A visit to the dream city of London has been on our bucket list like forever. A walk on the London bridge, the Thames cruise, and the London tower tour all fill us with great delight. Our longtime wish was finally going to be a reality when we booked tickets to London for Christmas. London in Christmas was a sheer bliss!
We had the whole of Christmas holidays to spend and we thought the best would be to utilize this festive holiday to explore the best of UK and not only the city of London and so this trip happen. This post details the information on how we planned our trip, Visa requirements, what to expect and few tips for great travel.
Applying for UK Tourist Visa
To apply for UK visa from India or anywhere initially one needs to register an account with visa application portal.
Apply Visa for you and your family through the account created. As we were visiting for a holiday we applied for a Standard Visitor visa for 6 Months.
Once the application is submitted you can schedule an appointment with the visa officials to submit supporting documents. Visa application fees can be paid online.
Chhavi was just a year old during the process and getting a picture of her for the visa was a struggle. And as dreaded the visa officials rejected Chhavi’s photo as she didn’t have an eye contact with the camera and we were asked to get new pictures within next 10-15 minutes or our appointment would be deemed canceled. We had to get our appointment rescheduled which meant redoing the complete process including the payment. Our earlier payment for application was scheduled to be refunded within 90 days. Though we learned from our friends that now the visa officials would get the pictures clicked which makes the task simpler we recommend you to double check for the supporting documents required for UK visa before scheduling an appointment.
Day 1 – London Sightseeing
We booked a Geneva to London early morning flight. Our flight landed at the north terminal of the Gatwick airport. An inter-terminal shuttle connected north terminal to the south terminal from where we had to take a train to London city center. Our sightseeing started from St Paul’s Cathedral and hence we boarded a Thameslink train heading to Bedford. One can get down at either of the stations Blackfriars station and City Thameslink for the cathedral which is 10 minutes walk. Day 1 had crossed out several of the major places to visit in London including London Bridge, the Thames cruise and Christmas market. After the cruise, we took a tube (underground train) from Tower Hill station to our cousin’s place we planned to stay.
Day 2 – London Sightseeing
Day 2 was a bit more relaxed. We started from Buckingham Palace one of the top ‘London points of interest’. Though the Buckingham Palace is closed to the public for winter the popular guard changing ceremony does take place which is on alternate days in winter. The event is held in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace at 11.30 am and only if the weather permits. The Big Ben is at a walkable distance from the palace and the route meanders through the lush green St. James’s Park. The route continues through the iconic London Eye and ends at Trafalgar Square. There are numerous restaurants and cafes around the square where one can have lunch.
After Lunch, you may have to choose from one of the London attractions below.
Madame Tussauds is a wax museum displaying wax statues of various eminent celebrities and film characters.
Check for more details and opening times to plan your visit here.
The British Museum houses a vast collection of artifacts and antiquities related to arts, culture, and history of humanity.
More details and information on opening times check here.
Shopping at Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus
Shopping is one of the best things to do in London. Do you agree? The streets leading from the bustling square of Piccadilly Circus is lined with ample of shopping options. The street connecting Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus abound great shopping opportunities with large shopping centers, boutique shops, departmental stores, bookstores, cafes, and restaurants.
Winter Wonderland is one of the best London Christmas Markets set up in the Hyde Park of London. Winter Wonderland is a perfect venue to soak up in the festive spirit with ample of food stalls, chocolate, and souvenir shops great for an amazing shopping experience. Kids would be ecstatic with over 100 rides and fun activities and the magical fairy tale Christmas lights which brighten up the garden as well as the festive spirit of the city. More details here.
Tips for London Visit
1. Get an Oyster Card which will help you save money on public transport. Oyster card holders can also avail a range of discounts and offers in various museums and food joints.
2. Buy a London Pass which comes with several offers including free entry to over 70 attractions and museums of London including Big Ben, London Tower, and the Thames cruise.
3. Hop on Hop off London bus tour is also a great choice if you do not want to explore the city on foot and avoid trains.
