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12 Hour Layover in London -- How to spend the day?

On our way to London we've been left with a 12-hour layover in London; we land around 7 a.m. and fly out around 8:30 p.m. We were wondering if you had any recommendations for how to use that time? We've never been to London before, so we want to make the most of that time, even if we understand the circumstances aren't ideal (we'll be carrying our luggage with us).

Posted by
896 posts

Which airport? Where are you flying on to? Generally there are places to check luggage for a fee for a few hours or even more.

BTW, this is a fairly frequently asked question. Have you by any chance tried the Search function at the top of the page to view previous similar threads?

Posted by
18746 posts

The first thing I'd do is Google luggage storage London. How can you have any fun burdened with all your stuff?

Are you landing in London after an overnight flight? If so, you may be (I always am) too fuzzy-brained and sleepy to deal with something like a museum. I'd recommend looking at the walking-tour schedule on the LondonWalks website. You can download a document listing everything scheduled through the end of April right now. You'll have to wait if your trip falls after April 30.

For almost all the LondonWalks you simply show up at the designated meeting point (at an Underground station) and hand over £10 per person. No reservations needed, no worry about how long it will take you to get out of the airport and downtown. If you arrive and are simply dead on your feet and lack the energy even to leave the airport, you haven't wasted any money on tickets to anything.

If you prefer a slower-paced environment when you're jet-lagged, another possibility would be visiting Windsor, which is very close to and accessible from Heathrow by bus (sorry, I don't have the details). I'm told the town is really nice even if you aren't up for visiting the castle.

Posted by
16 posts

Yeah we'll be landing in Heathrow. And I think we'll be very tired and very fuzzy, so we'll definitely need to plan something that goes easy on us. Something that lets us take in maximum London with minimum effort, if that makes any sense. There's no one thing on our to do list; we'll just be happy if we get some sense of the surroundings and maybe eat a good meal or two.

Such a relief about the luggage! Getting it off of our backs would be amazing if that's an option.

Sorry for the redundancy with the question. Did try searching in the search bar but no results came up; I must have used the wrong terms.

Posted by
6565 posts

You could take the Heathrow Express train into Paddington train station--15 minute trip.
Then take the underground station to where you could meet up with a Hop On Hop Off bus. You could ride as long as you liked, and it takes you by all the most popular travel sights. It's a good way to get the lay of the land in your mind.

Posted by
18746 posts

For me on arrival day, a hop-on/hop-off bus would simply be a venue for a rather expensive nap. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other or it is all over. But I think Novice Traveler is a lot younger than I am and may not have as much difficulty staying awake as I do.

Posted by
16 posts

Yeah I could actually see a Hop On/Hop Off bus being perfect. Especially if it would let us get off for a couple hours somewhere so we could walk around.

I imagine we'll be pretty stressed with that final flight looming over us that night, so anything that gives us an easy/quick return to the airport when the time comes is a bonus.

Posted by
2590 posts

I notice that you said,
"I think we'll be very tired and very fuzzy, so we'll definitely need to plan something that goes easy on us."
and
"I imagine we'll be pretty stressed with that final flight looming over us that night, so anything that gives us an easy/quick return to the airport when the time comes is a bonus."

Normally I would not say this, but staying at the airport may be a good idea.
Heathrow is filled with good restaurants, coffee shops, stores, bookshops, gift shops.
If you want something low-key to do, have a look around.

The idea of going into London is enticing, but if you are running on low to no energy, it could be a mistake.
You would want to be alert in London, so you don't accidentally step into traffic or trip and fall.
Only you can judge your energy level when you get there to Heathrow.

Windsor is nearby, much closer than London.
This would be an easier destination for you if you are feeling less than energetic.
Take a taxi (about 22 pounds).
Windsor Castle has luggage storage in the cloakroom.
Tour the castle, going into St George's Chapel where Prince Harry got married.
This was my favorite part.

Then walk around the small town.
There are lots of cute shops, pubs and tearooms.
Walk over the bridge across the river, enjoy seeing the swans.
Take a taxi back to Heathrow when you're done.

