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5 hour layover in London

I have a 5 hour layover in London on an upcoming vacation and I am looking for recommendations on what I can do/see. Realistically, I'll have 3 hours in the city since I'll need the rest of the time to get to/from Heathrow. I'll be there in late October and I'll be coming from Greece so at most I'll have slacks, a long sleeve shirt and a light jacket. Any recommendations - bus tour, Herrods, Big Ben? What's realistic in such a short time period?

Posted by
9363 posts

You'll need more time than that to come and go from Heathrow. It can take an hour just to get OUT of the airport, depending on how much other traffic is arriving at the same time, then it's an hour or so into town. And remember, you have to allow time to go back through security once you get back to the airport, too. About the only thing that is realistic is a quick trip to Windsor, not London.

Posted by
345 posts

I don't think you have any time beyond browsing Harrods and etc. within the airport. If your plane is even a few minutes late, that eats into your time. If you're responsible for transferring your bags, that's a longer wait. Getting out and to Harrods, Ben, etc. could take a couple hours out, and easily another hour back. And then having to be back over an hour before the flight... and never mind if the tube stops, or if there's a traffic jam. There's just too much to go wrong.

Add to that the stress of possibly being late and having to worry... so not worth it.

Posted by
8 posts

I will travel by train from the airport and will have already checked in on the first leg of the trip from Greece to London since I am going to the same airline home. Would this help add any time? If not, what is there in Windsor to see?

Posted by
12040 posts

In the best case scenario where everything falls into place at Heathrow (not common!) a 5 hour layover is not enough time to do much more than arrive in London and immediately go back to the airport. Trust me, this is one of the slowest airports in the world through which to transfer. You will have far less than 3 hours, and you'll be at a huge risk of missing your flight.

Posted by
21330 posts

You are really caught. It looks tempting but risky. The Heathrow Express will get you into central London is about 30 minutes but that is about it. Maybe a quick hour and half walk around tour. Not worth it. Enjoy the duty free shops -- that is about it. Save it for another time.

Posted by
964 posts

Hi Rachael, as I'm sure you know already, you need 3 hours for check-in to an International flight from Heathrow. If you mean you have 5 hours after that, then maybe a quick trip to Windsor, but personally, knowing so well how bad the traffic can be in and around London at any given time of day, I wouldn't risk it. A relative of mine missed his plane from Gatwick to Spain a couple of days ago, and all he had to do was get across London, but he got stuck in traffic.

Posted by
9363 posts

Rachael, the only time that you will have saved is in not having to retrieve and recheck your bag. If you leave the airport you will still have to go through the security procedures again when you return. Even if you already have a boarding pass for the second flight you never know how long the security line will be. That's why they suggest being there 3 hours early for an international flight.

At Windsor is Windsor Castle. It's only a few minutes away and there is lots to see there, but depending on your timing once you arrive you might not want to risk even that.

Posted by
8 posts

I will have already checked in and have a boarding pass. I have 5 hours from the time I land from Greece until when I take off. I only have to travel to/from the airport and go through security. I have been through security in German, Italy, Canada, US and France. Does it take that long in the UK? I've never gone through the UK and am surprised to hear it would take more than 1 hour to get through security. Is there anything to do in the airport? Some larger airports have good shopping, gyms, places to get a massage/pedicure. Does Heathrow have anything you'd recommend? If a quick trip isn't feasible I'd like to at least enjoy some shopping or good food while I wait for my next plane.

Posted by
12040 posts

Heathrow is a busy airport like you've never seen before. On any given flight, you never know if your plane will pull directly up to a terminal, or if the plane will park somewhere on the tarmac and you'll have to ride on a bus to the terminal (this is a MUCH slower way to disembark). Depending on which terminal you arrive at, you may have to take another bus to reach a terminal with a rail link (not all are directly connected). This can last upwards of 90 minutes until you finally set foot in the rail station. Then... there's the security queue once you return to the airport, which will be LONG! There's probably several other potential bottlenecks I have yet to remember. Seriously, trust us on this one. Given optimum conditions and the proper alignment of the planets, 5 hours is still a very tight time squeeze to make it through Heathrow to London and back again.

