It turns out that the old adage of “When life gives you lemons…” comes in quite handy when your Norwegian Air direct flight from LAX to Barcelona gets cancelled. I chose not to allow this minor bump to put a damper on my trip (I did after all purchase a super cheap budget flight!) and chose to forego a bump to the same flight two days later. Instead, I decided to take the non-direct option the following day, that included a 7-hour layover in London. I had no idea what (if anything) I would be able to see in that amount of time, but I was willing to find out!
When it comes to travel, I am not much of a planner. I tend to create “bucket lists” and then depending on time, energy and what I feel drawn to in the moment, I decide on a game plan. There is also a lot of intuition and divine guidance involved in this mode of travel – so I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it works great for me :) My condensed London bucket list included seeing Buckingham Palace, Abbey Road, Big Ben, and having a “Proper Pint” and some Fish & Chips.
Had I planned this stint in my journey a bit more, I might have realized that when I landed in London, I would have been in flight for 10 hours, and my internal clock would be set to 3 am. Despite being extremely exhausted, I rallied, and am so glad I did!
I have wanted to travel to London and England for as long as I can remember. I knew I wasn’t going to have much time, and would basically have only 2.5 hours to actually explore considering transit to/from airport and check in times. But I figured even if I got to “see” the city, I would be happy and it would motivate me to come back and do it up proper. I was right!
Due to time (and horrific London traffic) I had to choose between satiating my life-long Beatles obsession (Abbey Road) or seeing more of the historical / iconic sites (Central London/Westminster). I chose the latter, which allowed me to check off 3 out of 4 bucket list items, and for such a short excursion – I was thrilled!
I arrived to London Gatwick airport and was greeted by Her Majesty in both her youthful and current glory. I decided to head toward Buckingham Palace and then walk from there and soak in as much as I could in the time I had. I found a 3rd party service where I could pay to check in my carry-on bags – a slightly pricey but amazing alternative to lugging them around the city! I took a train from London Gatwick to Victoria station (about 45 minutes). My first time in the London Underground did not disappoint! Shops, restaurants, and bustling Londoners all around…did a bit of window shopping, had a shot of espresso, and headed for the palace.
As I walked down Buckingham Palace Road, I started to get excited. I know it’s probably one of the most touristy streets in London, but I embraced my inner tourist geek, and soaked in all of the quintessentially “London” sites: Red double decker buses, sophisticated store fronts, signature Red Telephone boxes, adorable classic cars, and more than a few omages to the Queen.
All of a sudden – I looked up and realized I was standing in front of THE palace! On this particular day, there was not much going on, and I didn’t get to see any of the Queen’s Guard. I simply soaked in the history and significance of this place – and the stunning statues guarding the front.
I headed from the palace en route to Big Ben, taking a lovely stroll through Westminster along “Birdcage Walk”. Along the way I enjoyed St James Park, Westminster Abbey, and gorgeous London architecture.
I eventually arrived at Big Ben – which I discovered was completely covered and undergoing massive construction. It is undergoing a significant renovation and conservation effort until 2021, and its bells have been silent since 2017. I can’t wait to come back to see and hear it in its renovated glory!
From there I crossed over the River Thames and was blessed with a vibrant rainbow peeking out just behind the London Eye ferris wheel!
After all that walking, I had worked up a bit of an appetite, and decided this was the perfect place to enjoy that “Proper Pint” and Fish & Chips – so I asked a kind hotel concierge for a recommendation and ended up back on the other side of the bridge on the river at a place called St. Stephen’s Tavern. It was the most delicious $29 fish & chips and beer I’ve ever had :)
As sad as I was to leave London – I was even more excited for the rest of my trip! I realized I was literally next door to Westminster Station, so I bought an express ticket back to Gatwick (30 minutes) and made it back with plenty of time to check in my bags, charge my phone, and jump on my two hour flight to Barcelona.
I have to say – my 7-Hour London Layover was a total success, and a fabulous way to kick off my trip. I feel super grateful that I took the risk, and fought through exhaustion to make it happen, and it’s inspired me to return as soon as possible to explore so much more…
Good night, London! You’re a bit chilly, a lot pricey, but also classy, gorgeous and totally worth it…see you soon. :)