Posted by
16 posts

Thank you thank you! That is great advice. I think Windsor sounds delightful and low stress and perfect. We'll shoot for the castle if we're feeling adventurous, and we'll settle for just a market or whatever if we're feeling wiped.

Posted by
2590 posts

Hello! I think Windsor is an excellent idea.
You will find that the pubs, restaurants and tea shops there do not mind if you sit and rest awhile after making a purchase.
Should have WiFi too.
Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
4661 posts

The Heathrow Express is by all odds the fastest way into London and back, and with your timetable you'll want to go fast. It takes you nonstop to Paddington, where there are three lines of the Underground (aka Tube, don't call it a subway) to whisk you anywhere else you want. The Express is expensive but if you buy tickets well in advance you can get a good price, and the ticket is good for any train that day. If you can't park your bags at Heathrow, you can at Paddington, look for the Excess Baggage Company on platform 12.

What to do? From Paddington, take the Circle Line to Westminster, nose around Parliament Square and Westminster Abbey (outside), then walk across Westminster Bridge and east along the south bank of the Thames, where a pedestrian promenade runs along the river, to Tower Bridge, back across and see the Tower of London (outside). You can pick up the Circle Line back to Paddington (either direction) or get off somewhere else and explore further as time and energy allow. This plan assumes good weather, but it keeps you outside moving around, usually the best plan for a jet-lagged day. Allow ample time to get back to the airport, plan to be at the terminal at least two hours before your flight (assuming it's within Europe, longer if going elsewhere).

Or hook up with one of the London Walks as others recommend.

Posted by
4686 posts

Although you have a long layover, realistically, it will be 10am or later by the time you get to Windsor or central London. You will need to set off for the airport again just after 5pm.

Posted by
626 posts

You might enjoy this video. 12hrs in London, landed and departing around the same times.

https://youtu.be/6h8X-4JQaAU

I can list the key points of his walk to take you on the same route if you’re interested. It’s quite a simple route.

Posted by
2590 posts

Only you can judge your energy level when you get into Heathrow.
That may determine what you do.

I cannot sleep on the plane, so I am usually wiped out the first day after landing.
If you land @ 7 am and have another flight @ 8:30 pm, and spend the day in London.......
unless you can sleep on both flights....well, you will be pretty beat.

I hope you are one of those who can sleep on your overnight flight to London.
If so, I envy you! :)
Have a great trip, whatever you decide to do with your layover time!

Posted by
3173 posts

Yeah we'll be landing in Heathrow. And I think we'll be very tired and
very fuzzy.

............

Yeah I could actually see a Hop On/Hop Off bus being perfect.

Or you could fall asleep on the HoHo. If the bus is warm, you could conk out.

I think you may be better with a boat ride on the Thames OUTSIDE seeing the wonderful views of the Houses of Parliament, the ferris wheel, the Tower Bridge, etc with the wind in your face enjoying it all. Then have a late lunch followed by a return to Heathrow.

Posted by
2590 posts

"Or you could fall asleep on the HoHo. If the bus is warm, you could conk out."

Oh Continental! I am still laughing at this!

Because it is so true. And has happened to me after a sleepless night on the plane!

Novice Traveler, the boat ride Continental mentioned is a good idea, if you get to London.

If you take the blue and white boats, the Thames Clipper boats, they take the Oyster card. The other boats (red & white) do not.
https://www.thamesclippers.com/assets/doc/TC_A3_Route_Map_APRIL2017-640222a9dc.pdf

You would probably board at the London Eye/Westminster and ride to the Tower of London, then get off, walk around outside the Tower for a quick look, then back on the boat to London Eye/Westminster again.

Posted by
2621 posts

I agree with Rebecca, Windsor would be the best option. It’s only a 15 minute cab ride. You could tour the castle, walk to Windsor Great Park a five minute walk from the castle. Enjoy a pub meal, have tea at one of the cafes and/or walk down to the bridge that goes over the Thames (a 5-7 minute walk) set and enjoy the view. After crossing the bridge would you be in Eton. Have a great trip.

Posted by
1009 posts

My parents had a layover from India. They took the Tube and walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It allowed them to stretch their legs and get some fresh air as well as seeing a bit of Londontown.