Normally we visit our parents in India or they visit us in USA. The trip to India usually turns stressful considering the length of the trip, the agendas of meeting a whole lot of relatives in a short period of time, no rest and just the need for more vacation after these trips.
So instead of meeting for long period time where everyone at the end of it is stressed and wants an out, we decided to do something different.
We asked both of our parents to go on a trip with us and the kids to London. They had never seen the city before and we had not either. It was also a perfect central spot for all of us to meet (midway between India and US – West Coast).
Our kids were younger then, one was 2 and half and one was almost 5. The 5 year old is a great traveler but 2 and half was frankly not an age to travel with anyone long distance. But we bravely did anyway!
Besides the first couple of hours, where all the toddler wanted to do was walk in the flight, it went pretty smooth. We reached London in 8 hours.
We got through the immigration and customs and out on prepaid taxi to our AirBNB close to the Shoreditch area. It was a fun little house, tiny in size compared to what we are used to in America but it worked. It had 3 bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room.
It was well maintained. The owner had left a few basic things in the kitchen. Grocery stores were walking distance and so were a lot of restaurants.
To our amazement, we had amazing curry (which apparently Britishers call British food) all along in the trip and did not miss being in India for this vacation.
The plus points throughout this London trip were:
- We never felt out of place because of the kids. We always felt welcome everywhere we walked.
- It was easy to push strollers all around through subways and on the sidewalks.
- We were even helped with the strollers by complete strangers.
- We could Uber if we wanted to and our T-mobile service with free international roaming was useful all the time (I am not getting paid to say this from either companies I promise)
Some negative points:
- It was raining most of the time (which is expected) but the cold in the summer was a little hard to take some days.
- We had to pay for bathrooms or ask for keys to the bathroom after having bought something. We are clearly not used to that in America. (We are not used to having too many public restrooms in India…that is a different story for a different day)
- I don’t live there… and Now I wish I could move.
On our first day, as it was raining we first decided to get in a covered boat and just ride on the Thames river cruise for an hour and admire all the tourist spots from the boat itself. Some that I remember are the London Eye, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey. This was also perfect for the grandkids to get time to mingle with the grandparents. It was less stressful about seeing and admiring things and more about just enjoying the time together.
Photo credit: Sneha Jhanb
After the cruise, it was not raining anymore. We decided it was time to visit the Tower of London. The kids loved this place. There was a lot of space for them to run around outside and inside the exhibition they were amazed to look at the armours, and coins and crowned jewels.
We had more curry and fish and chips at the cafe at the Tower of London. After our quick lunch, we also saw some monkeys on the tree. Ironically, the Tower of London at some point used to be a zoo and held a lot of animals gifted to the kings and queens. You can read all about the history everywhere online but for me what was amazing was again the fact that it was so family friendly and yet so rich and historical of a place.
We ended the itinerary for the day by climbing up the Tower Bridge and taking in the beautiful view of the city from the top. We were all tired after this and headed back to our beautiful house for the night to take rest. Kids watched some TV, slept and read some books. The house was well stocked with kids books to our relief.
I would probably change Day 2 if I ever go back again. We went with a popular guided bus tour to Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge.
We got up early in the morning and took prepaid taxi to a hotel that gave us a shuttle to go to the bus depot from where we met with our tour people. We saw the queen’s residence at Windsor Castle. Our kids did not want to be indoors that day so we actually decided to not to do too much of exhibition but walked through the queen’s garden. We walked through flowers and green lush.
Our next stop was Bath. We saw a beautiful Roman bath and the timeless architecture in the city.
I wish we spent a whole day here. The time was too short. We had to eat something along with sightseeing. The pizza took an hour, we almost missed the bus. It would have been a disaster if we did because it was also super cold. I would really go visit Bath by itself next time to really immerse in the city.
Final stop was Stonehenge. Frankly, I wanted this to be the best part of the tour. I was looking forward to it. But by the time we went there, we were all tired, and it was super cold. And there is no sense of calm and beauty as it has become a very touristy spot.
So I did not really enjoy it. Also you cannot go near the stones. You have to see them from a distance. It does not bring any joy whatsoever to see this place with the whole family. I would skip this completely next time. The beauty though was in the surrounding miles and miles of countryside and greenery. I live close to countryside in America but England’s countryside I feel (with my limited travel so far) feels very unique to that area. I had never seen miles and miles of greenery until the sky meets the green ever before.
We used our strollers all around London on Day 3. We walked a lot and used some subway and went to see the Buckingham palace from outside. Walked in the beautiful garden across from the palace. Shopped a little. Ate at Chinatown. We saw the royal courts of justice, embassy area, etc.
Photo credit: Sneha Jhanb
Remaining part of the day, we took advantage that day of the grandparents and for the evening took ourselves on a date and left behind the kids to bond with our parents.
We went up the Shard for tea time and had the most beautiful view, tea time sandwiches and scones and pastries. It was so worth it!
Day 4 was a little bit repeat of Day 3 except we went to Westminster Abbey and saw the tombs of royalty and well known poets, writers, scientists. For the kids this was not that much of an attraction because they wanted to make noise in the church (It was huge and it echoed!) but they were not really allowed to do that. But it was really a very beautiful church. We could have taken turn as adults possibly if we ever do this again to keep kids out of the misery of being silent and not kid like.
We met with my husband’s friend in the evening and had dinner at one of the most popular Indian restaurants called Dishoom. I have never seen such a long line outside of an Indian restaurant ever before in my life! And it was huge from inside and really had good ambiance and food.
It was time to say bye to London. We took a train to see my cousin in Sheffield this day. Kids loved the train ride through the countryside. We spent a night with them. Even had Alphonso mangoes (popular mangoes in India and the most expensive ones and very very tasty).
Our kids got along well and played. We caught up on a lot of our memories and made some new. Most of all loved to hear the yorkshire accent of my nephew.
It was time for our final destination for this trip. Edinburgh, Scotland. We were back on the train and in 3 hours we were there. The AirBNB here was good but the entrance to the building was horrible and quite shabby. The street did not look as safe though it probably was. For some reason the fire engines went off every 15 minutes throughout our 2 days here.
The distinguishing part of being in Scotland was that the night never felt like night. It always felt like evening. It never got really pitch dark. My then 4 year old and now 6 year old still remembers these two things from this part. The fire engines and the night not being like night.
We took the time off to unwind frankly because we were tired of our busy trip. We ate food at a local restaurant and then rested.
We walked around the city. The slopes of the city made it a little difficult to keep walking for the grandparents and for kids. We decided to then use the open bus tours. We went through the Edinburgh Park, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and more local spots.
By the time we reached the queen’s castle it was too late. I was a little disappointed to not be able to tour it. We had ice cream outside this castle as a consolation and headed back.
If I think about it now, I would have not done the Scotland part of our trip in this short period of time. I would have extended our stay in Sheffield by a day and returned to London and spent more time there.
It was our time to say goodbye to UK and grandparents and return to our house in the US and get back to normal life. The kids were tired and slept most of the flight.
Our 2 and half year old was a little cranky on one flight but for most of the part it was all very much alright.
What made the trip truly enjoyable with 2 kids under 5 was really the grandparents, who make anything much better really. The extra set of eyes, hands and legs we had to keep everyone from getting worked up. If I get a chance, I would do more international trips like that with our parents, hands down.
So, I for one strongly suggest taking grandparents on ALL international travel trips!