Logan and I have a very good friend who lives in London and it had been a few years since we had seen her, so we were excited to catch up with her, meet her partner and their 15-month-old son and of course, see a bit of the city.
From Auckland we flew to London (Heathrow) with Air New Zealand. Well the Auckland to Shanghai (Pudong) leg was operated by Air New Zealand, this was 12 hours long, then we had a four and a half hour layover and the second 12 hour leg from Shanghai to London was operated by Virgin Atlantic, it was a pretty good service but definitely not as good as our national carrier.
We were due to land at Heathrow at 4.45pm on a Thursday evening, and after well over 30 hours of travel (we had also had a domestic flight within New Zealand the morning we departed for London) we were not expecting to be in a prime mental state to navigate London’s public transport system, so we booked a door-to-door service with Jewels Airport Transfers and that cost us £42/$79 NZD. I wouldn’t say their service was overly good, we never received an email containing our driver’s details and pick-up instructions as advised that we would, the driver wasn’t waiting for us at arrivals and the phone number in our booking confirmation which was noted as the driver’s, was actually the office number and so we had to make two calls to them to eventually find out where our driver was. The driver wasn’t particularly welcoming or apologetic and we suspect he had only just arrived at the airport. So after an extra 40 or so minutes, we finally got ourselves and our luggage in the vehicle and we all promptly fell asleep. It was a 30 km journey and in just over an hour we found ourselves outside our London Airbnb (read our review here).Once we had got ourselves sorted the following day we purchased some Oyster cards (£5 deposit) to use on the public transport systems around London. We only needed two because at the time the boys were deemed free (under 11 years and travelling with a paying adult). We loaded the cards with some Pounds and this meant we didn’t have to worry about purchasing tickets for each journey, whether we had the correct change or if some even accepted cash. We do really like a travel card like this that can be used across multiple transportation systems within one city or even country (Taiwan has a fantastic nationwide transport card).
With London’s Visitor Oyster card –
- Fares are cheaper than buying a paper single ticket or Day Travelcard.
- It offers daily capping. This means you can travel as much as you like in a single day and the amount you pay for your travel is limited (or capped).
- You save money with special offers and discounts at restaurants, shops, galleries and entertainment venues.
- Children aged 11-15 years can get a ‘young visitor discount’ and pay half adult rates.
We aways swiped our cards to enter the platforms or vehicles but we noticed SO many that didn’t, even if there was a security person on duty, and they never seemed to worry about it either.
For most of our travels arriving in a new country usually brings with it difficulties like, finding a money exchange or ATM, navigating new transportation systems, language or accent barriers and new cultures to learn and navigate. But arriving in London we didn’t have quite as many for us this time. Actually the main thing we had to get use to, and get over, was the jetlag!! During our travels we have crossed numerous time zones but it has usually just been an hour or two difference at a time, and while we had done a similar route from Vancouver to Melbourne relatively recently, travelling from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere really took it out of us.
One thing that did surprise us about London was the price of groceries, they were very reasonable, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. We thought our budget would be completely blown this week but cooking at our Airbnb and picnic lunches helped keep it manageable as accommodation costs are very high.
Besides catching up with our friend we had a few London activities we were keen to do and we were lucky to get a week of fantastic summer weather (21-27 June). Natalie had kindly gotten us some complimentary tickets so we meet up with them to visit the first location.
- Hampton Court Palace – The home of Henry VIII, his wives and children and this is a huge estate with a lot of areas to explore. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see everything so we picked a few areas (Henry VIII’s & William III’s apartments and the Chapel Royal) as the boys were keen to visit the Magic Garden (the playground) and the 300 year old maze. The boys enjoyed the playground but the maze was a little disappointing. With Natalie’s tickets we saved £61.20/$115.11 NZD and audio guides were included which we find really good, especially for keeping the boys interested. This is a Historic Royal Palace and they have a great website with all the information you need before you visit.
- Natural History Museum – There are a lot of free museums around London but we couldn’t go past this one. Easy to access via public transport and just so impressive, inside and out. So much to see and after a couple of hours we had enjoyed as much as we could manage, so the visit was finished off with a picnic lunch on the grass area outside.
- Science Museum – Just around the corner from the Natural History Museum and also free. Another fantastic facility but our boys would have liked more “hands on” activities as we’ve seen at other science museums.
- Tower of London – Another of the Historic Royal Palaces and a London icon. We were lucky to get some ticket’s from Natalie again and we saved £64.90/$122.07 NZD, audio guides and guidebook are extra. You can probably imagine how busy this place gets and even mid-week in late June it was super busy. No waiting to get in but the line to see the Crown Jewels was well pass the ‘one hour wait’ marker. So I guess our best advise, if you absolutely want to see them, is go early and go straight to this area. Our boys particularly enjoyed the ‘Beasts of the Royal Menagerie’ exhibit (even though they were horrified that animals were kept like that) and the ravens. A group of at least six ravens always reside at the tower and their presence is traditionally believed to protect The Crown and the tower. A superstition is that if the ravens are lost or fly away, the tower and the Crown will fall and Britain with it.
- Buckingham Palace and Big Ben – We couldn’t come to London and not visit some more of the iconic places like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. This famous clock tower has been hiding amongst scaffolding since August 2017 while it under goes major refurbishments and is not due for completion until the end of 2020/early 2021. We also wandered through Kensington Garden and Hyde Park.
- Playgrounds – With the great weather we enjoyed many playgrounds around the city, and I’m sure there are plenty of really good ones, including the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.
We had a fantastic week in London, there is so much to see and do and it was incredible to be in amongst this lively city and to be able to catch up with friends. Next up, a hop across to the Emerald Isle.
Average Daily Spend for 8 nights – $239.49 NZD ($9.49 over budget per day)