Tower of London (Plus Hotels with Kids)

July 21, 2011

We spent Monday morning at the Tower of London. This was my first visit to the Tower and I really had no idea what it was before I actually got it line for tickets and started reading about it.

It was right by our hotel and we had a gorgeous shot of both the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. In fact, I took these photos from our 2 hotel rooms. The views were amazing!

Looking down from our hotel window, I could see two buildings with the remains of an ancient wall between them. Doesn’t it make you curious? What was the wall for? How old is it? Who’s responsible for it now?

I felt like that juxtaposition of old and new was typical throughout London. It’s a very modern city, but it’s ancient too. And the Tower of London is a perfect example. If you visit, you can see the real live Crown Jewels! — surrounded by very high-tech security. You can see a timeline of English Monarchy going back a thousand years. You can take a tour offered by uniformed Yeoman Warder and you can see the torture chambers. You can visit the armory. You can see where traitors were hanged. You could spend all day if you liked.

Next time I visit, I’ll be sure to brush up on my English history first. I think it would help me get twice as much out of the visit.

There were a few guards on duty at the Tower and Olive and Maude wanted to see if they could make this one smile. Betty was too shy.

Ravens live at the Tower of London and there’s a legend that if they ever leave, the kingdom will fall. Ravens are bigger than I realized.

The grounds are beautifully kept. It was fun just walking around and see examples of architecture throughout the centuries. William the Conquerer began the Tower of London a thousand years ago.

Throughout the grounds there were these amazing mesh sculptures of animals. Bears, lions, monkeys. I have no idea what they were there for, but they were sure neat to look at.

Occasionally, there would be a spiked gate like this and it would remind me that this was a real castle that had a history of being attacked and defended.

After our visit to the Tower, we walked back across the street to our hotel. So convenient! Speaking of the hotel…

Every time we travel, I get a handful of emails asking how we handle hotel rooms for 8 people. So here are a few notes on how we make it work and what we look for in a hotel. At the Grange City we stayed in two rooms, each with two queen-size beds. Ben Blair and I take one bed, Oscar and Betty take the other bed in our room, and Baby June stays in a port-a-crib provided by the hotel, also in our room. In the second room, Ralph and Olive shared a bed, and Zella and Maude slept in the other bed.

One nice thing about this hotel is that the rooms were big and had flexible options. Both rooms had a chair or sofa that folded out into a bed. So, if one of the kids really wanted their own spot, it was totally doable. But they didn’t mind sharing, and that meant the foldaway beds could stay folded away, which kept the rooms feeling open and spacious.

This hotel really was perfect for our trip. As I mentioned, it was right next to the Tower of London, which is one of the the major tourist attractions in the city, and it’s literally next door to a subway stop. Plus, the Tower of London is one of the spots to pick up a ferry ride on the Thames. Or, if we wanted a taxi, the hotel had a line waiting outside. So it was really easy to get around.

In addition to location, another thing we look for in a hotel is free breakfast. So helpful! I love getting up, knowing I don’t have to think about how we’re going to feed everyone first thing. The whole chain of Grange Hotels has a promotion where kids stay and eat free. We took full advantage of it! : )

Lastly, when possible, we book a hotel with an indoor pool. The reality is, our kids are still quite young, and they are often content to skip most of the sight-seeing and just swim all day. In fact, several times, we split up the group and let the little ones nap, swim and hangout at the hotel. (Bonus for mom and dad, our hotel had a particularly beautiful pool.)

What about you? How do you handle accommodations when you travel?

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mary July 21, 2011 at 8:34 am

Visiting the Tower of London was the highlight of my trip there. It is really a surreal place to visit. You have to stop and remind yourself of all the events that actually took place there and just how old it all is! It’s quite astonishing.

As for hotels, we are only a family of four, but it sounds like we look for the same things. Breakfast included and a pool – two important things to look for when you have little ones. Since we are only four, we also sometimes strive to get a suite that enables mom and dad to stay up and hang out for a bit after the little guys go to sleep!

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2 Abby July 21, 2011 at 8:36 am

We visited London in June with our kids ages 7 and 10 and they LOVED the Tower of London. My 7 year old daughter could not get enough of this place. I highly recommend buying the children’s guide at the ticket office. Definitely worth it. Also… the Beefeater’s are fabulous guides!!

