London Layover

Overall Grade: A

London Eye Big Ben Buckingham Palac
Detailed Advice
1) The Tour

Saving $2,500 to fly the family to Europe meant a seven hour layover in London's Heathrow airport. That's after a three hour drive to the cheaper airport and a ten hour flight over the Atlantic. After so much sitting, we couldn't spend our first hours in Europe sitting around an airport. So we were off on a seven hour tour of London.

The English passport agent grinned when he asked where we'd be staying in London and I answered, "Nowhere, only spending seven hours in England and then off to Rome." He feigned being hurt, "Really, why Rome? England is much nicer." He tried unsuccesfully to convince us we should stay in London in good English spirit.

The tube ride was half the fun. The kids don't ride public transportation very often. Several Londoners looked on with amusement as I told Kyle to offer his seat to an elderly woman. "Dad, what are you talking about?" he asked with confusion. But I was insistent, so he shyly approached the woman and asked with his Southern accent, "Excuse me maam, would you like my seat?"

The woman was a little shocked to run into a Southern gentleman. "What a nice family you must be!" she exclaimed as she took her seat. A little later she interjected as I was explaining the British government and the role of the Queen to Emi. "She may be a figurehead, but we pay enough for all of them!" A little later she got quite animated talking about the lack of separation between church and state unlike the United States. She didn't like the Queen sitting as the head of the Anglican Church and the House of Lords.

A little later, the young business man seated across from me called the children over for some magic tricks. He entertained us with disappearing coins and card tricks. Truth be told, I think he was casting a net for the pretty young woman sitting next to him. But she didn't seem too impressed.

We emerged from the tube to a magical view of the Thames sandwiched between the London Eye and Big Ben. We only had a few hours so it was a whirlwind walk between two tube stations, but we hit the tourist highlights: Westminster Abbey, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards. The kids were thrilled to watch the older men in St. James Park feed the squirrels and birds from their hands. Emi had recently done a presentation on Mallard ducks and was determined to pet one. However, her intent interest set off their protective instincts and they'd have nothing to do with her.

All in all, we had to rush but had a much better time than we would have had in the airport. Emi didn't appreciate being rushed as we got on the tube to return to the airport she exclaimed, "What's the point in going somewhere if I don't have the time to enjoy it!"

The Tour
The Tour
Why Go
A bonus tour of London's top tourist spots added to your European vacation. Also, wear out the kids so they'll be able to go to sleep in the evening, despite the time change.

Getting There

Take the Picadilly Line (Purple) from Heathrow to South Kensington Station. There change to the District Line(Green)to Westminster Station London Tube Map. Exit the London Pier exit for a great first view of London and the Thames. The disabled will want to change lines in Hammersmith or Earl's Court which are handicap accessible. The trip takes about one hour. Don't be tempted to take the London Express as it gets you into London faster (and much more expensive), but you end up on the wrong side of London from where you want to be.


Take some pictures of the Thames and Big Ben and then start the tour. You can walk across the Thames and ride the London Eye but I've been told it can be quite a long wait and you'll have to cut something else our of your itinerary. We chose to walk from Westminster Station to Victoria Station hitting: Westminster Abbey, St. James Park and Buckingham Palace along the way. From the starting point, Westiminster Abbey is almost directly behind Big Ben.

Westminster Abbey will take a minimum of an hour and I highly recommend the free audio tour since it is jammed with history and artifacts. Saint James park is only about two blocks North of the Westminster Abbey exit. Follow the route outlined here: Walking Route . The total walk is 1.6 miles and takes about 30 minutes. Some highlights are: feeding the squirrels and ducks along the shore of the lake, a small playground with a huge sandbox on the South shore of the lake about midway between the bridge and Buckingham Palace. We didn't have time to watch the entire changing of the guard, but they assemble in front of the barracks on Birdcage Walk at the West end of the lake. The changing of the guards occurs at Buckingham Palace daily from 11:15 AM to 12:00 PM.

You need a minimum of six hours between flights to do this trip. If you don't have that long a layover, you'll have to adjust the itinerary. Here's the timeline:

30 minutes -- Walk from gate to baggage check (I'm not kidding, Heathrow makes you walk forever!)

30 minutes -- Check bags and walk to subway. There are baggage check facilities in the terminals so you don't have to lug your carryon through London.

(Again, it is a long walk.) Baggage Check Locations

1 hour -- Subway ride to Westminster

1 hour -- Tour Westminster Abbey

30 minutes -- Walk to Victoria Station

1 hour -- Subway ride back to Heathrow

30 minutes -- Pickup checked bags and make it to your departure terminal

1 hour -- Get through security and get to gate

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