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Heathrow Airport T5 (image courtesy of newbie runner)

London Heathrow Airport isn’t much of a tourist sight unless you’re fascinated by airplanes. Yet it is one of the world’s busiest international airports so chances are many of us will end up going there at some stage and some will need to while away a few hours or even longer.

Most people who stay in a Heathrow airport hotel treat it as a pure overnighter – just a place to eat and sleep. But there are in fact several fascinating places within easy travelling distance of the airport which are well worth a visit. Here are five suggestions:

The Swan Inn in Denham (image courtesy of Ewan Munro)

1. Village life in Denham and Stoke Poges. You’ll need a car (or minicab) for this trip, but if you have one it’s a simple journey along the M25 (about 15 minutes). Denham is a picturesque village with a number of wonderful traditional pubs; visit The Swan for a taste of the local Rebellion Brewery’s ale. The village’s single street is flanked by fine Georgian brick and older half-timbered houses; a walk across the golf club is a pleasant way to work up an appetite.

If you really want to find a traditional gem of a pub though, you’ll have to take to the winding, steep green lanes that lead to the Royal Standard of England near Beaconsfield.

The drive itself feels like a voyage into ancient England, and the pub seems hardly to have changed since the Tudor age, with low ceilings and panelled walls. There’s a wide selection of beers from craft breweries as well as ciders and perries, and good food – but turn up early, as the pub quickly gets crowded.

A little further away, Stoke Poges has a charming flint-built church, and it was probably in the churchyard here that the poet Thomas Gray wrote the famous Elegy in a country churchyard; he is buried here, and there is a fine classical monument outside the church. The church also contains one amazing oddity – the ‘bicycle window’ of 1634 which appears to show a naked trumpet-playing angel riding a Renaissance bike!

Southall (image courtesy of Donna Smillie)

2. Little India in Southall. Fancy a taste of Indian culture?  No need to fly to Mumbai!  A completely different experience is within easy reach of Heathrow (the train route is slightly convoluted on the Piccadilly line and overground but it’s only a short 15-minute minicab ride away) in Southall with its vibrant Indian culture. Shop for saris or fabric in the covered shopping arcades, or visit Jas Musicals to buy a bansuri (flute) or to gaze at sitars and tablas.

For food, you could go for a curry and you’ll find plenty of choice in Southall – but there’s so much more to Indian food. Buy a crisp, freshly-fried samosa on the street, or Indian sweeties like barfi (fudge) or rasgulla (sweet dumplings).

You’re also welcome to visit the Sikh gurdwara in Havelock Road – said to be the largest Sikh temple outside India.

Windsor Castle (image courtesy of Oliver Mallich)

3. Windsor Castle is linked to Heathrow by the 71 or 77 bus from Terminal 5 (±45 minutes by bus or 15 minutes by minicab). It was founded by William the Conqueror and still retains some of the original Norman work, though it’s been much added to over the centuries. It’s still a working royal palace, too, where the ceremonies of the Order of the Garter take place in the fine Perpendicular chapel of St George. The castle was also the venue of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018.

Even if you don’t feel in the mood for castle visiting, if the weather’s fine you can take a walk in Windsor Great Park with its majestic avenues of chestnut and plane trees and views of the castle across the landscape.

The 60/61 bus on the other hand will take you to Eton College, Britain’s top public school and the other side of the river from Windsor. Guided tours of the college show the Chapel, a sort of miniature King’s College Chapel with its tall Gothic windows, and late medieval wall paintings which, preserved by being whitewashed over at the Reformation, are surprisingly clear though not at all colourful (they are mainly in monochrome grisaille).

Get tickets for Windsor Castle.

Legoland (image courtesy of Dave Catchpole)

4. Legoland UK is not far from Windsor at all, and there’s a shuttle bus from Windsor railway station, or you could drive the 12 miles from Heathrow (±20 minutes by minicab). What is there to say about Lego? You either love it or hate it – but if you love it (or your children do) Legoland could be a great way of using up a spare day at the end of your holiday or spending a few pleasant hours between connections.

5. Hampton Court Palace is one of my favourite places in the UK. It has everything: Tudor red brick architecture with medieval charm; intricate zig-zag spiral chimneys; Christopher Wren’s classical architecture; a maze; formal gardens; rich tapestries, great paintings, bright stained glass; the Thames running not far away. You can even get a bus from Heathrow, number 111 (± 1 hour) – though there is also an alternative, delightful opportunity of taking a riverboat to the palace if you are coming in from central London. Get fast track tickets for Hampton Court Palace.

