For our last Sunday in Europe, we had big plans! We promised to take the kids to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour months and months ago and the day finally arrived! The kids have been super excited about it for months and they came prepared with spending money too. =) Kamy wanted to make double triple sure she remembered her purse, so she made herself a note and left it at the front door the night before!
We started by taking the subway to King’s Cross Station to find Platform 9 3/4 — a very iconic location from the books and movies. They’ve since put up a sign and have a cart with luggage you can hold onto and pretend to enter the wall. We opted NOT to stand in line for a quick photo and instead headed out of London on the train. Not the Hogwarts Express though. 😉 We had one bus transfer from the station to the actual studios. We packed a lunch and ate on the picnic tables outside before going in the buildings.
The passageway from the ticket counters to the main tour entrance was lined with famous quotes from the books.
There was about an hour before our scheduled entry time, so the kids wandered through the gift shop, getting ideas for what they wanted to purchase with their savings. They both knew they wanted to buy a wand! Kamy knew going into the store she was interested in Hermione Granger’s wand, but Caden was going to pick one by feel and look. We didn’t buy anything yet, but it gave them something to think about during the walk through tour.
When the tour started, we began with a short film that featured the major actors from the movies, talking about what it was like to work on these sets and create Hogwarts. From there we stepped right into the Great Hall set!
There were so many sets, props, and costumes! I found it particularly fascinating that the sets themselves were (for the most part) really small! It’s amazing they could film the scenes they did in the cramped spaces.
We got to see a lot of the little tricks and things the studio used to create the movies. In the boys’ dormitory, the beds were built for the size of the actors when they started filming the first movie. They never rebuilt the beds, so they had to be very intentional about how the actors lay on the beds in the later movies because the beds were way too short by movie #7!
There was also an extensive exhibit with green screens to show how they filmed a lot of the quiddich scenes and other “magical” effects. Kamy and Caden both got to “fly” in front of a green screen, which they thought was pretty cool!
Keller and my favorite part of the tour was the scale model of Hogwarts at the very end. It is truly beautiful and so intricate! Diagon Alley was pretty cool too, as was the Forbidden Forest.
The kids loved pretending to go through the wall at Platform 9 3/4 and seeing the Hogwarts Express engine.
After we finished the tour, we returned to the gift shop. Both kids picked out wands — Kamy chose Hermione’s wand, while Caden really liked the look and feel of Rufus Scrimgeour. The kids have been saving for a wand and specifically put aside the money for it at the beginning of the trip, so I was very proud they were able to make the purchase and pick out such a great souvenir.
All in all, we spent about 6 hours at the studio — and that was without a guided tour or the audio guide! We did over hear a few other guided tours and were very impressed with the content. If we return again at some point, I think we’ll opt for a guided tour for even more insider information.
Per Garin’s suggestion, we went to the Imperial War Museum in South London. We only saw a fraction of the museum, but we spent most of our time working through the WWI exhibit. The museum was actually founded and funded during WWI as a way to record what it was like to live during the war. Many of the artifacts from the war were preserved in the museum, and some were even requisitioned to use in WWII due to supply shortages! It was a dense museum with a lot of content and harrowing pictures. Kamy was pretty engaged with the displays, but Caden was a bit bored by all the required reading.
After we finished the WWI exhibit, we walked up the road to Masters Superfish to try some fish and chips! We’ve made a point of trying many of the regional dishes in each city, so this was a must do for us. The fish and fries were pretty good, but the order of curry sauce certainly perked up the flavor.
The TKTS app was showing standing room tickets available for the Lion King, so we trekked over to the booth to see what we could find. Unfortunately, the theater has a high back wall and the standing room tickets are behind the wall, so the kids would not be able to see. Instead, we bought two regular tickets for Caden and me to go to Lion King on Wednesday and we purchased two standing room tickets for Kamy and me to see Les Miserables tonight!
We picked out our favorite gelato flavors from Amorino and then headed back to the apartment.
Kamy and I went back out that evening for Les Mis. We actually could see pretty well from the standing room area and Kamy didn’t have any trouble with sight lines. We certainly were high up, but it was easy to see the full stage. It’s a pretty complicated story with a lot of characters, but Kamy followed most of it after a crash course in the overarching story line while we were on the bus.
