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Glimpses of my first European Vacation to The City of The Tube

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before – Dalai Lama

One of my favorite quotes that I have strived to live by in the past few years, and cannot be more grateful to this Universe for manifesting my traveling desires into qualitative experiences and outcomes. With this brief introduction, let me dive into sharing my experiences from my 2022 summer vacation to London. London is one of the most visited cities of the world - a city that never sleeps, a city that is home to the world-famous underground railway system The Tube, a city that houses The Big Ben, a city that is home to the longest reigning Queen (who recently passed away), home to the Wimbledon, the capital city of England - an imperialistic country that once ruled most of the world and this list continues. With so much and more to offer to a wanderlust traveler, by mid-May 2022 I was convinced that London and a few places surrounding London would be my maiden 2022 European summer vacation destination for 7 days (+ 2 travel days) and thus began the exciting but exhausting planning for my July 2022 solo summer vacation.....woo-hoo.

As with any of my prior travels, one of the first things I did was to join one or 2 Facebook (FB) Travel groups pertinent to the traveling place, for example: London Travel Tips FB group was definitely a useful planning resource.

With bags packed, travel itinerary and a passport in my hands, homemade Indian breakfast to gorge at the airport (and yes to those wondering eyes, packing homemade Indian food to eat at the airport is a staple during my travels....hahaha) and with building excitement I embarked on my summer vacation after a 5 month traveling hiatus on the 8th of July, 2022 and landed early AM in London on the 9th of July, 2022.

Home made idlis and spiced powder consumed at the Atlanta airport.....haha yes, I am a true South Indian at heart while global in mind

Touching down in London

Day 1 - Given that my AirBNB was located at a walkable distance from South Kensington, it was an easy access to the South Kensington area (cafes, shops, tube station), Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, China town, Victoria and Albert Museum, Soho, Harrods - the high-end celebrity shopping plaza and the Buckingham Palace. London weather is known for its unpredictability specifically the unannounced sudden rains while summers don’t get too hot either, however I was fortunate to be in the midst of a heat wave that was plaguing London in July 2022. I say fortunate because despite the heat, I had uninterrupted sight-seeing without having to worry about the rains breaking my itineray.

After exploring the Hyde Park during the day, I met up with friends over dinner in the Covent Garden. I learned to navigate the red bus and its bus stops in the city fairly quickly with the help of City Mapper and Google Maps apps so meeting up with my friends on my first evening in London wasn’t a challenge. Following dinner, my friend’s husband, a London native guided us through a mini-walking tour through the streets of the Covent Garden, Theater District, Leicester Square (where we were mesmerized by the soft tunes of a violin street musician) Soho, Piccadilly Circus and China Town. One thing that quickly caught my eye through these street walks was the bustling crowds bubbling with energy everywhere late through the night, which were going to be a norm in this city as I will soon realize from rest of my vacation.

In front of the Trafalgar Square

The Vibrant Covent Garden

Day 2 – Sunday morning sight-seeing began with grabbing a cup of cappuccino from a road side café on my way to the Buckingham Palace. The 11 AM Changing of the Guards in front of the palace was certainly a very popular item to check off my list as I completely enjoyed the music of the ceremony synchronous with the foot taps of marching of the guards.

During Changing of the Guards at the Buckingham Palace

The gigantic Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the Buckingham Palace symbolized the popularity of Queen Victoria, who was the second longest reigning Queen after the late Queen Elizabeth II.

The British Museum was my next stop where I spent rest of my afternoon browsing through its myriad of exhibits. Similar to the Washington DC museums, this museum was loaded with a large number of informative exhibits with a free entrance fee. The Rosetta Stone from Egypt is housed in this Museum which garners much attention from the world, while a range of magnificent objects from South Asia inclusive of but not limited to a collection of Chinese Jade (turquoise Jade of specific mention), the sculpture collections from India such as Lord Nandi - the bull vahana (bull vehicle) of the Hindu God Shiva, Lord Vishnu from the Khajuraho temples, extensive collections of Mummy displays from Egypt, Parthenon sculptures from ancient Greece and many more interesting exhibits make a visit to this museum worthwhile and informative.