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3 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Next time, I will definitely pick up the children’s guide. Thanks for the recommendation!

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4 mary July 21, 2011 at 8:38 am

FANtastic pics and post! We skipped the Tower (due to time constraints) during our trip to London, but will be a must-visit on our next trip over. :)

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5 Susan July 21, 2011 at 8:43 am

Love these London posts (and your entire site). I am going to London in two days to visit family with my 8 and 10-year-old boys and we plan to visit the Tower of London as well. I plan to show them your post before we go. Thanks for fabulous writing and photos.

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6 Lisa W. July 21, 2011 at 8:43 am

I could be wrong, but the ruins of the wall could be part of the Roman emperor Hadrian’s Wall, which does still stand in parts of London (and other areas of England as well). Pretty fascinating!

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7 Hannah July 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm

I think you might be a little mistaken Lisa, London was indeed a site of Roman civilisation but Hadrians wall runs only through the North of England, in a county called Northumberland and marks a defensive line between Scotland and England, or sort of there abouts. Large areas of it do still stand though but they look quite different to this wall pictured here. Hadrians wall is not so tall and is wide enough to walk along the top of. In all truthfulness it doesn’t look much different from an ordinary limestone country wall!

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8 Kristina July 21, 2011 at 8:53 am

Tower of London animals- They used to keep animals there, sort of like a zoo. I’m guessing that’s what the animals signify.

Traveling with kids- We have 3 children. We always look for something with breakfast, and we prefer a suite or connecting rooms. However, when neither of those is available, an extra bed is a must. The other thing I look for is breakfast. Breakfast comes early, and I don’t want to have to go looking for it.

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9 Barchbo July 21, 2011 at 8:54 am

What a great trip! I love reading about the Blair Family Travels!

I fell in love in early with London Tower thanks to: Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace and The Bobbsey Twins at London Tower – seriously! When I did my study abroad in London and as a history major, I checked on locations/facts from these books – pretty accurate!

Love the travel tips – we have yet to do a hotel outing and you make it look so easy (with six kids no less!)

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10 Shannon @ A Mom's Year July 21, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I loved those books, too! And I did the same thing as you when I finally made it to England. Good old Trixie!

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11 cbusmama July 21, 2011 at 8:59 am

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise, a novel by Julia Stuart, explains (and imagines) the connection between the Tower and animals. A nice, fanciful read.

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12 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Good to know!

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13 Ellen W July 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I was going to mention that book as well – an enjoyable read.

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14 Susan July 21, 2011 at 9:10 am

Such amazing history there…I can’t wait to visit!

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15 CMN July 21, 2011 at 9:13 am

So another great historic spot for kids is Hampton Court. It’s a little further afield, but so worth the extra 30 minutes. Having been the seat of Monarchy for several distinctive eras (including Henry VIII and William & Mary), it plays up different aspects of each history. Costumed tour guides, different routes to explore for different history, a hedge maze… there so much to see and do for all ages! Simply LOVE visiting. :-)

The hotel pool always makes me laugh. Here you are in another place and you want them to absorb the culture! the sites! the history!… but the pool is always such a draw. LOL It is great for evenings though – a superb way to wrap up the day and get that last burst of energy worked out.

Lastly a question… (perhaps its something you were already going to cover in another post!)… but how do you handle souvenirs in your family? For a weekend trip like this one, with all the cool gift shops et al as you see sites and tour around, do your kids have interest in or ask to buy souvenirs? Is there an individual or family budget? or is it something that doesn’t come up?

Cheers!
- Christine

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16 chelsea July 21, 2011 at 9:17 am

We just went to Brooklyn (there are 6 of us) and rented an apartment through AirBNB. It was AWESOME. Cheaper than two hotel rooms, separate bedrooms, kitchen and market across the street, so long hotels!

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17 Giulia July 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

A hotel with pool makes it much easier for kids I think. We also insist on 2 beds minimum but we split up the adults to child as my 4 year old and 2.5 year won’t go to sleep otherwise.
I love London, particularly the Tower Bridge as my great grandfather was part of the building crew (his name is on the plaque and we go look at it every time we are there)

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18 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm

How neat, Giulia! I’ll bet it’s fun to see his name every time you visit.