We tried to meet some of the actors at the Stage Door, but by the time we got there most had already left. The show was 3 hours long, so it was almost midnight by the time Kamy and I made it back to the apartment. We were tired!
Meanwhile, Caden hung out with Keller at the apartment for a while and then they went across the street for an evening snack at Melanzana again. The restaurant was unusually busy, so the employees weren’t able to love on Caden like they tended to, but Keller and Caden enjoyed the appetizer one last time.
I made reservations in advance for the Sky Garden — a large open space and garden area at the top of a building with panoramic views of London. Admission is free (yay!), but you have to reserve tickets for timed admission.
We could see the Tower of London, which was still on my To See List, so we headed that general direction when we left the Sky Garden. On the way we got distracted by the All Hallows By The Tower Church, the oldest church in London. There has been a church on this site since 675! It is now a non-denominational meeting house, monument to the location, and small museum.
The church also had a couple of scavenger hunt programs for the kids, which they really enjoyed doing. Kamy completed one that sent her on the hunt for lions in all shapes and sizes, while Caden’s goal was to find specific items in the church.
After we finished at the church, we went to lunch at Lantipasto City. Our timing was perfect — there were only two, two top tables that were not reserved for lunch, so the staff was able to rearrange tables and give us a spot! We ordered pasta and pizza and everything was very tasty.
From there we walked over to the Tower of London. Tickets for the Tower were expensive, but we were able to use a B1G1 discount program since we used the train system to reach London. We started by walking along the ramparts and seeing some of the towers were various high profile prisoners were kept over the centuries.
Our timing worked out so we were able to watch the 30 minute live performance of Anne Boleyn’s last days. We have studied King Henry VIII briefly, so the kids had a little context for how and why she became queen and what would happen to her. It was a pretty impressive little show and the musicians were very talented.
After the show Keller had to go back to work, so the kids and I spent the next several hours exploring the Tower complex. We went in the White Tower and saw my favorite part, The Line of Kings. Here they have full suits of armor from the various kings, in chronological order. Kamy wanted to see the Royal Jewels, so we shuffled through the throngs of people to see the iconic pieces owned by the Queen. We were not allowed to take photos of the jewels, but they were certainly spectacular.
We wandered around a bit more of the castle, saw the royal apartments, and more of the prison spaces. We ultimately left when it closed! We made our way back to the apartment and had a quiet evening in.
Since we’d had several big days in a row, we decided to take today slower. We all slept in, I ran some errands, and Keller read some Harry Potter to the kids. I cooked lunch and we relaxed in the afternoon too. About mid-afternoon, Caden and I got ready to go to our musical that night. Kamy and Daddy planned to go out to eat, while Caden and I made our own plans. Both kids opted to Thai food, though we ended up at different restaurants (but both ordered pad thai and curry, go figure!).
Caden and I built in a lot of time before the show, just in case there was traffic. And there was. A LOT of traffic! It took twice as long to get to dinner as expected, and then when we were on the bus heading to the show, the bus was completely stopped. What should have been a 10 minute bus ride didn’t go anywhere. Ultimately, we decided to power walk to the show! Google maps said it was a 25 minute walk, so 30 minutes before the show we bailed out of the bus and started walking!
Fortunately we made it in time, but we got to the theater at 7:27! We had time to find the bathroom and our seats just a few minutes before the show started. Whew!
Caden LOVED seeing The Lion King! The costumes are phenomenal, and he was particularly impressed by the elephant. Our seats were pretty close to the top of the theater, but it was easy to see what was going on and the sound quality was great. After the show, Caden wanted to do the Stage Door, so he bought a program and we waited for the performers to come out. We were the only ones waiting and Caden had many actors stop to sign it! Caden got to meet Scar, Rafiki, Nala, and Timone! Caden thought that was so cool. He also told the actors that he liked The Lion King better than Wicked, which they all loved.
One of the last things on our London Bucket List was to see the changing of the guard. It’s certainly iconic and very well known. Which also means it can be very busy! Our guide book suggested standing near St James Palace instead of Buckingham as the crowds were much smaller and it would be easier to see.
