Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Lavish London for Very Little Lolly!

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Before I tell you all about our UK shenanigans I want to take a minute to thank every single one of you that nominated me for the Bloggers' Choice Awards this weekend. I was blown away to bring home Travel Blogger of the Year (!!) & honestly can't thank everyone enough. I've been travelling for years both luxury trips with Sue & budget adventures with our little ones and I only ever began blogging because I wanted to share our stories in the hope that some of you could do exactly the same - to be recognised for a labour of love is beyond humbling. You're all bloody legends. Thank you xx

Now - To London!


If you’ve been watching our Snapchat stories (@StoneTravel for me & @ItsCherrSue for herself) you’d have seen that we were recently in London as my birthday gift for Sue. As you know by now, we don't do things by halves when it comes to experiences but we certainly do things by halves, if not better when it comes to living it up without breaking the bank. Today I’m going to tell you how you too can enjoy a lavish weekend in London for very little lolly.

Flights:


First up were the flights, I’ve written a post about the 5 major airports in London and the amount of time and cash it takes to get to central London from each of them; you'll find that HERE. For these reasons I’ll always choose Heathrow when I can as it’s on the tube line.

The only stumbling block is that flights from Dublin to Heathrow can be very expensive. The best way to ensure you’re getting a great deal is to use Skyscanner. In January I set up an alert with Skyscanner for flights from Dublin to Heathrow (you can do the same for any destination). Nine weeks before we wanted to fly I was sent an e-mail to advise me the price of our flights had dropped to just €101.50 per person including all taxes and charges with British Airways.

As it was our first flight with British Airways I didn’t realise you receive complimentary drinks and snacks on board. Not only are they complimentary they are also very generous to boot. The air hosts & hostesses were some of the most pleasant we've ever flown with, our journey was entirely effortless, start to finish. A short 45 minute flight and a couple of rounds later we arrived in Heathrow relaxed and ready for the weekend.

Getting Around:


The cheapest and easiest way to travel in London is on the Tube using an Oyster Card. You can buy an Oyster card before you go HERE and have it delivered to your house costing £3 plus postage and the amount you wish to top it up by. Alternatively you can buy one in most tube stations at a cost of £5 deposit. Credit on an Oyster Card never expires so you can keep it for your next trip to London. 

You can also buy a Day Travelcard but they work out much more expensive at £12.10 per day whereas with an Oyster Card travel is capped at £6.50 per day between zones 1& 2. Using a paper ticket Heathrow to London City Centre costs £6pp each way, using an Oyster Card costs £5.10 during peak times and £3.10 off peak.

Hotel:


I find London the same as New York, insofar as trying to find the elusive decent hotel in the City at a decent price but I think we’ve finally cracked London! While searching expedia.ie I found the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington. It’s part of the Millennium Hotels Group consisting of over 100 hotels worldwide. The Copthorne Tara is located just a short stroll from High Street Kensington Tube station. It’s literally right behind the station itself, though you can barely make out the sound of the trains.

This 4* hotel is exactly what we’ve been looking for as it has everything on our checklist; location, price and amenities including two restaurants, two bars, a café and even a gift shop. We paid €298.47 through Expedia for a superior room with free Wi
Fi, room only, 2 nights for 2 adults sharing. The option was available to book the room on a B&B basis but it was priced at €664.10, that’d be some breakfast! Breakfast in the hotel is priced at £17pp they also have a takeout breakfast in the café with a great array of choice, priced at £4.95.

Where to Eat:


On a previous visit to London we had found a Whole Foods in Kensington, we really wanted to return so we decided we’d buy breakfast there on Saturday morning. It’s amazing the sheer amount of fresh wholesome food available, it’s actually too much when you’re hungry as we couldn’t decide what we wanted for breakfast! We opted for smoothies and fresh fruit salads; while we were looking for somewhere to sit and eat we stumbled upon Roadster California Burger in Kensington. The lure of American pancakes was too much for us so with our healthy food on the seat beside us we tucked into a scrumptious breakfast. CherrySue had a pancake stack with sausages and bacon while I had an egg white omelette with cheese, bacon and tomato. Our bill came to a very reasonable total of £17.50, including our drinks. 

Garlic Bites & Spiked Lemonades in Bella Italia
Bella Italia on Leicester Square was where we had dinner on Saturday night, one starter, two pasta dishes and two cocktails cost just under £45 not bad for central London. The service was incredibly slow, with other guests leaving mid-meal but our waiter explained that they were in the middle of an entire revamp. I'm guessing give them a week or so and they'll be top notch. 

Jamie's Empire Chicken ~ You HAVE to try this!