Hampton Court (image courtesy of Amanda Slater)

Venture into Central London

If you have sufficient time (layovers of six hours and longer) for a visit to Central London, I recommend taking the Heathrow Express train which gets you to Paddington Station in 15 minutes. Choose from a wide range of tours in Central London, purchase a ticket for the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus (which includes a Thames River cruise) or explore this amazing city on your own with a London Pass. Alternatively, you can opt for a private transfer – the driver will greet you at Arrivals and drop you off at your address in Central London. Make sure you’re back at Heathrow Airport about two hours before your flight!

Check out my travel planning resources page for travel tips and advice.

Overnight layovers in London

If you have an overnight layover, you could:

  • book a hotel in the vicinity of Heathrow Airport
  • book a hotel in Central London. I would only recommend this option if you have time to see a bit of the city as well, for instance, if your layover is more than 20 hours. In this case, I recommend booking a hotel in the vicinity of Paddington Station. Travel to/from Paddington Station in Central London on the Heathrow Express train (a 15-minute journey). If it’s your first visit to London and you have limited time, I recommend booking a tour on the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus (which includes a Thames River cruise). You should be back at Heathrow Airport at least two hours before your flight.

Read about alternative ways to explore London and stray off the beaten path

Read my guide to Westminster Abbey

Visas

If you have a non-EU passport, have connecting flights at London Heathrow Airport and would like to see some of these places during your layover, please check for visa requirements to enter the United Kingdom. US citizens who have a valid passport are not required to obtain a visa for a tourist visit to the United Kingdom (stay of up to six months). Should you require a visa, you can apply for an online visa (iVisa.com).

 



Booking.com

A post by Andrea Kirkby and Keith Jenkins.

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51 Responses

  • Solid tips. Used to live in Ealing which is pretty close. If you wanted to quickly fly into London you could get the Piccadilly line to Knightsbridge in abour 15mins. You also come out bang outside Harrods.

  • Hi Manju, I suggest taking the Heathrow Express into Central London (or you can take the tube) when you arrive, and staying in a hotel around Paddington station. Get a good rest and start exploring the city bright and early the next day. You can walk and/or take the Tube to explore on your own, or if you’d like to see the highlights on a tour, you can opt for a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. Alternatively, you can join this 4-hour small group tour. If you’re travelling in a small group or with your family, you can go on a 3-hour London taxi tour which will show you the highlights. Please be back at the airport two hours before your departure time. I hope this helps!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • Hi Keith,

    We will be reaching LHR airport on Nov 29 @ 8:35PM and our connection flight is on November 30th @ 3:00 PM. Could you recommend places to visit and locations to stay and have a few glimpses of London before we head back?

    Thank you,

    Manju

  • Hi Chad,
    I’m sorry but I don’t offer travel agency services. I suggest you Google “Southampton taxi Heathrow” and check the options. Aero Taxis looks like a company that might be able to help you.
    Safe travels!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • Hi Keith.
    Could you let me know if it is possible to hire a private tourist van and travel from the port of Southhampton on 29/08/2019 [ at 8,oo AM ) and visit Stonehenge, Bath, and Salsbury before going to Heathrow Airport for a flight at 7.00PM. My party consist of 4 aduts with 8 suitcases.
    What would be the approximate cost of hiring a driver with a suitable vehicle for about 8 hours ?

    Thanks

    Chad

  • Hi Dina,
    How about staying in Oxford instead? It’s not very close to London but easily reached (you could visit London on a day trip). Check for accommodations here.
    Hope this helps.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • Hi we’re going to be in the area at the end of July for 2.5 days, and leave early from heathrow the 29th.
    We don’t want to stay in London, but somewhere nice close by. Any suggestions?

  • Hi Amanda,
    Five hours is a bit tight. Consider that you should be back at the airport at least 1.5 hours before your departure, which gives you about 3 hours to get somewhere, stroll around and get back to the airport. The most feasible option is to take a cab to Windsor (you can purchase a fast-track ticket for the castle in the post above), spend max. 1.5 hours there and return by cab to the airport. It’s a bit of a rush though.

    Have a safe trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • I have 5 hr layover in Heathrow Airport, any recommendations on what to do? Please and thank you

  • Hi Jal,
    If you’re travelling light, you could explore the vicinity of St. Pancras before heading to LHR. The station itself is stunning! You can also visit the British Library next door (if you’re a literary fan). At King’s Cross station next door, you can also visit the Harry Potter shop at Platform 9 3/4 (if you’re a fan). Also in the area are the British Museum (20mins. walk) and the Charles Dickens Museum. If you’re not interested in museums, you could simply wander around the St. Pancras and Fitzrovia districts. Oh, and check out the beautiful St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel (especially interesting if you’re a history buff or a Spice Girls fan!) in the station.
    However, if you have heavy luggage, I suggest heading straight to LHR (or you could have a meal in St. Pancras before going to LHR) for a relaxing evening.
    Hope this helps.

