Paris and London: a few travel tips and my favorites!

22 May 2019

Well, we are smack in the middle of May craziness here -- the recitals, baseball games and practices, awards ceremonies, concerts, prepping for scout hikes, field days, teach the teacher, preparing my oldest for her church mission -- it lives up to all insanity people joke about. Unfortunately our weather has NOT lived up to the May hype: cool, wet, rainy, with snow in the mountains ruining our hiking plans. Boo to that, BUT earlier this month my husband and I were able to celebrate our 20th anniversary by traveling over to London & Paris!! It was my first time crossing the Atlantic so this was a huge deal for me and one of my all-time favorite movies has the best line: can't you see us bashing around London??

In true 320 Sycamore fashion I feel the need to share everything I learn or tips for travel when I go someplace before I forget. Do you know I even go to my own posts to remember tips or when someone else is asking about tips for places we've been? It's kind of funny. My sisters, Kerri and Kelsey were my favorite source of information since they had recently been. I love it when people share all the tips, so here are mine! Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here

Flights - I discovered Flights from Home in the fall (I think on Instagram?) Anyway, I began following them and then saw they had a Black Friday special to subscribe to them for the year for like $25-$30. They post amazing flight deals from Salt Lake but if you subscribe you get the deals first in your email before they hit social media and lead you through everything to get the best deals. I'm sure your airport has something like it -- try searching for one. It was worth every penny because in February round-trip, NON-STOP flights from SLC to London popped up in our inbox for $550 and we jumped on it and began planning from there. If you want to do London and Paris, it would be ideal to fly into one and fly out of the other and take the train in between (see below!) but it was not bad at all taking the train in the middle of the trip and flying in and out of the same airport saved us lots of money. Warning with these flight deal services: they honestly make you want to travel everywhere when you see the deals you can get! Also, we flew Delta and when we got the flights we signed up for the Delta Skymiles Gold Card and got 60,000 miles, a $200 statement credit after 3 months and free checked bags to London and back! They initially told me the free bags wouldn't work on international flights but it did! Totally worth it, you can cancel before they charge you the yearly fee or keep earning points.

Eurostar this is a high speed train that travels from London to Paris in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Incredible! How could we not go over to Paris for a few days with that?? Here is what I learned though -- prices go up and down like airline tickets do.

I looked at roundtrip tickets from London to Paris and they were under $100, awesome right??  I just thought I'd wait and nail down our itinerary before buying tickets but I sure regretted that as they went up to $250 roundtrip a few weeks before. Ugggghhhh. My number one tip is to buy your Eurostar tickets right after you book your flight. We bought the cheapest tickets and then were easily able to move to the bigger seats with tables once the train departed since no one was sitting on them on either trip. Also, get to the train station at least an hour early (we just rode the train/subway)-- security lines are long! You can basically bring any luggage you can handle. I also loved seeing the English - French countryside as we rode. It's also a great time to catch up on some sleep from jet lag and you will be right at King's Cross so you have to go see Platform 9 3/4!! 

Hotels - Hotels will most likely be your next highest cost so after lots of searching I wanted to share what we went with. London and Paris are expensive!! It was just the two of us and we wanted romantic without breaking the bank and these both fit the bill.

In London check out the Park Grand hotels. We stayed at Park Grand Lancaster Gate and the location is wonderful. Close to 2 subway stations, Hyde Park, a great neighborhood and the English breakfast was fantastic. The rooms were small (I think most are in London) but we weren't in our room hardly at all so it was great for us. We were told Raffles Cafe and Bizarro Italian were great choices for restaurants close by but we were all over the city so we never got to try them. They have a lovely afternoon tea but you need to book it 24 hours in advance.

When we came back from Paris we had Marriott points we could use so we stayed at the Residence Inn London Kensington and it was also a great location to catch the awesome double decker red buses, good breakfast, free laundry and right next to a large grocery store. It would be great for families.

In Paris, we loved the Hotel de la Portee Doree. ^^^^ It is just outside of the busy city but literally steps from the subway station. Nicest staff, breakfast was good, and everything was so European and charming!

If nothing else, stay here for the Vandermeersch Bakery across the street!!! I still dream of this place. So, so, so, so good. Everyone at the hotel was talking about it and when the line stretches down the street on a Sunday morning you know it's good. It won the best kouglof (this amazing sweet bread) in Paris but I could not get over the chocolate almond croissants and the chocolate mille feuilles. To. die for.

Transportation - London's transportation system is a dream. Clean, efficient, the nicest people! You just pull up on Google maps on your phone, enter your destination, then choose train, bus, or taxi (or Uber, there is no Lyft in London yet) and it will give you your options!  For the Tube (London's subway) and red buses you just download Apple Pay or Google Pay on your phone and link a debit or credit card to it. Then you just unlock your phone, hover it over the scanner and that's it, you don't have to buy any tickets it will charge your card. So easy and nice!

