If you’re stuck in a layover, the minutes can fly or crawl by depending on how you spend your time. Even just an hour in a new city can give you a unique taste of life there if you know the right places to go. Walking around in the fresh air can also help alleviate jet lag and help you stay awake as you travel. Here are 7 ways to make the most of a layover in London, whether you’ve got just a handful of hours until your connecting flight, or an entire day at your disposal.
Things To Do On Your Next Layover In London
1. Play it safe and wait out your layover at the airport
Heathrow Airport is huge, and many a wise traveller has warned against traipsing off into Central London with less than 6 hours to spare before the connecting flight. That being said, if you only have a handful of hours during your layover, check out what the shops, restaurants and services of your airport have to offer. At Heathrow, you can book an appointment with Be Relax Spa and Lounge or No1 Travel Lounge, or get beauty recommendations from Beauty Studio while you wait. You’ll find brand names galore if you’re looking to splurge, and specialty shops that might spark your interest. Glorious Britain has gifts and souvenirs that are uniquely British, and Simply Chocolate will whisk you away to a world of sweet treats. There are also live events held in the terminals that might coincide with your layover, so check out the events page on the airport website. If you’re stuck in one of London’s other international airports, there are points of interest for everyone: Gatwick opened the world’s first airport gin distillery, Luton has a sweet executive lounge for just £24.99, Stansted has an on-site education center called Aerozone, London City Airport has free wifi for all passengers, and Southend will keep you wined and dined until the hour of your departure.
2. Knock out all the sights at Westminster Station
Take the London underground to Westminster Station, and you’ll be able to take in some of London’s most iconic attractions in one go. Big Ben, The London Eye, Parliament and Westminster Abbey are all located near the station. You’ll also be able to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as you take a stroll along the nearby Thames River. The Westminster Tube Station is also where you’ll find attractions like the Houses of Parliament, the London Aquarium and the Jewel Tower. You have the Florence Nightingale Museum and Churchill War Rooms in terms of museums, a nice selection of galleries and countless historic and cultural monuments for a quick and inclusive London tour.
3. Catch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
If you can make it to Buckingham Palace by 11:30 AM during the summer months, you might be able to catch the Changing of the Guard that occurs daily. It’s a time-honored tradition that consists of a 45-minute ceremony, and it’s usually one of the first things London layover travelers come to investigate. If you plan your trip in advance, you might be able to score tickets to see the Buckingham Palace, home of London royals and administrative center of the country’s leaders.
4. Stock up on souvenirs
Whether you’re looking to spend one hour, a few, or a whole day shopping in the city, London’s shops won’t let you down. Unique shopping areas have their own specialties, as do each of London’s neighborhoods. For some intense luxury retail therapy, Bond Street and Mayfair are your top picks. Regent Street is an elegant shopping area with fashion stores in the mid-range price spectrum, with some of the city’s oldest and most famous shops. Oxford Street has been called the heart of London shopping, with more than 300 shops, designer outlets and landmark stores.
5. Take a sightseeing tour
Sometimes, sightseeing is best when guided by a professional. ‘Layover Tours in London’ are actually a ‘thing’ where travellers can use the few hours of their layovers to see the sights. Depending on the type of tour and company you book, tours will center on famous London landmarks, cultural and museum extravaganzas, or the city’s finest culinary offerings. Some Layover Tours include pickups and drop-offs at the airport, which could be convenient for travellers in a time crunch.
6. Embark upon a quest for the perfect fish and chips
Nothing tells you more about a place than its food. Why not spend your layover embarking upon a taste test adventure that will let you sample the flavors of London? You can look up individual restaurants in London, or hit up the best foodie neighborhoods in town. The Kensingston/Chelsea area has a great selection of restaurants, and is a beautiful neighborhood, comparable to the Upper East Side of New York City. The Bermondsey area, specifically near Maltby Street and Borough Markets, has a burgeoning restaurant scene. If you want to check out London’s food markets, there’s the Borough for general food, Billingsgate for fish, Smithfield for meat, and Berwick for nibbles and treats.
7. Stroll through the great outdoors
If you’re in London, you should see London. And what better way to see the best of London than by strolling through its natural wonders? Regents Park has been open to the public since 1838 and has attractions like Queen Mary’s Rose Garden with thousands of beautiful roses, an ornamental lake and the London Zoo. Hyde Park, another familiar public garden, is home to Serpentine Lake and The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. It’s one of the Royal Parks and links to the Kensington Gardens, where you’ll find the sunken water garden, Italian Garden and a number of statues including that of Peter Pan.
Storing your luggage
First things first: finding somewhere to stash your luggage, unless you want to lug your bags across London. Both Gatwick and Heathrow Terminals offer luggage storage services—at a price. At Gatwick, it costs £5.50 (less than $8) to store a single item for up to 24 hours. At Heathrow, fees depend on the number of hours an item is stored: £6 for the first two hours, £11 for 2-24 hour storage, £18.50 for 24-48 hours, and so on. Information on other airports can be found on their websites.
Transportation to Downtown London
There are several ways to get from Gatwick or Heathrow to central London, depending on how much you’re willing to spend and how fast you want to get there. Express trains will get you from the airports to the city in around 30 minutes. Fares for the Gatwick Express start at around £18 ($26 USD), while the Heathrow Express is closer to £22 ($33 USD). If you have more time and less money to spare, the London underground takes twice as long but costs less. If you take the Tube from Heathrow, a one-way single ticket will cost about £6 ($8.50 USD), or a one-day Travelcard transit pass about £8.90 ($16 USD). Take the Picadilly Line into the city in about 45 minutes. You won’t be able to take the Tube from Gatwick, but there’s a cheaper train called the Southern that costs about £16 ($23 USD) and takes around 50 minutes.
This article was written by Hanna Choi.