I enjoy an opportunity to schedule an overnight transit in an international city when it means I have a good part of the day to walk around some place and the cost and time for transportation to city center is not prohibitive for a trip from the airport to the city.
On trips since 2013 I have made one day walking tours during international flight transit layovers in Geneva, Switzerland; Paris, France; Dublin, Ireland; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; Helsinki, Finland and now London, United Kingdom for the third time.
Basically I was able to tour many of the big attractions in London in about 8 hours from time I left LHR to time I returned to LHR. I gave the title 10 hours since a person on a same day layover needs an additional two hours to get through LHR security and be at their gate on time for next flight. This means someone arriving in London at 10am could see many of the tourist sights I saw and be back at LHR in time for an 8pm flight.
United Airlines paid me $400 to stay in London LHR and fly the next day on my trip home to San Francisco from Stavanger, Norway.
Loyalty Traveler – United paid me $400 to stay in London (July 27, 2016).
In London, I technically had 22 hours between flights and a London Heathrow hotel, but this was an unplanned, unscheduled layover. I gave up my seat at 12:30 afternoon for a London LHR to Los Angeles flight to fly 22 hours later to San Francisco on a direct flight to my destination. It took about one hour from the time the LAX flight departed London to get voluntarily denied boarding paperwork done, including about one mile of walking through LHR with an escort through Passport Control check, a stop at the luggage area where the UA staff were too busy to bring my luggage within the hour. Not having to collect my checked bag was actually better for me since I was able to travel directly to central London from LHR carrying only my small backpack and no need to travel to the airport hotel first to drop off my luggage. Now that I have stayed two times at London Heathrow airport hotels this past year requiring National Express Hoppa airport bus transfers, I’d rather stay in the city than deal with the London airport transportation bus service. More on LHR Hotel Hoppa buses when I post a review of the Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow hotel.
United Airlines #935 LHR-LAX 12:20pm departure. It was 1:30pm by the time my VDB paperwork was completed and I could head into London.
By 1:30pm I had a new assigned seat for LHR-SFO on the following day, a reserved room paid by United Airlines at Radisson Blu Edwardian London Heathrow with dinner (19.95 GBP) and breakfast (14.95 GBP) vouchers and two one-way LHR Hotel Hoppa vouchers. I was on my way to the London Underground from Terminal 2 to catch the Piccadilly Line at London Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3 carrying my backpack and fortunately proper clothing for an extensive walking tour with sneakers, pants, raincoat and umbrella on me and waterproof bag for my computer. I was prepared for rain, and the forecast was intermittent showers, but it did not rain the entire afternoon or evening I walked around London.
London Heathrow Airport signs show the way to the Underground. I was able to purchase an Oyster Card (5.00 GBP) at the Visitor Information booth inside the Underground station and load it with 15 GBP. I now have four or five Oyster Cards since I either forget to pack them, can’t find them when I am packing or end up making an unscheduled layover in London. The cards are refundable and I’ll need to bring extra cards back in September when I am in London Heathrow again for an Oyster Card refund. The cost of trips around London are discounted when using an Oyster Card and only need to tap in and out of stations.
London Heathrow to Green Park Station is 3.10 GBP in off-peak hours using Oyster Card compared to 6.00 GBP for a single ticket paid with cash. Simply tap in at the station gate and remember to tap out again when you leave your destination station for automatic ticket debiting from the Oyster Card.
Piccadilly Line terminates in the west at London Heathrow and runs to the center of London in about 45 minutes. My initial plan was get off at either Gloucester Road and walk easterly to Holburn Station and hit several museums along the way from the Natural History Museum in the west to the British Museum in the east, but I was hungry for lunch since my breakfast had been 8 hours earlier. Thinking about food and beer had me thinking about my familiar local in London.
Green Park for a stop at my London Sainsbury’s Local for lunch
Over the past two years I have spent eight nights at The May Fair Hotel on Club Carlson points. The rise and fall of Club Carlson in a short five years brought some luxury opportunities for those of us tuned into their lucrative bonus points promotions. I never calculated how much I actually spent on Club Carlson hotel stays, but I’d guess around $1,500 to $2,000 over the past five years. My free nights at The May Fair London alone had a room rate value over $5,000. In London, I also used Club Carlson points for free nights at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, Radisson Blu Bloomsbury Street and Radisson Blu Mercer Street in addition to stays in several cities around Scandinavia. The point being that all those nights at The May Fair made me quite familiar with my Sainsbury’s Local directly across the street for meals and beer.
I had a Hindu meal scheduled for my canceled LAX flight and Indian food was on my mind. One of my favorite aspects of London is the wide availability of Indian food in the markets. I knew Sainsbury’s is one convenient grocery store near Green Park station in Mayfair with good prices and probably hot Indian packaged meals available early in the afternoon. By 6pm those hot meals are usually picked over by city workers heading home. My local served me right with a hot food selection available at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Sainsbury’s Local across the street from The May Fair Hotel, London.
Within an hour of leaving London Heathrow on the Underground, I was sitting with a sea of people in Green Park eating my Indian food lunch with a big Stella Artois 660 ml beer in a white Wimbledon Tennis limited edition bottle. Green Park is one of the Royal Parks surrounding Buckingham Palace.
