It’s never too late is my travel motto. As a notoriously bad vacation planner, my trips abroad are usually whipped up at a whim never more than two weeks in advance – but that doesn’t mean I can’t make the most of it.
Although such travel whims could seem a bit too extravagant in the credit crunch season, if you’ve been reasonable enough to have kept a small stash under the bed then you definitely owe yourself a treat – and a memorable retreat – from grueling office politics and depressing stock market indices.
But wherever you decide to go, a 48-hour layover in London is a must, if only to experience Heathrow’s newest Terminal 5 (T5) exclusive to British Airways flights.
The conveniently online service means that your trip will take very little time to plan. Flight bookings are readily available on the BA website and you even have the option to check in online 24 hours before boarding to minimize your stay at the airport.
But what I’m sure of is that T5 will soon become an integral part of your travel experience. Streamlining your movements until you board means that you’ll have more time to enjoy the shopping, eating and even spa options available to First Class and Club World travelers in one of the many lounges there.
Even though T5, with its satellites, taxiways and aircraft stands, is equivalent in size to Hyde Park – indeed 50 football pitches could fit inside the main building, 10 per floor – you never feel tired or bored because there’s so much to see and do.
With 47 shops to browse through, including Harrods, the only Tiffany & Co. store in an airport in the world, as well as other high-end retailers like Bulgari, Gucci, Prada as well as exclusive English brands you may not even need to go high street shopping on Oxford Street. And it will also be an opportunity to sample the culinary delights of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay whose Plane Food michelin star restaurant graces the center of the massive terminal.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that your 48-hours in the world’s most cosmopolitan city won’t include at least three or four hours of retail therapy, the good-old-fashioned way.
Central London is especially beautiful this time of year, where the gorgeous Christmas decorations are up 100 days before Dec. 25. The lights are on in style as you brave the crowded pavements with boutiques and department stores on either side to suit your every whim and mood.
The Royal Lancaster Hotel is conveniently located off Bayswater Road with a view of Hyde Park and within a 10-minute walk or four-minute bus ride to the Marble Arch of the throbbing, shopping heart of London.
Your first day can kick off with a good hour’s walk in the Park where you’re sure to get a fill of oxygen to last a least one week.
Shops open at 9 am, so you don’t have to waste any time sleeping in. Three or four hours of quick credit card swiping should be enough until lunch time, after which you’ll be all set for the original London bus tour that includes spectacular panoramic views from seven bridges, the Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussauds and London Bridge and the massive ferris wheel the London Eye.
The hop-on hop-off services are the best where you can stop at any landmark for a walk and to take pictures, then get on the bus at the designated stops all using the same ticket that is valid for 24 hours.
This part of your day can last as long as you prefer, but be sure you’ve had enough rest before you hit London’s cinema, theater and entertainment hub.
You can easily book theater and dinner tickets online for a night on the West End to enjoy timeless classics like The Phantom of the Opera and Mama Mia – you can’t miss the live theater performances of these two even if you’ve seen the film version.
If you’ve got young children or teens, Wicked could be an good option, as it tells the story no one knows about the wicked witch of the West in the much-love Wizard of Oz.
If you do end up at a theater near Leicester Square, do try to have dinner at a delightful little French restaurant called Chez Gerard on Rupert Street. They make the best fried goat’s cheese hors d’oeuvre I’ve ever had besides the courteous service and generally warm ambience.
It’s also ideally located near the Piccadilly area, so you can take a walk before heading back to the hotel. The streets will still be busy by 11 pm, so there’s nothing to worry about.
To make the most of the culture scene, plan the second day well, making sure you do the requisite rounds at the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the amazing Victoria and Albert, dubbed the world’s greatest museum of art and design – which is also my personal favorite.
At the V&A, you’ll be about 15 minutes walking distance from the colossal Harrods, which may not be ideal for everyday shopping (the prices are mad) but is a London landmark and a great place to have late lunch at their diverse food court.
Be sure to rest for at least an hour, so that by dinner time, you still have enough energy to enjoy an exquisite Thai meal at the Royal Lancaster’s Nipa. Stylish and contemporary, but also surprisingly easy on the wallet, this is a good option even if you’re not staying at the hotel. Don t miss out on their spicy papaya salad – it’s like nothing I ve ever had before.
By the time your 48 hours in London are over, you’ll be so refreshed, you’ll even start looking forward to going back to work.
So if you haven’t made any plans for Eid, Christmas or New Years, it’s never too late. Live a little.