I wrapped up my Day 2 with a sumptuous vegetarian meal in the vibrant and buzzling China Town that was only a few bus stops from my Airbnb. As I would realize from the rest of my trip, my walks on the cobblestone streets between my Airbnb and the Public Transit were one of my favorite things on this trip that I was looking forward to any time of the day/night.

Day 3 – Rise and shine, the day started early as I was out and about by 7 AM eager to go on my first day trip outside London with a tour company through Viator ( to Windsor Castle, Stone Henge and Roman Baths. I witnessed the peak hour London traffic as I rode the tour bus through this traffic to the Windsor Castle. Historic European cities are admired for their Castles, Palaces, Cathedrals. Windsor Castle, the Royal residence of the British Royal family at Windsor in the English county of Berkshire was my first stop in this list of historical places of visit, needless to say my excitement started to build as I was standing in queue to enter the brick castle.

At 9:00 AM, roads in Windsor leading to the castle were thronged with visitors and this was a norm in every place of visit during my vacation in London. At the Windsor Castle, we got glimpses of the State Apartments, famous Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, St. George’s Chapel, Windsor gardens and Changing of the Guard ceremony at 11 AM. This ceremony at Windsor was more easily viewable, less crowded, with lesser pomp and splendor than the one at the Buckingham Palace.

Stonehenge, an hour drive from the Windsor Castle was our next stop. Stonehenge is a prehistoric temple, its great stones raised about 4,500 years ago, a masterpiece of Engineering, with the stones carefully arranged to line up with the movements of the sun. After an hour of viewing the stones, capturing its beauty through many clicks from several angles, and quenching the thirst and hunger with a delicious ice cream we got on the coach to the romantic city of Bath, about an hour drive from Stonehenge.

Bath, largest city in the Somerset county, England is known for its Romans built baths and beautiful Georgian era architecture (Georgian era – 1714 to 1830-1837 AD), and Pulteney bridge to name a few. Bath is most popular for the Roman Baths, a spiritual site built by the Romans during the first century AD, and then continued to be constructed/renovated in the 18th and 19th centuries AD. Most of my allocated 1 hour and 45 minutes of sight-seeing in this city was spent touring the Roman Baths which included extensive baths, a major temple complex built around the Hot Springs, informative chats with a couple of look-alike Roman women from the 18th century (haha….these women were dressed/styled/spoke like women from the Bath era, one was a wealthy woman and the other was her servant), and ending the tour after a taste of the hot springs water. Following this, I walked on the streets of Bath bordered by Georgian architecture, peeked over River Avon at the unusual and popular Pulteney Bridge (unusual because the bridge has shops lined across its entire length) and then hopped onto the Coach for a 3-hour ride back to London.

Honestly, after a short exploration in this picturesque city my heart desired to have toured this magical place at least for a day or two to devour the essence of this city. But there is always next time, next visit…..and that’s how I convinced myself throughout my vacation in London when time was never enough to savor the places of visit as much as I would have loved to do.

Mouth-watering pastries, ice-creams and gelatos were super accessible and delicious in London, I sumptuously relished my first Pistachio gelato from Snowflake, a neighborhood gelato place post dinner before hitting the sack.

Chocolate gelato from Snowflake dessert place in South Kensington

Day 4 - After a really busy 3 days of sight-seeing in London, day 4 was when I stopped at road side cute cafes in the vicinity of South Kensington Tube station and identified a few favorites which would be my regular breakfast stops for the remaining days in London. Rose latte became my new favorite from the Farm Child’ café (insert pic) which I greedily consumed every morning to kick start my day for the next 3 days.

