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London Heathrow Layover Guide (Best 4-12 Hour Itineraries)


Aeroplanes lined up at London Heathrow Airport, with a British Airways aircraft in the foreground. The sky is blue with scattered clouds, and the airport's runway and terminal buildings are visible in the background. London Heathrow is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for layovers.
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Touching down in London for a layover? You’re very lucky! This is the second-most visited city in the world for a reason, and, with thousands of historic attractions and world-class activities to choose from, you certainly won’t be bored. In fact, after your layover, we bet you’ll board your next flight already planning your next trip here!

Is it feasible to explore London during a layover? Absolutely. It’s a challenge, though, because you’ll really need to limit yourself to just a couple of attractions and accept that you won’t see it all on one trip. You wouldn’t see it all even if your layover was for an entire month!

This guide will walk you through how to squeeze the most out of your London layover, including tips on getting to the city from London Heathrow and what the must-visit attractions are. Whether it's your first visit or your fiftieth, London is sure to captivate you. Let's dive in.

Things to do During a London Heathrow Layover

Narrowing things down to the top attractions for your London layover can seem overwhelming. There’s just so much to see and do! To give you a head-start, here are the must-visit spots that we highly recommend:

As you may have heard, London is definitely not one of Europe’s cheapest destinations but luckily, most of the things on this list are free to visit.

For an unforgettable day in London, cover a handful of these top attractions and enjoy a classic British meal like fish and chips, a full English breakfast, or afternoon tea at a quaint local café.

Best London Heathrow Airport Layover Itineraries

A panoramic aerial view of London featuring the River Thames winding through the city. Iconic landmarks like Tower Bridge and modern skyscrapers, including Canary Wharf, are prominently visible under a soft sunset sky.

When it comes to getting into central London from London Heathrow, there are two main options: the Heathrow Express or the London Underground. The Heathrow Express is the fastest choice, whisking you to Paddington Station in about 15 minutes, but it’s more expensive.

If you’re not in a rush and want to save some cash, you can catch the Piccadilly Line on the Underground, which will take about 45-50 minutes to get to Central London.

4 hours layover in London

With just four hours, venturing into central London is too risky due to unpredictable security queues when you return to the airport. If you miss your flight because you decided to risk heading into the city, your travel insurance won’t cover you!

Instead, it’s best to explore Heathrow itself. Each terminal has unique attractions, including the Heathrow Art Gallery at Terminal 5, and there are also, of course, plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you busy.

5 hours layover in London

A close-up view of the clock tower known as Big Ben in London, standing tall against a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds. The intricate details of the Gothic architecture are clearly visible.

A five-hour layover gives you a tiny bit of leeway to step out. Quickly hop on the Heathrow Express to Paddington, which only takes 15 minutes one way. Enjoy a (very brief!) walk around Kensington Gardens, stopping at the Italian Gardens and Peter Pan Statue, before returning back to Paddington Station to take the Heathrow Express back to the airport.

6 hours layover in London

With six hours, take the Heathrow Express to Paddington, and then hail a taxi to Kensington Palace. It’s only a short distance away, but you don’t have time to waste by walking there!

On arrival at the palace, take a couple of hours to explore the historic residence, once home to Queen Victoria and Princess Diana, and check out the elegant State Rooms and ongoing exhibitions before returning to Paddington and taking the train back to the airport.

7 hours layover in London

People walking on the Millennium Bridge in London, with The Shard skyscraper in the background. The city buildings and trees are visible under a clear blue sky.

With seven hours to spare, you have just enough time to take in a few of London’s most iconic sights. Start by taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington, and then switch to the Underground to Westminster. This is an area of London jam-packed full of photo opportunities, from the majestic Houses of Parliament to the legendary Big Ben.

Make sure to snap a picture with one of London's famous red phone booths, take a short walk along the River Thames and soak in the views of the London Eye across the river. Then, make your way back to the airport. It was brief, but you managed to see a lot in a short space of time!

8 hours layover in London

With eight hours available, you finally have enough time to explore The British Museum! Start by taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington, then hop on the Tube to this world-renowned museum, where you can see the Rosetta Stone and check out their massive Egyptian collection. This is one of the most famous museums in the world, so take your time!

After soaking up some history, walk ten minutes to Covent Garden. This colourful and always busy area is one of the most unique in London, filled with theatres, flowers, and street performers. It’s the perfect place to stop for a cup of tea or a pub lunch before returning to the airport.

10 hours layover in London

A ceremonial guard in a red uniform and bearskin hat standing in front of a sentry box at Buckingham Palace in London. Visiting Buckingham Palace is one of the top things to do on a London layover.

With ten hours, you’re able to make the most of your London Heathrow long layover! Kick things off at the Tower of London, where you can learn about its thousand-year history and check out the Crown Jewels. From there, walk over to the iconic Tower Bridge, one of the most photographed spots in the city, to take a photo or two of your own.

