Holiday inspiration can come in many forms. Whether reliving happy childhood trips, seeing somewhere amazing on the big screen or flicking through a friend’s Facebook snaps, that must-visit moment is like an itch that needs scratched, a dream longing to become a reality. For me, the recent passing of HM The Queen and subsequent pomp and pageantry showcasing London and Windsor in all their majesty prompted me to pull together a last-minute family trip for November half term to see both.

First stop was two nights in London, a city that never fails to impress no matter how many times you visit. I’d last been there in 2017 with husband Ray and kids Scarlett and Freddie and, five years later, a return trip was long overdue. This time, our itinerary included the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and a free tour of the Houses of Parliament courtesy of our constituency MP, Gavin Robinson. This is something all UK residents can arrange with their sitting MP or, alternatively, UK book free online (or a fee for non-UK residents) via official website www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours.

Our tour confirmed, I wanted to find somewhere to stay not too far from the Palace of Westminster and surrounding city sights. London’s hotel scene can be quite overwhelming, but I discovered an absolute peach of a place close to Victoria Station and within walking distance of Westminster. The 4-star Wellington Hotel by Blue Orchid is situated in leafy Vincent Square and surrounded by a private garden bejewelled with light-strewn trees. The elegant stone and red brick façade opens into an oasis of comfy sofas in calming grey and blue. 

With two children well into and approaching their teens, for the first time ever on hols we treated ourselves to separate rooms, and the kids really enjoyed wallowing in their own mini apartment as much as us oldies’. Each en-suite room - larger than many in the area – contained a double bed, sofa bed, seating area and kitchenette, with several large windows providing verdant garden views to enhance the tranquil vibe. A more blissful overnight in this location and at a good price point we couldn’t have wished for.

After a hearty cooked buffet breakfast, we made our way to Westminster, well-fuelled for our tour of the Houses of Parliament. Negotiating the warren of narrow corridors and into the House of Commons, I was surprised at just how small it seemed compared with seeing it on TV. And apparently, I’m not alone – it’s a familiar response. Apparently after WW2, when the building was bombed by the Nazis, Churchill refused to rebuild to a larger scale, instead preferring to keep the tight, almost gladiatorial scale that continues to keep politicians on their toes and provide plenty of theatrical moments during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Visiting on the morning of that weekly tussle, we saw the Speaker’s procession starring main man Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his be-robed entourage marching sedately to the chamber to start proceedings. A police inspector followed the call “Speaker” with the wonderfully archaic “Hats off, Strangers” as Sir Lindsay smiled and nodded at those of us witnessing this curiously British tradition. 

A glimpse of instantly recognisable Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg added to the surreal scene as the tour continued into the gloriously ornate House of Lords and expansive Westminster Hall where HM The Queen’s Lying-in-State precipitated that queue. The expert tour guide packed a lot of political history into 75 minutes, providing a tangible insight into our democratic system. A must for anyone with even a passing interest in what makes the nation tick. 

The tour was a tad ‘educational’, so it was time for the kids to give their brains a break with a burl on the London Eye. Strolling across Westminster Bridge, stopping only to gaze up at Big Ben (aka Elizabeth Tower, Big Ben being the famous bell), we soon arrived at this London skyline superstar. Joining a gaggle of tourists in one of the 32 capsules, we posed for pics and pointed out yet more iconic London sights as the 135m tall Thames-side Ferris wheel took us on a sedate 30 min spin.

Back at the hotel, a Harry Potter Afternoon Tea of wizardly sandwiches and treats had been conjured up alongside spectacles, wands and stripey scarves poised to transform us into the boy wonder himself. After devouring our dainty delights, we duly spent the rest of the afternoon slumped into sugar-induced catnaps. London sightseeing is a tiring business, and this downtime was a welcome reboot before heading out for our evening’s entertainment.

London-bound friends had told me about Frameless, an immersive art experience much like the recently opened Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience currently occupying Belfast’s Carlisle Memorial Church. Spread across four huge rooms, each Frameless space reveals the work of iconic artists from Klimt to Canaletto, Rembrandt to Van Gogh and many more with floor to ceiling projections and harmonious sounds conveying you right into the heart of each piece. 

The children were as mesmerised as us adults as we all spent an absorbing few hours surrounded by these majestic masterpieces. As the high street reinvents itself, this type of extra-sensory experience popping up in spaces across the country could herald a new era in visitor attractions. 

Our final day in London was spent in an altogether older immersive experience. Since 1835, excited crowds have been flocking to Madame Tussauds to get up close to over 150 lifelike waxwork effigies of the good, great and, as in the super-creepy Chamber of Horrors, downright grizzly. 

A one-way system ensures selfie ops with everyone from royalty to celebrities and sports stars to serial killers. Where else can you pout with Kim Kardashian, sing alongside Ed Sheeran and squeeze between Harry and Meghan? Taking a fun black taxi ride through London’s colourful history and having our senses bombarded by superheroes in the bold, brash Marvel Universe 4D experience completed a full-on day of weird and wonderful Madame Tussauds memories.

Back outside, we caught a Big Bus open top tour for a final zip past Trafalgar Square, across Tower Bridge and back via Buckingham Palace before catching the train to our next regal destination. The newly opened Elizabeth Line takes a mere 30-minutes from Paddington Station to Slough - our base for two days exploring nearby Windsor. 

