A father-daughter new year’s trip, enjoying food, music, shows and the great views.
EuropeUnited Kingdom14 days / January - December 2019
Highs & Lows
Last minute seats at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, for the Scott Hamilton Quartet.
Didn’t plan the trip with enough time and tickets for most shows and events we wanted to attend to were not available.
The trip started early morning the day after Christmas, taking the tube from Heathrow to London. We stayed at the Club Quarters Hotel, less than a block away from Saint Paul’s. It was magical to step out of the hotel and immediately see this wonderful cathedral, as well as being so close to the tube, and in a great place to start a walk around the city. Being December London was cold but very manageable if you came prepared with a couple of jackets and gloves. The sun was rising at 7:45 am and setting around 4:00 pm which gave us around eight hours of light, which meant we rose with the sun. London was filled with the Christmas spirit, from the wonderful Christmas markets by the Thames, Winter Wonderland by Hyde Park, Christmas in Leicester, and so many others; there were lights and decorations anywhere you went. Even with the cold the city was alive every day and night; anywhere you went there was something to do.
While staying in London, there was much to do inside the city as well as further from it. We spent the first ten days in the city, walking as much as we could and looking for spots to take in the culture; we found amazing food, anything from Asian to fast food and everything in between. We were able to get tickets for West-End shows as well as smaller music clubs, and museums in the city are a must. My personal recommendation would be to walk the city, but a double decker bus is a great option for short rests and a great view of the streets; the tube also gives you the chance to visit some spots a little further away like Greenwich and Wimbledon.
From London, we went to Cambridge for a couple of days; this gorgeous city is around two hours and twenty minutes away from London by bus. We stayed at The Mill Suites by the City Centre district, a really nice place for a couple of days and a good distance from the train station or the usual bus stops. Cambridge is a city filled with beautiful architecture, museums, great shops, good food, and a lot of history; you are bound to find something of your liking. Since we were there during the first days of January it didn’t seem like there were many classes going on besides a few exam rooms closed here and there, but you still get to walk around some of the colleges and gardens.
After returning to London for one day more, we took an early flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh where we stayed at the Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge-Royal Mile, a beautiful hotel with great views and amazing location in the city. We were welcomed by really strong winds which pushed you around as you walked and startled everyone by banging doors in the shops; still the winds prevented us from feeling the colder weather right away. We stayed in Edinburgh for five days, which gave us time to visit all the beautiful sights, the castle, nearby mountains, beautiful streets and try great food. We loved that we could find a city where you could go on a hike and relax at a jazz club just a couple of blocks away; there is something for every taste. We had just enough time to really get to know the city as well as relax before the trip home.
About a week before our trip we were able to book some of the tickets we needed, so we were able to go into Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and the London Eye without as much waiting, as well as go to a couple of shows: Mary Poppins in West-End and the production of The Nutcracker by the English National Ballet. Still, this wasn’t as much time for planning and buying tickets as we should have prepared for and most of the tickets for shows and events we wanted to go to were sold out, like the Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour, most West-End shows and plays at The Globe, and all the city’s events for New Year’s Eve. If you’re planning a trip there, I strongly suggest buying those tickets as quickly as you can.
The food in the city was amazing, there was a bit of everything but the must go places to try are: Market food. It really doesn’t matter which market you are in, Trafalgar’s Christmas Market, Camden Town, Notting Hill Market, or any other; every single one of them has amazing food and those are the type of places where you will find food from anywhere in the world; this of course includes fish and chips. Restaurants in Chinatown. Not only is this place a couple of blocks away from Leicester, Soho and Trafalgar square, it is beautiful and full of life. There is an incredible number of restaurants to choose from there, all of them great. Personally, I suggest you stop by Viet Food a beautiful and hip building on Wardour St with incredible food. Pizza Express. If you’re a fan of Italian food, this is definitely a great place and one of these restaurants in the city has an extra many people don’t know of; an underground jazz club, which is ranked as one of the best in the city just behind Ronnie Scott’s. Besides all the ones I’m missing, I suggest not to underestimate a nice sandwich while sitting in one of the many spots in the city.