Since you’re by the River Thames, the next thing you should do is jump on a Thames river cruise. This is the best way to check out many of London’s top attractions on a time crunch, including the Shard, Shakespeare’s Globe, the London Eye, and the Houses of Parliament. After your cruise, treat yourself to something tasty at a riverside pub, like classic fish and chips or a hearty pie. When you’re done, it’s an easy ride back to Paddington to catch the Heathrow Express to the airport.

12 hours layover in London

Twelve hours for your layover means you can really dive into London. Start your day with a leisurely walk through Hyde Park, heading south through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Here, take a moment to appreciate the royal residence before carrying on walking along The Mall to Trafalgar Square. Here, you can pop into the National Gallery to see some of the world's most famous paintings.

After soaking up some art, wander down to the River Thames for iconic views of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Don’t miss a ride on the London Eye if you have time - the views over London from its capsules are second to none!

To top off your London long layover, find a cosy pub nearby like The King’s Arms tucked away near Waterloo station, where you can sample some local ale and perhaps a plate of bangers and mash. It's the perfect way to round off your day in London before catching the Heathrow Express back to the airport.

Overnight layover in London

A London Underground sign with the word “Underground” in white text on a red circle and blue bar. The sign is set against the backdrop of a white building, with pigeons perched on top and green leaves framing the scene.

London comes alive at night, so you’re very lucky to get to experience it for yourself on an overnight layover from London Heathrow! Start with dropping off your bags at your hotel, and then head out on a sunset walk along the River Thames. You can pick almost any stretch of the river and it’ll be pretty!

For your evening entertainment, you have a tonne of options, but our favourites are to catch a mesmerising West End show or watch a ballet at the Royal Opera House. If a night at the theatre night isn’t your cup of tea, head up to AquaShard, located on the 31st floor of The Shard. Here, you can enjoy a drink with stunning nighttime views of London’s lights. Entry is free, so you only have to pay for drinks or food!

In the morning, dive into a full English breakfast at a traditional cafe like E Pellicci and, once fuelled, head over to Trafalgar Square and stroll towards Buckingham Palace through St James’ Park, walking off that big breakfast before returning to the airport.

Best London Heathrow Layover Tours You Can Book

Don’t have time to worry about the details of your London layover? We understand completely! Choosing a guided layover tour can take the stress out of your brief stay.

Here are our top picks for London:

This 6-hour layover tour will pick you up from the arrivals hall at Heathrow before showing you all of London’s unmissable attractions like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Place of Westminster, London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and The Tower of London. You couldn’t see all of these in such a short layover without a private driver like you get on this tour!

This 4-hour layover tour is your go-to option if you have a short layover at London Heathrow, and it’s fully customisable so you can tailor the itinerary to what matters the most to you! The tour also costs a flat fee for up to 7 people, so it works out as very affordable indeed if you’re travelling as a group.

What to Do in London Heathrow During a Layover

The Shard skyscraper towering over the London skyline at dusk, with its lights glowing against a dark blue sky. The scene includes modern buildings and a bridge over the River Thames.

Don’t want to risk missing your next flight? The good news is, there's plenty to keep you occupied right inside the airport.

For a touch of culture, visit the Heathrow Art Gallery in Terminal 5, where you’ll find top works by a range of modern British artists on display. If you prefer some quiet time with a book, you’ll find well-stocked bookshops across the terminals, offering everything from bestsellers to travel literature.

Need to unwind? There are in-airport spas at most terminals in London Heathrow, offering massages, facials and nail services.

When it comes to trying out a few British classics, Terminal 5 has the best offering, with a traditional English pub (The Three Tuns), Gordon Ramsay Plane Food, and The Crown Rivers, a branch of the budget-friendly Wetherspoons pub chain all offering classics like bangers and mash, fish and chips, and Sunday Roasts.

FAQs About Layovers in London Heathrow

Can you leave London Heathrow during a layover?

Yes, leaving London Heathrow during a layover is allowed as long as you have enough time and the correct visa. However, London Heathrow is not located in central London, so it’s worth double checking that you have enough time to leave the airport and still catch your next flight before risking it.

How long do you need to travel between terminals at Heathrow?

It’s generally recommended to allow at least 90 minutes for transfers during your layover in London Heathrow, but, to be on the safe side, at least two hours is best if you need to switch terminals, and to account for any potential flight delays. Heathrow offers free shuttle buses between terminals and you can also use the Heathrow Express train, which connects Terminals 2, 3, 4, and 5.

How do you travel between London Heathrow and London Gatwick on a layover?

The quickest way to travel between London Heathrow and London Gatwick airports on a layover is usually by coach, with services like National Express providing direct routes that take around 75-90 minutes. Alternatively, you can take the Heathrow Express train to London Paddington, then the London Underground or a train to Victoria, followed by the Gatwick Express to Gatwick Airport, which takes around 2 hours.

Need tips for layover itineraries at a different airport?

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