Day 3 – London Christmas
Next day was Christmas when everything literally shuts down in London. There are no tours running, the museums and most of the shops are closed. The frequency of buses is scant. Everyone takes a break to celebrate the beautiful festival with their family. We too stayed back home and after lunch went for a walk exploring houses and streets decorated with beautiful Christmas lights.
Day 4 – Stonehenge Windsor Castle and Salisbury Cathedral
26 December is Boxing Day in the UK and though everything comes back to work still most of the things are slow. There were limited day tours from London. From the available option, we booked a day tour to Stonehenge which also included a visit to Windsor Castle and Salisbury Cathedral. With Public transport, this trip would have been a little cumbersome for limited public transport and the weather so we chose to do a guided tour.
Unfortunately, the entry to the castle is closed on 26th but you can visit the beautiful town and take pictures of the castle from outside. The wonderful part of the trip was Stonehenge we enjoyed exploring the history of the mystical stones and the recreated Neolithic village. The last stop of the tour Salisbury Cathedral is a magnificent church with remarkable interiors and architecture.
Day 5 – Bristol
Originally Bristol was not on the list of places to visit in the UK but we had to add it as a base which made it easy to visit Welsh capital Cardiff on a day trip and there was a good frequency of flights from Bristol to our next destination Belfast the capital of Northern Ireland.
A train from London to Bristol takes around two hours. We did not have a spare day to explore Bristol hence we walked all the way from Bristol railway station to our apartment exploring attractions on the way. Luckily the way to the apartment was dotted with several buildings of historical importance like the 900 years old St. Mary Redcliffe church, the Georgian buildings of Queens Square and the University of Bristol. After lunch, we took a bus from our apartment and visited the pretty Blaise hamlets but we had to skip the castle due to lack of time. We ended our day at the Clifton village which had several Indian restaurants for scrumptious dinner with a wonderful view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Day 6 – Cardiff
Cardiff was a day trip from Bristol. Good Frequency of trains and less journey time makes Cardiff a quick visit from Bristol. We collected the city sightseeing map from the station and headed to the iconic Cardiff castle exploring the markets, churches and the lovely shops on the way. Later we took a bus to Cardiff Bay and spent a fabulous evening at the Cardiff Bay which has ample of restaurants and cafes and shopping options.
Tips for Cardiff Visit
1. Buy a Cardiff Visitor Card that with offers and discounts on a wide range of attractions, restaurants, cafes, activities and sightseeing tours. The card is valid for one month.
2. Buy a day ticket valid for any number of travels all day and save money on public transport. Tickets are also available for week and month.
Day 7 – Bristol flight to Belfast and Belfast Tour
Bristol to Belfast was an early flight and we straight headed to our apartment. After some good rest, we boarded a bus to the popular RMS Titanic Belfast. Belfast is the birthplace of the famed Titanic ship and Titanic Belfast is a monument to Titanic where more can learn about the legend of Titanic and more about its tragic fate. Later in the evening, we strolled through the city of Belfast exploring its historical buildings inundated in Christmas lights.
Day 8 – Giants Causeway Tour
Northern Ireland has a gorgeous coastline dotted with interesting natural and historical sites. There are several wonderful day trips from Belfast to these sites like Game of Thrones tour Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway trip. We planned a day trip to the Giant’s Causeway and the Antrim coast tour. A road trip through the lush Glens of Antrim with picturesque landscapes all along the way makes for one great experiences. The Giant’s Causeway is an astounding natural phenomenon which will leave you spellbound with its more than 40,000 basalt columns resulted from volcanic activity. The tour also had a stop at the famous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge for an adrenaline rushing bridge crossing which was unfortunately closed due to weather conditions but we had some incredible views of the surrounding from the bridge vantage point.
Day 9 – Ireland to Edinburgh and Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival
On the last day of the year, we landed in Edinburgh on a flight from Belfast. 31st December is the time when Edinburgh is high on festive atmosphere for Hogmanay one of the famous Edinburgh festival. We headed for our apartment booked in Great Kings Street which is lined with grandeur Georgian buildings some hundreds of years old. When we got out in the evening the city was already soaked into the colors of the festival. Everyone was heading to the Edinburgh castle which hosts wonderful musical programs and concerts. We had a quiet dinner at one of the restaurants and welcomed the new year with splendid Edinburgh festival fireworks over the castle.
