When my Barcelona weekend plan off-roaded and became a week trip, I also ended up with a 12-hour London stopover (or layover). Right? Oddly, no one felt that bad for me when this all happened. It caused complications to other life plans (like writing posts for this blog, my day job, and social hangouts).
I want to take a moment to shout out to Ryanair for how their employees professionally and kindly handled all the flight changes that had to be made because of France air support strikes. They simply switched my flight at no cost to me.
In researching my quick stop in London, I used only my iPhone 4s. I love smart phones, but I found myself longing for a keyboard and a computer screen. Call me old fashioned.
Pinterest as ever was my go-to. I was able to download three different maps that turned out to be perfect for navigating central London. They looked like maps for children, but they made sense to me. I’m the kind of person who hands maps or gps devices to others. So I need colorful and childlike maps to make sense of a city. It’s even better if the map design is based predominately on landmarks!
Naturally, I downloaded these images onto my phone and didn’t save the links. But I have to share this dot-walking-metro map with you. It honestly turned out to be the map that I found myself looking at the most, and right after that is this other tourist landmark map.
My Favorite Maps for our 12-Hour London Stopover
Let’s just say that our bus from the airport arrived at King’s Cross/St. Pancras, and if I had not had this walking map, I would have probably tried to have us walk all the way to Westminster. Instead of committing that hardship on our feet and our ticking clock, we grabbed a ride on the metro. Make sure you download an Underground Map!
It’s been said before, and it will be said again. But internet is definitely changing the way we travel. This child-map-that-I-loved for our 12-hour London stopover was perfect for navigating from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. We never got turned around.
Preliminary research aside, Lenka (friend and colleague) and I chatted about what our priorities were for visiting London. I’d been before, but she hadn’t. We had 12 hours, but that didn’t count airport customs (I’m American so it takes a bit, but she is EU), the ride from airport to London, and time to get around.
- Eat fish ‘n chips
- Big Ben
- Westminster Abbey
- Houses of Parliament
- Buckingham Palace
- Trafalgar Square
- Telephone Booth
- Enjoy it all
Our flight arrived at the London Stansted around 8 am. We hiked from one side of the airport to the other in what felt like an unending glass maze. As an American citizen, I had to fill out a customs form that explained a bit about who I am and where I was headed. It asked for an address for the place I would be staying, but I left this blank since I’d be back at the airport for an 8 pm flight.
After answering questions at the customs desk and receiving my entry stamp, I entered the UK.
How much money for a 12-hour London stopover?
We each withdrew £70 for our day trip. There were ample ATMs in the airport where we could do so, and this sum turned out to be the right amount for our time in London.
Although we only traveled with a carry-on and our purses, we opted to leave our bags in storage at the Stansted airport.
The Cost: £10 for each bag for 24 hours.
Which transportation to choose from airport to London?
We were looking for a cost-efficient trip, and we ended up going with the Stansted Citylink bus. Now, if I could go back and do this trip a little bit better, I would have researched our options a little bit better. We were thinking on our feet at the airport. This bus experience was a good one, but it was not the fastest. We were also cautioned to make sure to catch the return bus 4 hours before our flight was set to depart. I am SO glad that this information was passed on to us while standing in line to catch our bus to the city. Otherwise, we could have missed our flight.
But free wifi!
The Cost: £15 round-trip each.
Figuring out the Underground was a bit exciting, but there were Underground employees everywhere to aid anyone. Instead of purchasing a Travel Oyster Card or a Day Pass for the Underground, we chose to just purchase one-way tickets as we needed them (which was only twice).
The Cost: just under £10.
Our Tourist Triangle: Big Ben to Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square
We pressed out of the Westminster Underground stop with a crowd of people. We were so overwhelmed with all the people that we just wove through the crowd to find a quieter place before I made Lenka stop because I realized Big Ben was straight behind us. Also, does anyone notice how sunny it was!
From there we wandered, taking in the beauty all around us. Somehow we ended up on a back road that was going to lead us eventually to the Buckingham Palace. Along our route, we found the iconic red telephone booth, and with a quick look around, we decided to take our chance at this excellent photo opportunity.
I also couldn’t help but chuckle over the helpful signs we found throughout this part of London. I mean, the crosswalks told you which way to look. When I first saw it, I laughed and said, “Look left.” Lenka did, and that’s how we discovered our lunch stop.
Never underestimate the importance of simple instructions!
Here we come, Fish n’ Chips!!!
We ended up at Nicholson’s Pub, which we really loved because of the dark wood paneling and eclectic assortment of chairs. The waiters were friendly, and they helped us choose a really tasty cider.
What You See on the Menu:
Fish and Chips*
Smoked Cheddar, Potato and Spinach Pie
We loved our experience at Nicholson’s Pub, and I would definitely go back if I were a Londoner. But for now, I’ll just enjoy the memory of that lunch.
The Cost: around £26 for both of us.
*we found out later from a British friend that we should have looked for a place that only sells fish and chips if we wanted truly “authentic” fish and chips. Perhaps for your trip, you can keep this in mind!
We came at the palace from the side. I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever find it, and then, there it was. We didn’t stay long, but we loved walking along The Mall in the sun.
The Cost: free
We arrived at the square to find a huge crowd of people waiting for a performance to happen (as it was Good Friday). It was neat to find such a crowd to watch what I think was going to be a reenactment of the original Good Friday.
The Cost: free
After we hit Trafalgar Square, we wandered back towards the Thames River. We crossed it to admire the view from that side. It was such a gorgeous day.
We popped into a little shop before we got back on the Underground to return to our bus stop. We wanted to buy some Cadbury chocolate for our British friends living in Austria.
The Cost: £12
Once at the airport, picking up our carry-ons was easy with a little slip of paper that we were given for retrieval. Stansted’s airport security was thorough but moved quickly. Once through security, we spent the last of our individual £70 on what would be our dinner. I think between the two of us we had about £17 left.
We were pretty proud of our day in London, our money spent, our random dinner, and our surprise adventure (or 12-hour London stopover). It may sound very glamorous, but I also just want to do a quick reality check of our exhaustion level. I also experienced a bit of culture shock in London since it was my first time in an English-speaking country since last April. But, I’m really grateful for this unplanned adventure.
Is a 12-hour London stopover worth it?
I mean, I wouldn’t choose it myself because I like to spend a longer amount of time in a place, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend a layover rather than bumming around the airport for that long!