An Overnight Layover in London!
By Jen Campbell of Escape Destinations Travel
It was the overnight layover of my dreams! I booked a super cheap round-trip flight to Italy and back, with a 19-hour layover in London at London's Heathrow Airport. The cost of my airplane ticket was around $450 and it was a Super Steal. Hey, being a travel consultant has its own personal perks at times! Was I a tad bit nervous traveling solo into a new city…Yes, but would I kick myself later if I changed my mind, ABSOLUTELY! So, I moved past the fear and proceeded with my plans!
With an hour’s plane delay from Rome to London Heathrow airport, I was now down to merely 18 hours. Let’s not forget that embarrassing scene of mine in the Rome airport. I was turning around to look at various souvenirs and contemplating something to bring back my co-workers from Italy, in the duty- free-gift shop, that my ever so slightly oversized backpack knocked over a bottle of red wine. Sweet, Italian Red Wine smashed to the floor into a million pieces, with the wine splashing all over my jacket, my pants and my sneakers. I was absolutely mortified. Not to mention I stunk like a drunk the entire rest of the way home, because this girl did NOT bring a change of clothes in her backpack!
So back to my London adventure story! I arrived well after midnight into London Heathrow airport and being the ever-cautious traveler that I am…I decided to roam the halls of the Heathrow airport for a couple hours, so that by the time I had rested up a bit, it would be daylight hours and I could then hop into the city to see the sights. No way was I going to see the city in the dark, alone. So, I searched high and low for a row of flat seats, so that I could stretch out and catch a couple hours of much needed shut-eye. I found one row of flat seats eventually…but with the nearly constant overhead speaker serenading travelers about arrivals and departures, even this seemingly dead airport (in the middle of the night) had a certain buzz about it still. I dropped onto the seats (with my purse under my body) and used my backpack as my pillow. Covered my head with my rain jacket (to shield my eyes from the piercing lights overhead) and attempted to get some sleep. I couldn’t mask the sounds all around me. I tossed and turned for hours, waking up and switching sides, trying to find an outlet to plug my drained i-phone into (without much luck) and then eventually giving up and just simply “resting.” Next trip around, I will be sure to pack a set of ear plugs and an eye-mask. Will I venture to sleep in the airport the next time around: that would be an emphatic NO WAY! I even perused the idea of a cheap airport hotel, so I could get SOME restful sleep, but the frugal side of me decided against this. I reasoned that I could always simply sleep on the plane ride home! About 5:30 a.m. it was already so loud in the terminal, so I eventually gathered all my things and headed to the coffee shop around the corner before waiting for the exchange counter to open at 6, so that I could exchange US dollars for Pounds. Quickly, I exchanged my money for UK funds (which was completely foreign to me) and then grabbed that cup of Joe. By the way, not the cheapest option (getting money exchanged inside the airport) but I had forgotten to do so prior, and had cash on hand, so I was somewhat forced to use this "service". So on to the coffee counter I went to order my cup of Joe. When they asked for the pounds for my coffee, I simply opened my hand and asked nicely, “please can you just take what you need, as I am unable to figure out this money yet?!” They had a "jolly laugh" about this (imagine that) and then I was on my way to the train station's terminal at the far end of the airport’s terminal.
I asked the kind service attendant which train would be best, He then suggested I purchase the daily pass card and take the express train into the city center of London. I knew once I arrived into the city, that I could get about with ease. I jumped on the next express train (I only had to wait about 10 minutes) and it took me directly into the city hub of London, after a quick 45 minute direct train ride. I think it was about $30 each way for the ticket fare, which in my opinion seemed to be a very good price. Of course this was after I had to figure out how to put my day pass into the gate to let me into the train station track (which was all automated) and I felt a bit lost and embarrassed to not know how to navigate this seemingly easy feat. Commuters were brushing past me quickly to be on their way…so I stepped aside and watched how they navigated before I took another chance at it. Once the train had arrived into the main, crowded train station in London (near the city center). I took a moment to look about, I eventually followed the crowds and located the nearest exit (which again took my daily pass card) in order to leave the building.
Once on the streets of London, it was a hustle and bustle of activity all about. Commuters were busy going about their business and destination, while I was leisurely meandering about. I spent about 10 minutes walking around until I spotted the nearest Hop-On-Hop-Off bus station attendant. I asked about the
general packages they offered and he explained that the “main route” would be the best option as far as seeing the main sites in one setting. I was instructed where the next bus stop pickup location would be. I was able to find this bus pick up location, and after waiting about 45 minutes for the first bus to arrive, I jumped on and got a bird’s eye view from the upper deck. I spent the next 3+ hours, amazed and in awe of London. I was enjoying the sites and sounds around me, all with a narrative, guided tour of the city. We went through the old town areas, drove past Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, Over the London Bridge, next to Parliament, numerous beautiful city parks, shopping districts, the financial districts and many other neat places (far too many to mention). The Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus tour was worth every pound spent on it (Roughly $40) and even included a two-hour cruise on the Thames River…but I was anxious to get back to the airport for my flight and didn’t want to miss it. I took so many wonderful pictures and enjoyed the tour immensely.
Once the tour was back to where I had begun, I hopped off the bus and then headed back to the train station to London Heathrow Airport. I took the quick train back to the airport and departed for the US about 4 hours later, on my way home. This was by far, my most enjoyable layover experience thus far. I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the UK. The people were quite friendly, their accents are amazing, the culture is embracing, the history is incredible. A overnight layover in London was not enough time. I -Must -Go -Back!
I had such an amazing, whirlwind time on this London layover, that I plan to return with a small group, in the summer of 2021. If this small group tour sounds like fun, and you’d like to also enjoy the UK, then won’t you consider joining us?
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