I’d never considered staying in Slough when organising this part of our trip. Turns out, though, it makes perfect sense being so close to London and just five minutes from Windsor by train or taxi. And our second hotel was just as fabulous as the first with, yes you’ve guessed it, separate accommodation for both us and the kids. 

The Residence Inn by Marriott Slough is a purpose-built contemporary apart-hotel whose 92 spacious studios and suites come with fully equipped kitchens and all mod cons designed to ensure short or extended stays feel as comfy as home. Our adjoining one bed suites were so roomy we barely saw the kids who were delighted with their decadent slumber pads far from our prying eyes.

Managing to prise ourselves from our stylishly cool rooms, we took the train into Windsor for dinner at The Real Greek, a cute Mediterranean taverna nestled beneath the imposing silhouette of Windsor Castle. Feeling famished, the four of us went overboard and ordered a mountain of meze and assorted sides that arrived on tiered stands positively groaning with lamb meatballs, fried calamari and lots more delicious dishes. Rolling out replete a couple of hours later we headed back to Slough for some well-earned shuteye before resuming our sightseeing the following day.

On 19 September 2022, Windsor was thrust into the global spotlight when millions of viewers watched the Queen’s funeral. Since then, thousands of visitors have made a pilgrimage to the town’s grandest of royal residences to view Her Majesty’s final resting place. We joined the queue within the wonderous St. George’s Chapel and spent a few moments taking in the sheer simplicity of the tomb of our longest reigning monarch. 

We then headed inside Windsor Castle to a walk through 1000 years of royal history and survey room after room of priceless arts and antiquities.  Since William the Conqueror, forty kings and queens have called this, the world’s largest inhabited castle, home. The devastating fire in 1992 – famously dubbed by the Queen as her “annus horribilis” – swept through the historic State Apartments at a devastating pace. The event precipitated a painstaking five year £36.5million restoration project which brought the building back to its former glory.

Gazing in awe at the Castle’s staggering opulence, it’s incredible to think much of it was destroyed on that fateful night. Today multimedia guides keep visitors well informed, and children can choose their own age-friendly version. Our two were as overawed at this most illustrious of residences as we were, and we all enjoyed rounding off our trip with a photo stop beside the Guards bedecked in pristine uniforms like supersized toy soldiers. A momentous day out absolutely worthy of a London detour.

Windsor town’s imminently walkable layout led us out of the Castle grounds and on to lunch in Patch at the Plaza. This fabulous al fresco café has lots of fluffy rugs and heat lamps to keep diners cosy as they graze on gorgeous grub with a distinctly ‘street food gone posh’ vibe. I opted for octopus, while Ray and the children chose chicken dishes. The regularly changing menu often features produce from the nearby royal farm, so you know you’re getting the best of fare at this quirky spot which has more than nod to the Nordics. A Midnight Bramble cocktail for me and Windsor & Eton Brewery Pale Ale for him rounded off a happy hour in this happening lunch spot. 

The Lumley family who own Patch at the Plaza are a busy lot; not only does the daughter run the restaurant, but the son heads up the amphibious Windsor Duck Tours while their dab-hand dad has created Windsor Escape Experience, the next stop on our busy itinerary. The aptly-themed Crown Jewels Heist had the four of us attempting to crack codes, liberate the loot and make good our, well, escape. One hour later and we’d just about managed to solve the puzzles and get our hands on the booty. 

This great fun interactive game was another example of how the high street is evolving to become a destination of experiences as much as shopping. And our final stop managed to combine both, as we got stuck into creating bespoke bars of chocolate at nearby Dr. Choc’s Windsor Chocolate Factory. Choccy bars securely stashed, we headed back on the train to Slough and checked out the Moxy Slough hotel - adjoining The Residence Inn - whose riot of colours and F.A.B. Thunderbirds-themed graffiti positively screamed fun. The 1960s sci-fi puppet show was filmed in Slough, hence the retro childhood theme. Lego, Horlicks, wheelie bins and, of course, Ricky Gervais’s seminal sitcom The Office can also claim local roots. Turns out there’s more to Slough than meets the eye. 

While me and Ray sipped a couple of chilled beers in Moxy’s uber-cool lounge bar, Scarlett and Fred laid claim to the swinging chairs before challenging us to a few games of foosball, Jenga and ping pong. Suffice to say, they won. We retired contented to our separate studios and looked across to the floodlit Windsor Castle before slipping into yet another blissful sleep.  

Waking up to the last day of our London and Windsor break, there was still time before our flight home to cram in a Toot Bus open top tour of Windsor and neighbouring Eton, home of the famous public school attended by Princes William and Harry. Had there been more time, I’d have loved to have jumped off to see the Windsor Farm Shop and explore Windsor Great Park and Long Walk crowned by that castle. As it was, a French Brothers Boat Trip along the Thames provided one final iconic view of Windsor Castle and several millionaire homes along the watery route.

We grabbed a handy bus to Heathrow from right outside The Residence Inn and rounded off our royal trip spending a suitably stylish couple of hours in the Plaza Premium Lounge. Stretching out in comfy chairs and treating ourselves to hot food and a few beverages provided the perfect ending to our four-day family jaunt. Well, you wouldn’t expect us to mingle with the hoi polloi now, would you?

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