A Layover in London: Transform a Hassle into an Opportunity


Connecting flights, and the inevitable layovers between, used to be a source of dread for weary, long-haul travelers. But nowadays, these lost hours can be converted into an eventful (and fun) part of your vacation. If you’re flying to Europe (or even Africa) and have a scheduled stop in London, why not transform a hassle into an opportunity? By extending your stop into an overnight stay in the city (as opposed to many long hours huddled in an airport terminal), you’ll be able to make the very most of your time and airfare. Even eight hours might suffice, as long as you store your luggage at the airport and arrive with a sight-seeing plan.

This visit won’t be a relaxed, leisurely tour of London, because the city is much too massive and full of sights to experience everything in a few hours. But for those individuals feeling adventurous, a single evening or afternoon will allow you to feel the essence of London: the grandeur, the history, and the energy. Many of London’s highlights are in easily walkable and navigable locations, so it’s feasible to pack a lot into a single excursion. Just plan ahead, keep an eye on the clock, and carry a reliable map (London A to Z is recommended).

Time will be your limiting factor during a layover, so conveniences like the Heathrow Express train become more advisable than they otherwise would be. The Heathrow Express train might be a bit expensive, but it will whisk you to Paddington Station in only 15 minutes. This translates to a real time savings: almost 45 minutes each way, which equates to one more museum, or one more pub, or one more tube stop—it’s your choice. Below are three potential itineraries for a London layover, but remember that your possibilities are pretty much infinite.

Option 1: Classic landmarks
Start: Westminster tube station
What to see: Big Ben and Parliament, River Walk, London Eye, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Tower of London
End: Tower Hill tube station
Route: Follow the Thames
Walking distance: Approximately 3 miles

Option 2: Palaces and parks
Start: Victoria tube station
What’s around: Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, Serpentine Gallery, Harrods
End: High Street Kensington
Route: Constitution Hill, Serpentine Road, Kensington Road
Walking distance: Approximately 3 miles

Option 3: Shopping and culture
Start: Oxford Circus tube station
What’s around: Oxford Street, British Museum, Russell Square Gardens
End: Russell Square tube station
Route: Oxford Street, Bedford Square, Russell Square Gardens
Walking distance: Approximately 1 mile (so lots of time for the museum)

Of course you can mix and match itineraries, add destinations, or plan something completely different. Google maps is wonderful for planning walking tours around Central London, as it clearly marks tube stations and attractions. You can also ascertain distances and approximate walking times from the ‘Get Directions’ feature. Spend an hour investigating before you arrive in London for your layover, and you’ll make better use of your precious time once you arrive.

If you decide to stay in London overnight, choose a hotel that is as centrally located as your budget will allow. You’ll want to be in the thick of the activities, so that you can literally explore until you drop off to sleep. Also, make sure you have your timeline for the next morning’s return journey to the airport verified the night before, as well as test your alarm clock or request a wake-up call.

Finally, in these times of high security and long queues at the airport, make sure you leave yourself enough time to make your commute, re-check your luggage, and get to your gate on time. London airports are notoriously large and spread out, so be prepared. From there, you can carry on with your travels—and you’ll always have your short (but sweet) stay in London to look back on.

Written by Amy Vasereno for EuropeUpClose.com

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