With summer vacation excitement now a thing of the past, are you looking to plan your next getaway? If your family is looking for a life-changing experience in another country, I strongly recommend traveling to the U.K. It is an entirely different world, and it is absolutely lovely. My husband, Thomas, and I recently visited family and friends in England. My husband is British, so I have the best tour guide when visiting Europe.
The anticipated departure date finally arrived, and after hours of flying, we landed at London Heathrow Airport. From there, we took a taxi to Thomas’ uncle’s home, which is located on the outskirts of London in the quaint town of Marlow. It is a beautiful area featuring homes that were built in the late 1800s.
After catching up with my husband’s family, we drove roughly two hours to their hometown of Wellington (in Shropshire County) to stay for a few days.
On our first day in Shropshire, we went to Hawkstone Park and explored The Follies. The Follies are historic areas of woodlands with cliffs, caves and a magical landscape. Here, travelers will find walking trails, grottos, tunnels and breathtaking views. The Follies is a very popular destination for a family outing and is unique in that there is so much to see and explore. Not only does the destination offer gorgeous views, but the vegetation is incredible. This unique destination was also one of the locations used for filming The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Old rocks are used as steps to climb and tree roots intertwine for use as handles. Visitors will find different types of twisted greenery growing on tree bark, rocks and cliffs.
After walking and taking in the scenery for a couple of hours, we found a rest area below the Monument, which is a tower viewpoint that shows off local Shropshire farmland. The Monument boasts a tall, dark, winding staircase with a few windows framed out of stone. There is only room to walk in a single file line to the top, where you will gain a magnificent view of the evergreen farmland stretching miles in every direction. After a delicious picnic, we continued down even more pathways, explored grottos and balanced across thin walkways above the trees on planks of wood. Toward the end of our hike, we took the “harder” route and went down a trail that took us through a cave that led us out among massive rocks in a dark cavern. These rocks had been forged into stepping stones that led us up the trail and out to the main path. I would highly recommend this fun and adventurous destination to anyone traveling through Shropshire with children. The next day, we stayed at Hawkstone Park Hotel, which was gorgeous and offered many activities to enjoy during our stay.
On a free day in Shropshire, we had an outing with our family and visited an English country house that was part of the National Trust’s Attingham Park. In the U.K., residents can become members of the National Trust by contributing an annual fee which allows locals to enjoy unlimited visits to places such as stately homes, gardens, parks, caves, countryside, lighthouses, beaches, castles and even abbeys. Visitors are able to tour the grounds and explore historical lands.
The Attingham Park Estate is an 18th century mansion that was built for the first Lord Berwick in 1785. The estate has a total of 80 rooms and stretches across 3,707 acres of farmland and woods. At the estate, visitors can wander the Walled Garden to see different types of flowers, learn how they are grown and even collect fresh produce to take home. Visitors can also take long walks down miles of pathways and through a deer park.
We took two days and visited London via Virgin Trains. We stayed at the Travelodge London Central Euston Hotel at a reasonable cost of £80 per night. I was pleasantly surprised by the accommodations here, and I admit that I did not expect it to be so nice at such an affordable price. It was located only a few blocks from the Tower of London and was close to the London Underground, which is the fastest method of local transportation.
After settling in, we walked around the corner and dined at a nearby pub, The Minories, for lunch. You really cannot go wrong when walking into a pub in London for a quick bite. After lunch, we purchased Oyster cards (travelers swipe these for train entry) in the London Underground (aka “the Tube”).
We used the Tube to travel to Tottenham Court Road, where we toured the British Museum. If you want to see all of the exhibits in the museum, you need to set aside nearly a full day. We saw everything from mummies, coffins, Parthenon sculptures, fine jewelry and pottery to old clocks, coins and ancient artifacts. The most iconic thing to see at the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone. Not only is it interesting for families and children, but it is also educational!
After touring the British Museum, we walked in the direction of the Apollo Victoria Theater, to see “Wicked,” a popular Broadway musical. Prior to the show, we stopped and visited an area of Kensington, which is a high-end part of London. We saw embassies and grabbed a quick bite before heading to the theater.