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19 Anne July 21, 2011 at 9:33 am

We have had lots of success renting houses or apartments when we travel (with our four sons). I love having our own kitchen and laundry facilities when we’re on the road. Another bonus is that we’re forced to dive more fully into local neighborhoods and settings. We feel a bit less like tourists.

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20 Cindy J July 21, 2011 at 9:51 am

The Tower of London (love the Beefeater’s tour) and the British Museum are my two favorite London sites! On my first trip to London, we got tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys. You have to get ticket well in advance of your trip, but it is a fun way to get another peak at the traditions of the Monarchy.

http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/WhatsOn/ceremonyofthekeys.aspx?EventDate=&Step=View

When we travel our days are packed with running around and seeing the sites, so we don’t spend a lot of time in our rooms. On our international trips we love to stay in places that have a local feel vs a chain hotel. We like quirky B&Bs, and often get rooms with bathrooms down the hall. Not for everyone I know, but I have to admit that some of our best memories come from talking about the places we have stayed. We have 4 children, which means we always have 2 rooms. Usually its me, my husband and my son in one room and my 3 girls in another. On our trip to last trip to London we stayed in a place that advertised triples. Turns out the 3rd twin bed in each room was basically a cot with a mattress on it–comfortable, just not what we had expected. But the full English breakfast that was provided more than made up for it.

In the end I don’t think it really matters what your hotel room looks like. Travel is about making memories with those you love. Oh, and on our trips no one is allowed to complain. After all you could just be home doing your daily chores. :)

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21 Anna July 21, 2011 at 10:56 am

The wall is the London wall & was built by the romans to mark the boundry of london.. in roman times.

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22 Colleen July 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

Gabrielle,

I really enjoyed hearing about your adventures in London. I now regret not doing the Eye.

Who is Zella?
Colleen

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23 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Hi Colleen! Zella is my teenage niece who is visiting us for a couple of weeks. I should have explained. : )

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24 Amanda B. July 21, 2011 at 11:00 am

I loved the Tower of London. We even picked up a Paddington Bear book of his trip to the Tower at the gift shop. hehe Too cute. The ravens steal one of his marmalade sandwiches.

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25 sue {laundry for six} July 21, 2011 at 11:19 am

I have 4 kids – 2 boys and 2 girls. If we can’t get a suite, we get 2 rooms. I stay with the girls in one room and my husband stays with the boys in another room. I find it’s hard to get adjoining rooms, so this way there’s an adult in each room.

Gorgeous photos!

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26 Lisalynn July 21, 2011 at 11:52 am

Breakfast included is a must. Much faster to get up and going – when you have a lot of kids, it can take 30 minutes just to get out the door. An indoor pool is a must. The kids need a chance to blow off some energy, and kids love pools! A central location is a must. Being able to just hop on a ferry or a subway, and walk to restaurants and attractions, makes things so much easier. We also usually get a kitchen with a full size refridgerator. Before we head out for the day we pack a couple backpacks with cold drinks and some snacks. As the day goes on, the backpacks get lighter, and we fill them instead with jackets (if the day warms up) and small souvenirs. The most important things, though, are flexibility and patience.

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27 Heidi July 21, 2011 at 11:53 am

Ah London! I lived there for four months on BYU study abroad- almost ten years ago. I still miss it everyday. The ancient City of London was one square mile and entirely enclosed by a wall for protection, that is most likely what those remnants were that you were seeing. London: The Novel by Edward Rutherford is an epic historical novel that I highly recommend if you want to brush up on London’s history (yet not read straight out of history books, this brings it alive).

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28 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Very cool, Heidi!

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29 jess b July 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I agree! I have 6 children as well and I look for much of the same things especially the pool. Recently I started adding what they call a hospitality room – its basically a living room / kitchen room with the two bedrooms attached just to give us a little more space to move – or crawl for the baby.

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30 Kerry July 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Love London and your travel posts. We are still a little family (4) compared to yours, but we look for large rooms so that we can put the pack n play for my 10 month old in the hallway or bathroom nook area. That way we don’t have lights out at 7pm! Otherwise it’s 2 double beds, breakfast… My son is still talking about the pancake maker in the Holiday Inn we stayed in a few months ago. Not the most luxurious hotel (we had to make a quick pit stop for night during a larger trip), but funny how it’s the only thing he remembers. Not the fluffy towels, robes, etc we get at the $$ hotels. It’s the little things!

