Welcome to the third annual Family Travel Times Travel Awards! Once again, we have been lucky enough to visit some brilliant places, but which ones were our favourites? Welcome to the 2015 award ceremony and our top places to visit…
Best in London
Jess: We absolutely loved going to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, as it was so cool and unlike anything we had ever done before. The Ceremony of the Keys is the world’s oldest military ceremony at over 700 years of age, and also one of the shortest (the actual ceremony is only seven minutes long). We booked tickets online at only £1, and turned up at 9:30pm to be taken around by a beefeater. After an explanation about what was going to happen, soldiers came and started locking up the gates, accompanied by the Chief Yeoman Warder, who was dressed in red, holding the Queen’s Keys and a lantern with a single candle in it. It was so exciting to see the soldiers marching, talking (“Halt, who comes there?”), and playing instruments in unison, and I really felt as though we had been transported back in time. I definitely recommend it to anyone in London. Read more about it here.
Unsurprisingly, our family loves food, and this year, we found some fantastic new places to eat in the city. Mum and I also adored the Chocolate Walking Tour around Soho, where we ate loooads of delicious chocolate, went to loads of interesting restaurants (including the strangest toilets we’ve ever seen), and went home absolutely stuffed. Robert also wants to mention Shrek’s Adventure London, which he adored.
Best Day Out
Jess: We spent a full day visiting Bletchley Park (the home of World War II’s code-breakers) in Milton Keynes, and we could have spent longer! It was fascinating to see machines such as the Enigma in real life, and I loved the audio tours which took us around the massive site. Something that interested me was that many code-breakers had to learn specific languages which were not taught in Britain (such as Japanese and Italian) to find out what the codes were saying. We even saw the flashcards that they taught themselves with! We played games, interacted with machines, saw props from the Imitation Game, learnt about life during World War II, and got to see how people would have lived at Bletchley. It was an incredible and engaging day and we learnt loads – you can find out more about it here (and watch our video).
Sarah: Greenwich was a real surprise to us, as we hadn’t expected there to be so much to do and to have such a great time! We loved travelling there by boat, which was really special (especially the first part with the live guide giving commentary) and also coming back on the DLR. Plus, we enjoyed the Maritime Museum (which Robert writes about below), the Observatory, the views, the food, wandering around the market and the Cutty Sark, which is really great place to go with kids and with lots of interactive things to do. It might be tricky to do everything on one day, but I suppose that depends what time you leave in the morning! It’s also all very walkable and you can read more about what we got up to (including a cable car ride across the Thames) here.
Robert: I have chosen Indoor Skydiving as my best day out as it was probably the most unique and exciting activity I’ve ever done. For me nothing could top spinning around above a giant fan and flying up several metres, then plummeting down without ever touching the ground. It felt like you were in a totally different world where you could fly. When you first get in it’s quite overwhelming but after that I had a brilliant time as it felt like you could actually fly. I loved it and could’ve done it over and over again.
Sarah: We arrived in Crete very late at night so we didn’t spot this glorious view until the morning, when Jess ran into our room and ordered us to open the curtains at our hotel, the Domes of Elounda. When I did so, I had to catch a breath – the view was so utterly magnificent. To put it simply, the sky was the most gorgeous blue, and stretched and stretched out in front of us. And there too was the island of Spinalonga, which has its own, moving history (it was a leper colony until the 1950s). Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more breathtaking vista. Simply glorious.
Robert: After we left the Royal Observatory in Greenwich we were at the top of a large grassy hill and in front of us was one of the most amazing views I have ever seen. You could see so much of London and it just took my breath away.
Best Overall Holiday
Jess: There are two holidays that I just can’t choose between this year! I adored visiting Washington DC for three days over October half term – it was very busy, but everything was so brilliant and we absolutely loved it. The museums are all incredible, but our favourites have to be the Newseum (post coming soon) and the Spy Museum, which is our new favourite museum ever! We took a tour bus around the city to see all the iconic sights and monuments, and visited the National Archives Museum to see original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. The city is perfect for families and we loved it.
My other favourite holiday was a road trip around the UK, where we visited Lincoln, Nottingham, and Leicester. Lincoln is probably my new favourite city in the UK, because it’s small, beautiful, and so historical. There are lots of sweet, fudge, and tea shops, and it contains the UK’s third largest Cathedral and a stunning castle. Nottingham was fantastic as we spent lots of time outdoors – we went on segways, cycled around the forest, went to Go Ape, went on a Robin Hood walking tour, went to lots of museums, played so many video games, and had the best burgers we’d ever eaten! We loved visiting the King Richard III Visitor Centre and the National Space Centre in Leicester, and had such an unexpectedly fun and exciting holiday.
Robert: My best overall holiday had got to be Crete (coming soon on the blog, but you can read about our trip to Knossos here), it was just so nice to relax on the beach with a cold drink in your hand and shaded from the hot sun as well as going swimming in the sea and the pools. I had an amazing time going water-skiing for the first time ever and had a tiring but extremely fun kayaking trip with dad. It was fascinating walking around the ancient temple of Knossos and I loved exploring the Island of Spinalonga. There were so many things to do but also loads of time to just relax and that’s why it was my favourite holiday of 2015.
