Surviving 11 hours at Heathrow Airport
March 7, 2007 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Layover in London filter? We have an 11.5 hour layover at Heathrow airport this Sunday. Is it feasible to go somewhere for an easy walk and a nice meal without breaking the bank?

We are on our way from Toronto to sub-Saharan Africa for a few weeks work. It's a long two day trip, but we hate to fly through a place we don't know without seeing something more interesting than Heathrow terminals one and four.

We'll be tired, casually dressed, and have a bit of hand luggage. We would like to go somewhere by tube for a nice walk and perhaps a good lunch. Any suggestions of a place we could get to in less than an hour that would not break the bank, but would be pleasant and not too touristy?

We'll arrive at 9am on Sunday and leave 11 hours later. (Our idea of nice is someplace a Londoner would go, with great food and a quiet atmosphere. We don't need to see anything impressive- we've always assumed that we'll spend time in London as tourists-- we just want to have a little fun and see something that we don't have in Toronto. We don't even need to go to London; we'd just don't want to wander around when time and money are in short supply)

We're Canadian, so Britain is expensive for us. Approximate travel costs would be most welcome.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You could take the Picadilly Line to Hammersmith or to High Street Kensington. At Hammersmith, there are plenty of restaurants around, from a pub lunch all the way to the very expensive but excellent River Cafe. From Gloucester Road, you can walk north to High Street Kensignton where there is shopping/restaurants and you can spend an hour or so walking through Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park. Leave an hour each direction on the tube to be safe.
posted by JakeWalker at 7:09 PM on March 7, 2007

Just a quick tip - I visited London two years ago and stayed at a friends house. When I was filling out the customs form for entry I just wrote "London" as a destination. The customs agent decided to give me crap about it going on and on about how non-specific that was. Eventually my friend who I was traveling with and myself had to get out a map and figure out and spend 10 minutes figuring out which neighborhood we were staying in using the directions we had.

Yes, they were that annoying. Anyway, my point is, come up with some plan to write on your customs form a location in which you are staying. I'm not sure whether to make one up or some alternate - but they might get annoying on you if you leave the space blank.

my two cents
posted by jourman2 at 7:18 PM on March 7, 2007

Response by poster: I have to say that Kensington Gardens is tempting. I'm just curious if any of the area around the airport is nice, too. In Toronto, that would be a big no. It's downtown or nothing. I'm pretty sure I don't want to drop in on Windsor Castle, but I want to be open minded.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:27 PM on March 7, 2007

Best answer: Also, I'm not really sure about restaurants and the like - because I didn't do much of that when I was there, but as for transport the easiest and least expensive thing to do is to buy an off-peak day pass (you said it's on Sunday - right?). As you can see here they're only 6.70 off peak (you'll need zones 1-6 as Heathrow is in zone 6 and the center of town is zone one - see here for a map)

You'll be set for transport with the day pass - hopefully others can chime on eating options.
posted by jourman2 at 7:29 PM on March 7, 2007

Sorry to take over the thread like this - but the airport is totally out of the city - not much around it - you can see the airport here - its at the end of the blue (piccadilly) line all the way on the bottom left. The actual airport itself are quite nice - especially terminals 3 and 4 - they're essentially giant shopping malls.
posted by jourman2 at 7:35 PM on March 7, 2007

Yes, they were that annoying. Anyway, my point is, come up with some plan to write on your customs form a location in which you are staying. I'm not sure whether to make one up or some alternate - but they might get annoying on you if you leave the space blank.

Agreed. When I visited there last year, the guy did not stop interrogating me until I told him the exact youth hostel I was staying at, how I booked it, etc. They can be intense.
Or you can get the guy who doesn't care. Just be prepared.
posted by jmd82 at 7:44 PM on March 7, 2007

Response by poster: Please, don't be shy, Jourman2, or anyone else. The information about the pass is very useful, and it's nice to know about the airport. Until recently our International airport was a complete horror, which prompted us to think about a day trip. It's now pretty okay, but Hammersmith looks close enough, that we have at least one place worth exploring.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:48 PM on March 7, 2007

So much to do there. I had a 10 hour layover in Paris last year and it's AMAZING how much I was able to do in that time. (One tip: see if you can store your baggage at Heathrow. I was able to do that at DeGaulle & it made life much easier.)

You could go to the British Museum. If you're there on the weekend, you could wander Portobello Market. Hyde Park is a really lovely walk. Have you ever been to London before?
posted by miss lynnster at 7:59 PM on March 7, 2007

Hyde Park is gorgeous! If the weather cooperates, it would be a good place to have a picnic and go for a walk.

