Search travel to Europe these days and a deluge of negative headlines will make you rethink your summer vacation. From consistent airline cancelations, overcrowded airports and an almost guarantee your luggage won’t arrive with you, getting on a flight overseas requires a hope, prayer and loads of patience. Savvy traveler Helecia Williams isn’t letting the airline industry woes keep her from living her best life abroad. The Houston-based content creator, who vlogs as iknowlee on social media, just ticked off London from her travel bucket list for the year. (Yes, she has a yearly travel wish list and by the end of 2022 she plans on visiting Costa Rica and Morocco.)
Williams booked her first trip to the U.K. with her American Express Platinum Card which granted her access to an American Express Travel Consultant with expertise in curating a locals-inspired itinerary, which is how she likes to travel anywhere. “What I enjoy when I travel is being in the midst of the people. I’m not a resort kind of girl. I want to stay wherever the locals stay. I want to do whatever the locals do. I want to eat whatever the locals eat,” she said days before heading across the pond.
Upon arrival, Williams’ stay at buzzy The London Edition – a Fine Hotels and Resorts property with 19th Century bones and 21st century amenities – set the mood for her stay in trendy Soho. In fact, the building’s Georgian style architecture, which was originally renovated from five townhomes and converted into the Berners Hotel in 1909, is just one the sights Williams wanted to see up close. “I loved walking the streets of Soho and getting a vibe for the people, the atmosphere, shopping and the architecture…” she said. “…Because the buildings façades are often the original structures, that whole aspect is cool. It’s unique.”
Four days was all Williams had to explore a city that’s given the world palaces, high tea and Daniel Kaluuya. However, Williams’ shortlist of things to do focused more on London’s homegrown experiences than crossing off visits to notable landmarks. See how she toured London her way.
“Do something royal.”
When asked what she would tell people who are visiting London for the first time, Williams didn’t hesitate with this suggestion: “I would say visit a castle. Do something royal.”
According to Royal UK — the official Web site of the British Royal family — there are six royal palaces in London and many are available for tours, including Kensington Palace (the official residence of Prince William and Kate). But if you want to visit a castle like a royal, American Express Travel Consultants can make it happen. They tapped British boutique travel company Beyond Curated, who scheduled a private tour of Kensington Palace before the palace opened to the public. Before the palace opened to the public, Williams walked through the current exhibition, “Life Through a Royal Lens,” which provides never seen before photographs of royal life from the 19th century to present day, and explored the antiquities and rooms once used by Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana.
“Go shopping, but make it luxe.”
London staple Selfridges was already on Williams’ radar and high stepping into the flagship store was a must. Opened in 1909, the upscale megastore has evolved with the times and includes a beauty concierge, foodhall with specialty global goods and wait for it: a movie theater and skateboarding bowl.
In keeping with her high-end retail therapy experience on Oxford High Street, Williams used Resy for recommendations of equally fabulous sustenance and sips near her. To her surprise, she was directed back to The London EDITION for a meal at Berners Tavern. The Michelin-starred restaurant is a fave for Londoners and global traveler alike for its English comfort cuisine with a contemporary twist and not-to-miss cocktails. Travel tip: Order a glass of bubbly and prepare for a show.
“Book a London only experience.”
Although Williams leans into making spur of the moment changes when she’s on the ground in a new city, there was one thing she had no plans of swapping off the travel itinerary: Centre Court tix at Wimbledon. Getting access to one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments was a breeze thanks to her American Express Travel Consultant, which helped secure VIP treats throughout the All England Lawn Tennis Club aka Wimbledon Village. Between the set matches across the lush English garden grounds, Williams preferred the intimate American Express Hospitality Experience overlooking The Hill. There guests could recharge with Pimm’s Cups (fresh lemonade spiked with gin and fresh fruit) and strawberries & cream – a Wimbledon culinary tradition.
As for Williams, who opted for a bottomless glass of champagne as she took in the matches, London is a grand slam.