    Have a safe trip!
    Keith

  • Hi, arriving to London St Pancras late afternoon/early evening from Paris, then taking bus to LHR to stay overnight at hotel there before 10am flight next day. Anything worth doing or seeing nearby? Or better to just eat dinner and relax at hotel and get good night sleep? (Never been to London)

  • Hi Adam,
    19 hours is enough to get into Central London and see some sights in the morning before returning to Heathrow. Upon arrival, you could take the Piccadilly Line (Tube) from Heathrow to central London (about 45 mins.) and stay in a hotel around the Green Park/Piccadilly Circus area. The next morning (I suggest you start early), you can walk down to Westminster to see the Abbey and Big Ben. If you have time, you could walk to Leicester Square/Covent Garden and take the Piccadilly Line back to Heathrow. I hope this helps.

    Have a great trip!
    Keith

  • Hi there! So I have a 19 hr layover, but it is overnight. I arrive into London-Heathrow Monday June 10th at around 9:30 pm, and my flight leaves the 11th at 4:15 pm. Is this enough time to get into central London? Is there much to do late night in London-Paddington, and a few sites to see in the morning? That’s if I took the London Heathrow express. Or, I was Thinking of booking a hotel in Westminster and getting the train into there, but not sure my options or if there is enough time. Was thinking of seeing Westminster Abbey. Anyone have any advice? Thanks so much!

  • Hi Paul,

    I assume you’re staying at one of the airport hotels? The airport is open all night and you could sleep on one of the chairs but it’s not comfortable. Security might also come around and you’ll have to show them your ticket/boarding pass. Some places will be open (for snacks/coffee) but that’s about it. I’m not aware of anything worth doing around Heathrow this late in the evening. I once had a similar layover (with an early-morning flight the next day) and decided to just relax at the hotel bar and chat with other layover passengers. I hope this helps.

    Check out this website too: https://www.sleepinginairports.net/europe/londonheathrow.htm

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • I land at Heathrow at 22:45 and have a 10 hour overnight layover. Next flight is not until 08:30. Is there anything to do overnight in or outside of the airport?

  • Hi Jeshamine,
    Yes, you can take the train from Gatwick into Central London and spend a few hours wandering around (I hope you don’t have a lot of luggage with you). You can then either take the Tube (Piccadilly Line; about 45 mins. to 1 hour) or the Heathrow Express train (15 mins. from Paddington station) to Heathrow Airport. Make sure you arrive at Heathrow at least two hours before your flight.

    Have a safe trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • Hi, I have a stop over in London. I will be arriving in Gatwick airport at 13:30 and I need to go to heathrow airport. My next flight is 22:20. I want to go to Central of London. Do you think I will be having enought time to go to the central and roam there for a bit? Thank you in advance. 🙂

  • Hi Brenda,
    I would suggest Windsor Castle or Legoland Windsor. The latter is located about 11 miles from Heathrow and is great for the whole family. Have a great trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • We will arrive in London on April 25th with a 7 hours layover we are traveling with a small boy 5 what good site could the whole family enjoys

  • Hi Lulu,
    7+ hours is sufficient for a visit to central London. My suggestion is to take the Heathrow Express train (15mins to Paddington Station). From here, you can hop on the Tube to Notting Hill (the second stop). Don’t miss the Portobello market. You can also stroll down to Kensington (Palace), Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park and Knightsbridge/Belgravia. Please be back at the airport two hours before your flight. Alternatively, there are hotels at Heathrow.
    I hope this helps. Have a great trip! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • Hi !! I am arriving at 11.00 am on a saturday at Heathrow my next flight is at 6.50 pm from terminal 5
    I have two questions:)
    Do you think I have enough time to go for a stroll in Nothing Hill ? And how will be the fastest way to go there ? Or any othe neighbor hood that you think is nice ?
    Also is any hotel inside of the airport where I can rent a room only for those hours in case I decide not to go to central
    London ?
    Thanks a lot !!

  • Hello there,

    I have one question regarding bus connection between LHR and Windsor castle.

