Remember that FRIENDS episode? That is literally what I kept screaming for weeks leading up to my London trip! Even though it was a short layover trip, I was over the moon excited for a lot of reasons. Not only was this my first Euro Trip, but it was to London – a place I have always dreamed of going to! And not going to lie, but after visiting here, I can totally see myself living in London!
When I was looking for a flight, I was hoping to find a layover that lasted a couple of days (wishful thinking?), but 13 hours was the best I could find at the time. For those of you who need a visa to enter London, worry not! London is one of the only places that issues on-arrival transit visa (At least to Indian citizens). So definitely look into that before you start applying for a visa in advance.
How much time is enough time?
I’d say you need a minimum of 6 hours to be able to fully enjoy your trip and not be rushed. If your layover is shorter than that, I’d highly advise against leaving the airport. Keep in mind that things could always take longer than you expect – especially during peak hours when security check can take upwards of an hour. I think 6 hours should give you enough buffer to plan for the unexpected.
One of the things I distinctly remember on my trip was walking on crowded streets, shoulder to shoulder with people, and having to haul my rolling carry on bag. I had to be constantly on the lookout – Is my bag going to trip anyone, how am I going to bring this bag inside a tiny bar? It was such a big pain. To avoid a situation like that, I highly recommend that you store your luggage, and travel worry-free. Heathrow has luggage storage locations in most of the terminals. Just look for the signs called “Left Baggage”, which is their way of saying baggage storage. This article provides more details on where you can find them.
How to get into London from Heathrow
The two best options to get into London are Underground, or the Heathrow Express. Both trains stop at 3 locations in the airport – terminal 4, terminal 5, and a common location for terminal 2&3 which is also called Heaththrow Central Station. All trains go to the Central Station, but only some go to terminal 4, and some go to terminal 5. So make sure to check that when returning back to the airport.
Underground will take you to the heart of London in about an hour. You can purchase a one day travel card for about £18 which could be used for most of the buses and tubes for zones 1-6. I think this is the best bet for your buck, and definitely convenient since it can be used at multiple locations.
This is the fastest way to get into London – it only takes 15 mins to get to Paddington Station. However, depending on where you are going, you may have to take another train to your destination which may add time to your trip. Also, Heathrow express is a lot more expensive than Underground – £37 for a return ticket. But you can get a discounted ticket if you buy it ahead of time. This article provides more information!
What to do in London on your layover
Even though it’s a short layover trip, you can still see a lot if you have a planned itinerary. One important thing to keep in mind – no matter how much time you have, definitely stop a British pub, and try their famous fish and chips with some British ale. I am not much of a drinker, but I was so impressed with the food there, especially the portions which are twice as much as what you get in the states for about the same price.
If you want to follow our itinerary, take the Piccadilly line Underground to Gloucester Road station, which takes about 40 minutes. When you get off the train, walk over to green line, and take the Upminster line to Tower Hill which takes about 20 minutes. Follow signs for Tower Bridge when you exit the station.
London Bridge & Tower bridge
Before going to London, I actually thought Tower Bridge and London Bridge were the same. So, we were surprised to see two of them next to each other. It took us a few minutes to figure out which one was which (who knew it’s helpful to read signs). Anyway, these two are the most iconic bridges in London, so definitely add it to your “must visit” list.
From here, you can easily go to St. Paul’s Cathedral which is about a short 15 min walk.
If you have the time, and don’t mind strolling in a beautiful city, consider walking to Trafalgar Square from St. Paul’s Cathedral. The walk is about 30 mins, but with all the amazing sights along the way, you won’t even notice you’ve walked for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a cab if you are short on time.
A short 15 min walk from Trafalgar square will take you to Big Ben. This is another iconic landmark in London, and shouldn’t be missed. Although, I recently read an article that said that Big Ben is undergoing refurbishment and covered in scaffolding. Because of that, all tours are suspended until 2020, which could be a little disappointing.
London eye provides the best views of the city, and it is very tempting to go on the tour since it only takes about 10 minutes (not including the wait time which highly varies). But time is of essence here, and we didn’t want to take any chances being late for our flight, so we decided to skip it.
Hands down the best abbey I’ve ever seen (is anyone getting my FRIENDS references?). I don’t actually have a picture of the abbey, but it is a very short walk from Big Ben, and quick to visit.
I distinctly remember waiting at some train station when I saw a bunch of people dressed up as Santa. When I asked what was going on, they said “Ho ho ho, we are going to Santa-con”. From what I gather, Santa-con is part parade, part pub crawl festival where thousands of people gather together dressed like Santa. It made a lot more sense when we got to Buckingham palace, and literally saw thousands of Santas. I think that made the visit to Buckingham palace even more magical.
Oxford Street is a shoppers paradise – especially in December when everything is decorated for Christmas, and you can find sales everywhere. Of course I didn’t get to enjoy the sales on a short layover trip, but I thoroughly enjoyed walking around, and seeing all the new stores that I couldn’t go to (bitter sweet). The street was packed with people, and reminded me a lot of 5th avenue in New York.
If you are not a Harry Potter fan, feel free to skip the next attraction. Whenever you are ready to head back to the airport, simply walk over to Piccadilly circus station, and take the Blue line to Heathrow terminals. The ride will take about 50 mins. Make sure to get on the right train depending on the terminal of your departing flight.
If you are a Harry Potter fan like me, and want to see a replica of platform 9 3/4 from the movie, follow along. From Oxford street, find Oxford Circus Underground Station, look for the underground towards Victoria, and get off at Kings Cross Station. Once off the train, just follow the signs for Rail Station, and walk to the back. It only takes about 15 mins to get there by train, but there is a very long line to get to the attraction. Honestly, I was a little disappointed going here. First off, I didn’t get to go close to the attraction because of the long line. Secondly, the attraction is just a trolley with a bunch of suitcases on it, and all you do is get a picture crossing the wall. I don’t think it was worth it, especially on a short layover trip.
Whenever you are ready to head back from here, go back to the Kings Cross station, and take the blue line to Piccadilly Circus, then blue line to the airport like I mentioned earlier.
Until next time,