8 Dec 2016

Le Meridien Piccadilly, London, United Kingdom – November 2016

We just got back from yet another trip to London! When planning our first trip in 2011, we originally planned to go over Christmas, but the family objected and we decided to take time off at Thanksgiving instead. This actually worked out better since most attractions are closed for 3 days at Christmas, they already had their holiday light displays up, and we could do a lot of Christmas shopping while we were there! So, when we planned a trip to go back, we knew that heading there around the Thanksgiving holiday would be the best option for the type of trip we wanted. From that point forward, our tradition was set and we now set aside time every late November/early December to travel to our favorite city.  Every time we go, it never disappoints.

We stay at Le Meridien Piccadilly each time, as it is a wonderfully located hotel. It’s about a block from the Piccadilly Circus Underground station and the Piccadilly line runs right out to Heathrow. It saved us a lot of time and money to just use public transportation. On our first trip, we ended up purchasing an Oyster Card which was loaded with a 7 day pass for Zones 1-6. The original purchase of the pass was a total of 55 pounds and includes a 5 Pound refundable charge if you turn your Oyster Cards in before leaving. We held onto those Oyster Cards, and since then, I go online to estimate our fares on the Underground website. We just load the card up with the amount of money we think is appropriate for each trip. It’s worked out well each time. We use the Underground quite frequently while in London, but as time goes on and we have a better sense of where things are located, we consider walking a bit more. One thing of note is that people with non-Chip enabled credit/debit cards must purchase the card or any tickets at a ticket window and not a kiosk. Many American credit cards do not have Chip functionality, which the kiosk requires. However, there are some kiosks that will allow you to load money on to a pre-existing card using swipe-only credit cards.

The hotel itself is very nice inside- a good blend of modern and traditional European styles. During our first stay, we were on the top floor (9th) in a junior suite, which was an upgrade since I’m SPG Platinum. This type of room comes with Club access, which was fantastic! Complimentary beverages all day (water, coffee, soda), continental breakfast, afternoon tea and scones, light appetizers for dinner, and a wine and cheese nightcap. Having Club access saves us a ton of money! During our second stay, we were in an Executive Suite on the 2nd floor (room 234), which was much larger and had a lovely view overlooking Regent Street. We still had Club access as SPG Platinum members and one again, we made good use of it. On our third trip, we were upgraded to a junior suite on the 7th floor (room 708), which overlooks Piccadilly Street. While the room was gorgeous, we prefer having the view overlooking Regent, as Regent is always decorated for the holidays. On our most recent trip, the hotel was booked pretty solidly, so we ended up with a Classic Club Level room on the 8th Floor (Room 816). This room is much smaller than our previous suites and overlooks Piccadilly. We were disappointed with the lack of upgrade, but we did not spend very much time in the room. On our second trip, we also did afternoon tea at the Terrace Restaurant instead of in the club. They offer different takes on tea, including a champagne tea and a gin and tonic tea. It was a much more formal event than having scones in the Club, but less formal than teas at The Savoy, Harrod’s and Fortnum and Mason.

For activities on our first trip, we did the following:
National Portrait Gallery (free, donation suggested)
Westminster Abbey ($50USD for two)
British Museum (free, donation suggested)
Tower of London ($53USD for two)
Natural History Museum (free, donation suggested)
Imperial War Museum (free, donation suggested)
Shopping- Harrod’s, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street (the last 3 are within walking distance of the hotel)
Afternoon Tea at the Savoy (approximately $130USD for two)

On our second trip, we did the following:

Twinings Tea (free, except private tasting by appointment only)
St. Paul’s Cathedral ($46USD for two) plus cream afternoon tea ($34 USD for two)
Museum of London (free, donation suggested. Special Exhibitions extra)
Churchill War Rooms ($54USD for two)
Banqueting House (10 pounds per person)
National Gallery (free, donation suggested)
Victoria and Albert Museum (free, donation suggested. Special Exhibitions extra)

On our third trip, we did the following:

Geffrye Museum (free, donation suggested)
Covent Garden (shopping and people watching)
Borough Market (shopping and people watching)
Tate Modern Art Museum (free, donation suggested. Special Exhibitions extra)
National Gallery Guided Tour (free, donation suggested. Guided Tours offered twice daily)
Portobello Markets, Notting Hill (shopping and people watching)
Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park (walking and people watching)
Fortnum and Mason Afternoon Tea (prices starting at approximately $136USD for two)

On our fourth trip, we did the following:

Somerset House Tour (free, only a few days a week)
Day trip to Shuttleworth Collection in Biggleswade (train from King’s Cross to Biggleswade; entrance starts at $20 USD per person)
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (free, but all attractions have a cost)
Kensington Palace (tickets start around $20 USD per person and vary depending on time of year)
Tea at Harrod’s (starts around $100 USD total)
Shopping at Sloane Square and King’s Road

There are a few areas that we revisit on every trip, such as the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery. We hit up the same shopping areas on every trip, including some of our favorite stores, like Twinings, Fortnum and Mason, John Lewis, Russell and Bromley, St. Martin’s Model Shop, Waterstones Piccadilly (largest bookstore in Europe) and Stanfords Travel Bookstore. We’ve come to the realization that the shopping is always insane this time of year. There were people everywhere! It’s as if the entire United Kingdom is out shopping at the same time. However, we always get a lot of great gifts for our family and a few little somethings for ourselves.

We also have a few restaurants that we frequent on our trips- St. Mortiz (fondue), Wagamama (similar to PF Chang’s or Pei Wei), Churchill Arms Pub (Thai) and Steak and Co.

London is great, though it’s not a typical relaxing vacation. I would also highly recommend considering other European cities if you are on a budget. If you think the exchange rate for the Euro is bad, but the Pound Sterling is even worse! Be prepared to spend a lot of money when traveling to the UK. We go in with the right mindset and still get stunned at times! Even with the terrible exchange rate, there are still some hidden bargains. On one trip, I found myself a pair of boots that I just had to have. I ended up purchasing them for around $150USD LESS than what they are in America! This was mostly due to purchasing a product that was made in Europe, but also because of the VAT refund program. Please be sure to ask about that program if you purchase an item that meets the store’s VAT refund criteria AND you do not plan on returning to the UK in the next 12 months.

Meet me

    • My name is Janelle and I'm a luxury travel consultant with Luxe Island Escapes by Easy Escapes Travel and an avid traveler!

      I specialize in luxury island and tropical vacations, whether it be a quick get-a-way, honeymoon, or a bucket list adventure. In addition to being a Certified Tahiti Specialist®, I am also a certified specialist for Fiji, The Cook Islands, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia, among other destinations. To learn more about me, my services, and my certifications, please visit the About page.

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