If not, you could take the tube to Covent Garden - loads of great restaurants there, and a fun place to walk around if you're looking for something other than a large park.

(side note: the area around Pearson Airport is much like the area around Heathrow - not very appealing)
posted by gursky at 8:06 PM on March 7, 2007

if you're looking for things to do, seconding the British Museum - it was probably one of the coolest things I saw in London. And it's open at 9 on Sundays.

And "free" to boot (they've got a suggested donation thing going on like the Museum of Natural History in NYC).
posted by jourman2 at 8:22 PM on March 7, 2007

Best answer: With limited time - I would splurge and take the Heathrow Express - 15 minuites from Heathrow to Paddington. My recollection of the trip from Kensington to the airport on the tube was that it was significantly more than an hour - I think it was closer to two. It was a couple years ago - so I'll let a local correct me if I've got that wrong.
posted by Wolfie at 8:48 PM on March 7, 2007

Last time I took the Tube from Heathrow it took about 45 minutes to get to central London. Transport for London's journey planner will give time estimates and help you figure out transportation.

Heathrow Express is definitely worth considering, it's only a 15 min. journey, but keep in mind that it's fairly expensive. There's a 17 GBP day pass, but it's only available after 1:00 pm. Even if you take the tube it looks like you could get at least a solid 6 hours.

I wouldn't worry too much about passport control/immigration. Just explain that you're only spending the day and have proof of outward journey (your ticket).
posted by timelord at 10:45 PM on March 7, 2007

Most of the information here is probably common sense, but British Airways has a guide to Flight Connections in London.
posted by timelord at 10:54 PM on March 7, 2007

Definitely take the Heathrow Express, I've only done the Tube once and it is iindeed well over one hour into Central London.

Assuming 45 minutes for each leg of your trip into London (its a long walk from Arrivals to where the train stops, and if you just miss one you'll be waiting 15 minutes for the next) seems like you'll have about ten hours.

Less, of course disembarking time and boarding time - maybe another two hours or so. Call it three to be safe.

So looks like you'd have seven hours free in London. There is a fair amount to do around Paddington (where the Heathrow Express arrives).

In terms of Immigration, I agree they are very, very precise.

I'm American and have been living here about ten years. I travel constantly, have two passports and each - with extension booklets mind you - is chock a block full of Visas and entry / exit stamps. So they can see I do this a lot.

Still, unless the situation is managed carefully, this doesn't stop them from turning what should be a brief, 15 second, essentially anonymous exchange into a grilling you'd expect from a police detective. That's ok, I understand 'Brits aren't treated much better upon arrival to the US and even get fingerprinted and retinal scanned.

So here's what you've got to do:
  1. Make sure you go to the correct line - there is one for EU and another for Non EU passport holders
  2. Have all you paperwork in hand when you are called to the desk. That includes passports, your landing form (they'll give it to you on the plane) and your ticket stubs (to prove you're just transiting)
  3. Fill in an address - use Paddington but put somethingdown
  4. When asked "How long will you be in England?" answer honestly - that you're just transiting, and want to see London for the day
  5. Make eye contact
Hop on that Heathrow express and have a great day in London.

Oh! Pay attention to your schedule as well! Would be a real pain in the ass to miss your flight.

I've gone to Paris several dozen times, but a trips were only for lunch. There is nothing like knowing you're only going to be in a city for a brief time to add intensity and excitement to the experience.
posted by Mutant at 10:54 PM on March 7, 2007

Whoops! "a few trips were only for lunch..."
posted by Mutant at 10:58 PM on March 7, 2007

Best answer: There's no reason to go right into the middle of London if you don't want to. The suggestion about Hammersmith, above, is good, for example. Central London is a giant cliché, some of the places just outside of the centre are a lot more authentic and interesting.
posted by wackybrit at 11:42 PM on March 7, 2007

Best answer: Brick Lane market is on the wrong side of town, but it's a fun place to be on a Sunday. I'll be contrarian, though, and suggest Strawberry Hill or Richmond, via the bus from Heathrow to Feltham station then by mainline train. Or via Piccadilly and District, but that's not really much fun.

