City break (noun): a short holiday spent in a city, such as when on business travel.
Before there was leisure travel, there was the city break—the short space of leisure time that grants you access to the cultural and culinary amenities that big cities offer. In this series from TripIt, we explore some of the world’s best cities for planning a quick getaway or extending a work trip.
Here are our tips for making the most of your city break in London.
Where to fly in
The London metro area is served by five major airports: Heathrow Airport (LHR), Gatwick Airport (LGW), London Stansted Airport (STN), London City Airport (LCY), and London Luton Airport (LTN). As you choose which airport is best for you to fly into, consider factors like price differential between destination airports, your ultimate destination in London, and how long—and how much—you want to spend traveling via ground transportation.
Speaking of ground transportation, once you’re on the ground, Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted airports offer express trains that connect travelers to Central London. The Heathrow Express transports passengers to Paddington Station in just 15 minutes, where travelers can then change to a taxi, bus, or the Underground (also known as the Tube) to reach their final destination in the city. Travelers can now also ride the new Elizabeth Line to Paddington, or a number of other (in some cases, new) stations.
The Gatwick Express transports passengers to London Victoria Station in about 30 minutes, where travelers can then change to the Tube, a taxi, or bus. The Stansted Express runs every 15 minutes and transports passengers to London Liverpool Street. The journey takes about 45 minutes.
Travelers flying into Luton can take a train to Central London; trains depart from the Luton Airport Parkway train station.
Finally, travelers flying into London City Airport have the advantage of flying into the airport closest to Central London. Travelers can take the Tube directly from the airport’s Docklands Light Railway stop.
Cabs are available upon arrival at all airports, but they cost the most of the ground transportation options. As an example, a cab ride from Heathrow to Central London can range between £45 and £70 and takes about an hour. Comparatively, the Heathrow Express costs about £25 and takes 15 minutes; the Tube costs just £5.50 and takes about 30 minutes.
Where to stay during your city break
Across every budget and borough, there’s a London hotel to fit your needs. In town to catch a glimpse of the royals? Book The Stafford London to stay close to Buckingham Palace and The Mall to catch any comings and goings.
Looking to explore the literary side of the city? Stay at Leonardo Royal Hotel St. Paul’s for an easy walk to the Tower of London—a must-see for history and historical fiction lovers alike.
If a hotel in a prime Central London location is what you’re after, look no further than The Clermont, Charing Cross. The hotel is just a few minutes walk from Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and the Thames.
In London on business? Need space for an event? The trendy W London offers over 1,300 square feet of meeting and event space, a WIRED Business Center, and individual event studios that can also be combined to create larger spaces.
Vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, are also available throughout the city—and are ideal for group or family trips where you might want a bit more space (and your own kitchen).
How to get around
Much like navigating other large international cities, getting around London requires you to prioritize two of the following: time, money, or convenience. Taking the Tube, for example, is your least expensive option. The Tube runs on a zone system, meaning you pay a variable price point based on the length of your journey. Depending on the duration of your stay, you may want to purchase a pay-as-you-go Oyster card to avoid purchasing multiple single ride passes.
Your Oyster card also gives you access to the city’s bus system. While the red double-decker buses move infinitely slower (thanks to increased stop frequency), they also travel where the Tube doesn’t. Here, you’re choosing convenience and low cost over time.
Also available above ground—the iconic black cab. Hail one, call out your destination to the driver, and away you go. Grabbing a cab is typically convenient, but cost can greatly fluctuate based on your destination—especially if you’re heading to or from the airport.
Both cabs and Uber are available in London and are a reliable option for getting around the city if you’re staying in an area far from a Tube station.
Want to navigate London on two wheels? The city’s public bike-sharing program, Santander Cycles, has 800 docking stations and 12,000 bikes in circulation, and is available 24/7/365. A Santander Cycle costs £2 for unlimited journeys up to 30 minutes within a 24-hour period. For journeys longer than 30 minutes, rides cost £2 for each additional 30 minutes.
Pro tip: Use TripIt’s Navigator feature to search transportation options available to you. It will show you the estimated costs and travel times for each option, so you can decide which works best. For example, if you add a restaurant reservation to your itinerary (more on where to eat, below), Navigator also helps you find the best transportation options for getting to your table. You can find Navigator within your plan details screens.
Where to eat
From pub grub to Michelin stars, London has it all.
SUSHISAMBA blends the flavor of Japanese, Peruvian, and Brazilian cuisines into a memorable dining experience. The Covent Garden location is ideal for business lunches or dinners, or for grabbing a bite after you’ve explored the market. Or, check out the Heron Tower location for stunning views from the 38th and 39th floors.
Speaking of views, head to OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie to enjoy seasonal British fare while overlooking the River Thames, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and really, the whole of London. Don’t have time in your itinerary for a multi-course dinner? You can stop in for a drink, afternoon tea, or weekend brunch… and to snap that IG shot, of course.
In pursuit of wine and cheese? Head to Gordon’s Wine Bar. This cavernous wine bar is cozy in the winter and spills out to the outdoor patio seats in the summer. With over 20 cheeses to choose from, you might need to bring a friend or two to help. (Just let us know when you’re headed over.)
Looking to check out newcomers on the London restaurant scene? The Princess Royal in Notting Hill offers Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Seafood fans will love the impressive raw bar, and those with a sweet tooth will fawn over the dessert list.
The newly opened Dipna Anand at Somerset House is also well worth a visit. Serving up Punjabi and South Indian dishes and Indian-inspired drinks, Anand’s latest venture delights taste buds—complete with a view overlooking the River Thames.
What to do on your city break
Looking to get some sightseeing in while you’re in town? Both London Shell Co. and City Experiences offer a unique way to experience London’s sights—by boat! Ever-changing views, entertainment, plus dinner and drinks, add up to a memorable night on the town.
Planning a kid-friendly trip? London is a playground for the imagination, just ask Harry Potter. Kids will love discovering all of the Harry Potter-inspired attractions across the city, especially a visit to Platform 9¾. Or, get up close and personal with nature at the ZSL London Zoo, where kids can partake in the daily Meet the Animals experience or be a Junior Keeper for a Day.
Adults only? The West End is the place to head for theater shows at a discount. You can buy tickets online or head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for discounted tickets. Or, get your culture fix at any of the city’s world-renowned museums, including the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, or Tate Britain.
Looking for something a little less curated? Head south of the river to Brixton where you can explore Pop Brixton, Brixton Market, the famed Electric Avenue, and the unique boutiques lining the borough’s lanes. Finally, be sure to check out the public art installations while you’re there, too.
Note: As destinations reopen around the world, be sure to consult and adhere to all local guidelines and travel restrictions, as they vary widely and will continue to change. One way to stay on top of changing guidelines is to consult the COVID-19 travel guidance feature in the TripIt app for destination-specific information, including testing and vaccination requirements, current infection rates, quarantine rules upon arrival, and other information you need to know before visiting the area.