21 Nov 2018

Le Meridien Piccadilly, London, United Kingdom – November 2018

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 well since most attractions are closed for 3 days at Christmas, but the holiday light displays were up, and we were able to 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. Sometimes we stray ever so slightly to accommodate other interests, but no matter when 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 saves 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. Rather than turn our Oyster cards in. we held onto them and I now go online to estimate our fares on the Underground website prior to arrival. We just top up the card with the amount of money we think is appropriate for each trip. It works 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. Even some of the newer cards with chips still do not work. 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 was 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. In 2016, the hotel was booked pretty solidly, so we ended up with a Classic Club Level room on the 8th Floor (Room 816). On most of our recent trips, I decided to sway my allegiance to Marriott because of the merger. So, I paid for the Club Level room. We were assigned room 536, 621, and 408 respectively. These last four rooms were much smaller than our previous suites. We were disappointed with the lack of upgrades, but we never spend very much time in the room. I finally stayed my way to Marriott Platinum Premier (and lifetime no less!) in late 2018, so I think I’ll be saving my money and booking an entry level room on future trips. Fingers crossed for the upgrade, especially since my status got us a very small room on a low floor during our November trip. We don’t normally use many of the other facilities at the hotel. However, 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)
Browse the 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. One Hour 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)
Afternoon Tea at Harrod’s (starts around $100 USD total)
Shopping at Sloane Square and King’s Road

On our fifth trip, we did the following activities (not counting some usual suspects):

Concert at Royal Albert Hall (ticket prices vary)
Day trip to Hampton Court Palace (train from Waterloo to Hampton Court; entrance starts at $20 USD per person and is dependent on the time of year)
Royal Air Force Museum (free, donation suggested)
National Army Museum (free, donation suggested)
Afternoon Tea at Fortnum and Mason

The sixth trip was only a one night stay and was focused around shopping at all of the usual favorites. However, one thing of note was that early January is a trifecta for visiting London – good sales, less crowds, and the Christmas lights are still up!

On our seventh trip, we did the following activities (not counting some usual suspects):

Parliament Guided Tour (starts around $35 USD per person)
Royal Albert Hall Grand Tour (starts around $18 USD per person)
Concert at the Barbican (pricing varies by event)
Kew Gardens and Kew Palace (starts around $24 per person)
Windsor Castle (starts around $28 USD per person)
Twinings Master Tea Class (starting at $40 USD per person)
Portobello Gin Ginstitute Experience Class (starting at $170 USD per person with a less expensive Master Class option available)

On our eighth trip, we did the following activities (not counting some usual suspects):

British Library (ticket prices vary if visiting a special exhibition)
Private Tour of Windsor Palace (special event – not always available)
Blue Badge Guide Private Tour of Westminster Abbey (165 Pounds plus Abbey entrance fees)
London Transport Museum (requires purchase of annual membership of 16 pounds each)
Royal Academy of Arts (admission is free for some exhibitions; some require fees)

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, LK Bennett, 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 in late November. There are 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), Thai Square and Steak and Co.

London is great, though it’s not a typical relaxing vacation. I would highly recommend considering other European cities if you are on a budget. If you think the exchange rate for the Euro is bad, 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 scheme. Please be sure to ask about that program if you purchase an item that meets the store’s VAT refund criteria AND you are able to follow the residence guidelines.

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    • 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 customized luxury travel to the South Pacific, 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, New Zealand and Australia. To learn more about me, my services, and my certifications, please visit the About page.

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