Five things to do around London Heathrow Airport

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. 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 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. 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.

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. 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 – 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 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 at least two hours before your flight!

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).

 



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A guest post by Andrea Kirkby.

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26 Responses to “Five things to do around London Heathrow Airport”

  1. Keith Jenkins 16/10/2017 3:03 pm
    #

    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

  2. Barbara Hobbs 13/10/2017 3:37 am
    #

    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

  3. Keith Jenkins 04/08/2017 10:27 am
    #

    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.

  4. Abdul Ghaffar 03/08/2017 10:59 pm
    #

    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?

  5. Keith Jenkins 16/06/2017 11:38 am
    #

    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

  6. Liz 15/06/2017 8:47 pm
    #

    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!!

  7. Keith Jenkins 08/02/2016 11:50 am
    #

    Hi Mohita,
    That’s a long layover. If you prefer to stay close to Heathrow, I would suggest Windsor Castle. However, with that much time, you could also head into London (about 45 minutes on the Tube). Here are lots of ideas for a London visit with teenagers: http://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/family-activities/things-to-do-in-london-for-teenagers

    Have a great trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  8. Mohita gupta 05/02/2016 8:48 pm
    #

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

  9. Keith Jenkins 17/09/2015 4:24 pm
    #

    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

  10. Clint 17/09/2015 3:26 pm
    #

    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?

  11. Keith Jenkins 29/07/2015 4:45 pm
    #

    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

  12. Keith Jenkins 29/07/2015 4:15 pm
    #

    Hi Beth,

    You can use your Oyster card to travel on public transport such as the Tube and buses. For more info, please see: https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/oyster

    Have a great trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  13. Beth Davis 29/07/2015 4:06 pm
    #

    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

  14. Keith Jenkins 15/07/2015 11:30 am
    #

    You’re most welcome Aneesh! have a great trip!

    Cheers,
    Keith

  15. Aneesh Arora 07/07/2015 3:21 pm
    #

    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!

  16. Sand In My Suitcase 02/10/2013 2:31 am
    #

    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…

  17. Keith Jenkins 05/02/2013 12:01 pm
    #

    Hi Mel,
    That depends on your nationality. You can check if you need a visa here: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/

    Cheers,
    Keith

  18. Mel Thomas 01/02/2013 8:55 pm
    #

    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

  19. Sofie 22/11/2012 3:16 pm
    #

    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…

  20. Working Holiday Visa Canada 24/07/2012 2:07 am
    #

    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-

  21. Thristhan 14/06/2012 5:48 am
    #

    Legoland rocks 🙂 I don’t think they were there when I visited London in 1997.

  22. velvet 08/06/2012 1:57 pm
    #

    Awesome! Thanks for the tip Rory. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Keith

  23. Rory 08/06/2012 1:53 pm
    #

    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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