Lunch on Sunday was Jamie’s Union Jacks in Covent Garden, I’d forgotten just how unbelievably tasty his Empire Chicken with Bombay Potatoes was. It’s a dish I’ll definitely be making again soon; his recipe is available online HERE. We paid just under £50 for a spread of two portions of Empire Chicken, sides of bread & coleslaw topped off with a couple of beers. Jamie’s Secret Basement Bar looks fantastic; unfortunately the bar wasn’t open when we visited but we'll definitely pop back.

Where to Drink:


Sue had a couple of meet ups planned for us while we were in London, for one of those we chose Chiquito Leicester Square. Cocktails start at £6.95 but are reduced to £5 during happy hour. We had a couple of pitchers of cocktails and paid £20.95 per pitcher. Chiquito has a lovely al fresco dining area where it’s great to sit and people watch over Leicester square.

The Zoo Bar & Club on Leicester Square is a lively bar that gets packed to the rafters during happy hour 5pm – 9pm where all drinks are half price including pitchers of cocktails. Be warned though it’s very dark inside, it’s one of those places that I don’t think I’d like to see it with the full lights on. Having said that they have a seating area outside where we enjoyed a pitcher of Sex on the Beach for the bargain price of £9.25.


I didn’t say anything to Sue (world’s biggest gin lover!) as I wanted to surprise her with a trip to Holborn Dining Room located in the 5* Rosewood London Hotel just beside Holborn Tube station. With over 14 thousand Gin and Tonic combinations Holborn Dining Room is London’s largest Gin bar. As we were seated we were given a menu containing their Gin Specials while we were having a look and deciding the barman came over and presented us with their full Gin menu, or rather a book (or bible according to Sue) that’d take you all day to read! 


He was so friendly and helpful giving us lots of advice and recommendations, he even set up a Gin tasting for us. Sue decided to choose his recommendation of Bloom Gin with cardamom, chamomile and lemon, while I opted for a Jinzu; a British Gin with a Japanese twist finished off with a shiso leaf and cherry blossom. Our bill totalled £27.50, which was very reasonable for a 5* experience.

What to see:

The view from the Sky Garden

My top tip for visiting London would be to book a free one hour visit to Sky Garden so you can enjoy uninterrupted 360° views across the City of London taking in the Thames, Tower Bridge, The Shard, The London Eye and everything else London has to offer. There are two restaurants and two bars in Sky Garden if you wish to have a drink, snack or something more substantial; pre booking is advised for the restaurants.

The Shard also has amazing views of London from a higher vantage point on the other side of the Thames but you’ll pay £30.95pp for the privilege. Tickets for Sky Garden are dated and timed; you must also produce photographic ID to gain entry. We were late arriving but luckily we were still granted admission, to be honest we didn’t need the full hour but the views really are spectacular. We booked our free visit HERE.

West End Shows:

We always try to take in a West End show when in London, this time was no different. On Saturday afternoon we found ourselves in a tickets booth just off Leicester Square asking for recommendations for a matinee show. Sue really wanted to see The Book of Mormon but unfortunately tickets were priced at £170 each also they were nearly sold out meaning they didn’t have two seats sitting together. We eventually decided to take in two shows as we couldn’t decide which to choose.

Being Fancy AF at Kinky Boots
Kinky Boots, a six time Tony award winning show was the matinee we chose and it was fantastic; a real feel good musical with toe tapping tunes by Cyndi Lauper. The musical tells the story of Charlie Price who inherits his father’s ailing shoe factory in Northampton, he tries everything he can to save the factory for his employees. Charlie meets Lola a drag queen and they hit upon the idea to make boots for drag queens as there is a gap in the market for that demographic. Based on a true story, Kinky Boots takes you through highs and lows but leaves you wanting more as you leave the theatre. If you get to see just one show this year make it Kinky Boots, we paid £41 each for our tickets (& £6.50 each for our posh lollies). 


Based on recommendations we decided to see Showboat on Saturday night. Showboat is set in 1887 and spans 40 years telling the stories of performers, stagehands and dock workers of the Cotton Blossom, a show boat that sailed on the Mississippi River. This musical was originally written in 1927 and gave us classic songs such as “Ol, Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man”. The stage was impressive and very well planned out. I loved the caramel bass tones of Joe singing “Ol, Man River”. 
I could have listened to him all night. 

No matter your tickets you'll get a great view of the stage for Showboat!
Unfortunately the ending just didn’t ring true for me & I've a feeling it may be rewritten. Still, as an evening out it was really enjoyable. We paid £21 each for our tickets as it's still in preview stages.


As ever, we had an absolute ball in London town. We're over very often so will definitely be visiting a couple of these spots again & no doubt staying in the Copthorne Tara again but tell us, anywhere we missed? 


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