London layovers have become the norm for us in our travels between Bangkok and Belfast, as it’s pretty much a 3-stop journey with any carrier to our humble wee abode in Northern Ireland. On each visit, we always make the most of the occasion by ticking off the essential tourist checklist of London tourist attractions. And while it is possible to cover some of these on a quick layover in London, I do recommend an overnight stay, or 2, which gives enough time to fully cover the tourist attraction checklist. We also make the journey easier by stashing away our heavy baggage before travelling into the city centre.
I remember on one of our earlier layovers in London hobbling through the Intercontinental foyer with months worth of luggage and queueing alongside American businessmen carrying little more than a briefcase. This was after pulling up to the hotel in the same sweaty clothes we had been wearing for 24 hours through flights from Bangkok. The doorman was literally wearing a top hat. Anyway, these days we make sure to drop our baggage into luggage storage in London before travelling into the city centre.
Travel by London Underground (The Tube)
Once you arrive at the central London Underground and the tube stations of the transit system, it is surprisingly simple to get around despite London being the largest city in Europe, The underground and public transport system is also one of the most expensive metro systems worldwide but there are also relatively cheap day tickets for tourists to make the most of a quick layover in London. Then here we share some of the main tourist attractions along the way with the coinciding Underground stations to make them easier to find during a tourist layover in London.
1. Buckingham Palace (Green Park or Hyde Park Corner)
A free attraction for tourists at Buckingham Palace is catching a glimpse of the Changing of the Guard ceremony as well as just seeing the palace’s iconic facade. The palace’s state rooms are also open to the public during the summer months, but the palace is primarily used as the official residence of the monarch / royal family, so it is recommended to check the official website for visiting hours and dates when the palace is open to the public before planning a visit.
2. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (Westminster)
When visiting Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, tourists should plan to arrive early to avoid long lines. Guided tours of the Houses of Parliament are available, but tickets must be booked in advance. Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the Houses of Parliament. It is also important to be aware of the security measures in place, as bags may be searched and there is a dress code to be followed.
3. London Eye (Waterloo)
For those new to the London Eye, it is that rather huge observation found on the banks of the River Thames. When visiting it is best to book in advance to avoid queues maybe with a fast-track ticket for priority boarding, or just try to visit during off-peak times. Also dress warmly, as the capsules are not heated and it can get nippy on the riverside.
4. Tower of London and Tower Bridge (Tower Hill)
Most people just visit this stretch of the Thames for the photo ops next to the Tower of London and Tower bridge. However, a walking tour of the tower is a must to see the Crown Jewels, White Tower, and the medieval White Tower. There is also the famous Yeoman Warder tours which run regularly throughout the day. As always be sure to book in advance.
5. British Museum (Holborn, Tottenham Court Road)
Home to a vast collection of artefacts from ancient civilizations around the world the British Museum is a must-see attraction for history and culture enthusiasts during a layover in London. Be sure to check out the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, and the Elgin Marbles and… just the vast collections of the museum. There are also guided tours to make the most out of your visit. While the British museum is free to enter, certain special exhibitions may require a ticket.
6. National Gallery at Trafalgar Square (Charing Cross)
Trafalgar Square is a busy spot for tourists to visit and is home to Nelson’s Column, and several other statues and monuments. Directly next door is then the National Gallery, a free-to-enter art museum housing a vast collection of masterpieces from some of the world’s greatest artists. Be sure to see works by Botticelli, Van Gogh, Monet, and many others, and, to make the most of a visit there are guided tours.
7. St. Paul’s Cathedral (St. Paul’s)
Another must-see attraction during a layover in London is the beautiful interiors of St Paul’s Cathedral and the famous Whispering Gallery. It is also possible to climb the dome for panoramic views of London from above, and there are guided tours to learn more about the history and architecture of the building. Note, be aware of the dress code, as shorts, and bare shoulders are not allowed inside the Cathedral given it’s a place of worship. A stroll nearby then finds the Millennium Bridge and awesome views of the Thames River.
8. Camden Market (Camden Town)
Known for its unique shops, street food, and lively atmosphere, Camden Market is a great stop during a layover in London. Be sure to check out the Camden Lock Market, Stable Market, and Camden Canal Market. Visitors can find a wide range of items, from clothing and jewellery to art and crafts, and of course street food, with both traditional British dishes and international cuisine. The market can get quite busy, so be prepared for crowds, and maybe avoid the rush hours by, visiting early in the day or during the week.
9. West End Theatre District (Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus)
Aside from the shops, restaurants and nightlife, the West End of London is best known for its world-famous theatres which include the Lyceum, the Palace and the Apollo (be sure to book tickets in advance as shows often sell out quickly). It is also possible to have guided tours of the area and theatre tours including a backstage tour of the London Palladium. To save on tickets, consider booking a matinee performance or looking for discounts and special offers.
10. Kensington Gardens (High Street Kensington)
Offering a peaceful escape from the hubbub in central London, visitors can find a variety of activities in the park, from picnicking and boating on the Serpentine lake to visiting the Albert Memorial, the Italian Gardens and the Peter Pan statue. Kensington park is also home to Kensington Palace, which is open to the public to share a glimpse into the lives of royals who have resided at the palace through the years. While Kensington Gardens are free to explore Kensington Palace is a paid attraction and tickets are best booked in advance.