We walked by Buckingham Palace on the way to St James Palace — and the guide book was right! There were a LOT of people there and we got caught up in traffic a bit waiting to cross the street.
Once we managed to get past the major crowds, we walked up the road to St James. The changing of the guard actually starts and ends at St James, so you can see quite a bit of the pomp and ceremony as the old guard returns to St James and then is dismissed. The band also marched in front of the guard, so we could see quite a bit.
After the changing of the guard ended, we trekked over to Chinatown for lunch. The restaurant, Yming, was a bit disappointing, but oh well. Next we went to the Natural History Museum. The entrance to the volcano and earthquake exhibit was really impressive! The exhibit itself was pretty neat too, including a shake table to simulate an earthquake. We walked through the Dinosaur exhibit too and saw the large animatronic T Rex.
Keller took the kids back to the apartment and I stopped at the grocery store on the way home. We had dinner at home and spent the rest of the evening hanging out.
Today was our very last full day in Europe! And, unfortunately, Caden was sick. Caden and I stayed at the apartment all day, resting and working on feeling better for travel tomorrow. I worked on packing and cleaning the apartment — almost time to go home!
Meanwhile, Keller and Kamy went to the V&A museum again. They did another of the kids backpack programs, this time about Islamic Art. After they finished at the museum, they went to lunch at Bangkok Bay and brought back something for Caden and me to eat. It was a low key, restful day for Caden and he was feeling much better by the end of the day.
London definitely won the public transportation award during our stay — It was all very clean, easy to understand, and affordable! Daily caps helped our overall cost and the kids were free on almost every bus and subway. That made a huge difference! Keller loved The Tube and the kids loved riding the double decker buses. Plus it was neat to look out the windows at everything as we rode to our next destination!
First thing in the morning we finished packing, picked up the apartment, and headed out! We had a full day of travel ahead of us!
We started with taking the bus to the subway to London Heathrow. Fortunately there were elevators at the station, so we didn’t have to haul our luggage down many flights of stairs. Getting to the airport went very smoothly, as did check in. Security was a bit of a pain as they flagged my backpack, Keller’s backpack, and the small suitcase that had all the computer stuff in it. After security pulled everything out to inspect it, we were finally able to move on.
We grabbed a quick lunch of hot sandwiches, panini style, and then one last dessert stop. By then it was almost time to board! We had three middle seats plus one across the aisle, which Kamy took.
Both kids did great on the plane — they love having access to the movies and games on the plane, so they happily amused themselves for the 9 hour flight. Kamy felt nauseous on the descent (again) and was pitiful as we were working through customs and baggage claim.
Payton picked us up at the airport and we met Corinne at a Mexican restaurant in town. It was nice to have some spicy food again! Kamy slept through dinner and Caden crashed as soon as we got back to Payton and Corinne’s home. It had been a LONG day!
We were all awake pretty early in the morning (thank you time zones!), so the kids and I went to Sprouts for some groceries. When we got back Keller and Payton were up, so we grabbed breakfast in Houston at Black Walnut Cafe. We dropped Payton off, packed the last of our things, and headed home.
We had a wonderful trip in Europe!
We saw a lot, ate even more, walked 525+ miles, and experienced so many different things. I lost count of how many museums and remarkable buildings we visited and we’d be hard pressed to pin down ONE favorite thing about our trip.
- Favorite cities — Amsterdam and London
- Kids favorite city — Calais for the beach
- Favorite brunch — Bakers and Roasters in Amsterdam
- Favorite theme park — Europa Park
- Favorite dessert — chocolate mousse and red praline tarts in Lyon
- Unusual foods the kids liked — escargot, frog legs, mussels
- Most memorable meal — dinner at the chateau in France
- Most surprising — how much we enjoyed just exploring the French countryside and driving until we found something interesting
- Travel slower — fewer cities, longer in each place, more down days
- Kamy and Caden prefer separate single beds or bedrooms if possible
- Having access to outside space really helps the kids
Our overall favorite thing about the trip was getting to spend so much time together as a family and experience amazing places. Keller feels like he got so much more time than usual with the kids (and me) on a daily basis than he typically gets at home. I enjoyed also interacting with Keller so much. And the kids really liked going to do something new each day! Those are all great things!