So when I realized we were going to have an accidental ten hour lay over in London I was initially a little bummed out. There is a play area in the Heathrow Airport and plenty of restaurants but the idea of being there for ten hours with my four kids made me want to poke my eyes out. We were also concerned and rightly so about Cheetah on the plane. On the way out the other kids had been great but she had been up and over climbing on seats, crying, and insisting I hold her in the back for hours. It was horrible. It didn't take long for Dr. J and I to realize we had a opportunity to spend some time in London and hopefully wear Cheetah down so that she'd actually sleep on the second flight and so we made a plan. We knew there were three trains to get from Heathrow into London. You could take the London underground. The plus on this is cheap. The negative it can take an hour or more one way. The second two options were the Heathrow Connect. It takes about 26 minutes to get to Paddington station from Heathrow. It cost about 10 pounds or almost 18 US dollars. The final train option was the Heathrow Express. It was the most expensive at 34 pounds round trip if you buy them in advance online but it was also the fastest with trains leaving every fifteen minutes and it only taking 15 minutes to get from Heathrow to Paddington Station. The cool thing about the Heathrow Express is they actually had a deal where buying the tickets in advance and using the code KIDSFREE12 we could get two kids ages 2-15 on for free for each adult ticket bought. It was perfect for our family. So for $122 US dollars my whole family could travel into London on the fastest train and get back to the airport. When you have a limited amount of time going fast is worth it. After getting off our plane we headed toward security. We had to ask three people where to go, I swear Heathrow has the worst signs ever but then we found immigration. We gave them our passports and the landing card we had to fill out on the plane as well as showed them our tickets showing we'd be leaving the country in less than 24 hours and they stamped our passports and let us in for free. If you are going to be staying longer and I'm not sure if it is longer than 24 hours or 48 but there is a fee, either 40 or 54 pounds depending on how you travel. Anyway we were only there for 10 hours so it was cheap and easy to get through border control.
Then we hopped on the Heathrow Express. The train was nice and fast and in no time at all we were pulling into the Paddington Station. I love Paddington Station. It is old and new filled with people moving all over the place. Unfortunately these are the only two pictures we got at the station and they are blurry. Just know we were in Paddington, it was 8 in the morning and we were happy. We'd looked up different places to go from here and as we left the station we leaded toward Hyde Park. This part of London is just gorgeous. There are shops, pubs, fish and chip, and curry places to get something to eat. There are white fronted hotels, tree lined streets and everything is clean and fresh. Hyde park is also a treat. In the early morning it is filled with bike commuters, people running, and people taking their horses out for a trout. There is lots of space and everyone just sort of moves seamlessly past eachother. There are also signs and maps everywhere. Talk about a great city to do a walking tour in. Every 300 yards or so we'd find ourselves at a new map and could reorient ourselves. Then our son suggested we just take a picture of a map with our phone and we could carry it with us. Hello brilliant child! It's probably easier if I just tell you the things we did in a list.
We walked from Hyde park to Buckingham Place. Then we headed down to Westminster Abbey, passing the Guards Museum where we listened to guys playing the bagpipes and drums and they rehearsed for the changing of the guard. We saw Big Ben, we crossed the Thames to the London Eye and Aquarium. We ate overpriced McDonalds Breakfast Sandwiches because Dr. J was starving and insisted we had to eat something immediately. We walked by Parliament and Downing Street where the Prime Minister Lives. We headed to Trafalgar Square by the Military museum where the kids enjoyed looking at the horses. Then we headed back toward Buckingham Palace. We stopped at the back side of the military museum to watch the soldiers dressed in old fashion uniforms on the horses. Then we headed back to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard. At this point it was noon and while we were reluctant we knew we should probably head back. We went back through Hyde park getting ice cream at this cafe on the lake. It was 2 pounds a cone ($3.90) but it was totally worth it. It was the perfect pick me up and it got us back to Paddington Station, because at this point we'd walked almost eight miles and the kids were starting to get a little tired. I loved London. It was clean and easy to walk. The signs, maps, and high concentration of sites made it extremely tourist friendly. It is definitely a costly place to be but I would love to go back when I had the opportunity to go into all of these places. I think it would be totally be worth buying the London Pass if you were going to spend any significant amount of time in London. It gets you into a lot of attractions for free and you can even add a travel pass so you can travel on the underground. Seriously I would love to go back again and see everything! Maybe someday...for now though this was a great introduction to London and for less than 200 US Dollars (our travel into the city from the airport and our food) our family of six got to spend a day in London and see things I'd only ever imagined I'd read about in books or see on Masterpiece episodes. I'm so happy that we accidentally ended up with that ten hour layover. Scroll down to the bottom if you want to catch the video of the changing of the guard. It was crazy to me how close you are able to get to the palace the Queen of England lives or the house where the Prime Minister lives. Seriously nuts that people can just drive right by. And just so you know Cheetah crashed out on the plane and slept the entire way to Chicago. We had so many people tell us we were nuts for doing this, but let me tell you, it was SO WORTH IT!!!!