It’s never anyone’s ideal to have a minimal amount of time to see a place, but there’s two things you can do when you have a longer than normal layover—decide to stick around the airport, sleeping on the floor, or leave and take advantage of the free pit stop in a new place.
Recently on my way home from Delhi, India, I had about 24 hours in London, England. I traveled to England a few months ago, and have had short layovers in the Heathrow Airport, but never have I had the chance to see London, so I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.
A city like London is tough to see in less than 24 hours, but my sister and I did the best we could. We grabbed ourselves some Oyster Cards (pre-paid transit cards) and hopped on the Metro from the Heathrow Airport to Gloucester Road station, which took about 45 minutes and was significantly cheaper than the Heathrow Airport Express train they have running starting at £21.50 one way. From the Gloucester Road station, we walked to our hostel (Astor Hyde Park Hostel), dropped our bags, and headed straight for Winter Wonderland, London’s ultimate Christmas destination.
Winter Wonderland doesn’t even compare to the much smaller Christmas market in Toronto, when we walked in the brightly lit gates, we were blown away at the size of this market. The area of Hyde Park was filled with rides, shops, bars, and other fun attractions like a skating rink and ice castle. We were sad we only had two hours before their 10pm close to explore, but we made the best of it.
Tip: If you are hoping to go on some of the attractions like the ferris wheel, or in the ice castle, buy your entry tickets in advance online to save being disappointed.
Entrance to the market is free, but food and drinks add up pretty quickly. I got a mulled wine for £5.00 and a German sausage for £5.00, but when we thought about how much going out for dinner would cost in an expensive city like London, we realized this was probably a pretty budget-friendly place to eat and drink.
After quickly exploring Winter Wonderland before closing, we were in desperate need of sleep, especially with all the time zones we had traveled through from India, so we headed to bed at our hostel. Since we had a limited time and knew we had to leave to head back to the airport at around 1:00pm the following day, we woke up early to have breakfast and head to The Original Tour visitor centre at Trafalgar Square to pick up our tour vouchers and head out on the hop-on-hop-off bus.
With limited time in any major city, the hop-on-hop-off bus is always the best option to see as much of a city as humanly possible. The Original Tour seemed to be the best fit for us, not only does this tour company have history dating back to the early 1900s, tickets also come with three free walking tours (including the changing of the guard) and a free Thames River cruise pass (but unfortunately we only had time to use the bus tickets alone). Tickets range from £15.00 to £30.00 and often are valid for 48 hours versus the regular 24.
We hopped on the bus at 8:30am from the departure point closest to the Visitor Centre and traveled around the city on the yellow line, seeing everything we could in London. In an ideal world we would’ve been able to get off the bus at each stop, but with the short amount of time we had, we only got off at Buckingham Palace (a must since buses aren’t allowed in front of the palace), and again at Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.
Other then our two stops where we got off and explored more, we stuck on the bus, and the whole tour (with stops) took us about 3.5 hours. Here are some pictures from our morning spent up top The Original Tour bus…
Overall, our layover in London was definitely a whirlwind, but with less than 24 hours, we still managed to see all the top tourist spots, and visit their famed, Winter Wonderland market. I was exhausted, but happy I pushed through the jetlag to see a city I had never been to before. Now that I’ve had a taste test of the city, I definitely want to go back to London for a longer time to see more!
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Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets from The Original Tour to write about my experience. I only recommend products and experience that I enjoyed using, and think other travellers would enjoy too. All opinions in this piece are my own and 110% honest.