Celebrating a Birthday with a Mother-Son Trip to London

LondonUnited Kingdom

A few years ago, a friend told me that her husband celebrated each of their kids’ 13th birthday with a special one-on-one trip. I thought this was brilliant. As my kids get older, I have less opportunity for this time together just with one of them. Sports, homework, tests, activities, and friends all seem to be a priority and on the rare occasion I have an afternoon or an overnight with one kiddo, I really enjoy it.  

For my son’s 15th birthday, we surprised him with tickets to Hamilton in London for just the two of us—mother and son. My husband, a little jealous, decided he would do the same one-on-one trip for my son’s 16th birthday. We really prefer giving experiences over stuff and this just felt like the right time and place to make it happen. Traveling with teens as a family is important, but this is, too.

I planned our very brief trip over a school holiday weekend. London is only a one-hour flight from Frankfurt, and it’s very easy to get there and back. Originally, I thought we’d do just an overnight for the play, but I decided to throw in a day trip to Oxford University, giving us one full day in the city.

Related: 8 Top Places to Visit with Teens in London

Scoring Hamilton Tickets

First, I needed to get the tickets. Hamilton is playing at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. They only sell tickets up to a certain date, and then on a designated day/time they release the next three months of tickets. Planning this trip almost six months out, I planned carefully to purchase the tickets. When they released the next round of tickets, I scored 8th row seats for just over $100 each. (About half of the cost for any seat in the U.S., let alone ones so close to the stage.)

If interested, keep an eye on their social media page and sign up for updates for the next ticket release.

Booking a Hotel in the Perfect Location

This was critical and the most difficult part of planning the trip. I tend to stay at a HomeAway or AirBNB, but our visit would be short and with just two people, a hotel seemed easier. I didn’t want to spend more than about $150 per night, but I needed place that was close to the theater and the train station for Oxford. When time is precious, I hate to spend it in a train or cab. I combed TripAdvisor and Booking.com for a few days and finally found Mornington Hotel in Westminister with great reviews, a good location, pictures of swan towels on the bed, and the right price tag.

Seemed perfect. As we were waiting for the plane, I received an email from our hotel letting me know they were overbooked and had moved us to a new hotel. Th new hotel, the Best Western Earl’s Court, seemed to be in an equally good location, but they couldn’t promise us two twin beds. I guess it’s better to have one bed instead of no bed. For the inconvenience, they threw in free breakfast for both of us during our stay. It worked out okay, but changing venues and sharing a bed with a teen was not what I had in mind.

Transportation: Airport | Oxford | Tube

This is my fifth trip to London. Each time I visit, transportation to and from the airport always seems to be “memorable.” I’ve done everything from cab and uber to train and tube. This time my friend recommended Heathrow Express. This only will save time and money if going into central London. The train runs every 20 minutes direct from Heathrow to Paddington Station in 15 minutes! Buying tickets ahead of time (and round trip) saves money, and kids under 15 are discounted or free. Alex and I got to Heathrow and back for $47. A cab would have been at least that much for one way and taken an hour. The tube, while inexpensive, also takes over an hour. When limited by time, this was the easiest way to go, and I purchased it via their app.

Getting to and from Oxford also required planning. The two options were bus and train. In the end, purchasing tickets for the one-hour GWR train from Paddington (good thing we were only four tube stops from Paddington), cost us only $22 round trip. The bus would have taken longer and been more expensive. The key was advance purchasing roundtrip.

The London Underground is a fantastic way to travel. With the purchase of an Oyster Card, including a £5 deposit, we could easily zip in and out as needed. Each trip costs a little over £2 so don’t subway if you can walk. We ended up not getting the deposit back on the card because I assume we’ll be back within our time in Europe.  

London, Baby!

We left midday on a Wednesday, each with just a duffle bag of clothes. When we arrived the airport, we breezed right through, except for sacrificing Alex’s shampoo at security. As we were waiting for the plane, I received an email from our hotel in London.