Ensuing the sumptuous breakfast, I headed to the Tower of London for sight-seeing. One of the must see historic places in London, The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London (Wikipedia). Attractive part of the Tower of London tour was ‘The Jewel House: Home of the Crown Jewels’ exhibit, what the Brits say ‘as the priceless and enduring symbols of royal authority’ though the fact remains that many of the precious jewels/stones embedded in the crowns were unfairly seized by the imperialistic British during their rule across the world including the much coveted, priceless, beautiful Koh-i-Nur Diamond’ which the East India Company seized from Punjab at the end of Anglo-Sikh Wars in 1850 and gifted to Queen Victoria. This diamond was later embedded into the Crown of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother in 1937. The White Tower’ named after the white stone it was built from has a remarkable display of royal armor and houses St. John’s Chapel; The Bloody Tower’ where many of the country’s dirtiest deeds were done, strolling the large palace grounds inside the premises, and learning about the myth behind the Ravens at the Tower, iconic residents of the Tower were some of the other interesting things I had checked out during my tour of the Tower. Needless to say, I was exhausted when I got to my next stop- Tower Bridge, symbolic of London city as seen in posters, movies, postcards, etc.

Tower Bridge is the London’s most striking bridge known for its Neo-gothic architecture and its lifting central sections (also called as bascules) constructed for 8 years (1886-1894), opened in 1894 to give better access to the East side of London which had expanded its commercial potential in the 19th century. Its lifting central sections is definitely an engineering marvel that allowed the passing of taller ships seamlessly across the bridge on River Thames. Twenty interesting facts about Tower Bridge can be read here Tower Bridge, the spectacular glass floors in the high-level walkways of the Tower Bridge are not to be missed, and the experience was definitely worth the extra cost of the ticket to access these high-level walkways. These high-level walkways were the first of my 3 vantage points for a bird’s eye view of London, each of the 3 vantage points offering a different perspective/experience of views of London.

Physically and mentally exhausted after touring the Towers, I ravenously ate a tasteful Indian dinner of spicy egg curry served with basmati rice, yummy yogurt and a cold coke at Gunpowder Towerbridge, an upscale Indian restaurant at a walkable distance from the Tower Bridge.

Delicious dinner at Gun Powder, an Indian restaurant in the vicinity of the Tower Bridge

Following this, I took a ride service to the Big Ben. At about 8:30 pm, The Houses of Parliament located on the North Bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster was crowded with politicians meeting/discussing/likely voting (so I learned from a local) - all related to the replacement of Boris Johnson who had resigned from his Prime Minister (PM) role a few days before and was an acting PM until his replacement took office. Tours to the top of the Big Ben which were currently closed due to the pandemic were anticipated to reopen in December 2022, hence I made the most of my time in this area by posing in front of the Big Ben and enjoying the dusky sights of River Thames, London eye, and window shopping the road side shops on the London Bridge.

Later that night, I treated myself yet again to a delicious chocolate gelato from Snowflake which by the way had a queue of people from the street at 10:20 pm - one of the lifestyle or cultural aspects about this city that I loved because the city never slept, restaurants/cafes were open late in the night and there was always human life present, therefore solo or non-solo vacation, one never feel alone or bored.

Day 5 - More than half way through my London vacation at this point, Day 5 started with my favorite Rose latte from the Farm Child’ café followed by a tube ride to the Warwick Avenue Tube station for a walking tour by London Walks . Roses, hibiscus, and a myriad of perennials/annuals were decorating many streets of London during my visit, and I was welcomed to a mix of blue/purple/white hibiscus bushes when I got off the Warwick Avenue Tube station. For a passionate gardener, these floral visuals spread out on London streets were a visual delight to my eyes.

I stumbled upon rave reviews about the walking tours by London Walks during my research for this vacation, and therefore I decided to check out one of their smaller group walking tours, Little Venice – pursuit of pleasure. The tour guide took us through the streets of Little Venice (this name is sometimes attributed to the poet Robert Browning) lined with Victorian buildings from the Queen Victorian Era (mid 19th century), enlightening us on relevant historical details through the course of the tour. Many of the expensive white painted stucco terraced townhouses in Little Venice were remarkably attractive. Regents Canal (located just north of Central London) that runs from Little Venice to Docklands is 9 miles long with cafes, restaurants and pubs dispersed along its way, where people can ride on boats through paddling, motor boats, canoeing, etc. to the popular Camden Market among other places on this canal. The tour guide informed us about the exorbitant fees (in tens of thousands of pounds/year) a few celebrities/wealthy people pay to have their house boats parked on the Regents canal.

