One of my favorite quotes is – “Traveling is an antidote to ignorance”. Travelling to new countries and experiencing different cultures really opens up your mind to appreciate different perspectives. This summer our family had the privilege to visit London and Paris and the experience was absolutely amazing. Several folks ask me what I eat while traveling since vegan food is not easy to find so this time I have added links to the places which I found and had great options.
The hardest part of any trip is the actual planning and booking process. Since this was our first visit to Europe we researched and compared several different options, dates and websites and finally landed on selecting a package deal from Costco Travel as that gave us a really good value and convenience of booking everything in one shot. We also preferred hotels over AirBnB’s since the Costco package included breakfast in all their hotels which was a great plus.
Along with the travel we also did a ton of research on the top things to do and had pre-booked the following attractions so that we don’t have to spend a lot of time in ticket lines: Harry Potter Studios Tour, Buckingham Palace Tour, Eiffel Tower and Louvre. At the same time we kept enough days free so do something impromptu or adjust our itinerary if the weather was not on our side.
After nearly missing our connection in Salt Lake City due to a delayed Delta flight, we made it to our hotel around noon: Reubens at the Palace. The beautiful hotel was right opposite Buckingham Palace so it was a great location to use as a base for all our planned activities.
Day 1 – Soaking in the city
Since we only had half a day and were tired from our journey, we kicked off the trip by walking around the hotel and enjoying our first look of Buckingham Palace and then walked over to Trafalgar Square and did a lot of people watching. London looked strikingly similar to Mumbai (Bombay) where we grew up and it was easy to see the British influence in a lot of things which are still present in the city today.
Food: Pizza with Vegan options at Franco Manca (https://createvictoria.com/food-and-drink/franco-manca)
Day 2 – Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Thames River Cruise
The second day started with experiencing the story of the tower of London. We rented the audio guide here and I would say that it’s a must if you really want to enjoy the history behind the tower. The highlight of the tour was seeing the crown jewels which are proudly displayed inside a vault within the tower. We spent a good 3 hours here enjoying different parts of the tower and listening to the stories and history of the place.
From here we walked down to the iconic tower bridge to take a few instagram worthy selfies and then walked back to the dock where we did a boat cruise on the Thames river. The cruise allows you to see the different tourist attractions from a unique vantage point and was quite enjoyable.
Food: Mediterranean food with tons of vegan options (https://www.troia-restaurant.co.uk/)
Day 3 – Harry Potter Studios
Our family is big on Harry Potter and everyone was looking forward to this studio tour. The place was a bit far from the city but the Costco package we had purchased included a great benefit which allowed us to setup transportation and tickets for this in advance.
The tour was incredible and it showed how the movies were shot, had different sets, props and costumes as well. This is very different than what you will experience at a universal studios theme park which is focused more on the rides. After coming back from the tour we spent the evening celebrating a family birthday with a fantastic Thai dinner and drinks.
Food: Thai food with several Vegan options (https://www.busaba.com/)
Day 4 – Buckingham Palace, HYDE PARK, London Eye
If you have ever wished to live like a king or a queen a trip to Buckingham Palace is a must. This tour only opens in summer as the rest of the months it is actually home to the royal family. The tour along with the free audio guide tells you the history of the different rooms and how the family uses them today. It was a remarkable experience for sure! After the tour we spent the afternoon strolling around the hyde park which was just a few blocks away from the palace. The park is quite a peaceful one and it reminds you of central park in New York.
After some rest in the hotel and waiting for the weather to get a bit cooler, we went to experience London Eye which was definitely quite crowded and as “touristy” as it can get. It was still a fun experience to do do it and get some great pictures of the city. The last day ended in a surprisingly good riverside restaurant where we enjoyed some good food and wine
Food: International food at Giraffe with many Vegan options (https://www.giraffe.net/locations/southbank-centre/main-menu)
Day 5 – Train ride, Seine River Cruise
Do you think it’s possible to take a train ride under water? Yes it is! Eurostar operates super fast trains between London and several destinations in Europe which go through the channel tunnel. The ride was super fun, very comfortable and was much better than taking a flight.
Our hotel in Paris (https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-7229-pullman-paris-tour-eiffel/index.shtml ) was right next to the Eiffel tower and hand incredible views of this iconic monument. After resting for some time we walked over to the river bank and decided to take a river cruise and spend the evening enjoying the sunset.
Food: International restaurant Frame with a few Vegan options (https://restaurants.accorhotels.com/gb/restaurant-7229_R001-frame-paris.shtml)
Day 6 – Montmartre, Eiffel Tower
We decided to go see Sacré-Cœur which is located in Montmartre, a district frequented by artists in the late 19th century. The basilica is located on top of a hill and offers unparalleled panoramic views of the city. We even got a portrait done of our son from a local artist and it was a great experience. Getting an Uber back to the hotel from this place was a challenge but after a few failed attempts we finally got one just in time to make it for our Eiffel tower visit to the summit.
We stopped at all the different levels of the Eiffel tower and even took the steps from Level 2 to Level 1 on the way down to avoid the crowds. Each level had a unique view of the city and we probably took more pictures than we needed to make sure we make the most of our first visit to the tower.
Food: Cute French Restaurant with several Vegetarian options (http://www.cremaillere1900.com/restaurant-montmartre/)
Day 7 – Sainte-Chapelle, Luxembourg Gardens, Picnic
Since it’s not possible to visit the Notre-Dame due to the recent tragic fire, we decided to explore Sainte-Chapelle which is another beautiful church with magnificent stained glass decor. We had a great lunch and ice cream at a nearby cafe before heading to the Luxembourg gardens nearby for an afternoon walk. The garden is a great place to people watch and enjoy the afternoon in a relaxed Parisian setting.
For the evening, we grabbed some sandwiches and wine to enjoy a picnic dinner at a park which had amazing views of the Eiffel tower and it was truly an evening to remember!
Food: French cafe with lots of smoothies, falafel and other vegan options (http://www.leparadisdufruit.fr/)
Day 8 – Louvre
The last day of the trip was well spent at the Louvre exploring the different sculptures and paintings which are on exhibit here. We were truly blown away with how big the Louvre was and the crowd inside made it feel like it was an indoor Disneyland. The guided tour which we had booked earlier was definitely a great benefit as we would not be able to see the highlights of the museum on our own.
The self directed audio guide was also a good option but it was almost too geeky and was not very well designed or optimized for first time visitors but seemed to be more geared towards folks who want to dive deeper into certain sections of art.
Of course we stood in the line to see the original Mona Lisa painting as well and while you don’t get enough time to look at the painting it was a surreal experience to actually see the real thing which is a sight we will remember for a while.
Food: Italian restaurant with several Vegan options (https://www.yelp.com/biz/domenico-paris)
While I am no expert at Europe given that this was only our first trip, here are some tips which I think you will find useful:
- Book popular things early. A lot of attractions like Louvre and Harry Potter studio tour sell out a few months in advance. A little planning can go a long way.
- Download offline translator apps, very useful when you can’t speak the language
- Google maps allows you to download offline maps. You will need this for navigating your way and finding directions
- While the free 2G speed T-Mobile provides is usable, I would recommend getting a high speed data pass if you are going for a short time
- If you plan to use public transportation, download CityMapper app which is much better than google maps for navigating public transportation options