Sleeping in Airports

London Heathrow Airport Sightseeing

This article includes links to our travel partners at Tripadvisor, where you can read traveller reviews, book tours and plan your visit to London.

London Heathrow Airport Layover Sightseeing
Photo Credit: S.Borisov / Shutterstock

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 your time, enjoy your London layover exploring the world-famous historical and cultural sights 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 entertain you. 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, check out our Heathrow Airport Guide.

Layover Sightseeing Attractions

Below are a few of the top things to do in London:

Buckingham Palace and Kensington Gardens

London Buckingham Palace
Photo Credit: r.nagy / Shutterstock

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 include the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Kensington Palace and the chance for a royal sighting!

  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting Buckingham Palace, book a tour or read traveller reviews.
  • Time Required: Visiting the palace and the gardens takes at least an hour – more if you hope to wander the perimeter 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 required time.

Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben

London Westminster Abbey
Photo Credit: alice-photo / Shutterstock

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 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 glimpse 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 30 minutes 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 required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben; book a tour or read traveller reviews.

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 epicentre on this list. As you wander this massive street, essential stops 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 some research before 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 required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting Oxford Street, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

London Hop-On Hop-off Bus
Photo Credit: Chris Jenner / Shutterstock

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. One ticket provides you with access to all five coloured lines, giving you a chance to visit Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, London’s Museum Quarter and much more. The Blue Line, also known as the Essential Line, includes a live English-speaking guide who gives colourful insight into the city and the sights you pass. The bus routes allow you to hop on/off at 70 locations. 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 24 hours, and the 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 entire 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 connect with either the Purple or Black line.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about London bus tours, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Airport Transportation

LHR is connected to Central London through several public and private transit options.

Public transit options include:

  • The Heathrow Express (departs from Terminal 5): An express train connecting travellers to the city center (Paddington Station only) in 15 minutes for a fare higher than the tube’s. For schedules and rates, visit the 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 about your mini layover vacation, 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? 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 extended security wait times, so 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, 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: