A London layover can be an excellent opportunity to experience some of the many attractions the UK’s capital city has to offer, especially if you have at least 5 hours between flights. But keep in mind that most of London’s attractions prohibit entry with bags or specific items.
The Excess Baggage company offers luggage storage at the airport for unchecked bags. However, airport luggage costs £12.50/bag per day and only compensates clients £200 for loss, damage, or theft.
Furthermore, storing your luggage at the airport typically involves long queues that will consume more of your valuable layover hours. You’ll also need to allow time to go through immigration when you land.
Alternatively, you can store your luggage at one of Stasher’s convenient locations near Heathrow Airport and explore London without toting your bags around.
Stasher charges just £5.90 per item/day with no size or weight restrictions and a complimentary insurance policy worth up to £1000 for each bag you store.
Booking is quick and easy with their cellphone app or the Stasher website. You can drop off and pick up your bags anytime you choose without waiting in a queue.
Transportation from Heathrow to Central London
If you have at least 5 hours after clearing customs and before you need to check in for your flight, you’ll be able to explore central London. You would think that paying the £50+ fare for one of London’s famous black cabs would be the fastest way to reach the city.
However, the quickest route to central London is the Heathrow Express Train, which will drop you off at Paddington Station in 15 minutes. The train leaves 4 times each hour from Terminal 5.
You’ll pay as little as £11/person for a one-way trip if you book 90 days in advance. The price jumps to £33 for tickets bought 60 days in advance. After that, it costs £37 for the standard adult fare.
Budget travelers can take the Tube (London Underground) into the city and back for just £5.50. But, unfortunately, the Tube trip takes 50 minutes each way, and we recommend that you avoid airport-to-city Underground transportation for layovers shorter than 8 hours.
Activities for a 5-Hour London Layover
A 5-hour layover will give you a chance to explore Buckingham Palace and nearby St. James Park. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area at 11 am, you’ll be able to witness the legendary Changing of the Guard ceremony.
The Tate Modern
5 hours will give art lovers plenty of time to peruse the masterpieces of the Tate Modern. Highlights include Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, Paula Rego’s War, and David Hockney’s The Big Splash.
After viewing the museum’s permanent collection, you should still be able to have a meal at one of the many restaurants in the surrounding area.
The Tower of London
You can take a tour of the Tower of London and its famous bridge during a 5-hour layover. After your tour, you should have enough time to enjoy traditional fish and chips with a pint at one of the local pubs.
Windsor Castle is an excellent choice for a 5-hour layover. Home to British Royalty for over 900 years, the vast estate is the world’s largest occupied castle. Buses from the airport to Windsor Castle run every 30 minutes Monday-Saturday and every hour on Sundays. The official tour takes just 2-3 hours, so you’ll have the chance to grab a bite to eat and check in for your flight.
Activities for an 8-Hour Layover in London
An 8-hour layover between leaving the airport and check-in time will give you a few more options. You can combine a trip to Buckingham Palace with the Tower of London and squeeze in a quick meal. Alternatively, you can visit some of the attractions listed below.
Inaugurated in 960 CE, Westminster Abbey has been the coronation site of British kings and queens since 1066. The majestic church also houses the remains of over 3,000 of the UK’s most renowned citizens. 90-minute guided tours are available from Monday through Saturday, leaving you plenty of time to visit other iconic sites in the surrounding area, including:
- Big Ben
- Houses of Parliament
- Churchill War Rooms
- Buckingham Palace
- St. James Park
The area around Westminster Abbey offers several of London’s most delectable dining experiences, such as Indian cuisine at the Cinnamon Club, a 6-course feast at the Escoffier Rooms, or a 5-star meal at Peer’s Dining Room at the House of Lords. If the weather is nice, you can buy some wine and snacks for a picnic in St. James Park.
The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square
You can leisurely explore the masterpieces at the National Gallery and the monuments in London’s historic Trafalgar Square during an 8-hour London layover. Gallery highlights include Cézanne’s Bathers, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait.
Hailing from the 14th century, Trafalgar Square features a host of fountains, statues, monuments, and historic buildings. Get there by taking the Underground to Piccadilly Circus.
The London Eye
Located on the South Bank of the Thames, the London Eye offers panoramic views of the city, guided tours, and specialized events like the Champagne Experience. If you book Fast Track tickets in advance, you won’t have to waste time in the often lengthy queue.
From there, you can head to the London Dungeon, Madame Tussauds, the Sealife London Aquarium, take a cruise on the Thames, or explore the city on a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus tour. You’ll save a considerable amount of money if you purchase combined tickets for multiple attractions before your trip.
Things to Do During a 12-Hour to Overnight London Layover
With 12 hours to spare, you can participate in nearly all of the previously mentioned activities with leftover time to shop for souvenirs. Evening and overnight layovers open up various exciting possibilities, such as partying in Soho, visiting the Royal Opera House, seeing a musical in the West End, or listening to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.