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. Each of these airports are found on three totally opposite sides of the city, so just note this layover guide is specifically for Stansted. My guide for Heathrow can be found here and my Gatwick guide will be done shortly, so stay tuned for that!
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 Stansted Express
If you are going to leave the Stansted Airport, The Stansted Express is the best way to and from London. The Stansted Express is a train that runs to and from the London Liverpool Station every fifteen minutes. The journey takes 47 minutes. A regular roundtrip ticket is 31.50 pounds. You can purchase these tickets online in advance here, or at the terminal stations before boarding.
A 6-Hour Layover in London
As I stated in my previous layover guide, with a 6-hour layover in London, you will likely only have an hour or two before heading back to the airport. The Stansted Express will drop you off pretty close to the London city center. Your best bet is to do one of two things. If you don’t want to walk too far, my suggestion would be to hang out right near the Liverpool Station and grab a bite to eat. The second option would be to spend your time walking, which will allow you to get a glimpse of some of the main attractions.
If you choose to eat, some of Liverpool’s top restaurants include: Panoramic 34, Roski Restaurant, Cowshed Restaurant, Maray Bold Street, and London Carriage Works. Should you choose to walk around instead, you should have time to walk over to the London Tower Bridge (a 3km roundtrip). If you are feeling up to it, you can walk an additional 1.5km loop. This allows you to walk over the Tower Bridge, towards the London Bridge, cross over the London Bridge, before heading back over to the Liverpool Street Station. This loop goes along the River Thames and gives you a nice glimpse of the Shard (London’s tallest building), as well as the Tower of London.
An 7 to 9-Hour Layover In London
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.
A 10 to 12-Hour Layover in London
If you have more time during your layover, 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. When you are done, there are plenty of snack carts (and mobile bars!) around if you are in the mood for something to drink or eat.
A 13 to 14-Hour Layover in London
With an additional few hours, you will have time to visit The Shard! You can go up to the 72nd floor and take in 360 degree views of London. It’s an amazing way to see London on a short stay! You can visit the Shard starting at 25 pounds and you can book your tickets here.
A 15 to 16-Hour Layover in London
If your layover in London is longer than 14 hours, your next stop should be the London Bridge. There is the most amazing tour that will take you under the bridge and tell you the story of why it is so significant via a theatrical, horror-filled experience! You know, tell you the history of that children’s song “London Bridge is falling down…”? For one thing, it’s not a very nice story, but it is certainly fascinating! You can book the experience for yourself here for 25 pounds!
A 17 to 18-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’s a 1 km walk from the London Bridge. That will bring you closer to Liverpool Station if you are heading back that way, or it is adjacent to your next activity if your layover is longer than 16 hours.
A 19+ 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 Liverpool Street station or Stansted 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 Stansted Airport. As a result, the guide focuses on the eastern side city. 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 stay nearby and really take your time exploring one area! 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!