Are you dying to use your passport to go on an international adventure, but you are short on vacation time? Well, how about spending a weekend in London? Some of you may think that it’s crazy to fly all the way across an ocean just for a long weekend, but I say “why not?”
Especially if you live in the Northeastern US, you can find reasonable flight deals (some last minute) to fly to London and back for a long weekend. To give you an example, below is an itinerary that I used on a previous trip — because, yes I have gone to London for a long weekend; and it was a fabulous mini-vacation! So here’s how you can spend a weekend in London too.
Weekend in London Itinerary
- Depart USA Thursday night => Arrive London Friday morning
- Return to USA Sunday afternoon => Arrive home Sunday night
Thursday After Work – Overnight Flight
London is a reasonable flight from the East Coast of the US. Most flights are scheduled overnight, which I enjoy; so just hop on the flight right after work. Once in the air, just sit back and relax…it’s vacation time! I like to watch the movie while they serve dinner and have a glass of wine (some carriers provide this free even in Coach for an international flight). Then I get comfy by kicking off my shoes, putting on some fuzzy socks (I never leave home without them), turning on my iPod and cuddling up with a blanket (don’t forget the eye mask too). Before I know it, I’m waking up to the smell of coffee and the sun rising out the window. After a light breakfast, we are descending into London.
Day 1 – Friday
To maximize time I scheduled an early flight, arriving at 6:30 am from the States. After a quick trip through immigration, I hop on the train into town. Most international flights will land in either Heathrow or Gatwick airports. Both of which are a bit outside the city (with Gatwick being the furthest); however, both airports have train service directly into the city center for a reasonable price. By the time I get to my hotel it is not quite 9 am.
For the convenience, stay in Central London. It will be more expensive, but this is a huge city and you do not want to commute. Surprisingly, there are reasonable options out there if you know where to look. Hostels are a great option but if you aren’t keen on them, you can find lower end B&B’s in town and a number of budget hotels. Personally, I am a fan of discount hotel chains, such as “EasyHotel” (same company as the discount airline EasyJet). While the rooms are small and there aren’t any frills, they are clean, conveniently located, and very affordable!
Once you are in London, there are plenty of convenient and inexpensive public transportation options, so there is no need for a car. Choose from the iconic double decker red buses, or the Tube (underground train). To save a bit of cash, buy an Oyster Card. You can pre-load it and use it for the Tube and red buses around town, at a discount (it’s what the locals use – only tourists pay full price!). For a more expensive, but interesting trip, you can also take one of the famous London Black Cabs. Not only do these cabbies know the best way to get around town, but they also act as mini-tour guides with a great deal of historical knowledge, so they can tell you almost anything you want to know!
Sightseeing in London
Whenever I arrive in a new city, I like to visit a local museum so that I can get a feel for the history and culture of where I am. London is a city rich with history, and it’s amazing to think how long it’s been around! So on this trip, my first stop is the famous Tower of London (I highly recommend it).
This historic complex has been around since 1078. It’s had a tumultuous history, having been both a castle residence as well as a prison. It is where famous kings lived, and where many gruesome beheadings took place (including Anne Boleyn). It is also where the crown jewels are stored, very interesting! It took me a good 2 hours to explore this historical landmark, but it provides a whole new perspective on the city.
By the time I was finished with the Tower, I was hungry and ready for some lunch. So I head into a nearby pub to grab a beer, and enjoy the fish and chips along with a side of mushy peas (which are awesome by the way!). After lunch, I spent the afternoon exploring some of the free museums…yes, many of the museums in London are free! Finally, something affordable in this town!
There are so many museums to visit that you won’t be able to do them all. But the good thing is that since many are free, you can pop in and out all you want — even for just a few minutes to check it out, and not feel like you have to explore every corridor to get your money’s worth. On this day I visited the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, and the British Museum. None of them disappointed.
By this time, I’m feeling the lack of sleep from the short overnight flight. So I chose to have a relaxing evening at a local pub for dinner and some live music. I call it an early night and crawl into bed by around 9 pm. If you want to go out on the town this night, then you best come back to the hotel to take a nap in the afternoon. But I prefer to wake up fully rested on day 2 of my trip!
Day 2 – Saturday
I’m up bright and early today because my agenda is to hit up the major sites. First on the list is Buckingham Palace to take take one of the tours offered (depending on whether or not the Queen is there – the tours change up some). After the tour, I stick around for the changing of the guard, which takes place between 11 am and noon (although not every day – click to check their calendar).
It gets a bit crowded well in advance of the production, so if you aren’t there early then you won’t get a close enough to see it well. I decide to watch from a distance for a few minutes, then I head down the street to spend the rest of the morning checking out the the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the London Eye.
The London Eye is quite expensive, and the lines can be very long. If this is something that you want to do, check it out well in advance. Buy your ticket online and build it into your itinerary, it will take a chunk out of your day. On this day, I decide to just admire it from the ground and move on.
By this time, I’m ready for some lunch. So I head over to Harrods, one of the most famous & luxurious shopping venues in London. Not only will you be amazed by the glitzy décor, but they have an amazing food court! This is the perfect place to pick up something for a picnic lunch.
After grabbing some lunch items and souvenirs, I stroll through the Kensington Palace gardens and make my way to Hyde Park. After my picnic lunch, I take some time to sit back and relax, while doing a bit of people watching. I especially liked watching the row boats on the pond.
For my last night in London, I wanted to go out on the town. I would have loved an evening dinner cruise down the Thames, but they were booked up, so I opted for a restaurant in the SoHo district. If you are a theater fan, the you should definitely check out what is playing. London has wonderful theater options! I would also recommend Leicester Square for lots of night time activities.
Day 3 – Sunday
This morning I decide to hit up some of the great little markets before heading to the airport. There are a number of markets to choose from all over the city; each with their own unique character. This is the perfect time to grab some last minute souvenirs to bring home as memories of the trip. Then, it’s off to the airport.
Try to schedule your flight for the afternoon so that you have time to explore the markets in the morning before you head out. For example my flight was at 3:15 pm, so I didn’t need to leave Central London until about noon. That actually put me at the airport well in time for my flight.
As you can see, it is possible to explore London in a weekend. And while this was a short trip, it was a great getaway and gave me a bit of international flavor that I was missing in my day to day routine. To me, a break from the ordinary is always nice! If you can spare a day or two more, then I recommend getting out to explore some of the countryside. You can take the train to many towns outside the city, or even go on an escorted day trip to nearby sites, such as Stonehenge!
Overall if you don’t have a lot of time off work, don’t let that hold you back. Go explore – you can make it work!
Here are some links to help you plan your weekend in London:
- Tower of London: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon
- Oyster Card: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets
- EasyHotel: http://www.easyhotel.com
- London Visitor Guide Online: http://www.visitlondon.com
- The London Eye: http://www.londoneye.com