On my way to Cyprus, I had a 10-hour layover at Heathrow Airport, which gave me plenty of time to head out into London and explore! If your layover is at least 6 hours you may have time to leave the airport; any shorter than that and you won't be back in time, given how far the airport is from central London. If you're here for a longer visit, check out my list of 30 things to do in London!
Arriving in London
I flew in from San Francisco on an overnight flight where I actually managed to spend most of the flight sleeping, ready to hit the ground running in London! Once you've landed, head for passport control, not for connecting flights, to get out of the airport.
Getting out of the Airport
If you hold a UK or EU passport this part is very easy as all you've got to do is scan your passport in an automatic scanner, have a quick photo taken to match you to your passport and then you're ready to take on London. For those with non-UK or EU passports, you have to stand in line to speak with a border guard which may take 5 minutes or an hour.
Getting Around London
If you're in London for the day, pick up a day pass for about £12 (approx. $20 CAD) at any tube station so that you can hop on and hop off as often as you like anywhere in the city.
Things to Do on a Layover in London
Take the tube from London Heathrow Airport to South Kensington on the Piccadilly Line, then transfer to the District Line and get off at Tower Hill. This trek will take approximately 45 minutes to get from the plane to the train as fast as you can! The tube maps are always well sign-posted and easy to understand once you get the hang of it. From Tower Hill station, walk over the Tower Bridge and then along the River Thames passing the Tower of London and City Hall.
Keep walking along the banks of the Thames and you'll spot the HMS Belfast, London Bridge and across the water, the buildings of London's bustling financial district.
Cross over London Bridge and see Tower Bridge from afar, then head to the financial district and walk through the skyscrapers until you reach St. Paul's cathedral surrounded in blossoms.
Walk across the Millennium Bridge, straight down from St. Paul's, the famous bridge that was blown up in Harry Potter, and then pop into Tate Modern Museum of Art with views of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to your left.
Walk back along the River Thames past the Globe Theatre and soon you'll come across the London Eye, perhaps the single most famous symbol of London. Then, cross the Westminster Bridge to see the beautiful Big Ben 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 as well as Prince William leaving the palace in their official state cars!!!).
Leave the Palace and walk left towards Whitehall and the Government Ministries then on towards the Queen's Cavalry sitting behind 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister's home and office, complete with horses and official guards in red suits and black fur hats. Then, return to the Mall and head to Trafalgar Square with views towards Admiralty Arch and Nelson's Column monument.
From Trafalgar Square, head up towards Leicester Square and Chinatown, both bustling centres of shopping and entertainment.
From Chinatown, Covent Garden is a short stroll away, and there you will find antique markets, ice cream shops and street performers seeking to entertain you for a pound or two.
Getting Back to London Heathrow Airport
From Coven Garden, hop 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 in time to check in and go back through security to find your connecting flight!