Day 10 – City Sightseeing Edinburgh
We stayed in New town Edinburgh which is close to the Edinburgh city center and Edinburgh Old town which has most of the prominent attractions which could easily be explored on foot. We started with the grandeur Edinburgh Castle which was a great choice for there was hardly any crowd in the early morning. We walked down the royal mile which stretches up to Holyrood Palace. There are several important landmarks to explore along the royal mile which is definitely unmissable. From Holyrood Palace, we walked back through old town to visit the Christmas market.
Day 11 – Scottish Highlands Tours from Edinburgh
Scotland is treasured with the most picturesque coastline and a trip to Scotland isn’t complete without a planning a Scottish Highlands tours from Edinburgh. Again due to New year celebrations the day trips from Edinburgh were limited. We booked the Glen Coe, Loch Ness, and Inverness tour which best covered the must-see sites in the Scotland. The route from Edinburgh to Loch Ness was laden with most beautiful vistas. Inverness and the Scottish Highlands take you through one of the scenic trips in Scotland. Though the trip was hectic with limited stops to cover as much as possible the sceneries all along the trip was breathtaking.
Tips for Edinburgh Visit – Edinburgh Pass
1. Buy an Edinburgh pass which offers free entry to over 30 of Edinburgh attractions, free airport transfers and ample of discounts on Edinburgh day tours and in restaurants. Edinburgh Pass comes with one, two, or three-day validity to choose from.
Day 12 Edinburgh to London
The Scotland capital Edinburgh was the last destination in our 12 days UK trip. We boarded a train to London from Edinburgh Waverley railway station close to our apartment. We were exhausted and homesick yet the last part of the journey wasn’t easy one too. The train earlier to the one we booked tickets got canceled and all those passengers were accommodated into our train. As a result, our train got crowded and we had no seats for us. A big lesson of our life was to never board a train without a seat reservation. Luckily for us, the cafeteria person lent us her seat until she could arrange seats for us of the passengers who were disembarking at the next station. It was a terrible experience we couldn’t imagine traveling for 4 hours with a baby without a seat if not for the kind lady. We reached London by noon and had a flight next day early so we just took some rest. If you have some energy and enthusiasm left you can visit one of the sights you choose to skip on day 2 in London.
Holiday Packing List for UK Winter
The weather in the UK during Christmas can be quite unpredictable and extreme at times so always carry an umbrella and a stroller cover in case you are traveling with a kid. It always best to keep yourself well equipped with weather proof clothing. A hooded coat and waterproof rain boots would work best for rain and as well as snow while thermal wear, touch screen gloves, and scarfs will keep you warm in a chilly breeze.
Travel Tips and Facts:
We planned a trip to the UK during the Christmas Vacation to utilize the long holiday period. Winters are not popular with tourists to plan a trip to the UK so the attractions are hardly crowded but there is a lot of downside of visiting the UK for Christmas:
1. The length of the day is smaller and it starts getting dark by 5.30 in the evening so plan accordingly.
2. Most of the sightseeing attractions and sights close sooner than the summer times.
3. It may rain or snow unexpectantly spoiling your day so be prepared. We did manage to get the through the tour as planned with few exceptions: During our visit to Stonehenge, the weather turned chilly accompanied by drizzle and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in Antrim coast trip was closed due to extreme weather conditions. So be prepared for surprises.
4. December 25 the Christmas day is an off when most of the shops shut down and there is a low frequency of transportation. It is not possible to plan any tours or sightseeing on this day.
Christmas in the UK was an amazing experience and a dream come true for us. Though we missed a couple of attractions we will make sure to plan another trip very soon. Christmas markets in the UK are dazzling and awe-inspiring make sure to visit a few of them. If you are looking for a memorable family Christmas break the UK certainly makes a great choice.
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