London is both cold and beautiful in February. Call me a romantic, but snow falling down on an old English backdrop is charming!
Where to Stay in London
We stayed at St. Ermin’s Hotel, Autograph Collection, and it was the best choice!! We loved it, both inside and out. We enjoy staying at hotels that don’t have “typical rooms”. Usually every hotel has a nice “lobby”, but then their rooms are bland. You know what I mean?! More than likely though, a nicer room, usually will be smaller, which we are okay with. When we booked our room thru Expedia, we were able to eat breakfast there each day as well. I think we paid a little extra for this, but 100% worth it, especially if you like breakfast. The coffee at the hotel was exceptionally strong and tasteful, just my kind of coffee.:) I loved the chocolate croissants! Their yogurt was yummy too. And their clotted cream with biscuit was to die for!! You can’t find that clotted cream in the states. At least we have not been able to. If you know where to get some, let me know!
Day 1: We scheduled this ahead of time: Tea Time at the House of Parliament. I would highly recommend this. This was about £29 and it was worth it, the different flavors of tea and sandwiches/treats were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! And it was elegant, as you sat in a private room looking along the Tames River. If you wanted to purchase extra wine, you could do so, but the tea and sandwiches are more than satisfying!
After this, we went to the House of Parliament Guided Tour. This was at the Palace of Westminster. This is 90 minutes long, but worth it to grasp the history of London and learn about its parliamentary system. The House of Commons and the House of Lords’ chambers are beautiful in design. I definitely recommend having a tour guide scheduled ahead of time, so you don’t have to wait in line. I think it’s better to go with a tour guide vs listening on head phones, as all the tour guides make it more exciting. We then took a break to rest and site see.
London is very “old English”, rich in architecture, and rich in history. The people in London compared to some places in the U.S. such as the South are not outwardly friendly. In the south in the U.S. people will say hello and even start a conversation with you, even if they don’t know you. Or even if you are just going for a walk, people in the South will say hello to you. I would describe Londoner’s similar to people in big cities in the U.S. like New York. People tend to mind their own business in big cities in America, and that appeared to be true in London as well. You could also sense this while eating at their many wonderful restaurants in London where people didn’t stare at you for being there or looking different
For dinner, our original plans were to have dinner at the Laughing Halibut. But they were closed by the time we went to go eat there. It seemed like a lot of places in London closed for dinner early so be prepared. So instead with the help of our hotel concierge, we went to Fuller’s Kitchen at The Sanctuary House Hotel in Westminister. https://www.sanctuaryhousehotel.co.uk/food/main-menu. My husband had Malt & barley smoked cod, salmon & prawn pie, parsley sauce, poached egg, mash & greens. I had London’s favorite Fuller’s Frontier battered haddock & triple cooked chips, crushed peas, tartare sauce, lemon. They were both very delicious! The bar is so nice with its old English wood everywhere. They have a very upscale bar which makes sense as it’s attached to a very high-end hotel. The prices however are very reasonable. The beer on tap was very good as well.
Day 2: This happened to be on a Sunday for us. We always go to church on Sundays wherever we are in the world. So we attended St. Paul’s Cathedral https://www.stpauls.co.uk/. This church is beautiful! The admiring architecture of churches around the world is a really neat thing to do. Luckily, as a Catholic, the church is similar no matter where we attend so we always know what to do, even though there may be cultural differences. After that, we had Crepes at Mamie’s. I would highly recommend this place, but unfortunately, now it’s closed. Their dessert crepes and Breton cider are to die for! I hope they open again. Their address is 19 Catherine Street, London in Covent Gardens. After, that we went to go see the Tower of London. We took the bus to get there. It’s beautiful! A must-see while there! And thankfully, it was a sunny day even though it was cold. We walked everywhere while there and got some great photos! We ended the evening by going to the Organ Recital in Nave at Westminister Abbey! We decided to do this so that we didn’t have to buy a ticket to get into Westminister Abbey as it was expensive. You get in free this way, but of course, you have to sit through the service. There wasn’t many people in the room. It was definitely interesting. They would not however allow you take pictures. They were very strict about this. But to sit there and admire the architecture was worth it! At the end of the church service, we were all escorted out quickly, as they did not want anyone lingering.
Day 3: We went to Covent Gardens and walked around. Covent Gardens is a shopping area in the West end of London. There are boutiques, bars, and higher-end restaurants in this open-air piazza. It’s nice to browse and have a drink or something to eat while people watching. Next, we went to Buckingham Palace and witnessed the changing of the guards which was really neat. It’s one of those things you do here similar to Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C but this is more elaborate. Changing of the Guard is performed daily from June to July, and from August to May on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays & Sundays. The ceremony takes place between 3 locations: Buckingham Palace, St. Jame’s Palace, and Wellington Barrack’s. This ceremony starts at 11 a.m. and lasts for about 45 minutes is free to watch. No tickets are necessary! The changing of the guards includes a band of drums and pipers! After that, we went to visit the St. Pancras International Station. This is definitely something I recommend you do as well. It’s a beautifully built indoor Train station with shops and restaurants. If you like architecture you will appreciate this. We had drinks to go at Joe & the Juice. The shops at this station are expensive. But it was nice to browse. After that, we went to the National Gallery Tour in Trafalgar Square. It’s free to get into. It has a Western European collection of paintings from the 13th to the 19th century. Definitely works of art. If you don’t like looking at paintings, it is definitely not for you. We spent an hour here, you can easily spend a whole day.