Paris subways took more time since you have to have a ticket each time and there are very few elevators in Paris subway so hauling luggage was a good workout. I hope they upgrade to the pay by phone soon and you may want to consider a car if your luggage is heavy.

What to See - this is the most difficult. I could talk forever about this but I'll try to pare it down. My most helpful tips were to talk to people that had been that had similar tastes as me (my sisters and friends!) and then look at Blue Bicycle Travel's London Paris itinerary and then Charity's guide to London here and here. Super helpful in planning from the experts -- we especially loved Charity's walking tour!

I'm going to focus on my favorites from both places:


I think the best way to get an overview of either city is to hop on a Big Bus Tour first thing. About 2 hours will show you so many things and then you can decide what to go back and pay for. I preferred Big Bus with the live narrator so you can harass him with nonstop questions sit by him/her to ask questions and get more of the inside scoop. We waited for the front seats on the top to come open  -- what a view!

Our first afternoon/evening we took the bus tour and ended at St. Paul's Cathedral right when they were having Evensong at 5 p.m. -- it's free and you just walk right in quietly and can stay for as long as you like and enjoy beautiful singing in an incredible cathedral. There is also the best red phone booth right there for a great photo!

We walked over to One New Change -- it's like a beautiful mall/office center right there and ate at Nando's and loved it. Go with the thighs at whatever heat you can handle and the sides are amazing as well. After you eat, take the elevator to the top of One New Change and get amazing views of St. Pauls and the city for free.

Other favorites in London that we felt were worth the money:

Westminster Abbey - buy tickets ahead of time -- it's cheaper and you get to go to the front of the line. I wanted to see where William and Cate were married but it was simply incredible to see all of history and people buried there.

The London Eye -- ahhh, I struggle with this one because it's kind of a rite of passage for London. You have to do it. You just stand in these glass pods with about 12 other people and walk around for different views as you go up and around on this huge, slow moving ferris wheel. But it's expensive and it wasn't my favorite so if you don't have time, don't feel bad. We paid for the fast track tickets but totally didn't need them, there was no line when we got there! You may just want to get regular tickets and you can upgrade there if there are long lines.The 4D experience is included and is kind of lame but your kids will probably love it. Those views though!

The Handel Hendrix house

We are Handel and Messiah lovers so this was a favorite. You can go to Handel's flat where the Messiah was written, they have tried to restore it to the way it was in his time, even to the paint color. Talented classical musicians still come to practice here, a beautiful alto was performing while playing on the harpsichord! And then upstairs is where Jimmy Hendrix lived 200 years later. What a contrast, so fun to see both! There is also a lovely restaurant with a courtyard right behind the house called Hush if you want to catch lunch there.

I could have walked around the streets there all day! If you have time, walk over to Fortnum & Mason (where the queen has her tea?) and Liberty London. Everything is so beautiful -- I can't get over the streets of London!

You've got to catch a show on the West End while you are there! Every bit as good or better than Broadway in New York. We saw Aladdin and Les Miserables -- "Friend Like Me in Aladdin" wins the best song I've ever seen in a musical and I've never seen a song get a standing ovation in the middle of a production like 'Bring Him Home" in Les Mis got. WOW! I could go every night.

I loved Neal's Yard, the cutest alleys of shops you've ever seen right by the theaters -- look at these!  We ate at Homeslice before one of the shows and it was SO good and hit the spot since we were craving pizza.

Another night we wanted a romantic 20th anniversary meal and Clos Maggiore (voted the world's most romantic restaurant) was absolutely divine and just a short walk to the theaters. Book a table well in advance to be sure to get a table in the conservatory. The pre-theatre menu was very reasonable and the oven roasted Welsh fillet of lamb was amazing.

Another hands down favorite was taking a picnic and riding bikes in Hyde Park. Santander Bicycle stands are all around London. You just use a credit/debit card to pay £2 for every 30 minutes and make a big loop and return them at the same stand or journey on to another stand to return. It was my favorite way to see Hyde Park, I could have rode all day!

Seeing the London Symphony Orchestra in concert was a dream for me -- this is the symphony that plays all of the classic soundtracks like Star Wars and Harry Potter. They were playing one of my favorite symphonies (Mahler's 5th) and were sold out for months so book early!  London does not have any legal ticket resale agencies (they are against the law!) so all tickets are returned to the box office. If you watch online, tickets may become available as people return them or we showed up an hour early the night of the performance and got seats pretty easily when people found out they couldn't make it. They also have £10 wildcard tickets available. They were phenomenal, I was in heaven.

I should have known this would be a novel -- Part 2 talking about Paris is here. Thanks for sticking with me!!

If you want to pin it for future travel:

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