Traveler: Danielle Gervalis
When: May 2018
Overall Experience: On the way home from Prague, I turned a 2 hour pit stop into a 9 hour layover to spend the day exploring London! Time flew by as I was buzzing around the city on my rapid fire tourist adventure.
I mapped out my walking tour well in advance so I knew what I would be able to accomplish and still have plenty of time to make my connecting flight. I arrived downtown around 9am and back to the train station at 3pm. Here is my seven mile Google map walking route with points of interest:
The Heathrow Express is the ultra fast train that takes you from Terminal 3/5 to downtown at Paddington Station. The train literally takes less than 20 minutes. Unfortunately, it does come at a price. It cost $98 for two round trip tickets. BLERGH. You can get a significant discounted rate (around $22) if you buy online at least 90 days out. The train is well signed, comfortable, has Wi-Fi and plugs at each seat section. If you’re not on a time crunch, feel free to take a more affordable taxi or the tube to get downtown which takes around 50 minutes.
The largest royal park in London at 350 acres, Hyde Park has been around since the late 16th century and was a popular hunting and dueling spot. Since then it has been the host of many celebrations, concerts and an annual winter market. It’s a pleasant and shady walk and you’ll encounter quite a few special areas including the sweet smelling Rose Garden and the Diana Memorial Fountain.
Additionally, check out the Wellington Arch which is the entrance to Hyde Park. You can actually go inside the hollow arch which has exhibits on its history as well as a terrace with a view of the park.
Purchased in 1761, this famous royal residence is not only the home of the monarchy but also the administrative hub and ceremonial center. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live at Buckingham Palace in 1837 and undertook extensive rennovations to add a fourth wing so there would be additional bedrooms and a nursery.
A memorable site at the Palace is the Changing of the Guard ceremony. You can check the schedule in advance but it occurs most days at 11am. If you want to get a good viewing spot, you’ll need to start lining up at least an hour before.
I spent the bulk of my time in London exploring this incredible site and was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of importance and lore of the building. The Abbey is open to tourists from 9am-3:30pm and costs around $28 to enter. The ticket comes with a multimedia guide which is narrated by Jeremy Lions, aka Scar in the Lion King, amongst I’m sure other popular acting roles. Photos are not permitted once inside.
While founded by Benedictine monks, this exquistely grand church has hosted all British coronations since William the Conquerer in 1066 and 16 royal weddings, with the most recent being Kate and Prince William, which I woke up very early to watch like a shameless royal obessessed American. It was resconstructed in the Gothic style in 1245, completed in 1745 and restored from bombings after World War II. The architecure and stained glass alone are enough to make me continue to come back here to visit.
While it is a significant and memorable church, it also serves as the final resting place of some of the most influential people in British society and the world. Over 30 monarchs are interred here including a gilded shrine to King Edward the Confessor. In the eastern aisle, referred to as Poet’s corner, you’ll hear people gasping out the names of their favorite writers as they walk around eyes glued to the ground. Geoffry Chaucer, author of The Cantebury Tales, was the first author to be buried here in 1400. Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kippling are also buried at the Abbey. There are additional famous names who are buried elsewhere but given memorials including, William Shakespere and Jane Austen.
Westminster Abbey is magnificent and filled with history and treasures. It’s well worth the trek from the airport and jostling with the other tourists to see your heros forever memorialized, including one of my own personal idols David Livingstone.
Big Ben and Parliment
Continuing the walking tour of London, we headed to the pedestrian walkway on Westminster Bridge over the River Thames to get a view of Big Ben and Parliment. The architecture is sensational and the famed clock tower was voted as the most popular landmark in the United Kingdom! However, scaffolding was errected in August 2017 to conduct maintainence and repairs to the revered clock. Big Ben won’t be back to its regular chime schedule until 2021.
The sprawling luxury department store covers five acres of retail space and can be found in London’s East End. Window shopping here is akin to touring an art museum, the displays are done that well!
While I wasn’t here to purchase any lavish goods, I LOVE wandering around their first floor food halls and eatery sections. It is a treat for the olfactory senses as well as your sweet tooth! Additionally, their tea and shortbread cookie tins make excellent gifts or treats for yourself when you want to recreate your own tea time!
A Pub Stop for Lunch
After bouncing from site to site, it was time for lunch. We settled on “The Greencoat Boy” and had the British classic, fish and chips, washed down with a locale ale. The corner pub was charming, filled with dark wood paneling and busy people on their lunch breaks.
I thoroughly enjoyed my eight hour layover in London. While I wish I could’ve stayed longer, I’m so glad I was able to maximize my time here during a layover. It felt like a bonus trip and I’m looking forward to my next visit across the pond!