate taste even better!

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas in England this year. I know we did last year.

  10. avatarLauri says

    I really enjoy reading your plans for this trip, because we will be in the UK for Christmas too! Our trip begins in Scotland, where we’ve rented an apartment in Stirling for four nights. Then we will spend Christmas week (seven nights) at a cottage in Lincolnshire, travel to Wales for a few days, and finish up staying near London for New Year’s.

    We are still planning our activities for this trip, but definitely want to go to a Christmas market in Scotland, and see a Christmas Pantomime while in Lincolnshire. Looking forward to making Christmas dinner with our English friends at our cottage, wearing paper crowns, and watching the queen’s Christmas speech, just like I’ve seen in television programs.

    I give you a lot of credit making this trip with small children (we waited until ours were older) but by doing things at their pace I’m sure you will all have a wonderful time!

    • avatar says

      There is a nice Christmas faire outside St. Enoch’s Centre in Glasgow if you are coming into town from Stirling. I would also recommend The Cup tearoom in Glasgow for a nice cuppa and a beautiful view of a Victorian tearoom which has been restored (as much as they can since it is listed now). The kids and adults would love their cupcakes. St. Enoch’s also has a Hamley’s which is very cool to see at Christmas, even without the kids.

      Pantomime is a must see thing at Christmas. We always do Glasgow because our flat is there and John Barrowman is doing the SECC again this year. He expects us to show up and we don’t want to disappoint him!

      The queen’s speech and the Doctor Who Christmas Special are must see Christmas shows.

      Note that some things in Wales are closed or have very reduced hours in the winter. Doctor Who Experience in the Cardiff bay is a must do for fans of the show. If you are in Cardiff Bay be sure and visit the Welsh cookie store. They make them hot all day right on a griddle in the store. Only other place I have had them was at the fairs and games here in NC.

  11. avatarDenise says

    I might suggest Rules to go eat. lol! It is the very old restaurant seen in Downton Abbey.
    I am soooo jealous you are seeing Jeeves & Wooster I was excited when I saw that, but then saw that it doesn’t start until after we leave!!! grrrrrrr
    Oh & you can take the train to Hampton Court. The station is like a block away.
    I would be right behind you at the Odeon if I were there at the same time you were! How cool is that?!
    This trip we start at Nottinghill & do a loop through the areas in the movie & go down Portabello Road. Then it is off to Parliament square. (you will like the tour of Parliament. It is really interesting….especially the Great Hall. I want to see all the remnants of Whitehall Palace)
    Next week when we are there is Cocktail Week! lol! Now that will be interesting!
    This trip we will be going to Sir John Soanes museum & Banqueting Hall, Royal Mews, a day in Greenwich, Burroughs Market & Camden Market. We may go down to Brighton or maybe up to Durham on one day. We are actually running out of things we haven’t seen!
    If I was there at Christmas I would be going to Bath. I read they have one of the best Christmas markets there!

  12. avatarDenise says

    Sorry you aren’t able to see the Harry Potter tour. It is the number 1 top rated place to go right now!!!. I wanted to go this trip but I am the only Harry Potter fan in this group. :( (next trip)