London in one afternoon: Layover like a pro
This page may contain affiliate links - if you buy a product we would receive a small commission at not extra cost for you. Please read our disclosure for more info.
Honestly, I’ve never been in London nor I was ever particularly attracted to it. Not so attractive weather, English accent I’m not used to and the fact is it kinda expensive never put London high on my travel list. I always thought of it like I am going to visit once, but without any real travel plan in closer future. Thanks to British Airways offering incomparably cheaper tickets from Mexico to Zagreb than other airlines, we found ourselves having 18 hours layover in London.
Since the first moment, we did not see it as a problem. Just opposite – we saw it as a fantastic opportunity to change my mind about London! However, our layover was overnight, so we had only one short afternoon to explore the city. London in one afternoon? Challenge accepted! 🙂
Ensure yourself a smooth layover
To begin with, you should always follow few quick rules to ensure your layover goes smoothly. Of course, having a visa for the country where you are going to or being able to visit without one, is a MUST.
First, try to find a hotel close to the airport or in the airport. Even if you do not like to plan ahead, you should really have your hotel room booked. This way you will reach hotel fast after landing and you will be able to freshen up faster. If your flight arrives late at night or your next flight is in the morning, this is how you are going to buy yourself a little bit more sleep. Also, you will not need to drag your luggage to the city and back.
Second, make it clear do you need to pick up your luggage during the layover or not. This was a quite challenging task for us because nobody from British was able to confirm it 100% and we were constantly getting different answers. In the end, we did not need to pick it up and our bags arrived safely to the final destination, but we did not know it for sure until we arrived at the airport. However, since our layover was a long one, we took pictures of every bag packed and locked them with security locks. We were planning to have them wrapped up as well, but in Mexico City’s airport that service was ridiculously expensive.
Decide which way of transportation are you going to use. Keep in mind airports are usually way out of the city and you will need at least an hour or so to reach the city center. In London, we chose to buy 24 hours travel card for zones 1-6 which allowed us to reach our hotel, city center and back for only £12 (I see now price is higher and the same card would cost you £17.10). What is cool about this travel card is the fact it covers almost whole London, including Heathrow and other London airports. You can use tube, buses, rail, light railway and you get a discount if you decide to try river services. We bought it at the airport using one of the machines and a credit card. However, do not forget to validate it when entering the tube!
Furthermore, Plan ahead and decide what do you want to see in the city. If not, you will find yourself lost and you will end up losing precious time. You can imagine, there is so many things to see and so little time! Especially if you are in London and have only 4 or 5 hours to explore.
Read more: How to better see a layover city
What to see in London in one afternoon
While planning our quick layover, we decided to stay in the city center only. Even we wanted to visit King’s Cross Station or Zero Meridian, we realized we are going to lose too much time just traveling from one point to another. Other criteria were that attractions are free or cheap to visit since we were moving across the ocean and our traveling budget was thigh. So, this is how we did it!
Our hotel was on the same tube line like Piccadilly Circus, so we chose it to be our first stop. We jumped into metro and around 45 minutes later were in London! It was already past 6 pm so we needed to hurry up. Our 18 hours in London included a night as well. We grabbed something to eat, explored the area around the station for a bit and walked in the direction of Trafalgar Square. We reached Horse Guards Palace and, even it was already late, we had the opportunity to see some guards at least.
Continuing in the direction of Thames, we soon reached Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Palace of Westminster. Allowing some time to explore the area, we walked half way over the bridge and took some nice photos. We just observed London Eye across the river. Jaime already visited London couple of years back, so he had an opportunity to really visit some of this location. As we had only a few hours, I got only a quick glance of London.
It was getting dark so we decided to jump into the tube and visit the area around the Bridge. We went out right in front of magnificent Tower of London which was wonderfully illuminated. And unfortunately closed for hours already. It was relatively warm September day, but the night was getting very windy and we used Starbucks near Tower of London as an opportunity to heat up ourselves and grab yummy pumpkin latte before heading to Tower Bridge.
After exploring Tower Bridge area and enjoying the views of London’s Shangri-La hotel, we came back to Big Ben. Buckingham Palace was only short walk away so we just could not miss the opportunity to see it. From the palace, we found of the way back to Piccadilly Circus where we bought a couple of souvenirs and took the train back to the hotel. It was around midnight when we arrived, tired.
In this way, we managed to see several big London’s attractions in very short period of time (click to see the map). It is definitely not the way of travel we prefer, but this was a very special occasion. This quick bite in what London has to offer made me much more interested in its culture and way of life. I can say we are going to be back as soon as possible to explore it, slowly.
And how do you plan your layovers?
If you like it, PIN it!