Regarding entertainment you can do anything from walking through museums, historic locations, themed tours, watching shows or regular stuff like going to the movies in incredible theaters like the Odeon. For us some of the greatest places where the National Gallery, Tate Gallery if not for the art for the amazing view on the terrace, watching the change of guard at Buckingham Palace-which requires a lot of time waiting before it actually happens, the closer you get to the gates the better-, Greenwich a beautiful place filled with history and nice picture spots and my father’s favorite was definitely walking through Savile Row and looking at all the beautiful tailoring shops, as well as visiting the famous 221B Baker Street.
Going to Cambridge was an incredible experience, you could feel the years and years of history on every turn and I didn’t know where to look from all the beautiful spots.
Walking around the colleges is a must, not all of them allow visitors but a few do, the most famous ones charge the entrance, but it is worth it. Besides the amazing buildings, the bridges are some of the most famous there including the Bridge of Sighs and the Mathematical Bridge, these are gorgeous spots usually shown in movies and nice for pictures. Along with these places, we visited the botanic garden as well as the smaller gardens in the city. Once you’re done with the historic places and university grounds, you can always walk through the streets and the shops where you can find anything from clothes, books to cd’s and music; it’s a nice way to relax and look around before turning in at night.
Edinburgh was much colder than London and Cambridge but that didn’t stop us from enjoying every inch of this versatile city. The first thing on your list should always be a walk on the Royal Mile, all the way from the Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock to the Palace of Holyrood; here we got the chance to see all the incredible Scottish stores and the spirit of the city. Edinburgh Castle is iconic and there is nothing more story like than walking through its pathways and looking at the city below, on the other hand there´s Holyrood, which perfectly shows the English style in its architecture, both are very different and very beautiful.
One of the best parts in the trip was rather unexpected, a hike up Arthur’s Seat, near Holyrood, a beautiful hill you can hike up in about twenty minutes and overlook the city. Another not as well-known climb up is Calton Hill, which has a view that is just as beautiful and has a museum and tower to visit while you’re there.
Edinburgh has the whole storybook setting and it has been an inspiration for many fiction stories; while we were there, I learned that Victoria Street is one of the inspirations for Diagon Alley, from Harry Potter. When I went there, I immediately understood why, the beauty of the curved street and the tall shops one next to the other is remarkable. Among these buildings there are a lot of fiction and book related shops, as well as regular ones and cafes to stop and admire the view with a tea. One of the most beautiful stores I saw there was a secondhand book shop which appeared to be small but turned out to be a treasure cove, as a book lover I fell in love with Armchair Books.
The food in the city was good, most of the places you could find in London where here as well but, for me the best plan was to head over to a pub with live music and eat whatever was in the menu. While we looked for this kind of places, we stumbled upon a jazz club not even a block away from our hotel; which turned out to be the Jazz Bar, a great spot for music lovers which even though it didn’t have any food, had great drinks and was nearby a lot of restaurants.
Q & A
What would you have changed?I would have bought tickets earlier for the Warner Brother Studio Tour and probably I would have packed another jacket.
Anything go wrong during the trip?Yes, a silly mistake. We went to The Globe to buy tickets for a play and didn’t notice they had booked us for a week later -when we wouldn’t be there anymore- than we had asked until the night of the play.
Restaurant recommendations?There was a bit of everything in the trip, but my favorite was the street food in London, or Asian food restaurants.
Tips you would give a friend?Give yourself enough time to visit London and all the great places near before moving to another city.
Packing tips?If you’re travelling during winter, definitely pack warm clothes, maybe some thermal underwear and look for a scarf or light fabric to cover your face from the wind to prevent it from getting burned. Aside from that, just make sure you have comfortable shoes.
Transportation Tips?I am a fan of walking, so mainly that. In London use the tube and in Cambridge its nice to rent a bicycle for a while.
Booking details?I make most of my reservations on Expedia or directly on the hotel websites.