Nine-hour layover. Those words can strike dread in any traveler’s heart. Unless that is, that long layover is in London. Then, all of a sudden, those words are full of opportunity. We’re not strangers to the long layover. We used a long layover to tour Munich in a day, and another long layover at the Munich airport (which included a spa visit and a brewery visit). Given the distance between Heathrow and the city of London, we didn’t get to do as much as we did with seven hours in Munich, but we were still able to have a very nice morning wandering around London on a self-guided tour, taking photos, and seeing a couple things we hadn’t seen when we were in London for our honeymoon 14 years ago.
To set expectations, our flight landed at 6:20 a.m. Our first photo wasn’t taken until 8:45 a.m. Yes, it took almost two-and-a-half hours to transfer from our arriving terminal to our departing terminal, go through passport control, use the restroom, store our luggage at Excess Baggage Company, purchase our London Travelcards, and travel on the Tube to our first destination. For our flight departing at 3:25 p.m., we caught the Tube back to Heathrow around 12:30 p.m., so our London long layover of nine hours really only afforded us four hours in the city.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Our first London long layover self-guided tour stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s Cathedral is situated at the highest point of London, and there has been a Cathedral on this same spot for over 1,400 years.
The current Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was built between 1675 and 1710 after the prior Cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Since our layover was on a Sunday, we couldn’t enter the cathedral, otherwise, we would have tried to climb to the top for the view. So instead we took in the views of the outside while sipping coffee and nibbling on a chocolate croissant from a local café.
A unique view of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen from 1 New Change, a shopping center with smoked glass windows that reflect the Cathedral.
Another of Sir Christopher Wren’s creations can be seen across the way from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Temple Bar was the gateway to the city of London for 200 years. It was then moved and rebuilt as the entrance to a country estate. It wasn’t until November 10, 2004, that Temple Bar was returned to London at Paternoster Square.
Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian-only bridge which crosses the Thames, connecting St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe. The bridge opened to the public in 2000.
Despite its name, Shakespeare never set foot in the current Shakespeare’s Globe, which opened in 1997. But it is a very good reconstruction of the Globe Theatre originally built in 1599.
Clink Street connects Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral. Walking along the dark cobbled lane will transport you back to the London of long ago. The street gets its name from the prison, known as “The Clink,” that was attached to Winchester Palace.
Along Clink Street are the ruins of Winchester Palace, the palace of the Bishops of Winchester. The palace was founded in the 12th century by Bishop Henry de Blois, the brother of King Stephen. It housed bishops visiting London on royal or administrative business and remained in use until the 17th century. It was later divided into warehouses and tenements. The only part of the palace that remains is the Great Hall and its rose window. The ruins were discovered in the 19th century and revealed in the 1980s.
The Golden Hinde
At the end of Clink Street we were surprised to see a ship. The Golden Hinde is a full-scale reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s sailing galleon.
The View from The Shard
While most of the sites we visited during our London long layover didn’t cost us a thing, the opposite was true for The View from The Shard, which opened to the public in February 2013.
The View from The Shard provides the highest viewing gallery in London and visitors can see all of London’s points of interest including Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London.
The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. It is 800 feet tall and provides 360-degree views of the city. The sky deck is located on level 72 and the observation deck is on level 69. The elevator transports visitors 68 floors in sixty seconds.
Admission is pretty pricey so you may be tempted to spend more time here to get your money’s worth. If you do, The View from The Shard offers Europe’s highest Moët & Chandon Champagne bar. However, if you’re visiting London on a long layover, you’ll want to take in the views and move on.
St. Dunstan in the East
We crossed the Thames again, this time using London Bridge. After a short walk along the water, we came to St. Dunstan in the East, the first church built in Saxon times.
The church was restored by St. Dunstan in 950 AD, and it was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire. Only the tower of that church survives as the church suffered severe damage caused by World War II bombings. The ruins of the church were turned into a garden which opened to the public in 1967.
Leadenhall Market is a very picturesque piece of architecture. Leadenhall Market has existed in some form since the 1st century. In the 1300s, the Manor of Leadenhall was a meeting place for poulterers and cheesemongers. By the 1400s it was the best place in London to buy meat, game, poultry, and fish. As with practically everything else in London, the market was partially destroyed in the Great Fire but was quickly rebuilt. In 1881 the structure was replaced with a wrought iron and glass structure.
The Royal Exchange
The Royal Exchange was built in 1566 as a center for trading stocks. A hundred years later, additional floors were added for retail businesses, making it an early shopping mall. The Royal Exchange was destroyed in the Great Fire, was rebuilt, but was destroyed by fire again almost 200 years later. The current building was opened in 1844. It is now a shopping and dining destination.
Across the street from the Royal Exchange is the Bank of England, which, at over 300 years old, is one of the oldest banks in the world. When I hear the name Bank of England, all I can think about is the scene in Mary Poppins when Michael creates a run on the Bank of England when he is overheard saying they wouldn’t give him back his money.
We hopped on the Tube and headed to Covent Garden, mostly to catch a glimpse of Neal’s Yard, a colorful alley and courtyard, and to have a meat pie from Battersea Pie Shop. Also in Covent Garden is St. Paul’s Church, which is where Henry Higgins first encounters Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.