Monday, 2 May 2022

A London Minibreak

Hello! I hope you are enjoying the long bank holiday weekend.  It has given me time to do all manner of jobs, not least go through all my London photos from the Easter holidays. This Easter we had planned to visit Berlin for a short break but, for various reasons, postponed the trip. We found we had three nights with a dog sitter (dog sitters and kennels have proved extremely hard to come by lately!) and so decided on last minute trip to London. Now, we only live about 70 miles from London, one hour twenty minutes on the fast train, and so when we visit we go for the day. We didn't always go that much, but after lockdown I noticed that we were going much more frequently - for days out, birthday celebrations, me on my own to meet friends - and I think we went up four times between August and December last year. An unconscious desire to make the most of lifted restrictions, I am sure. 

So we booked a hotel and then discussed everything we would like to try and see/do, then  booked everything we wanted to see/do - there was a lot, and covid has meant that so much has to be pre-booked now.  We each chose three things we hoped to do and our requirements were as follows:

Bella: eat ramen, go shopping, go somewhere with "amazing views" - we were aiming for the Sky Garden but they had no availability to visit the viewing platform on the days we were there sadly. 
Angus: travel on a boat on the Thames, eat a really good burger, walk around Westminster and Whitehall.
John: visit the Churchill War Rooms, eat at Borough Market, look around the shops at Seven Dials.

It is of course impossible to please everyone but the children are old enough now to have input into what they would like to do on holidays and also old enough to understand why something can't be accommodated. Ok, now would you like to come with me on a short spring minibreak to London?

We stayed in the Novotel Blackfriars which was in a great location for us, very close to Waterloo Station, the Tate Modern and Borough Market near the South Bank. As soon as we arrived and checked in, we walked straight to Borough Market for lunch. 

Borough market is a huge food market under the arches of roads and train lines near London Bridge, selling both produce and freshly cooked food. 

You have to queue but it is worth it, and there's lots to look at while you wait. Angus had his "smash patty"burger, where a large meatball is "smashed" with an iron weight on the griddle into an irregular shaped burger (and he says the best one he ever ate, and he's eaten quite a lot to be fair), while Bella, John and I shared some friend chicken and macaroni cheese, all completely delicious.

Then a ten minute walk to the Tate Modern which the children had not been to before. Bella said on Matisse's The Snail, below, "I don't understand why it's meant to be so good or why it's in a gallery?" We had a good chat about how you don't have to like or even appreciate all art, but how it's a good talking point. 

By far my favourite exhibit was Mark Dion's Thames Dig, in which hundreds of treasures dug up from the muddy shores of the Thames River are displayed in wide, shallow drawers in a huge dresser. It was fascinating and I could have stared at it for ours.

After that we walked along the South Bank for a while, stopping for a drink at a pub with a view of the river, then had some dinner at a restaurant called Tonkotsu. Bella got her ramen - in fact, we all had ramen - and it was very good.

Before heading back to the hotel, we walked back up to the Tate Modern and over Millennium Bridge, the footbridge that links Bankside, where the Tate Modern is, to St Pauls Cathedral and The City on the other side. It was cold but the setting sun was pretty. We are usually on a train home when the sun sets in London so it was really nice to be out and about in the evening. 

The next morning, we were up and out early and the weather was glorious so we decided to walk rather than take the underground. It was the most perfect spring weather with a warm sun and a light, cool breeze. We walked over Waterloo Bridge, stopping for coffee and pastries on the way, and towards Whitehall. 

We needed to be at the Churchill War Rooms for ten, but had plenty of time to explore St James's Park before it opened. 

I especially loved the little, enclosed garden surrounding "Duck Island Cottage", the once-home of the bird keeper of the park. It is no longer inhabited but the contrast of cottage garden with such grand, regal park planting made me smile. 

The Churchill War Rooms museum is really good (and I am not especially interested in either Churchill or WW2), housed in what were the underground war rooms during WW2. For me though, it's just fascinating to wander around Whitehall. 

We did walk past 10 Downing Street and Angus was most disappointed to find that you can hardly even see the front door - a real anti-climax. Watching demonstrations outside the Houses of Parliament did make up for this a bit though. 

After burritos for lunch near Trafalgar Square, we made our way down to the Embankment River Taxi stop.

The boat took us perfectly to our next destination: Tower Bridge. 