Upon arrival at Heathrow, we quickly found the Heathrow Express train. (More details above on the cost for that trip.) We arrived into Paddington Station and hopped on the tube to our hotel, which was in a primo location—a nice quiet street with a few other hotels, but right next to the subway station and near a grocery store. In our newly booked hotel, they put us in the basement in the teeniest room you’ve ever seen. But it was relatively clean, besides the smoky smell in the bathroom, and the bed was comfy so all was fine.

A quick change and some British game shows on TV, which we totally love, and then off to meet some friends from the States for dinner at an Australian restaurant on the water – Darcie and May – back at, you guessed it, Paddington Station.

Oxford University and Hamilton

The next morning, we had an 8:50 a.m. train Oxford (our late-night binge watching of The Chase wasn’t the best idea).  But we were meeting my friend’s daughter at 10 a.m. for our Oxford University tour.

My son is only finishing his freshmen year of high school, which is too early for picking a university. The kid has had his heart set on MIT for years, but since moving to Germany, both kids are hearing about options for European colleges. Oxford University was one school. Combine hundreds of years of brainpower that moved through the University, old medieval buildings, and the home to Harry Potter movie scenes, and it’s a pretty compelling argument to at least visit the school.

Related: Day Trip to Oxford: From University Visit to “Fandom” Pilgrimage

We had a quick turnaround at the hotel with just enough time to eat some prepared food from the Marks & Spencer Food around the corner. My son was beyond excited about Hamilton, and we arrived early with time for him to shop for a T-shirt and me to have a glass of wine.

My kids know the lyrics to every single song, and they weren’t alone. The girls sitting behind us exclaimed, “I’m so excited that I might just die.” The show was way better than I expected, and it was even more powerful to see it with a British audience. It blew me away! But this post isn’t a Hamilton review.

Marathon Mother-Son Day in Town

Our family traveled to London in 2016 and we covered all the London highlights: The Tower of London, London Eye, Greenwich, Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, Changing of the Guards, Science Museum, Portabello Road, Harrod’s, British Museum, Borough Market, Imperial War Museum, Globe Theater, and more that I cannot now recall. All that to say, we have seen a lot of London.

With only one full day left in the city, Alex got to pick what to do. He chose a walking tour and a repeat visit to the British Museum. I booked our walking tour with Sandemanns a few days in advance for the earliest one available. We met the crew at 10 a.m. for the three-hour tour. Our family loves walking tours of every city, and we’ve logged nine total walking tours in the past two years. Read more about those tours here. Our guide was solid and took us from Covent Gardens to Big Ben stopping along the way at the National Gallery, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Churchill War Room and Parliament Square.  

Related: What to Know for the Best Walking Tour Experience in Any City

After the tour, hungry and with only three hours before heading to the airport, Alex and I grabbed a burger and made a mad dash to the British Museum to tour Ancient Rome and Greece.

Unsure what Heathrow would look like on a Friday evening, we headed back to the hotel via the Underground for luggage, then to Paddington for the Heathrow Express, and then onto the airport.  The journey back to the airport from the museum took us an hour a half with all the stops, and when we finally made it through the empty security line, we crashed at a table at Gordon Ramsey’s Heathrow restaurant, where we shared the tiniest “large” salad ever seen.

Total Cost of Trip

I tried to keep this on a budget. Here’s the breakdown:

  • British Airlines (direct and with no luggage): $300
  • Two-night stay in hotel (breakfast included): $331
  • Tickets to Hamilton: $254
  • Round-trip tickets (2) on the Heathrow Express: $47
  • Round-trip train tickets (2) to Oxford: $22
  • Oyster-card purchases plus all Underground: $63

Main photo by Tamara Menzi on Unsplash

Underground photo by Tomas Anton Escobar on Unsplash

All other photos ©Linda Kerr, TravelTeening

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