On my way to spend Spring Break in Cyprus, I had a 10 hour layover at Heathrow Airport, giving me plenty of time to explore the beautiful city of London.
If your layover is at least 5-hours, I reckon you have enough time to make it worth leaving the airport to explore. Any layover shorter than that may be cutting it close, given how far the airport is from the city.
Arriving in London
I flew in from San Francisco on a 10-hour overnight flight. Once you’ve landed, head straight for passport control (not for connecting flights) to get out of the airport.
Getting out of the Airport
Now this part is very easy if you have a UK or an EU passport because all you’ve got to do is scan your passport in an automatic reader, have a quick picture taken to match you to your passport and then you’re ready to take on London. For those with foreign passports, you have to stand in a line that may be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 2 hours to go through passport control and speak to a border guard.
Getting around the City
If you’re only in London for the day, the easiest way is to hop on the tube using a day pass. These come at around £12 (approx. $20 CAD). This way you can hop on and hop off as often as you like anywhere in the city.
What to See
Take the tube from London Heathrow to South Kensington on the Piccadilly Line, then transfer to the District Line to get to Tower Hill. This trek takes about 45 minutes, so try and get from the plane to the train as fast as you can to save time – it’s well sign-posted and easy to find. From here, you can walk along the Thames passing the Tower of London, crossing over the Tower Bridge and alongside City Hall.
Keep walking along the Thames and you’ll spot the iconic HMS Belfast, London Bridge (not nearly as famous and not be confused with Tower Bridge), and across the water you’ll see the buildings of London’s bustling financial district.
Cross London Bridge and walk through the financial district to reach St. Paul’s Cathedral, gorgeous on a sunny spring day.
Walk over the Millennium Bridge (that one that got blown up in Harry Potter) towards Tate Modern Museum of Art with views of Shakespeare’s iconic Globe Theatre.
You’ll soon come across the London Eye, perhaps one of the city’s most famous structures. Cross the Westminster Bridge to see the beautiful Big Ben, sitting next to the Palaces of Westminster and Westminster Abbey.
Head into St. James’ Park to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace (I actually did see her in her big yellow hat in her official car leaving the palace…!!).
Leaving the Palace on the left hand side will bring you towards Whitehall and the Ministries then on towards the Queen’s Cavalry sitting behind 10 Downing Street, complete with horses and official looking guards donning red suits and black fur hats.
Wander down towards Trafalgar Square with views towards Admiralty Arch and Nelson’s famous column monument.
From here, head up towards Leicester Square and Chinatown – bustling centres of entertainment and shopping.
Covent Garden is a short stroll away, complete with antique markets and ice cream shops and street performers seeking to entertain you for a pound or two.
What to Eat
For lunch, you really have to find yourself a proper British pub and enjoy a sandwich and chips – it’s a classic! Be aware, they will charge you for water, because this is England and nothing is free.
Getting back to the Airport
From Covent Garden, hop back on the tube and take the Piccadilly Line straight to Heathrow. This train takes about 45 minutes so give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. From here, you can head back through security and find your connecting flight!
*Including photos by Johnathon