Sarah says: The Spy Museum in Washington was absolutely fantastic. We have been to a lot of museums in our time, but it has to be the best. It’s just such a brilliant concept, the layout is terrific and there’s so much there, but somehow it’s not overwhelming. I loved getting a spy identity, finding out about spies from history (including the famous actress Marlene Dietrich!) and all the interactive exhibits. But I think I was most blown away by the exhibits which really had existed, used in the Cold War and before, from a pipe which could kill, to the shoes with hearing equipment in them. This is a must-do in Washington DC. Read Jess’s review for more…
Robert says: My favourite museum of the year was the brilliant Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich as it had some amazing objects, a superb show that involved the audience and a giant interactive map. What more could you want? There were boats and machines that helped famous voyages and some extraordinary rooms that displayed things like the clothes which Admiral Nelson was wearing when he died. The show, Against Captain’s Orders was a hilarious performance that needed the crowd to go on a big adventure and do different things to get out of the bad situation. I loved everything about the place and had a great time.
Best Place to Stay
Jess: We have stayed at some fabulous hotels in 2015, but I have three favourites. We all loved our cabin at The Sherwood Hideaway in Nottingham, which was in the middle of Sherwood Forest. Our cabin was spacious, had Molten Brown products, and even contained a hot tub! It was lovely and peaceful, and there was even a net outside to play badminton. Obviously, we adored Domes of Elounda in Crete (post coming soon), due to its sunny location, kind staff, luxurious atmosphere, incredible food, and the fact that there was so much to do. We also loved our visit to the Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa in Midhurst, West Sussex. The food was delicious, the hotel was full of history, and the local area was absolutely lovely! We loved swimming in the pool and having a delightful walk in the local area.
Robert: As you might know I love rides and as usual there was a hard decision to make as I needed to pick my best ride of 2015. The first of the two that I have selected is The London Rib Experience as it is so amazing to rush through your city with water spraying in your hair while the vehicle that you are on is tilting on its side. As well as that crazy section of the trip when the boat is jumping and twisting unexpectedly (my favourite part) there was also a detailed tour of London where your guide explained to you about the buildings we saw and some amazing facts about them plus a piece of the experience where you just sat back and relaxed. It was fun, action-packed and I learnt loads from it.
The other ride that I have chosen as my favourite was the amazing simulator at the Air and Space museum. After you learnt how to steer the plane and shoot at the enemy you were put into a small capsule with a screen in front of you. After that, you controlled the plane and what happened on it, so you could just spin around if you wanted to. You could go upside down and tilt completely on your side so it was really cool. It was quite hard to shoot the enemy planes so I stopped after a few minutes and just had fun, It was brilliant!
Sarah: The beach at our hotel at Domes was not your usual affair. It didn’t roll on for miles, nor was it full of stalls. Instead, it was discreet, gorgeous, perfect for relaxing – a real treat.
The beach was in the midst of olive trees, situated next to a bar (for that much needed cocktail) and with sections where you could lie and roast in the sun or be a little cooler if you so desired. The staff were incredibly attentive, there were more than enough sunbeds, and if you fancied a dip, you just had to walk a few metres and you were in the warmest, most welcoming sea. In fact, I wish I was there right now…
Best Hidden Gem
Sarah: Southwell Workhouse is a place with a fascinating and very sad history. It’s also very nicely done, offering all visitors an audio tour where you can find out about the people who had to come here, near Nottingham, as there were no other options. Children were separated from their parents aged only 7 – it was very sobering to find that out – you can read more about it in this piece.
The other gem I would recommend was also in Nottinghamshire and was the National Holocaust Museum. It was also an extremely moving place, very well done and very informative. It’s really good for children and definitely worth visiting if you’re anywhere nearby. Follow the link above to read the children’s post on our visit.
Worthy runner-up: Backstage at the National Theatre.
Jess: I thought that Weald and Downland, and open air museum in West Sussex, was brilliant and so interesting. It is a museum that doesn’t just look at how people lived throughout history, it uses buildings and building practises to show how accommodation and life has changed. The site contains over 50 British buildings from most time periods. These buildings would have been demolished if it were not for the museum, and have all been restorated to look how they would have been hundreds of years ago. I really recommend a visit as it was so unique and interesting.
Jess: We really love the Cereal Killer Cafe, which is located in Camden and Brick Lane. It sells really cool cereals from all over the world, delicious toppings, flavoured milks, pop tarts, and so much more. I love finding cereals that I’ve never seen before, eating them on the beds inside the cafe, and playing retro arcade games for free. It’s a fabulous experience, and Robert loves it so much that I took him there again last week!
Sarah: We have been lucky to try some delicious food this year, and I have to say that it’s really hard to pick the “best” as I’m not really comparing like with like. So, I’m picking two. The first is the Topos 1910 restaurant at Domes of Elounda (a resort I seem to have mentioned a lot in this post!) It’s Greek food, not too fussy, but utterly delicious, and with the most fabulous views to enjoy when you eat. If I’m honest, what I really loved was that the food was simply yummy – I have never tasted feta like I ate there, nor such flavoursome tomatoes or courgettes. Fabulous!
The other place I’m going to mention is totally different, but we all loved Annie’s Burger Shack in Nottingham. It was busy and loud (but not too loud) and friendly, with a great menu containing more than 30 burgers. All could be made vegan or vegetarian and we loved it! Read our piece on Nottingham for more….