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31 Kate July 21, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Read “London” by Edward Rutherfurd. It is a history text book disguised as a novel and basically begins, “once upon a time there was a swamp…” There are characters and families to follow throughout a 2000 history. It’s great! No, really!
I love history…

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32 Carla July 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Great post. Who is Zella? Did I miss an extra family member?

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33 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Zella is my niece who is staying with us for a couple of weeks. She joined us for the London trip too. So fun!

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34 Stephanie July 21, 2011 at 2:41 pm

We’re staying in apartments for our traveling right now to help keep the cost down. Plus we know that the kids just can’t sit through a leisurely European dinner so being able to cook for ourselves is nice.

You mentioned in the last post that you used the hotel babysitting service when you saw Harry Potter. My husband and I have been very tempted by it, but also terrified of leaving the kids with someone we don’t know. Clearly nothing tragic happened to your little ones. How did you end up being comfortable with it? Are there any safeguards in place? Have you used them before with good luck? It would be lovely to get one night out on our trip, but (probably)unjustified worth has me wondering to much to give it a go.

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35 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Hi Stephanie! We didn’t actually use the hotel babysitting service. Sorry for the miscommunication. I actually used Twitter instead. Here’s how it worked for me. About a month ago, I tweeted out something like: Hey Londoners! I’m looking for a sitter on Friday night, July 15th. Know anyone patient, trustworthy and reliable?

I received several responses from people I knew personally, or had worked with online. They were people who lived in London and knew babysitters they used themselves.

From there, I figured out who was available and then started emailing directly with the babysitter.

To me, it was like having a friend recommend their favorite sitter to me, so I wasn’t too stressed about it. Although, it’s always a bit unnerving to use a new sitter for the first time.

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36 Stephanie July 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm

That makes sense.

It is very unnerving using a new sitter, I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way, even as I grow in my parenting knowledge.

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37 Maddy July 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm

How did you go about finding a sitter for the younger ones while you went out with the older ones for a movie?

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38 Design Mom July 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Hi Maddy! Hopefully my answer to Stephanie will help you as well. : )

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39 Carey July 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I visited the tower several years ago and it IS absolutely fascinating. I definitely want to take my kids to see it when they’re a little older and will comprehend more.

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40 Tina Isakson July 21, 2011 at 3:03 pm

We have 5 kids, and usually plan vacations where we can rent a house/condo to fit everyone. While grocery shopping and cooking doesn’t always make for much of a vacation, its sometimes easier and always less expensive. For brief hotel stays though, 2 adjoining rooms works, and we have the same rule about free breakfast and an indoor pool!

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41 Lola July 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Your comment about the animal sculptures made me laugh – they’re pretty big on public open-air art exhibits here, which is great of course, but they seem to forget to tell anyone. I read recently that they had a modern art exhibition in Alexandra Park (London), which included a dirty mattress … and no-one told the park staff, so they put it on the rubbish truck! (Someone saw them and got it back.) A particularly common occurrence is random statues of colourful cows.

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42 Design Mom July 22, 2011 at 7:11 am

That is hilarious, Lola!

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43 se7en July 21, 2011 at 4:49 pm

We always book a family room and just pile the kids in… they all sleep in one or two huge beds at home so a hotel isn’t any different. And bed and breakfast is essential: fill those tummies before you hit the road… The Tower of London is one of our favorite spots on earth, the day we were there they was a reenactment of Guy Fawkes – all my kids are convinced they have met him for real!!! Otherwise they have great printable family guides here: http://89.151.104.52/TowerOfLondon/TowerActivitiesforfamilies.aspx and all about the animals here: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/Stories/Palacehighlights/RoyalBeasts.aspx

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44 C July 21, 2011 at 6:01 pm

So glad you enjoyed London!
Very embarrassing but despite living 20 min from the Tower of London my whole life, I’ve never been! I should be a tourist in my own city for a day!

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45 Design Mom July 22, 2011 at 7:10 am

I felt that way in New York. We lived there for years before I actually visited the Empire State Building. : )

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46 Shannon @ A Mom's Year July 21, 2011 at 9:05 pm

We had the most wonderful tour guide (Beefeater, I mean) when we visited the Tower back in the late 1990s. His name was Tony. You didn’t happen to have him, did you?

