An unfortunate scenario: you’ve booked yourself on two low-cost flights connecting at London Stansted airport and find yourself with an entire day to kill between them.
Common sense dictates that if you’ve got less than four hours between arrival and the next two-hour check-in window, you simply stay put. There are plenty of restaurants and shops on both sides of security to keep you occupied; sort through your receipts, write out those last-minute postcards, review and label your digital photographs or simply settle in with a book or your iPod. If you’ve got a WiFi-enabled computer, you can purchase one-hour, three-hour or 24-hour internet access from T-Mobile, BTOpenzone or Cloud, with prices ranging from £4.50-10.
If you’ve done the math and have a healthier chunk of time, however, feel free to consider the following five suggestions for interesting and nearby outings, all under £15:
- Audley End House and Gardens: an English Heritage site, exhibiting both upstairs and downstairs life in an impressive country estate. If you’re not excited by lavish tapestries and sumptuous interiors, it is possible to visit just the gardens.
Hours: House open 11-16 in winter, 11-17 in summer; gardens and service wing open one hour earlier and close one hour later. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Closed from Christmas Eve to the end of January.
Price: £9.20 for adults, £4.60 for children, £6.90 for students/seniors; gardens only: £5.50/£2.80/£4.40
Getting there and back: Train station is 1.25 miles from the house. Express trains travel between Stansted and Audley End hourly; travel time: 30 minutes. Cheap day return: £4.
- Cambridge: best known for its world-renowned university, this small city offers numerous and pleasant occupations in both good weather and bad.
Free things to see and do in Cambridge:
Hours: 10-17 Tues-Sat, 12-17 Sun. Closed Mondays.
Hours: house 14-16 winter, 1330-1630 summer; gallery 1130-17. Closed Mondays.
Hours: vary by college. Visitors are not admitted during the examination period (late April to mid-June).
+ Cambridge Market: daily on Market Square
Hours: open every Saturday all year round; additionally Fri in summer months, Wed-Fri in December.
Paid things to see and do:
Hours: summer 10-18, shoulder 10-17, winter 10-16.
Price: Adults £4, Seniors and students £3.50, children under 16 free. Entrance is free on weekdays from November through February.
Lots of other ideas (punting, walking tours, etc.) at the Visit Cambridge site.
Insider tip: Save your feet and ride the free City Circle shuttle bus, running every 15 minutes between 0900 and 1700 daily.
Getting there and back: Train station is 1.5 miles from Cambridge center. Trains depart hourly in each direction; travel time: 40 minutes. Cheap day return: £9.90.
Bus station is located in the center city. Buses depart once per hour in each direction; travel time: 50 minutes. Economy return: £12.50.
- Mountfitchet Castle (including Toy Museum and Dinosaur Encounters): a reconstructed Norman castle, with plenty of amusements for smaller visitors.
Price: Adults £8.50, seniors £8, children £6.50
Hours: 10-17 daily, March-November.
Getting there and back: Located next to Stansted Mountfitchet train station. Trains depart hourly in each direction; travel time: 5 minutes. Cheap day return: £2.90.
- Hatfield Forest: a National Trust site exhibiting the unique habitat created by the practice of tree coppicing. When the weather is good, come here to catch a little sun or enjoy a picnic.
Hours: daily, dawn till dusk.
Getting there and back: Hourly local bus service. This is the most comprehensive description available, giving directions from a number of stops and nearby locations, though I feel it makes little sense to anyone who’s not from there.
- Bishop’s Stortford Town Library: more comfortable than sitting in the airport, with all the regular offerings of a library and free WiFi access for laptop-toting visitors.
Hours: Weekdays 9-20, Tues 10-20, Sat 9-16, Sun 13-17.
Getting there and back: Walking directions from the Bishop’s Stortford train station. Trains depart every half hour in each direction; travel time: 10 minutes. Cheap day return: £4.20.
What is a cheap day return? These tickets allow a return journey between the airport and your intended destination on one calendar day, usually for departures after 9 or 9:30 a.m. Conditions may vary by carrier and route — check to make sure your ticket does not have limitations on afternoon peak travel as well.
Wondering what to do with your luggage? Stansted Airport offers left luggage facilities for £5/bag/day. True cheapos will just tote it along, leaving it for free at the coat check any site they visit.
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