Heading to London on a red-eye flight? Wondering how your relationship with your partner will survive that first day in London? You’ve come to the right post!
A long-haul, overnight flight to London England is brutal. It’s exhausting, especially for those who can’t sleep at all on the flight. You add to this the strain of traveling with someone you’ll show your ugly self to and, well … it helps to have a bit of a plan.
My husband and I have very different travel styles. Although I get foggy and sluggish with little sleep, I can usually rally and push through until evening with the help of Powerade. Not so my husband; he gets pretty grouchy without that sleep. So when we landed in London after a red-eye flight, we had to think carefully how to make the most of it – so we’d both be happy. My husband wanted to sleep all day; I wanted to tour all day.
Here’s how we, and our marriage, survived after that red-eye flight to London!
1. Acknowledge different travel styles and priorities.
When you’re traveling with another person, chances are you’ll have different travel styles or trip priorities. Take some time to talk about these travel styles, trip priorities and the realities of personal limitations.
- My girlfriends and I have very similar travel priorities of wanting to see and do as much as possible. But, a couple of them have very real limitations: when they don’t get enough sleep, they get physically sick. That’s no good for anyone. Here, you need to prioritize sleep, or separate for a few hours.
- My husband and I have quite different travel styles and priorities. Even without a red-eye flight, he wants to relax and take it easy while I want to go go go. After a red-eye, I can usually push through until evening; but he gets super grouchy. Here, you also need to prioritize that sleep, or you’ll both be miserable.
If you’re like me and want to go go go, it really helps to pause and consider how this first day fits into the trip as a whole. Do you have a long trip ahead of you, so you can reassure yourself that it’s okay to take a breath and dedicate time to resetting? The sooner you reset, the better.
If you really don’t have much time and want to make the most of your first day in London after a red-eye flight, carefully consider what’ll satisfy that bug. What makes you MOST excited to see London? Do you want to catch the overall vibe for London, or is there something specific you really want to see and do? This will help you focus your limited time.
2. Take a nap at the Yotel.
London Heathrow Airport has something rather brilliant to help travelers survive after a red-eye flight: Yotel. It’s essentially a hotel room you rent by the hour – in a respectable way!
Yotel is fantastic for a number of reasons. It’s right at the airport, so you don’t have to deal with transit or taxis when you’re exhausted. You only pay for the amount of time you need it for. The room design is clean and very comfortable, with good beds, TV and wifi, and ensuites with a wonderful rain shower and everything you need to freshen up.
Here’s how Yotel works at London Heathrow: Book your room online with your arrival and departure times. When you arrive, enter your booking reference at the check-in machines and follow the onscreen instructions to get into your room. Staff are there if you need them, but we never did. Easy-peesy.
Yotel is located in Terminal 4, in the public landside area on the mezzanine level. Just look for the signs as you get close and take an elevator up. If you arrive at a different terminal, you can take the free train or bus over. Yotel is basic but comfortable; like an inside cabin on a cruise ship, but without the swaying.
Although I hate to admit it, getting a good chunk of sleep after your red-eye flight to London is probably the #1 most helpful thing you can do to help you and your partner survive and enjoy some of your first day in London. My husband would’ve liked sleeping a full eight hours; me, maybe two. So we compromised and stayed the minimum four (we probably should’ve stayed six).
Interested in learning more? Check out yotel.com.
3. Book a hotel near transit.
When you look for a place to stay in a major city, I highly recommend making it along the transit line. The only exception I’d make is if you really only plan to see one neighborhood; then booking right in that neighborhood makes sense.
Most city transit lines connect you to the major tourist sights. And, most bus tours are accessible from these transit stops, too. In London, this is very much the case.
London is very well connected by the underground transit line, aka the Tube. I’d argue it’s the easiest way to get out of the airport, actually. There’s an underground station at Terminal 4 (basement), Terminal 5 (basement) and a third for Terminals 2 to 3 accessible by a pedestrian subway.
When you arrive at the underground station, buy a transit Travelcard that best fits what you need right at the kiosk. For example, the one-day unlimited is £18.10 for any time of day and £12.70 off-peak; an Oyster card pay-as-you-go is £5.10 peak and £3.10 off-peak (for Zones 1-6; the airport is Zone 6 and central London is Zone 1). Peak is Monday to Friday, 6:30-9:30 a.m. Look for the yellow circle to swipe your card at the start and end of your trip.
To plan your underground trip, visit tfl.gov.uk.
4. Drop off your luggage.
Dragging your luggage around London is NOT something you want to do. Even if you have to pay a bit extra, take your luggage directly to your hotel and leave it there.
If it isn’t doable to drop off your luggage at the hotel or if you aren’t staying in London, you can also leave your luggage right at the airport. It’s £7.50 per item for the first three hours and £12.50 for three to 24 hours. Find details at heathrow.com.
You won’t find any self-serve lockers at the underground stations, but you will at central Victoria Coach Station. For all options of where to leave your luggage, check out visitlondon.com.
5. Eat a good first meal.
Just like getting rest, filling your stomach will also go a LONG way to helping you and your partner survive after a red-eye to London. And London of course has SO many fantastic places to eat, it’s a great excuse to make this your first activity of the day.
