I did it. I finally took my two kids overseas. As single mum I’ve been terrified of overseas travel alone! But now they are getting all grown up (and taller than me), it was time! And just look at those beaming faces at the departures gate, mine included! Technically we were travelling to Italy to go see my step mum who lives there, but thanks to a pesky virus it’s not that easy to find good flights into Italy anymore. So we found a cheaper option flying into London first and as they say “When in Rome London!” How could we not spend a few days exploring before we hit our Italian la dolce vita.

Sarah and her two kids hold their passports in front of the yellow departures gate at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne.

By ‘a few days’ I really mean two days and a half days, and boy did we pack it in! London is an incredible destination for families and turned out to be the highlight of both my kids’ two weeks in Europe. London has similarities to Oz with the language being the same, the cars on the correct side of the road and similar brands and shops, that it’s an easy intro to overseas travel, but on the other hand it’s another world away with so much history, interesting attractions and places to explore. The kids were just gob-smacked at the age of everything and how old and wonderful all the building were.

So let’s go back to the beginning. I booked our flights with Etihad through Flight Centre (they came up with the London idea to save time and money). I’d flown with Etihad to Italy before and they still had the best offering in terms of cost, flight time and availability. But it got even better as on mention of travelling alone with my kids for the first time, we were welcomed with a sneaky upgrade to business class on the Abu Dhabi leg which was beyond amazing. What a treat! The Etihad staff were so wonderful and kind, the food was great and the in-flight entertainment was spot on, I can’t even remember how many movies I watched but they were all winners! Abu Dhabi airport is clean, but very pricey, and the layover was only short so only a few snacks were needed.

Mama sips champagne in Etihad's business class section while admiring the sunrise on the horizon

We landed at Heathrow around 1.30pm and caught the Tube straight to Leicester Square where our Air BNB was. It was so simple! Getting into our Air BNB was not so simple with the cleaner not finished and the key not returned to our pickup point, but we got there in the end and through the jet-lag haze settled in for an early night.  

With only two full days for fun, we were up first thing and straight off down The Mall to visit the Queen. She wasn’t at home, but I can’t help but think our visit, only weeks after her platinum jubilee, was perfectly timed as it was wonderful for the kids to experience London during her reign and to reminisce on all the sights we recognised during her funeral procession on TV less than two months later.

So what did we pack into our crazy two-day London adventure and how did we do it? Here are Mama’s tips.

Buy a London Pass: The first thing we did was buy a two-day London Pass which is the ultimate sightseeing ticket giving you access to almost all of London’s best attractions (except the London Eye, which is overpriced so we didn’t bother) as well as a day pass on the hop-on-hop-off Big Bus. The bus was the perfect way to get around the city on our first full day to get our bearings and spot some new places to add to our visit list. We spent approx $450 for the three of us and that got us $575 worth of value. What I loved about the London Pass is it gave us ideas of places to visit and as we had pre-paid access we saw more things we probably wouldn’t have bothered with if we had to buy individual tickets at every location.

Sarah and her kids stand out the front of Buckingham Place on a blue sky day. A girl poses in front of a traditional red telephone box with Big Ben in the background.

Hit the landmarks: When you’re in London with kids, you must seed the sights! London is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the world like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben and their impressiveness was not lost on the kids. Included in the London Pass was entry to the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Westminister Abbey and the Cutty Sark (cool old ship in Greenwich). The kids loved seeing the Crown Jewels, the Changing of the Guard at the palace (it rained that day so they were sadly wearing grey coats over their stunning uniforms), and Westminister Abbey was a surprising highlight, with all blown away by its age, history and seeing the Coronation Chair that King George recently adorned. Things we sadly missed due to timing are the view from The Shard, the London Zoo, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Sky Garden, but that just gives us a reason to come back right!

Visit Harrods: Harrods is considered the best department store in Britain and it’s not hard to see why. There is nothing like it in Australia (sorry David Jones but you just don’t cut it). Once again my kids were blown away. The food hall is out of this world, the fashion is above and beyond high-end. It’s home to 300 departments, 20 restaurants, a bank, and even a beauty salon. We jumped off the bus and took a quick stroll through Hyde Park then down Brompton Road to get there and I’m so glad we did, just for the experience. Did we buy anything, no! But it was 100% worth the visit.

Use public transportation: London has an excellent public transportation system that is easy to use and very efficient. The Tube can take you to almost any part of the city and at least one double bus ride and a ‘black taxi’ is a must. Many people suggest buying an Oyster card, but you can just tap on with your credit card, so we didn’t bother. So much better than Melbourne’s silly Myki cards. We also jumped on an Uber Boat (part of London Pass) and explored the Thames as well which was awesome to see the city from a different perspective. We went over to Greenwich, and there’s heaps to do there. Visit the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Market and climb the hill the the Prime Meridian Line and the old Royal Observatory.

The Uber boat travels in front of the London Eye on the Thames.

Explore the parks: London is known for its beautiful parks and green spaces, which offer a welcome break from the city’s hustle and bustle. Visit Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, and St. James’s Park (next to the Palace) with its memorial to Princess Diana and beautiful flowers and birds.  

Visit museums and galleries: You’ll find some of the world’s best museums and galleries here, many of which are free. The National Gallery is home to so many famous artists I studied at university and whilst it was a little lost on the kids, mama was super chuffed to stand in front of the real Van Gough’s Sunflowers and Monet water lilies. The Tate Modern is meant to be fab and sadly the Portrait Gallery was closed while we were there. #nexttime

Sarah stands in front of Van Gough's Sunflowers at the National Gallery and a girl tries to push Harry Potter's trolley through the station wall at platform 9 and three quarters.

Get your Harry Potter on: Harry Potter fans will love exploring the locations that inspired the books and movies. We popped by Kings Cross Station, home of platform 9 3/4. There’s a fab HP shop there and you can pose with the luggage trolley in the wall. But the highlight would be the HP Warner Bros. Studio Tour  which was devastatingly booked out the days we were in town. #nexttime

Visit a West End show: Whilst we were on a tight deadline and didn’t fit one in, many of the West End shows are super family-friendly.  You can look for discounted tickets to many shows here.

So there you have it… A whirlwind tour of London. Don’t tell my step mum but no amount of Italian gelato was topping good old London Town in the kid’s opinion!

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