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London is an amazing city and if planned properly, there are many things you can do while on a layover in London. If you find yourself on a layover, the city’s great transportation system makes it easy to see a lot within a short amount of time. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make it back through the airport for your continuing flight. I recommend leaving only if you have at least eight hours between flights.
If you are flying into Heathrow, I strongly suggest taking the Heathrow Express, the fastest train to central London. It will save you a lot of time and put you in the city quickly. A ticket with a return is about $47 USD and will take you to the Paddington station in just fifteen minutes. From there, you have an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to things to see, but the following are my top picks for things to do on a layover in London:
1. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a beautiful gothic church located in the Westminster area of London and it is one of the United Kingdom’s most notable religious buildings. Construction of the church took place in 1245 and since then it has hosted sixteen royal weddings, as well as coronations of English and British monarchs. I was on limited time and a budget, so I opted not to go inside. I’m sure it’s gorgeous, but I found walking around the exterior of church and listening to the bells, perfectly enjoyable. If you do wish to see the interior, a ticket can be purchased for roughly $30 USD.
2. 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, was the largest and most accurate four-faced chiming clock in the world. Big Ben is currently under a four year renovation and is not scheduled to chime again until the work is completed sometime in the early 2020s. Tours are not operating until its completion, but it is still worth taking a look at the famous clock if you find yourself in the area.
3. Tower Bridge
London’s Tower Bridge is one of the city’s most iconic bridges. A combined bascule and suspension bridge, Tower Bridge is made up of two towers that are brought together by two horizontal, upper walkways. It took eight years and 432 workers/day to complete the bridge. Tower Bridge crosses River Thames and is used by both pedestrians and vehicles.
You are able to admire the bridge from afar or purchase a ticket to the exhibition, which is about $10 USD. If you do decide to purchase a ticket, you will be able to experience the high level walkways, the glass floor and magnificent views. You’ll also be able to tour the engine rooms and see the original steam engines that used to power the raising of the bridge for ships.
4. Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public square located in Westminster in Central London. It commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory that took place in 1805. It is full of history and has been used for community gatherings and political demonstrations over the years, including Bloody Sunday.
Years later, fountains were eventually installed in the square in efforts to reduce the space for public assembly. Today, the area is surrounded by shops and cafes. I found it to be the perfect place to sit down with a cup of coffee and take a break from sightseeing.
5. 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 houses several health-food cafes, such as Neal’s Yard Dairy and Wild Food Cafe, as well as shops such as Neal’s Yard Remedies, which sells organic skincare products. So if you are looking for a healthy eating alternative, a quiet place to relax, or somewhere to take some very Instagram-able photos then Neal’s Yard is your place.
6. Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road Studios is somewhat 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 and Pink Floyd, like myself, then you can probably skip this one. The Beatles recorded almost all their albums at the studios between 1962 and 1970 and made it famous when they used the crosswalk at Abbey Road on the cover of their album of the same name.
Pink Floyd also recorded most of their late 1960s to mid-1970s albums here in addition to many other notable artists over the years. Visitors are not permitted to tour the studios but can pay homage to the bands by writing on the wall outside and there is always that famous crosswalk to snap some pictures of. The studio also has a great gift shop next door with vinyl for sale, in addition to other band related items.
7. Fish & Chips
I couldn’t leave without trying a London staple, fish and chips. The concept of battered, then fried fish, served with fried potatoes originated in London and the first shop was opened there in 1860. By the 1920s, there were over 35,000 shops across the country. I stopped by The Fish House of Notting Hill for dinner. It serves traditional fish and chips and has a dine in or take away option.
It was delicious, affordable and exactly what I needed after an exhausting day. The staff was also incredibly friendly and welcoming. I’ve had my share of fried fish in the United States, but it has never been done quite right. It is usually too oily, soggy or excessively battered. The Fish House of Notting Hill served theirs with the perfect amount of crispness and batter.