So you’re on an international route from somewhere to somewhere and you have a layover in London. It may just be a few hours, or it may be a lot longer than that. If you are on limited time, there is plenty to keep you entertained within the airport. An extended layover in London, however, may give you some time to leave the airport and explore!
London has three airports that serve the area: Heathrow, Stansted, and Gatwick. Each of these airports are found on three totally opposite sides of the city, so just note this layover guide is specifically for Heathrow. I’ll be writing a layover guide for the other two shortly, so stay tuned for that!
When it comes to leaving an airport for extended [international] layover, the general rule of thumb is that you never want to leave if you have less than four hours. Getting through immigration on the way out, finding transportation into and out of the city, then going through security on the way back in can take, in most cases, three to four hours, or more. I personally, would hesitate to leave the airport if I had less than six hours in most cases, London included.
The Heathrow Express
If you are planning on leaving Heathrow Airport, The Heathrow Express is the most efficient way to get in and out of the city of London. The Heathrow Express is a train that runs from Terminals 2,3,4 and 5 into the London Paddington Station. Depending on which terminal you depart from, the journey can take between 15 and 20 minutes. A regular roundtrip ticket is 37 pounds, while first class is 55 pounds. You can purchase these tickets online in advance here, or at the terminal stations before boarding.
A 6-Hour Layover in London
With a 6-hour layover in London, you will likely only have an hour or two to walk around before heading back to the airport. The Heathrow Express will drop you off in the Paddington area of London. This is not the most touristy area. It’s actually quite residential. Unfortunately, a 6-hour layover does not leave time to head over to any main attractions. Instead, your best bet is to take a nice long walk and enjoy the beautiful streets and buildings. There are several parks and squares within a kilometer that you can walk to. Sussex Garden, Sussex Square, Gloucester Square, and Hyde Park Square are all lovely places to hang out and relax until take off.
An 7 to 9-Hour Layover In London
If you have another hour (or three) to spend in London during a layover, your first stop in this area should be a bite to eat. There are so many amazing restaurants and bars in Paddington! My top recommendations include Bizarro, The Victoria Paddington, Ask Italian, Pride of Paddington, and The Swan Hyde Park.
When you’ve had your fill of food, you should make your way over to Hyde Park and the Kensington Gardens. Hyde Park has a number of pathways, which lead beautiful landmarks and historical monuments you will certainly want to check out. The opportunities for explorations here are endless. There is a body of water that separates Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. If you have the time, you can take a boat tour or rent a paddleboat through Bluebird Boats. Kensington Gardens is another beautiful area with sculptures and contemporary art, that leads to the stunning Kensington Palace. If you make your way directly here, you could have time to take the palace tour. However, if you want to check out everything that surrounds it, you likely won’t have time with an 9-hour or less layover in London.
A 10 to 12-Hour Layover in London
With the additional time of a 10, 11, or 12-hour layover, you will be able to explore Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in depth, and Kensington Palace! This palace is the birthplace of Queen Victoria and is available for tours starting at 19.50 pounds a person. Expect to spend between two to three hours here exploring to your hearts content. If the palace is closed (it’s only open Wednesday through Sunday), there are three highly-rated museums nearby you can choose to visit instead. The Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Science Museum all require advanced reservation, but are free to enter.
A 13 to 15-Hour Layover in London
If you have this much time in London during your layover, depending on the time of the day, you should be able to head over to see some of the main sights! The closest “bucket list” attractions to the Kensington and Paddington areas are the Wellington Arch and Buckingham Palace. You will likely need to take some form of public transportation to this area, as you’ve already done a bit of walking at this point, and Kensington Palace is over 3km away from Wellington Arch. However, London’s transportation systems are fairly efficient and quite easy to figure out!
A 16 to 18-Hour Layover in London
A 19+ Hour Layover in London
If you have this much time during your layover in London, you will probably want to book a hotel. I had a full 24-hour layover and chose to stay at Hilton London Paddington. If you are planning to stay the night somewhere before your connecting flight, I would definitely suggest staying either right near the Paddington station or Heathrow Airport to make check in for your flight speedy and convenient!
And in Conclusion...
I hope you enjoyed my layover guide to the city of London! Remember that this layover guide is for Heathrow Airport. As a result, the guide focuses on the western side city. While a longer layover may allow you to see all the major sights if you rush around, it will leave you exhausted and likely unfulfilled (speaking from experience!). Instead, I find it’s better to stay nearby and really take your time exploring one area! Don’t forget that you can always come back another time… as tempting as it may be, you don’t need to see it all in one visit!