It’s been five years this week since we moved into our house in Devon. Which means it’s been five and a half years since we last went to London as a family. But last weekend, National Express changed that with the offer of a trip to London by coach, to soak up the festive atmosphere in the capital for the weekend.
It’s something we used to do all the time when we lived so near London, but haven’t done in years. In fact, Freya couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to London, despite visiting many times. She had no memory of the lights, the excitement, the fact London at this time of year holds a certain magic that instantly makes you feel Christmassy…
This weekend saw many firsts for us as a family, including two things I’d never considered before: travelling by coach and staying in a YHA hostel. To be completely honest, I was bit nervous about both. I imagined tantrums on a packed coach, noisy backpackers and dirty corridors in the YHA and went through every worse case scenario in my head before agreeing to the trip. I needn’t have worried.
At the beginning of the year, when I was in a bit of a rut, I knew 2018 needed to be a year of firsts, adventure and challenging the cradle of comfort I’d put around myself which was actually holding me back. I think we all go through these phases, where new things seem scary, or our inner mean voice holds us back from jumping at new opportunities… but I knew I was done with that, and this final trip of 2018 was the final nail in the coffin for that side of me that would whisper “But what if it all goes wrong?”.
We had an absolute blast, fitting so much into our weekend and making special memories that will last forever. It goes to show that ignoring that negative little whisper can reap huge rewards.
Travelling by coach
I haven’t travelled by coach in years. My memories of coach journeys include school trips, never being cool enough to sit on the back seat and shouting “BAGSY!” to sit next to a window.
This trip couldn’t have been more different. It’s a fair old ride to London from where we are in Devon (just over five hours) but within an hour of being on the coach Effie was asleep – and Freya wasn’t far behind. Both the journeys were effortless, with the girls sleeping while I listened to podcasts and Si napped. I’d never actually imagined the journey could be relaxing, but relaxing it was!
Staying in a YHA
We stayed in YHA Central London in Fitzrovia – within walking distance of lots of the major London attractions and a short tube ride away from everywhere else. The location couldn’t have been more perfect, but it turned out the inside was pretty good too.
We turned up at around 11pm, with two tired girls. Within minutes we were checked in and in our private family room – not a dirty corridor in sight. The family room had everything we needed for a base considering we planned on spending very little time in our room and far more time exploring London. There were two sets of bunk beds and an en-suite bathroom with shower. Everything was spotless and the beds were surprisingly comfy.
Downstairs, there was a bright and friendly communal area with a bar and restaurant which we ate at on the Saturday evening. It didn’t look anything like the drafty youth hostel I’d pictured in my head – and I’d stay there again in an instant, especially as it’s a fantastic way to stay in the city for a fraction of the price of a hotel.
Shrek’s Adventure was fantastic, a really interactive, immersive experience unlike anything we’d ever done before. Freya absolutely loved it, although Effie got a bit scared at some points – proving the talent of the actors to make it all so real.
We went on The London Eye straight after Shrek’s Adventure, which was convenient because it’s literally right next door on the Southbank. It’s an incredible way to see London and Freya loved pointing out all the landmarks she recognised.
After our spin on The London Eye we wandered along the Southbank to Strada for lunch, then mosied along to the markets to drink some mulled wine (turns out mulled wine with Amaretto is a very delicious thing), soak up the festive atmosphere and eat some festive chocolate pancakes (!).
By this time the rain was pouring, so we headed back over the river to for a quick look around The National Portrait Gallery (art galleries are my most favourite thing ever and I’m looking forward to going back without the girls so I can really immerse myself in it) before a wander around Covent Garden to look at all the pretty lights.
Sunday was equally busy and equally festive. We started the day with a short walk from the YHA to Madame Tussaud’s, where we took way too many photos. I wasn’t sure if the kids would be that interested in Madame Tussaud’s but the interactive element and the little cab ride through London’s history turned out to be a big win – plus Effie got to see Spiderman so her day was basically made.
The sheer number of activities available in London can be overwhelming, but some of my favourite parts of the weekend were when we just wandered around, looking at the lights, soaking up the atmosphere, people-watching.
Freya was keen to see Buckingham Palace so we went straight there from Madame Tussaud’s, which involved a lovely walk through St James’s Park and a chance to catch our breath in between the busy crowds. We did the typical tourist thing and posed for a couple of photos before walking ten minutes to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – also at the request of Freya.
So Winter Wonderland probably wouldn’t have been on our To Do list if we there without the girls, but we had a couple of hours to kill before our coach journey home and it was so close it seemed a shame not to pop in. But beware: Winter Wonderland is craaaaaazy busy, so if you’re not a fan of crowds then this is not the one.
The girls loved it though, and I got way too excited by the Christmassy vibe and selection of sausages and pretzels the Bavarian village. We limited them to one ride each and got persuaded into letting them do two, before we walked the mile back to Victoria Coach Station. The walk through Belgravia was arguably Si’s best bit as he got to oggle all the cars (he counted seven Ferraris on one street), telling me exactly how much each one cost.
Amidst the walking and the twinkling lights and the smell of mulled wine and spiced cider, I realised something. Any activity or new experience is always going to carry an element of risk. No matter what it is, there is always something that could wrong. But actually, this is kind of what life is all about. As parents so often we want to plan for every eventually – make sure we’ve got a routine in place, pack extra snacks in case of hangry tantrums etc – but sometimes the best experiences are the ones we don’t think too hard.
And that’s the mantra I’m taking with me into 2019. More adventure, less thinking, more memories, less over-planning.
Thank you National Express and YHA for helping to remind me of the brilliant experiences just waiting to be had. Here’s a vlog I made of our weekend if you’d like to see it all in action…
Thanks to National Express, YHA and Merlin Entertainment for working with me on this post. For more information about how I work with brands check out my Work With Me page. All opinions, words, image and footage remain my own.