The Half-Day Holiday: London

A long layover, a short business meeting or a few unexpected hours of free time could equal an opportunity to answer emails or upload your expense report. But who wants to work when there's a world of cultural curiosities outside your door? Whether you've got a few minutes or a few hours, here’s what we recommend for a Half-Day Holiday in some of the top 10 most-visited cities in the world.

As the number one most-visited international city for business travelers, chances are you'll be flying in and out of one of the London area's several airports sometime this year. Between the Queen’s Jubilee and the Summer Olympics, London has been a hotbed of tourist activity in 2012.

But how can business travelers see the sights in the land of Sir Lancelot, warm lager and Princess Kate in just a few hours - without being overwhelmed by throngs of tourists? Get your Oyster travel card and Tube map ready and enjoy a Half-Day Holiday in lovely London.

Start with the South Bank

Recommended for road warriors with several hours of free time, the South Bank is the spot for purely British attractions. But be prepared – a summer day along this section of the Thames River is going to be a hectic cocktail of tourists, street performers and roasted nut sellers. It's also where a lot of cool stuff is – including the Tate Modern art gallery, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the London Eye Ferris wheel, to name a few.

Take a stroll in Greenwich

If you find yourself sapped by the South Bank, flash your Oyster card on the Thames Clipper ferry and sail down to Greenwich. If the ferry makes you nostalgic for travel-by-sea, visit the National Maritime Museum to learn about Britain’s storied Navy. If you have, uh, time, visit the Royal Observatory to learn about the history of Greenwich Mean Time, the time zone standard that dictates conference calls and jetlag around the globe.

“Pop in” to the palace

If you find yourself near Trafalgar Square, a nice stroll down to Buckingham Palace along the Mall is a must. Keep in mind the Queen may not be expecting you, therefore you’ll have to gawk through the gates like everyone else. The palace isn’t terribly far from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, sounding the hours. It’s also close to Westminster Abbey, the scene of many a royal wedding. Keep in mind these walks are flat, but long – wear good shoes, hail a quintessential black cab, hop aboard one of London’s iconic double-decker buses or work your way on the Tube.

Looking for locals? Try Shoreditch

For those without a lot of time or the desire to get tourist-trapped, have a look around Shoreditch, an east-end neighborhood known as much for its curry houses and coffee shops as the disaffected hipsters who work in them. If you want to place to chill out, this is a good spot – grab a bite to eat at the Brick Lane Market or a pint at a corner pub. You won’t find crown jewels or historic dungeons, but Shoreditch is a quirky spot that’s uniquely young London.

Flung afar at LHR

London has five airports and most overseas travelers fly through Heathrow (LHR), which is about 45 minutes away from the central district on the Tube. Guesstimates vary on how much time you really need to allot for a short sightseeing adventure in the central city, factoring in check-in times, customs, train delays, etc. Some say six to eight hours is the minimum needed to actually “do something” before your next flight out.

So if you’re feeling stressed for time but want to get out of the terminal, consider a 20-minute taxi ride to Windsor Castle – walk along the river and enjoy the English countryside. It’s not exactly Princess Diana’s tiara collection, but centuries of royals have at least been there. Or take a 15-minute train ride to Osterley Park to stretch your legs and take in some greenery before you jump on your flight to the next top 10 most visited city in the world.

Got tips for London? We’d love to read about them in the comments section.

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