Next stop was The Shard (The Shard), the tallest 72-storey building in the United Kingdom, my second vantage point in this trip for a bird’s eye view of London from the indoors of a tall building. Prior to The Shard I went on a River Thames indoor seated cruise which was fairly informative about the historical buildings sitting on both sides of the River Thames, however the downside to this tour was the passengers were not allowed to enjoy the sights of the historical buildings from outdoors on the boat (like in the US for example, where all the cruises I have been on the passengers were allowed to experience and feel the ocean from outdoor settings of a boat). I didn’t quite enjoy this cruise for this reason and I also noticed that the river was muddy and opaque. After the cruise, I squeezed some time to check out the popular Borough Market (right before its closing time), one of the largest and oldest food markets in London with 1,000 years of heritage located in the heart of London next to one end of the London Bridge (Borough Market). The market was enticing with an eclectic mix of fruit and vegetable vendors, restaurants, pastry shops, etc. I say this again, pastries in London were mouth-watering, ubiquitous and superior in taste and I feasted on them throughout my trip when possible.

Next up was The View from the Shard– where the visitors were exposed to views of London from levels 33 and 72. Level 72 was the highest point in the building with 360° views of London around the building which was personally worth the ticket price. Like a magnet I was drawn to all possible views of the Tower Bridge with River Thames underneath it, and spectacular views of Walkie Talkie office building, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, Tate Modern and distant views of the Buckingham Palace, Wimbledon Tennis Court, Windsor Castle summed up my memorable visit to this tourist attraction.

Given that I was staying in an Airbnb at the South Kensington area, it would defeat the totality of my trip had I not visited the world-famous Harrods, an expensive, celebrity shopping mall located in the same neighborhood. Therefore, I fulfilled this wish of mine by a quick stop at Harrods, picking up a perfume as a Harrods memorabilia and then headed to a sumptuous vegetarian dinner at Zaika, an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood. Food and service were great at this restaurant.

Day 6 - Following breakfast, my first stop was the majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral located in the City of London - popularly known as the location for the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. The facade of the Cathedral was lined with beautiful climbing roses of variegated colors such as yellow, orange, peach, pink, etc. Given my love for roses and flowers, I spent a decent amount of time capturing and enjoying these beauties. Next, I was floored by the stunning display of dark pink hydrangea hedges surrounding the Cathedral.

The mammoth St. Paul’s Cathedral was replete with grandiose from the get go consisting of extraordinary artistic tall ceilings, dome murals, stunning stained-glass paintings, a few symbolic sculptures, large pulpit among other things that engrossed me for a couple of hours.

One of the interesting and challenging things to do at this Cathedral was to climb the spiral staircase (also called the geometric stair) of 528 steps to get to the top of the Cathedral called the Golden Gallery, for the third and final 360° views of London on this trip. Needless to say, the climb through the narrow spiral staircase first to the Stone Gallery after 378 steps, and next to the Golden Gallery encircling the highest point of the Outer dome after 528 steps was an intense workout. However, the 360° outdoor views of London were completely worth the effort and pain of the climb, and I once again spent a considerable amount of time taking in the views of London, now super accustomed to quickly spotting The Shard and The Tower Bridge from such high altitudes.

Due to the elaborate time spent exploring the sprawling St. Paul’s Cathedral, I couldn’t make it to Westminster Abbey tour before it closed the gates to visitors at 3:30 pm (by the time I reached this Cathedral and discovered its entrance gate which didn’t seem to have proper directions it was 3:31 pm and the security guard refused to allow me inside the Cathedral) which was disappointing as it disrupted my plans for the day. Nevertheless, I moved on and decided to check out the Tate Modern, a nearby art museum for an hour before it closed at 5 pm for the day. It was a stimulating and expansive museum with a modern approach to art using various media from artists around the world.

After a quick visit to the Oxford Street for window shopping and miscellaneous shopping at the Mark & Spencers, a British multinational retailer I headed out to Memories of India, an Indian restaurant in Kensington. Walking the streets of London in the nights to get dinner or dessert was one of my favorite pastimes on this trip.