We had booked a family ticket to walk up and over the top of the bridge - it is fun and a good location for views all around this part of London. I have always wondered what is inside the towers either side of the bridge, behind those windows. Well, it's mostly stairs and the occasional toilet and store cupboard.

The top half of the bridge is fun, with sections of glass floor, coin press machines (Angus loves these) and uninterrupted views.

Once we'd reached the other side, we walked back to our hotel, passing HMS Belfast (definitely something John and Angus would enjoy visiting another day) 

then stopping off for ice cream in Borough Market on our way.

Dinner at the Big Easy (which is a kind of US-style barbecue place) was delicous and a lot of fun, it has a good atmosphere and a mix of locals, families, tourists, people on their way home from work. Again, being out and about in London in the evening was fun as we watched the sun set and the lights come on. 

The following day was sunny and warm again, as we walked along the South Bank towards our next destination: The British Museum.

While the main body of the British Museum is free, you do have to book and pay for some of their temporary exhibitions, and the World of Stonehenge exhibit was worth every penny, with an amazing insight into how people lived during that era.

It was too gloomy to take many photos and I was too busy poring over all the displays anyway.

This was my first visit to the British Museum, and it did rather take my breath away when I walked through the doors into the huge Great Court

We did spend quite a while inside, looking at the Egyptians and Ancient Greeks, but it was busy. After hotdogs eaten in the museum courtyard outside for lunch, we headed to Oxford Street and Regent Street for shopping.

Angus thoroughly enjoyed playing a driving game in some specially modified vehicle in the (very swish) Microsoft store. Obviously he didn't buy anything but came out of the store wearing a fancy lanyard and feeling very pleased with himself. Bella thoroughly enjoyed looking in her favourite shops (which seemed to stock a lot of crochet - this is apparently in fashion at the moment) I dragged everyone into Liberty London department store.

I didn't buy anything but I did have a very lovely browse.

We walked back to the hotel very slowly via more shops in Seven Dials and a drink in a pub. I love London pubs. After a little rest at the hotel (we had walked a lot!) we had pizza with a view for dinner that night.

Finally, Friday morning, our last day. We had tickets booked for the 2.00pm train home and a morning to make the most of.

We were all pretty tired so headed to Waterstone's Picadilly and spent a lovely couple of hours browsing. 

The Piccadilly branch is in a beautiful art deco building (I think it was once a department store) and is Europe's largest bookshop. It's browsing heaven.

I made a beeline for the cookery section where I gathered a pile of books and headed to the sofa. I sat there for as long as I could, flicking through each one in a way that you just can't with online shopping, before I made my decision (this one). The children had saved thier pocket money and Easter money and we all came out with bags. I am constantly thankful that the children enjoy reading and appreciate books as much as John and I do.

After picking up sandwiches from Pret a Manger we ate an impromptu picnic on a bench in St James's Park, before wending our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags, and then on to Waterloo station to catch the train home.

Despite living relatively close to London, it is not a city I actually know that well, and I go there very much as a tourist every time. But staying there - even centrally - and doing so much walking rather than catching the tube, as I often do, gave me much more of a sense of how the central parts of the city connect to each other. 

It was lovely. We had a really great time, and I think we all managed to see or do what we had hoped. We are planning to return in early June to go back up The Shard, as it was so foggy when we went in December last year that we could not see a thing! Something to look forward to.


  1. It sounds like you had a fantastic time, thank you for sharing your photos... that glass floor on the tower bridge! Lovely photos of you and the kids, it's harder for good photos when they're older. We went to London a few times when we lived in Hampshire but only for specific things eg London Zoo as kids, the Science Museum a treat for my brother and a hospital visit for my son. It was so nice to look around through your eyes (as it were). I would've loved to see the wartime things. We recently went to Beamish living museum (lots to see on their instagram page), living in Lincolnshire now, it's doable in a day. There are Edwardian towns and 1950 - in development to expand the '50s town. I gather parts of the town are in the Downton Abbey film, eg the Co-op. Cathy x

  2. Love a London minibreak. Funnily enough, had just posted about my latest trip when I came across your post. You had drier weather!

  3. Hello from Pennsylvania, USA! I so enjoyed sharing your travels. Your photos are beautiful! Thank you for sharing a place I would love to visit!


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