Coming from Belfast (as with most UK regional airports) there is an inevitable stopover flight on the way to Asia. For me a London stopover. I’ve passed through the city countless times; rarely venturing from airport benches to find central London. This time with Fanfan by my side I will make the effort. With 24 hours on the clock we will see how many free attractions and sightseeing locations we can cover in central London. We do not leave the central circle line of the London Underground during our London Stopover (check Underground guide at bottom of page).
Houses of Parliament / Westminster (Circle Line, Westminster)
The iconic Westminster skyline is the essential first stop for the cliched London pics. The Thames River, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, big red buses. Also the perfect area to potter round and soak up London. Across the bridge past the hot dog stands you will find the London eye on the opposite banks of the River Thames. Diagonally to Westminster. Take a ride for impressive city views but expect to pay ‘London prices’. We give it a miss. Again we skip on Westminster Abbey which sits next to the Houses of Parliament; we found very high entrance fees in comparison to the two cities we passed the previous days (Paris and Rome). Thankfully it doesn’t open in evenings so we felt less bad for passing on it. Note, I’ve seen them all before so let Fanfan make the decisions.
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (Circle Line, Bayswater)
This park is huge and can be easily accessed from a number of lines and subways along the London Underground. We arrive from the convenient Bayswater Underground Station (next to our hotel). Bayswater backs onto the best areas of Kensington Gardens. Being British not so much excitement for me. For an international audience (and kids) there’s loads. Fanfan’s favourite moments include feeding Doritos to squirrels, photos beside daffodils, running from ducks, daisies, sitting on park benches and pretending to be in a Hugh Grant movie (Notting Hill). From Bayswater entrance we walk the breadth of the park to find the Royal Albert Hall (South Kensington station).
Trafalgar Square (Circle Line, Embankment)
Located a short walk from the Embankment Station or (for the lazy) on the doorstep of the Charing Cross Station (Black Line). Trafalgar square is a large public space best known for tourists clambering on fountains and giant lion statues. The square is centred round Nelson’s Column. The real gem in this area is the National Gallery a free attraction and Art Gallery boasting an impressive collection of over 2,300 paintings. Paintings date from the 13th to 19th century. A great place to get lost.
Tower of London (Circle Line, Tower Hill)
More cliched photos. Fish and chips under a backdrop of Tower Bridge. Hard to get more British. Again we skip on the pay in attraction here, the Tower of London, opting to again potter round the banks of the Thames. A nice place to sit on park benches and enjoy a ‘bag’ of chips. Fish and Chips are easy to find with a number of takeaway chip shops directly opposite the entrance to the Tower of London. They are also quite cheap (£7.00). Appearing in the city background is the Gerkin building (egg, bullet etc.) and on the far banks of the Thames the new Shard building. You will also find souvenir shops in the area if looking to pick up tourist nick nacks.
Travel on the London Underground
The sprawling mess of coloured lines can be intimidating to visitors but the London Underground is in fact quite simple. During our London Stopover we only use the yellow circle line where we find most of London’s top and free attractions. All main transport routes feed into the circle line; Heathrow trains (Paddington), Gatwick trains (Victoria) and as we arrive from Paris via the Eurorail trains (King’s Cross St Pancras). If planning to visit more than one station that day buy a one day ticket (Zones 1, 2) at the ticketing machines. Note, one day tickets are for the duration of the day finishing 4am (not 24 hours). We travel on off-peak times meaning we cannot travel during peak periods on the Underground (before 09.30am and between 16:00 and 19:00) without buying an extra.
Where to Stay? Underground Station
We always go with the Bayswater Station (hotel list here). Cheap hotels, on the circle line, perfect for food and nightlife. A diverse and multicultural area – as is modern London. This visit we book the Berjaya Eden Park London which has window views of the Bayswater Station and an impressive location beside Kensington Gardens. Perfect for a London stopover.