Posted by
12040 posts

Oh, forgot to add a few comments about UK airports. Security has always been much tighter here than in the US, even after 9/11. Even after 9/11, British airports still have more security checks than US airports.

All that being said, Heathrow does have better waiting facilities than most other airports. Plenty of places to shop, grab a drink, or have a bite to eat.

Posted by
8293 posts

The other thing about Heathrow to allow time for is the very long walk to your gate. There are signs here and there telling one how long it will take to walk to the various gates from where you are standing. Could be 20 minutes or more. I'm sure by now you know going into London is not only unrealistic but risky in the extreme.

I'd like to add that if people would not use the expression "layover", but use the more correct term "connection time", it would not lead them into temptation.

Posted by
283 posts

If you really want the giggle of seeing London in a flash, you can take the tube to Westminster (change lines at Hammersmith) and ta da you are standing under Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Thames is to your left with the London Eye just across the way.

It is tempting to chance it but it really is tight... doable but tight.

Not to mention that you will have to go through immigration and explain that you only intend to leave the airport for a couple of hours and fly out again. Immigration is getting VERY tough these days.

I was flying out of Heathrow one day and missed my terminal so I had to catch the one going up one where I came and back down again. I had plenty of time so I thought, but with no warning there was signal failure and the line stopped. Fortunately, by that time I was at Hatton's Cross so could hop on a bus but I was RUNNING to my boarding gate because that missed stop ended up taking me over an hour and a half to get through. Ridiculous as I was already at Heathrow. I would have missed my flight for sure if I was a few stops away.

I like that 'connection' time rationale!

Posted by
991 posts

Sorry Rachael but everything you've read here about Heathrow is correct. But it does have shopping. Food, drink, luxury items of all sorts, even a mini-Harrods. I'm convinced there are people who actually live at Heathrow.

Posted by
2788 posts

I got stuck on British Air thru Heathrow by Northwest when they cancelled my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam on Saturday, Sept. 6. The BA flight from Vienna was 50 minutes late to the gate at Heathrow and it was only a 2 hour flight. Stood in line for 90 minutes to get new boarding passes. Took 20 minutes to go from Terminal 5 (Lost Luggage Land) to Terminal 4 on a bus. Boy, can that airport ever suck the minutes off the clock. Never again.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks for the advise. Hearing from all of you in the know, I think I'll stick to shopping at the airport. I went on-line and it looks like they have plenty to choose from. Maybe next time I go through Europe I'll plan two or three days at the end of my trip to see London. To be honest I was also concerned about the weather. Traveling between Mexico and Greece I won't have cold weather outfits, just light layers.

Posted by
13 posts

Rachael: Have you thought about using London as an international stopover? Ask your airline if they allow international stopovers, IE you fly into Heathrow, stay over 1 day and fly on to your destination next day. That way, you can spend a day in London and continue on to your destination the next day. It depends on YOUR airline. If you don't ask, you won't know. You could get a cheap B&B or Hostel for 1 night and have a look around London then on to your final destination the next day.

Posted by
964 posts

Rachael, I' very relieved to hear you're not going to risk it!
There are lots of shops, both before and after you go through to the departure lounge. There is probably also be a seperate lounge where, for about £20, you can sit in a nice comfy chair, have free drinks and maybe even watch the planes landing and taking off (the one at Gatwick is like that), and free newspapers to read.
If you google BAA, who own Heathrow, you'll find lots of information. Cheers!

Posted by
349 posts

When the world was a bit simpler and cheaper. I would take the picadilly line(tube) to covent garden then walk to green park and take tube back . My last time ( Heathrow in 2007) life was a bit more complicated with some horrendous lines so my little 2 hour tour of London may just be a fond memory . They have some pretty nice shops at airport. I SAID NICE NOT AFFORDABLE!!