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Kendra Thornton: London with the family

Kendra shares her favourite things to do in London with the family...

US TV travel expert Kendra Thornton started visiting London at an early age. Here she tells us about her favourite experiences and why she is looking forward to bringing her own kids to the city. You started travelling from an early age - how old were you when you first visited London? How many times have you visited? I was 10 years old the first time I visited London, and I’ve been to the city dozens of times over the last three decades. My parents established our family business, Royal Travel, in the early 1970s. Of course a big bonus of owning a travel agency was that they got to experience destinations for themselves! So we travelled all over the world when I was growing up, but London was always one of my parents’ favorite cities. We spent many Christmas holidays here during my childhood - we'd typically arrive on Boxing Day and stay through the New Year celebration. What were your impressions of London as a child/teenager? I always loved how international the city was - I would hear so many languages while walking the streets. And on many visits I made friends with other kids from all over the world such as Australia, Africa and other parts of Europe. Later on, in my university days, I spent a year studying in Paris which is another great city, but I kept being drawn back to London. During that time I made many trips here to visit friends living in Bayswater. We loved the museums, window shopping around Knightsbridge and the pub culture, but I had better not tell you in which order! Did you have any favourite spots in the city or favourite memories? So many! We would spend hours touring the Cabinet War rooms (now the Churchill War Rooms) - that was always my favourite attraction. Afterwards we would walk over to Parliament and Westminster. I remember shopping being a big thing. My mother would take me to Harrods to purchase my favorite perfume Quelque Fleurs (which at the time could not be purchased in the U.S.). My mother loves Mayfair - especially the Dorchester - so we always stayed in that neighborhood and had a great time just exploring, walking the streets and browsing the shops. And food was always very important. We always dined at The Grenadier (my dad’s favourite) and Hard Rock London (my pick) and we loved the Red Lion and Guinea Grill. Another staple of each trip was a traditional high tea at a fancy hotel. When my family gets together we have a lot of laughs about memories from our London travels... the time the restaurant manager thought my dad was Hulk Hogan and kept insisting on an autograph, the first time I went to the Hippodrome nightclub in Piccadilly Circus with my brothers (I don’t need to elaborate) and then there’s the time we almost missed our flight because we were spending our last pounds shopping the duty free... You’re now a mother - are you planning to bring your own kids to London and what would you like to show them? I have three young children - aged 6, 8 and 10 - and they are now finally at the age where I can take all of them on a trip to Europe and they are old enough to appreciate and retain the experience. London is the perfect place because there is no language barrier and my kids will be enthralled by the history and architecture – it’s so different from our home city Chicago. You won’t be surprised to learn that my two daughters love all things princess, so taking them to Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Kensington Palace - where real life Queens and Princesses have been - will be such a treat for them. And I know my son will love the Tower of London and the Churchill War Rooms, with their rich history and stories of Kings and battles. You have obviously travelled extensively around the world. Why do you think London is so popular with international visitors and what makes it stand out from other cities? I think it’s popular because it has a fantastic and distinct culture with rich and enthralling history - visit the Tower of London and you can learn so much about so many distinct and different historical periods. It’s hard to think of a building anywhere in the world that has witnessed such upheaval and so many major events. London is full of gorgeous historical buildings, and not just in the city itself. Although as a visitor you have to make an effort to get to Windsor Castle or Hampton Court Palace, it’s absolutely worth it. Do not underestimate the importance of location. London is easy to travel to from the U.S., the Middle East and Africa, as well as mainland Europe, which makes it an attractive destination for many potential travellers. Finally, the people are wonderful too! Prior to your visit this summer you had not been in London for several years. Did anything surprise you? I think what I loved most was seeing how much London hasn’t changed. It’s a city that always has that 'old world' feel - no skyscrapers taking over the city - just the beautiful buildings that have stood the test of time. The only changes in the skyline were the London Eye and The Shard. The only thing that surprised me - but I was relieved to see it - is that those iconic British phone booths are still sprinkled around the city even though the world has gone mobile and there’s no longer a need for phone booths. Somehow London just would not be the same without them. You visited some of London’s iconic attractions, including Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Which did you like best? Tower Bridge was not an attraction the last time I was in London - at least, you could not actually go inside it. So that was so exciting! What an experience to walk across the glass floor (above moving traffic - yikes!) and learn about how the Bridge operated back in the day. I also thought the Royal fashion exhibit at Kensington Palace was fantastic and so well done. It was a special treat to see those gorgeous historic gowns in real life with magazine articles and historical photos showing the Queen or Princess Diana wearing them! Finally, I always love Westminster Abbey - it’s a beautiful church and to think about how many incredible people have walked its floors over the past thousand years never ceases to give me goosebumps. What advice would you give someone planning their first visit to the city? What should they absolutely not miss? You absolutely have to do a traditional high tea - it’s a great experience and so very British! Make sure to visit the Churchill War Rooms and walk around the Tower of London - you feel like you have been transported back in time to old world London. It’s thrilling to see the Crown Jewels too. You must do Westminster Abbey. Take a spin on the London Eye for the beautiful views of the city and stroll through Hyde Park. And of course, get an Oyster card so you can experience the Tube - I love the ease and convenience, not to mention the people watching, of the London subway (or ‘underground’, as it’s locally known!). There are so many “not to miss” experiences in London, which is why it’s a city you need to keep coming back to again and again.

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