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47 Michael Hudson August 17, 2013 at 9:14 am

We had Tony, too. “Tony of the Tower,” he called himself. A great personality. Both our then-young kids and me and my wife loved his tour of the Tower. Imagine how pleased we were to discover that Tony was our guide, the very next night, on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. It was the highlight of our trip.

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48 Jess July 22, 2011 at 4:40 am

I loved staying at the City Grange too. It is a great location and I love the view. Here is my photo of the Tower of London from our room http://www.wheremyheartis.net/?p=895 (July 2010). My husband has been doing a project in London for the past 2 years so it has been fun accompanying him on a number of occassions. Although the journey from Australia is a little further than I would like, it is so worth it! I’m glad your family enjoyed your visit.

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49 Design Mom July 22, 2011 at 7:11 am

It really is such a great location!

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50 Em July 22, 2011 at 9:28 am

I can see my office in the third photo there! It’s a great spot, but whenever the bridge opens and closes to let a boat through, all the men rush to the window to watch! You’d think they’d be used to it by now! Boys will be boys i suppose…

Glad you enjoyed your trip to london!

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51 Kathleen July 22, 2011 at 10:12 am

Great trip! Plus nice tips on how to travel with kids.
When we vacation for more than a few days we, love to rent a house or apartment. When in London we rented an apartment in Sloane Square neighborhood of Chelsea. It was perfect because we could make breakfast before we set out on our adventures.

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52 Kristis July 22, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Next time you will have to try and get tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. You actually get locked in at night and have a tour around the grounds at night. It’s a ceremony they’ve been doing for YEARS every night no matter what. It can take months to get tickets but would be totally worth it.

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53 Mo July 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Thanks for the sitter info! Now that we’ve moved to the UK, away from family and the usual sitters, not to mention traveling more than normal, we’ve been curious how other families handle a night out in a foreign locale!

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54 My Traveling Troop July 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Looks like a fun trip for the whole family!

I went to London, pre-kids, and somehow missed the Tower of London tour! I’ll have to check that out next time. (I did, however, tour Buckingham Palace. Wish I was there now! I hear Duchess Katherine’s wedding dress is on display!)

Cheers,
Kristina

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55 Cara July 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Beautiful pictures! Did you know you can win free plane tickets by entering this sweepstakes?!
http://www.classwish.org/days/travel. If you donate money upon entering in the sweepstakes, it all goes to Class Wish, a nonprofit site where parents, teachers, and communities easily unite to provide the classroom resources our children need.

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56 travel deal July 22, 2011 at 11:45 pm

you have described london very well……i m impressed.all the pictures are good.i just want to this place once….

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57 Erica July 23, 2011 at 8:56 pm

The Tower was the highlight of my trip to London a few years ago. During our tour, they grabbed my red-headed friend and I (with black hair) and put on a show of “Elizabeth and Mary.” It was a bit mortifying, but totally memorable!

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58 Lisl Sukachevin July 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm

We have three boys (15, 13, 11), so not enough people to justify the cost of a second room, but too many for one room! I usually book a room with 2 queen beds and two of the boys share. If we’re lucky there’s a sofa pull-out for the 3rd boys, if not, I ask for a roll away bed. Breakfast is a must too, and a pool is sure nice!

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59 Kris July 30, 2011 at 7:03 am

Really lovely pictures, and what a great hotel.

I have a book suggestion for you, if you are interested in learning more about the Royal women from the time period of Henry VIII. It’s called “Elizabeth’s Women” by Tracy Boreman. We read it in my book club and everyone loved it. It’s a history, but reads like a novel. Very interesting.

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60 Jamie B August 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Someone else may have already said this, because I’m too lazy to read all the comments, but the animal statues were probably there because there used to be a “royal menagerie” housed in the Tower.

You’re braver than I. I know a lot of the history of the Tower and there’s no way I could go there. It would be fascinating, but I think I’d cry half the time, and be terrified of ghosts the other half.

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61 mary August 8, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Traveling with my 6 year old daughter in France was much easier when we stayed in a small apartment. Which meant we had a kitchen to cook in, prepare snacks to take out with us which also meant we explored the local supermarkets and outdoor markets and found interesting things we wouldn’t have ordinarily seen.

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