On our last full day exploring London, we went to the closest bus stop to see the city from the view of a red double-decker bus. This is a must-do activity because it provides tourists with the opportunity to see the city from the comfort of an open air vehicle. Get your cameras ready! The best part of the Big Bus Tour was that you could hop on and off all day by simply showing your ticket. I recommend this method of transportation in London, as you learn more about the area while taking in spectacular views.
Our first stop off the Big Bus Tour was to board the London Eye, an iconic and well-known landmark. The London Eye has 32 capsules that hold roughly 15 to 20 guests at a time. The structure rises in a Ferris wheel-like fashion to view the skyline from above the ground.
From the London Eye, we hopped back on the bus and continued to Piccadilly Street, where we grabbed a nice lunch at Caffe Concerto. Next, we wandered to high-end shops on Oxford Street, including Liberty London and Hamleys, a seven-floor store. Harrods is another must-see shopping destination!
We arrived at King’s Cross to board a train to Edinburgh, Scotland. Out of all of the methods of transportation I have experienced in the U.K., my favorite way to travel is by train. You are able to see and appreciate the countryside as you travel over pastures away from roadways. When we entered Scotland, the views were incredible as the train skirted the coast and peered over rocky cliff edges.
We arrived at Edinburgh Waverly station, only a two-minute walk away from our hotel at the Apex Waterloo Place, where our room was upgraded to the master suite. The Apex Waterloo Place is one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. Our bedroom was gorgeous and offered a grand view of Carlton Hill.
My father-in-law advised that we stop in for high tea at the Balmoral Hotel in Palm Court. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a man dressed in traditional Scottish attire (kilt and all). We were seated right away, and the servers gave us a detailed summary of the afternoon high tea experience. For £30, we could select either coffee or tea, sandwiches and savories, homemade scones with clotted cream and preserves, followed by three tiers of pastries and a selection of treats from the trolley. We took our time and enjoyed every minute of the experience. The room looked like a ballroom, with walls covered in oriental-style gray and white paintings with white pillars that stretched up to a dome ceiling that dangled an elegant chandelier. The ambiance was complete with live harp music playing in the background.
The Royal Mile is a high street that stretches from the Palace of Holyroodhouse up to the Edinburgh Castle. Along the Royal Mile, visitors will find shops, pubs and tourist attractions. The Palace of Holyroodhouse serves as the residence of the royal family when they are in town. We decided to walk to Holyrood Park, which boasts a mountain landscape with rocky trails and steep steps. The trail we took to get to Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano, offered one of the most amazing views imaginable.
You cannot beat the view from Edinburgh Castle, looking out at the vast historical city to Firth of Forth and beyond into the North Sea. We were in awe of the castle’s magnificent caliber, and we were lucky to witness the One o’clock Gun being sounded. The One o’clock Gun was introduced in 1861, when clocks were not as accurate as they are today, in order to aid the navigation of nearby ships. The gun is fired by the district gunner who must consult his pocket watch regularly. When the time draws near, he marches up to the canon and waits until the clock strikes exactly 1 p.m. before firing the gun.
Later, we decided to catch the last tour of the Real Mary King’s Close. On the way, we cut through an old cemetery at the Parish Church of St Cuthbert and took a few minutes to wander the historical graveyard while majestic church bells rang in the background. We continued on to the Grassmarket District, making our way to the George IV Bridge and up to the Royal Mile in time for the Real Mary King’s Close tour. During the tour, guides are dressed in costumes and act as historical characters, bringing to life what it was like to live in Edinburgh during the 17th century. Tourists hear stories about the bubonic plague, living conditions, murder and more. Did I mention this entire city was sealed underground? We walked through a small, enclosed room where farm animals were held and visited homes where people were kept during the outbreak of the plague. If you plan to go on this tour, you should go at night, as it adds a spooky feel to the historical experience.
We had an amazing time during our travels abroad in Shropshire, London and Edinburgh. There is so much we did not have time for that we want to go back to see one day. If you are lucky enough to travel to Europe during your lifetime, take advantage of the opportunity. Countless adventures and experiences await you and your family. The vacation can be as relaxing or fast-paced as you choose. Happy travels!