So you’re on an international route from somewhere to somewhere and have a layover in London. It may just be a few hours, or it may be a lot longer than that. If you are on limited time, there is plenty to keep you entertained within the airport. An extended layover in London, however, may give you some time to leave the airport and explore!
London has three airports that serve the area: Heathrow, Stansted, and Gatwick Airport. Each of these airports are found on three totally opposite sides of the city, so just note this layover guide is specifically for Gatwick Airport. My guide for Heathrow can be found here and my Stansted guide is found here!
When it comes to leaving an airport for extended [international] layover, the general rule of thumb is that you never want to leave if you have less than four hours. Getting through immigration on the way out, finding transportation into and out of the city, then going through security on the way back in can take, in most cases, three to four hours, or more. I personally, would hesitate to leave the airport if I had less than six hours in most cases, London included.
The Gatwick Airport Express
If you are going to leave the Gatwick Airport, The Gatwick Express is the best way to and from London. At the time of this posting, the Gatwick Express is temporarily suspended due to a decrease in travelers since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. You can check for updates on the website here. Otherwise, you can take the Thameslink or Southern train services into Victoria London (which is typically where the Gatwick Express would drop you). This journey will take between 30 and 60 minutes and costs approximately 9 pounds.
A 6-Hour Layover in London
As I stated in my previous layover guides, with a 6-hour layover in London, you will likely only have an hour or two before heading back to the airport. Public transportation will drop you off pretty close to a number of main attractions. Your best bet is to take a less than a kilometer walk to see the Buckingham Palace, then take a stroll around the various gardens that surround it, until it is time to head back to the airport for your flight.
An 7 to 8-Hour Layover In London
With some extra time during a Layover in London, you will be able to walk another kilometer over to Westminster Abbey. This beautiful church has daily services, and if you time it right, you may be able to sit in on one. I must admit, it is absolutely fabulous! The services are free, however, if you miss it, you can tour the church for 24 pounds. Book your tickets online here. When you are done with Westminster Abbey, a less than five minute walk will take you over to Big Ben for some gorgeous photos! You are able to tour Big Ben, however, it is frequently closed for construction. Check the website for updates. Big Ben is about a 1.5 km from London Victoria if you’re ready to return to Gatwick Airport (or a 3 minute underground ride). Otherwise, check out where you can go from here below!
An 9 to 11-Hour Layover In London
If you have additional time, take a quick walk over to the Westminster Pier from Big Ben. Here you will find a booth for City Cruises. For 20.25 pounds, you can take a narrated, round trip cruise down the River Thames. This cruise is “Hop-On, Hop Off,” however, the entire trip itself will take 90 minutes without stops, so keep this in mind. If you only have two more hours to spare from the time of boarding (not including the 4 hours needed for getting back to the airport and checking in/getting through security), I would stay on the boat and sightsee on the water (and take advantage of the cash bar on board). You will pass the London Eye, the London Tower, the London Bridge, the Shard, and the London Tower Bridge, among other important landmarks.
An 12 to 13-Hour Layover In London
With another hour or two, you can “hop-off” on the first city cruise stop, which is the London Eye Waterloo Pier. Here, you can get off and take a ride on the London Eye! If you book in advance on the website, you can ride for 27 pounds. If you wait until the day of, you tickets will cost 33.50 pounds. This truly is a wonderful way to see the London Skyline!
An 14 to 15-Hour Layover In London
You will need at least an additional hour to get off on the second stop, which is the Tower Pier. With an hour you will be able to walk around to get some nice photos of the Tower Bridge and the London Tower. With more time available, give yourself the opportunity to climb to the top of the Tower Bridge! For 10.60 pounds, you will gain entry into the bridge (buy your tickets here). This entry allows you to climb up one tower, walk over the bridge while looking down through the glass floor, and climb down the second tower. You will also have access to the engine room, the museum, and the gift shop.
An 16 to 17-Hour Layover In London
Depending on the time of the day, you may also be able to visit the London Tower. Note that the tower closes at 16:30. The London Tower is a fabulous piece of history that is open for you to explore if you have some extra time during a layover in London! For 29.90 pounds, you can gain entry into the fortress. You’ll be able to explore the grounds, the interior, climb the towers, and visit the various museums/exhibits. You can purchase your tickets in advance here.
An 18 to 19-Hour Layover In London
If you are in the mood for a meal at this point, there is one restaurant in particular that I highly recommend: Coppa Club. The food and atmosphere are both just absolutely divine! It is right above the Tower Pier and is therefore in the perfect location. Just make sure you pay attention to the time, as the last City Cruise boat departs this pier is at 18:30.
A 20+ Hour Layover In London
If you have this much time during your layover in London, you will probably want to book a hotel. If you are planning to stay the night somewhere before your connecting flight, I would definitely suggest staying either right near the Victoria Station or Gatwick Airport to make check in for your flight speedy and convenient!
And in Conclusion...
I hope you enjoyed my layover guide to the city of London! Remember that this layover guide is for Gatwick Airport. While a longer layover may allow you to see all the major sights if you rush around, it will leave you exhausted and likely unfulfilled (speaking from experience!). Instead, I find it’s better to really take your time exploring! Don’t forget that you can always come back another time… as tempting as it may be, you don’t need to see it all in one visit!