Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you). This helps support and run my blog. I only recommend products I personally use and love. Thank you for your support.
London is one of the world’s most visited cities. It’s an incredible place with no shortage of things to do. It’s rich in history, has amazing food, and is a great place to spend a layover. Public transportation makes it easy to move through the city’s lively neighborhoods and see the top sights in a short amount of time. Whether you have a few hours or an entire day, find out how to make the most out of your time. Continue reading to discover the best things to do on a layover in London.
How to Get to Central London from the Airport
London has six major airports: London City Airport (LCY), Gatwick Aiport (LGW), Heathrow Airport (LHR), Luton Airport (LTN), London Southend Airport (SEN), and Stansted Airport (STN). Central London can easily be accessed from any of them via train, underground (tube), or bus. Heathrow is the busiest and largest airport in London. It’s located about 20 miles west of central London and has a handful of options for getting into the city.
If you’re on a layover in London, you’ll likely want the quickest and most direct option, the train. TheHeathrow Express is the fastest train to central London. It will save you time and put you in the city quickly. The train runs every 15 minutes and takes about 20 minutes to reach Paddington Station. It is also the most expensive option. A ticket is £22 ($30 USD) during off-peak hours and £25 ($34) during peak hours. A ticket with a return is £37 ($50 USD) at all times. Tickets are somewhat less expensive if booked in advance.
The underground or the tube is going to be the cheapest way into central London. The tube can be accessed through any of the airport terminals and departs every few minutes. It takes about an hour to reach Piccadilly Circus. The fare for a single ride is £5 ($7 USD). Keep in mind that cash is not accepted and payment must be made with a contactless card or an Oyster card.
The bus is another option. The bus departs outside of each terminal and fares start at£6 ($8 USD) for a single ride. Buses depart frequently throughout the day and it takes about 40 minutes to reach the Victoria Coach Station on the National Express. The last bus departs at 10:50 pm. If you’re arriving at Heathrow after this time, the N9 night bus is available.
How Much Time Do I Need for a Layover?
Heathrow is a very large airport. Don’t underestimate the time that it will take to exit and reenter. It will take some time to pass through immigration and you will need to return at least two hours before your flight boards. The travel time on the Heathrow Express is only 20 minutes but I would allow an hour each way to get to and from the city. Time will be spent boarding the train and once you arrive at Paddington Station, you will either need to walk to your destination or take the underground.
I suggest having a solid plan in place. If you’ll be using the tube, take a look at a map in advance to determine what rail line you’ll need. I would not consider leaving the airport with less than a 9-hour layover. Nine hours should be enough time to see a few sights depending on their location. If you’re on a time restraint, I suggest picking a couple of sights within walking distance of each other.
I was able to see all of the following in about an 8-hour time span but did not have a flight to rush back to. I arranged my layover to consist of an overnight and did not have to depart until 7 am the following morning.
Things to Do on a Layover in London:
1. Explore Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a unique part of British history. It is an incredible gothic church located in the Westminster area of London and is one of the United Kingdom’s most notable religious buildings. It has been the location of every Coronation since 1066 and has hosted sixteen royal weddings. Today, the church is still dedicated to regular worship. The architecture is stunning and the grounds are beautiful. It is a must-do on your layover in London.
The exterior is free to explore. Just walking around outside and listening to the gorgeous church bells makes it worth a visit. If you do wish to view the interior, a ticket can be purchased for £24.00 ($33 USD) or you can book a tour if you wish to learn more about the Abbey’s history. The closest tube stations are Westminster Station and St. James Park Station.
2. Stop at Big Ben
Big Ben is the nickname for the bell inside Elizabeth Tower, a clock tower located at the north end of The House of Parliament and right around the corner from Westminster Abbey. The clock is designed in a neo-gothic style and at the time of its completion, in 1859, it was the largest and most accurate four-faced chiming clock in the world.
Big Ben is currently under renovation and is not scheduled to chime again until the work is complete sometime in 2022. Tours of the tower are on pause until then. The clock isn’t much to look at right now but it is still worth a visit if you’re nearby.
3. Tour Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is one of London’s most iconic bridges. It crosses River Thames and is used by both pedestrians and vehicles. Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge and is made up of two towers that are connected by two horizontal walkways. Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894. The bridge used11,000 tons of steel and employed 432 workers a day during its construction.