My preference and where we went next was to the British Museum. The British Museum is also free. What’s really neat in the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone is a broken part of a bigger stone. There are 3 types of writing carved into this stone; Hieroglyph, Demotic, and Ancient Greek. Because the inscription says the same thing in 3 different languages, experts have learned to read Egyptian hieroglyphs! It’s pretty neat! Also neat about the museum is the Egyptian and Medieval Gallery. There are more than 60 free galleries, but I liked the Egyptian one because there were mummies. Overall, it’s a great time. We spent several hours here, but you can easily spend a day here. I think it’s a fun place for the whole family. It’s very kid-friendly. Food at their cafeteria is pretty good too, and very decent prices. If you like Indian food, for dinner we went to Punjab. https://www.punjab.co.uk/. The prices were very reasonable here. And the food was excellent! Make reservations ahead of time as we did. Next, if you are looking for something to do in London in the evening, consider a show! We did. We chose to go to Aladdin the Musical. It was held at Prince Edward Theatre. https://www.princeedwardtheatre.co.uk/. It was amazing. The theatre itself was very elegant and intimate. I would highly recommend the musical itself. We love Broadway shows in general, and have watched many in New York City. As such, I would highly recommend watching Broadway shows in larger cities as the cast will be better as this one did not disappoint!
Day 4: I am a Hard Rock Cafe girl! So whenever we are in a large city, I visit Hard Rock Cafe and collect their pins. Everybody tends to collect something, that is my thing. We also did some shopping in the morning and went to Selfridge & Co. https://www.selfridges.com/GB/en/. This place was EXPENSIVE!! We have traveled a lot, and in our experience, London is more expensive compared to any other country or city we have ever visited! We also stopped off at the London Fly shop https://www.flylondon.com/list-stores/. I am a fan of London Fly shoes, and there are only 5 dedicated retail shops in the World. My husband is a fan of Dr. Martens so we stopped by there https://www.drmartens.com/uk/en_gb/.
Harry Potter Studio Tour
In the afternoon we did something entirely different. Anybody out there, Harry Potter fans?!?! Well, we are!! One of our pre-trip plans involved scheduling a tour of the Warner Bros Studios “The Making of Harry Potter”!!https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/. It is a MUST do for all Harry Potter fans and at least 54,000 people agree based on google reviews alone! What you will see in the tour is all the sets, props, costumes, special and visual effects, creature effects, and architectural drawings from the movie! It is amazing! For adults 16+, the prices are 47.00 euro, children 5-15 years of age is 38.00 euro, and they even have a deal for a family of 4 for 150.00 euro. You must book in advance. From London, we took a train to Watford Junction and then took a Warner Bros shuttle bus to the set. Travel time to get to the set was about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
We were lucky enough to be the ones to open the doors to the Great Hall! We were selected because it was our birthdays! As you open the door and enter, you feel like you are in the movie! You get to relive the best moments of the movie! You’ll see 2 large tables with dinner plates and cups and then the head table where the Hogwarts Professors sat. You’ll see the student’s uniforms for each Hogwart’s house. They have the Forbidden Forest scene and Platform 9 ¾. You’ll see the complete train and track here, and of course, the carriage that Harry, Hermione, and Ron sat in. You’ll also see Diagon Alley and all the shops to include Ollivander’s Wand Shop. It definitely worth going to. This is the only place in the world that you can see all of this in this detail especially with all the costumes and architecture. Of course, you can go to Universal Studios and see Platform 9 ¾ and Diagon Alley, but you’ll miss out on the actual set and all the details. You can also get butterbeer here. And it’s fantastic! Butterbeer is only available at this UK set and in Universal Studios Theme Park. We have been lucky to have both, I would highly recommend it! There are a few things you can pay extra for to include a virtual photo of you sitting on a broomstick and flying against different green screen backgrounds. Food is also not included and can only be found ¾ of the way through the tour before visiting Dudley’s house or at the main entrance. We were starving before this point, so plan accordingly. Also to note, the food was just cafeteria food with butterbeer. It was pricey and did not have many vegetarian options. One of the neatest things about this set is the Hogwarts Castle Model. You’ll see a mini version of it, and then a larger version which when you take a picture up against it, soars taller than you!
That was London for us, in 4 days. While London is beautiful in the winter with the snow falling, I would like to go back again when it’s warmer.