    Are these connections still valid (I mean bus no. 71 and 77)? because I see on internet some another buses. And is it worth to visit when we have only 6 hours? (we will be on airport from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday)

    Thank you

  • Hi, my family of 3 will land in Heathrow around 1:30 pm and the next flight to Chicago is on the next day at 11:30. Is it better to stay overnight at a hotel near the airport? Can you suggest some sightseeing options during this layover? We are American citizens and the luggage will be checked all the way to the final destination. Thanks

  • Hi Barbara,
    As far as I know, US citizens do not need a visa to enter the United Kingdom for a tourist stay of up to six months – I’m assuming you have a US passport. If you have your bags checked through to your final destination and you have your boarding pass for your next flight, I suggest taking the Heathrow Express into Central London. You can join a tour (see options in the post above) or visit the highlights (such as the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, British Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, etc..) on your own with a one-day London Pass. Please make sure you’re back at Heathrow Airport at least two hours before your flight. I hope this helps.

    Have a great trip!
    Keith

  • We will be arriving from the United States of America at 10:00 am at London airport. We will not depart until 8:35 pm. We would love to go into London for some site seeing but we do not know if we will need a visa or what we will have time to see. Could you please help us? Thank you

  • Hi Abdul,

    There are several options. You could choose to visit Windsor Castle (which is quite close) or you could choose to take the Heathrow Express train to central London and stroll around for a few hours. If you have your bag checked through and you have your boarding pass for your next flight, I advise you return to Heathrow at least two hours before your flight departure.

  • Hi Keith,
    I will be landing at Heathrow Terminal 2 at 11:50 am and catching next flight at 8:50 pm from Terminal 4. How I can use this timely smartly in London by visiting some nearby areas?

  • Hi Liz,
    You’ll have time to venture into London to see some of the major sights (if it’s your first time). I suggest taking the Heathrow Express to maximize your time (only 15 mins. into London). There are so many things to see and do in London so it really depends on what you’re interested in. One option is to join a hop-on/hop-off bus tour which brings you past the major sights and includes a Thames river cruise. Whatever you decide to see/do, I recommend heading back to the airport by 4pm (before the rush hour starts).

    Have a great trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • I land@7;30 am in Heathrow and depart@7:00pm same day. What is a good intiniary for the day? I need suggestions please. We are 4 adults….thank you!!

  • If we have 18hr layover in heathrow ternimal 3.is there near by places to visit with teenage kids visa no issue.

  • […] Five things to do around London Heathrow Airport by Keith […]

  • Hi there,
    I think 5 hours is a bit tight for a visit to Windsor Castle from Heathrow Airport. The castle is quite close to the airport (about 20 mins by taxi) but you should allow yourself plenty of time for passing through the airport. If you have your bags checked through to your final destination, you might just be able to swing it (for a visit of about an hour) but make sure you’re back at the airport at least two hours before departure. Here’s what a TripAdvisor member had to say: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g186216-c184679/United-Kingdom:Heathrow.Layover.Windsor.Castle.html

    Hope this helps.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • I’ll be in northern England for 2 weeks and LHR for a 5hr layover on my way out of the UK. Could I make it to Windsor Castle or Hampton Court in that amount of time?

  • Hi Beth, from the airport, you can easily hop onto the London Tube (metro) to get into the city (depending on where you go, this could take about an hour) and you can use your Oyster Card for all your Tube rides as well as buses (like the red double-deckers). As you’ll be in London for 2 days, you’ll have time to check out some of the highlights. Feel free to read through my London posts for some ideas: https://velvetescape.com/tag/london/

    Cheers,
    Keith

  • We will be there for two nights at the airport. Can you use the Oyster card on the connectors to get to some of these places? We are at the Hilton at the airport

  • Great post! This really helped me. Loved the suggestions. I am doing number 1. The reason being I land in london at 6 and by the time I check in right next to the airport most other things would have closed. Still loved to hear about the possibility of seeing a Tudor pub. Thanks a lot!

  • Good tips! So far, for our long layovers, we’ve only slept at the Sofitel (nice!) or Yotel (not as nice as the Sofitel :-), but a great place for a few hours of zzzz’s). And schlepped all around the airport. But we’ll check these out next time we have some hours to kill…

  • Hello, just curious if I need a visa to visit windsor during a 9 hour layover from mumbai to NY. I will have no checked bags and not a US Citizen

  • Suck luck I just stumbled on your blog! just started planning my next London trip. I’ll spend one day at Windsor or hampton Court before taking off again from Heathrow, but still have to deside between the two…

  • Cool! I am also planning to visit Lego land before co’z I’d love lego’s. Anyway, London Heathrow Airport and Hampton Court Palace is also a great place to visit too.

    -nica-

  • Heathrow to Southall is actually a breeze by train. The Heathrow Connect stopping service to Paddington leaves Heathrow (T1,2 & 3 only – you do have to make a quick connection if you’re at T4 or T5) every half hour – Southall is a nine minute journey.

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