Let your stomach guide you on this one. If you’re famished after the flight, just eat at a restaurant at the airport before heading to the Yotel. You won’t get a good sleep on an empty stomach. If you’re okay after the flight, just grab a little something to carry you until after your nap, to when you can go to a really nice spot.
Three great, highly-rated breakfast spots in central London are:
- Where The Pancakes Are (Arch 35a, 85a Southwark Bridge Rd, London Bridge): Tons of pancake options to choose from; sweet, savoury, baked, with a good variety of sides.
- Balthazar (4-6 Russell St, Covent Garden): A busy French-style bakery and cafe, with top-rated food and service.
- The Wolseley (160 Piccadilly): A super-elegant modern brasserie that’ll make you feel like royalty, with a doorman opening up those big beautiful double doors.
It’s a very good idea to book your table in advance.
6. Take an on-off bus tour of London.
I highly recommend making the on-off bus tour your main activity for your first day after a red-eye flight to London.
Here’s why the on-off bus tour is the perfect choice after that red-eye:
- It’s a relaxing way to get oriented to London. It also satisfies someone like me who needs to see and do stuff.
- You get fresh air. VERY helpful for waking up someone like my husband!
- It’s easy and takes minimal thinking power.
- You can access it easily in central London using the underground transit line. This is why it’s so helpful booking a hotel near transit.
- When you need to stretch your legs or you’re ready for some activity, simply get off the bus. And get back on when you’re done. It’s easy transportation!
Both Big Bus and The Original offer good, comparable hop-on hop-off bus tours with a river cruise. Both companies have overall strong reviews and complaints of having to wait a long time. We went with The Original and didn’t have any issues.
7. Plan one in-depth activity.
When I say “in-depth,” I really just mean to get off the bus and do something. Anything. Otherwise, you can easily fall into zombie mode and not really see anything.
London’s main on-off tour takes you past some great options that suit you. Here are three ideas of what you might do on that first day after that red-eye flight to London:
- Walk around Buckingham Palace’s surrounding parks. After taking a few selfies in front of Buckingham Palace, stroll through the surrounding parks. Highlights include the duck pond at St. James’ Park, the expansive greens at the Buckingham Palace Garden, and the relaxed tree-shaded Green Park. And just beyond these, of course, is the famous Hyde Park that’s packed with memorials, fountains and statues, and with concerts, boating, swimming and speakers’ corner. Keep walking to the east to pass through Italian Gardens, Kensington Gardens, the Diana Memorial Playground (far corner), and back around to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.
- Walk around Tower of London and Tower Bridge. If you want a more active stroll, you can walk around the Tower of London and along Tower Bridge for great selfies and more of the true city vibe. The walk along the River Thames is refreshing and has lots of traffic and activity going on for the casual walker to enjoy. Or, pay to take the tour through the Tower itself. Its fascinating and gruesome royal history will either wake you up or give you nightmares!
- Ride the London Eye. The London Eye is a fantastic way to both relax and do something cool to make the most of your first day in London after a red-eye. Your view of London is incomparable; you’re experiencing something unique to London; and, the coolness factor is right up there (literally, lol!).
8. Eat a good dinner.
Just like filling your stomach with a good first meal in London, you also want to get in a good dinner to reset your body for a good night’s sleep.
I love classic London pubs, so that’s what I’d recommend. A warm, cozy atmosphere with lots of options for delicious comfort food. And a classic London experience. But there are obviously SO many options, so pick something that gets you excited!
Here are some highly-rated options for a pub dinner in central London:
- The Mayflower Pub (117 Rotherhithe St, Rotherhithe): You can’t get any more classic English pub than this, dating back to 1550 and Captain Jones’ Mayflower journey in 1620. It has a fantastic old-school pub vibe, overlooks the Thames, is surrounded by cobbled streets, and serves delicious food and drinks.
- Cask Pub & Kitchen (6 Charlwood St, Lillington): Apparently one of the UK’s best stocked craft beer pubs with selections from around the world. Plus, friendly British hospitality and good simple food.
- The Culpeper (40 Commercial St, Spitalfields): A more upscale, creative pub in a chic and historic industrial space. Choose from the casual pub on the ground floor, more refined restaurant on the first floor, or rooftop garden. You can even book one of its five rooms on the second floor.
9. Go to bed early.
After a good dinner, go to bed early. I cringe at this idea because it feels like such a waste of an evening. BUT it’s one of the best things you and your partner can do to survive after a red-eye flight to London.
Reset your body to get up in the morning – London time – so you quickly get into the local rhythm. The sooner you do this, the better to enjoy the rest of your trip. So day #2, you’re off and running!
And your partner, too.
Am I missing a tip? What works best for you and your partner? Leave your tips below.
Summary and Resources
When planning your trip to London, take a look through these resources I found helpful:
- Lonely Planet guidebooks: I love these travel guides. They’re written by locals, updated regularly, and are full of insider tips for things to see and do and fantastic places to eat.
- Trip Advisor: Where I go for reviews of activities, like the on-off bus tour and restaurants, and smaller hotels that don’t make it onto major booking websites.
- Booking.com: My go-to for booking my hotel, after comparing prices on Google. The interface is clean and user-friendly, and you can verify online reviews with these reviewers, too.
Feature photo credit: Relaxing in park by Clem Onojeghuo from Unsplash.
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