Sainsbury’s Live Well for Less
London Lunch Food Prices $8.25 USD / 6.35 GBP (1 GBP = $1.32 USD)
- $4.62 USD (3.50 GBP) Hot Chicken Jalfrezi with Rice
- $1.32 USD (1.00 GBP) Hot potato wedges
- $2.44 USD (1.85 GBP) 660 ml Stella Artois cold beer
Green Park London, peaked roof building in background right is The Ritz Hotel London. Green Park Underground Station is underneath the large building on left and Sainsbury’s Local is behind that same building. Holiday Inn Mayfair is center building.
My belly full with beer and food, I was ready to tackle the streets of London on a marathon walk. Google Maps indicates I walked at least 7 miles if I had gone directly from site to site, but I made rights and lefts and walked through museums and backtracked, so I calculate I probably walked at least 10 miles over a 6-hour period from 2:30 to 8:30pm Tuesday July 26.
General route I walked shows 5.8 miles on Google maps. My actual walking route should look like a zig-zag all across Mayfair and another mile from Diana memorial in Hyde park to Knightsbridge where I picked up the Piccadilly Line train back to Heathrow.
London is an immensely walkable city. Those not familiar with London may be surprised to see how close so many attractions are to each other in the city center. Those familiar with London might find it interesting, or not, to read my take on this fabulous city from the perspective of a California tourist and someone who has visited the city about a dozen times over the past 40 years.
Even with more than three weeks spent in London during the past two years, I have barely ventured out of the city center much beyond the area shown in the Google Maps image above. There are so many places in London I have yet to discover. Each trip I end up somewhere in the city I had not seen before. My walk this week was actually my first time walking around Knightsbridge and the first time I had been to Harrod’s, although I was more excited to see Harvey Nichols, a place I know well from being a fan of the British Comedy Ab Fab.
Walking Tour of Central London using the Underground Piccadilly Line from London Heathrow Airport
London is an immensely walkable city. I decided to see how much of London I could see on foot before 9pm sunset. This is a trip report geared for the traveler unfamiliar with London to share how many of the big sights are in relatively close proximity along the Piccadilly tube line without the need to make train transfers for quick and easy into and back out of London on a transit layover from London Heathrow.
London Heathrow is about 16 miles west of central London Buckingham Palace/Big Ben in the area called City of Westminster. Places like St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare Globe Theater and Tower of London are a bit farther to the east from the major hub of commercial activity and tourist hotels in Westminster, in the area from Victoria Station to the West End theater district and Holburn area near the British Museum. City of London with St. Paul’s and Tower of London is the financial district and not so happening in the evening.
There was a summer discount special for Heathrow Express, a 20 minute train ride to the Paddington area of London at 25 GBP round trip. Paddington Station is 2.0 miles is a few miles northwest of Buckingham Palace and a pretty area of London if you are in the right places, but far less attractive if you are not in the charming places around the canals. I think Paddington is better for the traveler with time to stay and tour London and the time savings for Heathrow Express at a higher cost than the Underground is probably not a good trade-off if you are not familiar with navigating your way around London. There are lots of major chain hotels around Paddington.
Loyalty Traveler – Canals of Paddington London (March 8, 2015).
The Underground with the 5 GBP Oyster Card cost is only 11.20 GBP to travel from LHR to city center and back again or up to 15.20 GBP if you travel at peak times in both directions (peak hours are something like LHR-London 6:30-9:30am or London to LHR 4-7pm).
Discover London Above the Piccadilly Line
For the first timer or infrequent traveler to London, many of the main attractions in London are within easy walking distance along one of the Underground stops on the Heathrow Piccadilly Line.
London Underground Poster – Discover London Above the Piccadilly Line.
London Underground Piccadilly Line Stations London LHR west to east and nearby tourist attractions:
Gloucester Road – Kensington Palace is where Prince William, Kate and the kids live in London on the west end of Kensington Gardens.
South Kensington – Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum are three of the major museums in London. They are all free admission. This is also near Kensington Gardens Park.
Knightsbridge – Shopping area with major retail icons of London: Harrod’s and Harvey Nichols, along with several other high-end shops.
Hyde Park Corner – Good central location in London for either a walk in Hyde Park or heading to Buckingham Palace, about ten minutes walk. I’ll cover Hyde Park in this walking tour.
Green Park – Good location for Marks and Spencer grocery store in tube station and about ten minutes walk to Buckingham Palace. I like the prices better at Sainsbury’s Local on the next street across from The May Fair Hotel.
Piccadilly Circus – You will feel like you are truly in the center of bustling London when you step out of the station at Piccadilly Circus. Think something like Times Square New York.
Leicester Square – West End Theater and entertainment area. One of the more happening spots in the city with street performers, nearby museums and London’s China Town for one of the cheapest areas in the city to eat a hot meal.
Covent Garden – historic shopping area with charm and restaurants. Extremely popular night area and good place for strolling around in a generally calmer environment than Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
Holburn – Ten minutes walk to British Museum, the major museum in London with many of the historic artifacts you have read about in history books like the Rosetta Stone.
I covered much of this area along the Piccadilly Line walking around central London from 3pm-9pm on Tuesday, July 26.
Next up – Walking Tour of Central London Hour 1: Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square
Loyalty Traveler – Cost of hotels, airfare, transportation, food and activities for one week in London (Dec 8, 2014). Hotels are the biggest expense in London travel for me and almost always covered using hotel points. Transportation, food and activities can be quite inexpensive, depending on your travel style.