Day 7 - Woke up to the final day of my sight-seeing on this trip, which happened to be a Viator day trip to Cotswolds, a region in the central-southwest England known for its picturesque rural villages and towns known for honey-hued stone architecture built of Cotswolds stones (local stone). Ever since I discovered this must-see place in England during my research prior to the trip, I was zealously looking forward to this day because the virtual pictures of the gorgeous Cotswolds villages were my imaginative semblance to the Paradise on Earth. Super grateful for this manifested dream, I headed out to this day trip dressed in colors to complement a beautiful Cotswolds day ahead of me. Our first stop was Bibury – the most beautiful village in England, home to Arlington Row – one of the most photographed streets in the country, if not the world . Words or any length of writing CANNOT describe the complete grace and splendor of Bibury as it is a magical feeling to be experienced and felt. Honey-hued stone houses surrounded by spectacular rose gardens, climbing roses and a variety of bushes in this village reminded me of scenes from the fairy tales I have read growing up – it seemed truly out of this world while still very much part of the world (an oxymoron). One of the many spectacular sights was a lake next to the road by shops and cafes.

At Burford, our second stop on this tour we strolled the streets of this village and had our lunch at one of the charming roadside cafes. I am attracted to independent book stores during my travels because of the rarity of such occurrences during my non-travel times, and hence spent some time browsing at one such independent book store – The Madhatter Bookshop and then stopped for lunch at a picturesque outdoor restaurant. Lightly fried, mildly spiced pan-fried cauliflower and an iced coke deliciously made its way into my stomach which fueled me for rest of my Cotswolds tour.

Final stop was Bourton-On-The-Water, a third feather to the stunning Cotswolds villages famed for its five stone bridges also known as the Venice of the Cotswolds. Following the recommendation by our tour guide, I stopped by The Cotswold Perfumery for their free sampling of a variety of local made perfumes, shopped a travel size perfume from this store and then left to stroll the streets of this village. The honey-hued homes surrounded by show-stopper gardens continued to marvel, climbing roses were a thing in England as observed in dispersed places throughout this trip and after relishing a delectable cone ice cream by the lake we bid good-bye to this memorable Cotswolds day and headed back to London.

After returning to London, this last evening of my vacation was spent browsing an independent bookstore, Thai dinner and ending with a super delicious, calorie dense hot chocolate from Snowflake my favorite dessert place in South Kensington.

Early next morning, I jumped on my flight back to Atlanta with feelings of immense gratitude, joy and fulfillment for an incredible maiden London vacation with a silent prayer to return to explore more of this incredible city and more of Europe in the near future.

Recommended Restaurants and Cafes:

Useful tips:

  1. Definitely ride on the Tube, it is an experience not to be missed. Hundreds of thousands of passengers use the Tube regularly, yet these trains and stations were impeccably clean when compared to the public transport in the USA. Do not get intimidated by the complex Tube maps in the Tube stations or on your apps, use Google Maps/City Mapper apps for navigation and it will direct you to the Tube options appropriate for your destination.

  2. I survived without an Oyster card and I was just fine with the contactless credit cards for public transportation.

  3. Contactless credit cards are a thing in London, carry one or two international contactless credit cards during your time in London for seameless shopping, public transportation, sight-seeing, dining, etc. I hardly used GBP (cash).

  4. Use Bolt instead of Uber for your ride services since Bolt is slightly cheaper than Uber. Download the Bolt app for use.

  5. I debated purchasing a London Pass but did not buy one since it did not make sense with my travel itinerary, so consider weighing in pros and cons before purchasing a London pass that is highly recommended if you research online.

  6. Google Maps and City Mapper Apps were lifesavers because between these 2 apps I could get to any destination during sight-seeing - either by walks or to the Tube stations/Red Bus stops. It was incredible because either of the apps would inform the user about the time of the next train or bus to your destination so you could plan ahead.

  7. Join Facebook groups as you plan your travel or to bounce off questions or need clarifications on things.

  8. Wear comfortable shoes because London is a very walkable city, carry an umbrella or a rain coat because of its unpredictable weather.

  9. I used T-Mobile's international data, talk and text plan in London (one of the cheaper option plans) and it worked really well in this country.



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