You can admire the bridge from afar or purchase a ticket to the exhibition. A ticket to the exhibition allows you to experience the upper walkways, the bridge’s glass floor, and magnificent views of the city. A tour of the engine rooms is included and you’ll be able to see the original steam engines that used to raise the bridge for ships. The ticket price is £10.60 ($15 USD). The closest tube station is Tower Hill Station which is about a 7-minute walk from Tower Bridge.
4. Have Lunch near Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public square located in the Westminster area of Central London. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory that took place in 1805.Trafalgar Square was established in the early 19th century and has been used for various community gatherings, anti-war protests, and political demonstrations throughout the years, including Bloody Sunday. Fountains were eventually installed in the square in an effort to reduce the space for public assembly.
Today, the area is surrounded by shops and cafes. It’s the perfect place to take a midday break and have lunch or a coffee. The nearest station toTrafalgar Square is the Charing Cross Station.
5. Take Photos at Neal’s Yard
Tucked away on an alley near Covent Garden is a small courtyard called Neal’s Yard. The cute and colorful courtyard provides the perfect escape from the outside hustle and bustle. It can be found between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street. It has several health-food cafes, including Neal’s Yard Dairy and Wild Food Cafe. There are also a few small shops. If you are looking for a healthy eating alternative, a quiet place to relax, or somewhere to take some instaworthy photos then Neal’s Yard is your place.
The closest tube stations are Covent Garden Station and Leicester Square Tube Station. Both are under a 5-minute walk. If you’re coming fromTrafalgar Square then there’s no need to get back on the tube. It’s only a 10-minute walk from Charing Cross station.
6. Buy Vinyl at Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road Studios is located in the north London neighborhood of St. John’s Wood. It is out of the way from many of London’s tourist attractions, so unless you are a music lover or have a soft spot for the Beatles or Pink Floyd, then you can probably skip this one. The Beatles recorded most of their albums at the studios and made the area famous when they used the crosswalk at Abbey Road on the cover of their album of the same name.
Pink Floyd also recorded many of their albums at Abbey Road Studios in addition to many other notable artists. Visitors are not permitted to tour the studios but can pay homage to the bands by writing on the wall outside. The studio has a great gift shop next door with band-related items and vinyl for sale.
If you plan on taking photos in the famous crosswalk, I suggest avoiding high traffic times of 7 am to 9 am and 4 pm to 6 pm on weekdays. Abbey Road Station is the nearest underground station and is about a 5-minute walk from the studio.
7. Eat Fish & Chips
You can’t leave London without eating fish and chips. Fish and Chips is a London staple and is one of the city’s most beloved dishes. The meal is an order of fish that has been battered, fried, and served with a side of fried potatoes. The concept is rumored to have originated in London and the first shop opened in 1860. By the 1920s, there were over 35,000 shops in the United Kingdom.
I recommend The Fish House in Notting Hill. It serves traditional fish and chips and offers a dine-in or takeaway option. The fish was delicious, the staff friendly, and it was the perfect way to end my day. The nearest tube station is Notting Hill Gate Station. I suggest going before it gets dark so you can walk around Notting Hill and enjoy the cute and colorful homes that line the streets.
Where to Stay in London
Norfolk Towers is a simple, clean, and affordable hotel. It’s conveniently located just two minutes away from Paddington Station, providing direct access to Heathrow Airport. The Heathrow Express runs every 15 minutes and the Heathrow Connect every 30 minutes. Hyde Park is nearby and Notting Hill is a fifteen-minute walk.
The Piccadilly London West End
The Piccadilly London West End is located in London’s Theatreland. It’s just a few blocks from Leicester Square and about a five-minute walk to Piccadilly Circus. The hotel offers stylish rooms, friendly staff, and a great breakfast.
The Landmark is a gorgeous luxury hotel located in the Marylebone district of west London. The hotel has a stunning glass-roof 8-story atrium with towering palm trees. There is a restaurant, a couple of bars, and a spa onsite.
Have you been to London? What are your favorite things to do on a layover in London?If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Want to explore more of Europe? Continue to my post, “The Perfect Two Week Italy Itinerary“.
Planning a trip? Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. I recommend World Nomads. For more of my travel favorites, click here.
London is one of my favorite cities! Haven’t been to Neil’s Yard yet but I keep hearing & seeing pics about it. Definitely will have to make a visit there soon!