London Weekender: How to Spend an Overnight Layover in England’s Capital

London is one of the easiest places to fly to from the U.S. East Coast if you want access to all of Europe. There are plenty of direct flights and fare deals for the savvy. Just be careful if you are flying into London as a budget strategy to save on airfare because getting to the heart of town — and staying there — can be very expensive. So make sure to plan out the scenarios before booking.

On our trip to Sicily, the easiest travel option was flying into London Heathrow and hopping a Ryanair flight from Stansted airport (early 🥱) the next morning. So, we had 20 jet-lagged hours to spend in the city before truly starting our vacation. Of course there are a million amazing things to do in London, but here’s what we did, and what we recommend you do on a brief trip when you’re likely exhausted from your long-haul journey.

In our “weekender” posts, we’ll tell you where we stayed and what we did with 24 to 72 hours in interesting cities around the U.S. and beyond. Here’s what we did in London.

Where to Stay

Figuring out where to stay in London can be overwhelming and will definitely depend on your priorities for the visit. For a brief visit, we absolutely love the Canopy by Hilton London City in the Financial District. The neighborhood is quiet at night, but if you’re looking for nightlife it’s a short distance to hot spots, like Shoreditch, for restaurants and bars, and the Aldgate Station is very close by. The best part is the easy access to some great sightseeing, like the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge (more on that below).

Wellness Junior Suite

The hotel is only a few years old, the staff is excellent, and the restaurants and lobby bar are great options if you’re too tired or hungry to explore the food scene outside your door.

We had a wonderful dinner at the Canopy’s upscale restaurant, Penny Squares, when it first opened in 2022 and also enjoyed some classic British dishes in the lobby (as well as the lovely breakfast spread).

Dinner at Penny Squares

The rooftop bar was finally open on our most recent visit, and it’s outstanding — great small plates and cocktails and an impressive view.

Florattica Rooftop

Canopy also offers complimentary bicycles, an excellent gym, and even rooms with a Peloton (which we got this time with a free upgrade, not that we used it). The focus on wellness and lifestyle makes the brand feel more like a boutique than part of a huge international chain. We’ve been trying to book Canopy hotels when they’re available and the price is right (they can be a bit pricy).

Check In and Check It Out

While there are many great neighborhoods in London (we love Soho for a longer stay), you can see and do some amazing things on foot from the Canopy in London City that will really make you feel like you had a proper trip in only a day — especially if you love to walk, like we do. After all, London City is known as The Square Mile.

Here’s what you can do on foot in less than 30 minutes (and as little as 8 minutes) from the hotel:

1. Head south to check out the Tower of London and the iconic Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge

2. Cross the Thames over the London Bridge (and take a selfie with the amazing view of the Tower Bridge behind you) and head to Borough Market.

Borough Market

3. Explore the gorgeous outdoor market, check out all the incredible food stalls, and make sure you stop for a cheese toasty at Kappacasein.

Cheese toasties!

5. Head north from Canopy to Shoreditch for restaurants, bars, and nightlife.

Does Theo have a unicorn horn?

6. Seek out the Sky Garden’s stunning 360 views of London. This is just an 8-minute walk from the hotel. Lines are long because admission is free and they have airport-style security, but you can skip the line by making a reservation at one of the Sky Garden’s restaurants (which is what we did). Sail up on the super fast elevator, and enjoy the experience in style. Our meal and experience at Darwin Brasserie exceeded all expectations. There’s a fancier restaurant available but we were quite happy with Darwin.

Excellent meal at Darwin

Wake Up and Continue Your Journey

We had an early morning flight the next day, so we didn’t get to do any more exploring before we left for Sicily. Fortunately, the journey to Stansted Airport (for Ryanair) was easy and there wasn’t much traffic at 4 am on a Sunday. But we did pay nearly $200 USD for a taxi after four Ubers dropped us that early in the morning.

Got this great photo op while wading through London traffic

You should note that it takes an eternity to get to the Canopy by Uber from Heathrow. It took us an hour and 45 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. So, make sure you do some planning ahead of time to figure out what you want to see, where you want to stay, and the best way to get there.

For example, if you’re flying in and out of Heathrow, you may want to stay near Paddington Station and take the 15-minute London Heathrow Express, which takes you right the station (or stay somewhere that’s a quick tube ride away from Paddington Station).

You can take the new Elizabeth Line to a station near Canopy (Liverpool Street Station) but we have trouble being underground for too long.

Still, we love the Canopy hotel itself and the surrounding area so much, it’s worth the effort to get there.

Just remember, if your booking through London to save on airfare, it might only be worth it if the savings is $400+ USD per person.

It’s worth noting that we also love Mimi’s Hotel in Soho for a longer stay in town. You can check out our experience in that area, here.

Lux room at Mimi’s

Have you been to London on a layover? How do you recommend spending the brief trip? Let us know in the comments.

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