Sunday, October 2 – This was the one day on our schedule that was full of ‘timed’ activities. Even though we all passed out before 9pm the previous night, we still really struggled to get up when the alarm went off at 7:30 in the morning (which was 2:30am back home). Luckily the flat was less than 3 minutes walk to the tube station so we didn’t need to head out until a little after 9am.
10am – Changing the Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guards Parade (11am on weekdays)
In other words, it’s the changing of the horse guards. The crowds here were much more bearable compared to Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. We arrived about 5 minutes before it started and were still able to get a pretty decent spot. We knew they were ‘royal’ horses, but to see them this up close, we were still in awe about not only their beauty, but also their humongous size as well as the fact that they all look pretty much identical. 😁😍🐴 And seeing the guards dressed in their tunics and helmets with their swords drawn mounting on the horses was simply an impressive sight. With the smallish crowd and no railing between the guards/horses and us, this ceremony was for sure a winner in our book!
1030-1045am – Head to Wellington Barracks and take a peek down at ’10 Downing Street’ on the way
The walk from Horse Guards Parade to Wellington Barracks basically took us along St. James’s Park. We walked leisurely around and admired how beautiful the park was, and I didn’t even realize that ’10 Downing Street’ has completely slipped my mind until I revisited the itinerary later that night. Not a big deal really since I’m sure I was the only one who thinks it’s even remotely cool to check out where the Prime Minister lives. And as if the serenity of the park isn’t enough for us to want to hang around, the kids were ecstatic to find out that there was a very nice children’s play area in the park, directly from Wellington Barracks.
11am – See the New Guard and the Regimental Band at Wellington Barracks before they march out for Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is undoubtedly one of the most popular and well-known attractions for anyone visiting London. While it would definitely be a memorable experience, the thought of
being squeezed by lining up with the huge crowd and having to arrive at least an hour early in order to get a decent spot just wasn’t that appealing to us, especially with two kiddos in tow. Instead, we followed the ‘kid-friendly’ version/route of seeing changing of the guard suggested here instead. **This site also contains a lot of useful information about the various guard changing ceremonies and locations.
Turned out we had plenty of extra time after seeing the guard and the band marching down The Mall, we went back inside St. James’s Park for the kids to run around some more in the play area and to have some mid-day snacks.
1:15pm – Buckingham Palace Tour
The State Rooms in Buckingham Palace is open to the public during the summer months each year, when the Queen is away at her summer home of Windsor Castle. This was the last tour day for this year so it was pretty crowded. After going through the security check point, we picked up the audio guide for each of us. There were quite a few places that we visited that provided audio guides, but this one from the Palace Tour was the kids’ favorite. It offered a ‘Family Tour’ (in addition to the much more detailed regular tour) option which means that when we stepped into a state room, it gave you a quick note on the purpose or the special usage of that room, and then asked you to go on a scavenger hunt. The kids had a great time ‘playing’ in the Palace trying to find the various paintings or treasures in each state room. The only downside of this experience was that no photography was allowed inside the palace so that was a bit disappointing, especially I had been dreaming about taking a picture with that beautiful grand staircase…
**If this is something you are interested in doing when visiting London, I’d highly recommend purchasing the tickets online in advance so you wouldn’t get turned away if they were sold out for that day. There maybe other tour packages out there that include this tour, but here is where I bought our tickets.
4:00pm – Big Ben and London Eye
The original plan was to visit the Natural History Museum after the Palace tour. But a few days prior to our arrival, a friend who lives in London informed me that Westminster Abbey hosts a 30-minute Organ Recital every Sunday at 5:45pm, and that it’s open to the public for free. This immediately piqued my interest as I was not planning to pay the hefty admission price in order to go into the Abbey. What a perfect solution for us to set foot inside this famous church?! Therefore, some swapping of the schedule was in order and we would go see Big Ben and London Eye before the recital instead.
After the Palace tour, we grabbed a late lunch at some roadside cafe before hopping on the tube. We were not expecting to see Big Ben directly in front of us AS SOON AS we exited the Westminster station, and were awestruck by the sight of this amazing structure that we literally froze right there by the exit/entrance for a good 10 seconds before remembering to move out of people’s way and heading towards Westminster Bridge.
London Eye was another attraction that I’ve gone back and forth on whether to ride it. I’ve received mixed reviews from different people and the most common feedback was that it was too expensive and/or the queue was too long. Also that the weather in London is very unpredictable and the view would be very limited if it were raining. Since time was of the essence for us, I have opted not to go up at the end. Although, after being there on a perfect weather day (I’m talking about sunny and blue sky perfect), I can only imagine the awesome view from atop.
5:45pm – Organ Recital in Westminster Abbey
It was about 5:20pm by the time we arrived at Westminster Abbey and the queue for the Organ Recital was already pretty long. Luckily we did make it in before all the seats were taken and spent the next 30 minutes sitting quietly admiring the intricate decor inside the Abbey and picturing the royal events taken place in this stunning church, while the Organist played on (once again, no photography allowed inside 😞). It was a pretty relaxing way to wrap up our day, though it was probably a bit boring for the kiddos but they did sit through it quite nicely with us.