You can do a lot with a thirteen-hour layover. Our flight on Virgin Atlantic was broken into two parts: Washington Dulles to London Heathrow; London to Cape Town…with a thirteen-hour layover between the flights. The advantage to this flight choice is that you take off from Dulles in the evening, so you can more easily fall asleep into your natural sleep pattern, then have a full day in London starting in the early morning, followed by another over-night flight to help ease into the new time zone since you land the following morning in Cape Town.
This is the second time Brenden and I have taken this route. Our first trip through London, we saw nearly all of the city’s iconic tourist attractions. The only places we didn’t check off the list was Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, so on this trip that was our mission!
Because we had a very long layover and less on our list of places to see, we purchased an all-day pass for the Underground directly from the airport station for half the price of the Heathrow Express into London. If you are not pressed for time, this is an easy and cost effective way to get into central London. It took about 50 minutes to get from the airport to downtown, but give yourself at least an hour.
We had landed an hour late at 7:00am. By the time we deplaned, went through Customs, and freshened up, it was nearly 8:30am local time before we headed into town. (Note, London Heathrow International Terminal offers 30 minute free Internet. This was very convenient if you, like us, didn’t want to pay crazy roaming rates.)
I had the advantage of Brenden being very familiar with London from his childhood. At Brenden’s recommendation, we headed straight to Covent Gardens as he knew that would be a festive area to stop for a morning coffee and relax a bit off the plane. Covent Gardens was festive indeed. There was a Christmas market in the center of the town with a lovely coffee shop overlooking a beautifully decorated indoor/outdoor shopping area known as Apple Market.
From there we walked to Trafalgar Square, onto Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was beautiful to see in person after so much fanfare had been broadcast at that location for Kate & Wills wedding. Our timing didn’t permit us to see the actual Buckingham Palace changing of the guards, but we did see a smaller “production” of this activity near the entrance of Clarence House, where Prince Charles lives.
After chatting to a local “Bobby” (a police officer) to get directions for Kensington Palace, we jumped on the Underground to make our way to see our old friends, Kate & Will. After a short train ride, we reached Kensington. We walked around the beautiful gardens
and looked for a way to get into the Palace and surrounding neighborhood with large mansions that many of the diplomats from a variety of countries lived in. Unfortunately, the Duke and Duchess seemed rather busy and we did not get a chance to pop in for tea on this trip. Bummer.
By this time, we were beginning to feel a bit hungry and desired a pint (beer) so we walked over to Notting Hill Gate to find a local establishment to take in the charming atmosphere and rest our feet. It was a quaint little pub that we ducked into for a bite (fish and chips) and beer that was conveniently located on the perimeter of a busy intersection that provided interesting people watching.
After lunch it was nearing 4:00pm local time and both Brenden and I were fading. We decided it best to head back to the airport. Again we took the Underground using our all day pass. Once safely back at the airport station, we gifted our passes to another weary traveler looking for a way to get into town.