London Heathrow Airport Sightseeing

london heathrow airport layover sightseeing

London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is currently ranked as the world’s third busiest airport – meaning you will not be alone on your layover in London. Most flight routes will leave travellers with a few hours here – though more often, you’re looking at well over five hours. Rather than waste away your time, enjoy your London layover exploring the world-famous historical and cultural sights that are packed into this sensational city. Whether you’re looking for a culinary adventure, a dose of the monarchy or some retail-therapy, the 15-minute Heathrow Express will scoot you around the traffic and into the heart of the city. Leave your bags at the airport and follow the suggestions on what to do and how to do it in the guide below.

Airport Overview

If you find yourself with a layover in Heathrow of less than five hours, you are likely best sticking around the airport terminals. As one of the world’s largest and most famous airports, there is no end of glitzy duty-free shopping and dining options to keep you entertained. The downside to this shopping madness is the inevitable havoc the airport wreaks on even the most innocent credit card. For more information on the airport itself, check out our Heathrow Airport Guide.

Sightseeing Options

Below are a few essential sights.

Buckingham Palace and Kensington Gardens

buckingham palace

While the city is rife with iconic sights and landmarks, Buckingham Palace sits uncontested among the absolute most famous. Spend an entire afternoon wandering around the perimeter of the place that has been home to British royalty since 1837. A lucky few may even time their visit right for the changing of the guards! A short walk across Buckingham Gardens carries you out into the expansive Kensington Gardens, and onto hours’ worth of walking trails that run throughout. Highlights here include the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and Kensington Palace itself – and the chance for a royal sighting!

Time Required: Visiting the palace and the gardens takes a minimum of an hour – more, if you hope to spend time wandering the perimeter of the palace, or much of the park. A short walk connects the two sights. This does not include transfer time between the airport and here.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required

Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben

london westminster abbey and big ben

Some of London’s most impressive, significant and iconic buildings are all located within a few steps of each other. Westminster Abbey is the sight of most of the city’s most major religious events, and is otherwise a hugely impressive piece of Gothic-style architecture. The Houses of Parliament – also known as the Castle of Westminster – is located directly across the street, on the banks of the Thames. Be sure to walk to the easternmost part of the Castle to get a glimpse of the still active Big Ben Clock Tower and the city’s stunning bridges.

Time Required: Simply observing the outside of these three sights can be done in a half hour to an hour. Should you wish to enter inside of Westminster Abbey, you should account for a long ticket queue (20 – 40 minutes) and another hour for touring the inside. This estimate does not include travel time from the airport to here.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Oxford Street

Since not all who visit London are there for the architecture and the history, we also thought we’d include the city’s shopping epicenter on this list. Essential stops as you wander this massive street include Topshop, Selfridges and Liberty Department Store. Shops along Bond Street are among the hippest and trendiest in the city, while Soho is filled with emerging names in a formerly ‘colourful’ neighbourhood. Conduct a bit of research prior to diving into this region to ensure your precious time is spent in the area that best suits your preferences!

Time Required: Exploring the entirety of Oxford Street could take days. However, for layover purposes, a few hours should suffice. It will generally depend on whether you hope to browse or commit to some serious UK shopping. This does not include travel time between the airport and here.

How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options, and the associated time required.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

london sightseeing bus tour

If all of the above sights sound interesting, but manoeuvring the tube sounds overwhelming, a “Hop On Hop Off” bus tour might be the ideal way to spend your layover. Both the Purple and Black routes have stops at Paddington Station, and while they are not sightseeing routes in and of themselves, they do connect onwards to the Red, Blue and Yellow tour lines. One ticket provides you with access to all coloured lines, giving you a chance to visit to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and much more. The Red line provides an audio guide in numerous languages, while the Yellow line provides a live guide who gives colourful insight on the city and the sights you pass. Both red and yellow lines focus on major sights, while the Blue line prioritizes the major shopping areas throughout London. Your ticket also includes a complimentary river cruise of the Thames and an optional walking tour.

Time Required: Hop On Hop Off tickets are valid for a 24-hour period, and the amount of time you spend on them is entirely up to you. Buses stop at nearly all major sights, so be sure to factor in time for any places you might want to enter or shop at. The full loop without getting off takes approximately 2 hours.

How to Get There: Stops are located throughout the city, but the most straightforward option is to take the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, where you can then connect with either the Purple or Black line.

Transportation

LHR is connected to Central London through a number of public and private transit options.

Public transit options include:

  • The Heathrow Express (departs from Terminal 5): An express train that connects travellers to the city center (Paddington Station only) in 15 minutes, for a fare higher than that of the tube. For schedules and rates visit: Heathrow Express Website.
  • The London Underground/Tube (departs from Terminals 1, 2 and 3): Standard tube system that connects travellers to the entire city through the Piccadilly Line in roughly an hour for a cheaper price than the Heathrow Express
  • Bus Routes (departs from between Terminals 1, 2 and 3): Connects the airport with towns in west London.

Private transit options include:

  • Car Rentals: Primary offices available in all terminals
  • Taxis: Available at all arrivals halls

Before You Go: Layover Tips

Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.

  • Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
  • When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
  • What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
  • What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights. Visit our London Heathrow Airport Guide for information about Luggage Storage.

Other Useful Resources

Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly:

buy a lounge pass