And as a Canuckistanian, you should get slightly less grumpy treatment from immigration. Unless you're brown, or one of the Frenchy ones. (sigh)
posted by holgate at 12:07 AM on March 8, 2007

For cost: if you take the tube, get Oyster cards. They cost three pounds and are refundable, and cut way down on the cost of tube and bus travel.
posted by louigi at 12:30 AM on March 8, 2007

You don't even need to go as far as Hammersmith. Get the Piccadilly Line just as far as Acton Town, and walk a quarter-mile to Chiswick High Street. Cafes, bookshops, green space, an amazing stately home a little distance away, potential sightings of Ant and Dec... what more could you ask?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:44 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

If I had to recommend something interesting nearer the airport I would say Kew Gardens - about 10 miles away only. It is a wonderful place for a day's visit and a perfect antidote to the stress of air travel. The easiest way to get there would be a tube in on the Piccadilly line as far as Turnham Green then change for Kew Gardens station
posted by rongorongo at 1:11 AM on March 8, 2007

Ok, a little concerned that we're passing along some bum information about the Piccadilly Line -- just want to be a bit pedantic to make sure correct information gets to gesamtkunstwerk.

- The Piccadilly Line does not go to High Street Kensington.
- Oyster Cards are a nightmare to get for foreigners who don't live here, but the suggestion for an off-peak travel card for 6.70 is a good one if you want to use the tube
- Travelling on a Sunday at around 10am, you should be able to make it from Heathrow to say Knightsbridge on the Piccadilly Line within an hour.
- The Piccadilly Line does not stop at Turnham Green during the day. I can't remember the exact times but it only stops there early morning and late evening. If you want to go to Kew, you need to jump off the Piccadilly line in Acton Town, switch to the District Line (towards Central London), then jump off at Turnham Green and switch to a Richmond-bound District Line service.

Now for some opinions:

- Heathrow sucks. With that long of a layover you're really smart to get out. Whomever suggested Chiswick is spot on. Wonderful spot with lots of great restaurants and pubs. Not sure if you could really spend 8 hours there unless you just feel like wandering around, hitting up random pubs, etc. Chiswick should take about 30-35 minutes on the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow.
- If you really want to see Central London (A giant cliché? Psshaw.) you're better off taking the Heathrow Express for 15.50 each way. In my opinion there's not a tonne to see that's fantastically interesting right around Paddington once you get there but you can easily walk to Hyde Park (10 min), Kensington Gardens (20 min), Notting Hill (20-25 min), etc.

P.S. Mutant -- you gotta get the Iris Scan thing for Immigration at Heathrow. Changed my travelling life!!!
posted by lazywhinerkid at 2:45 AM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Be warned about Turnham Green tube station in regards to the Piccadilly line (the blue one to/from Heathrow). It only stops there before 6:30AM and after 10:30PM. Other times only the District line stops there. District runs parallel to the Piccadilly so switching between the two is easy. Also, Turnham Green station is much closer to Chiswick high street than Acton Town. It's a nice little place with some really good upmarket restaurants and lots of (chain) cafes. Not very cheap or that picturesque. I'd recommend Richmond over Chiswick any day of the week, but that requires a few more connections on the tube.

/been living in Chiswick for 6 months.

Cental London is an amazing place to wonder around in, so might be better not to organise too much stuff for the day. In your shoes, I'd take the Piccadilly to Leicester Square, enjoy Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery (free entry) or Piccadilly Circus if you want to get some shopping done and then head to Covent Garden where I'd eat at one of the many restaurants. All within walking distance of one another and all near tube stations.

Enjoy your stay! London's worth a longer visit as well.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:12 AM on March 8, 2007

If you really want to see Central London (A giant cliché? Psshaw.) you're better off taking the Heathrow Express for 15.50 each way.

The round trip is much cheaper than two one ways.

Yes, take the HEX -- it gives you almost 90 minutes more in the city.

Assuming everything's on time. Assumption is an 0900 arrival into Heathrow, thus, you're departure time is +1130, or 2030, or 8:30PM. You'll need to be at the airport a couple of hours early -- you can shave that if you're an experienced traveler, but we'll assume you need to be at LHR at 1830.

Thus. Down at 0900, through Customs and Immigration by 0945. Take 15 minutes to clean up, grab a cup, and hit the ATM for a few pounds -- the airport ATMs don't charge fees for use (your bank might, though) and get to the HEX at 1000, which puts you at Paddington at 1015. Paddington has a left luggage place, deposit luggage there. It's now 1030.

If you've *never been* to London, you'll want to hit a couple of classic sites. It's London, after all. Hit the tube, you want the Bakerloo line heading towards Elephant & Castle. Take it (IIRC) three stops to Baker St, change to the Jubilee Line heading south, towards Stratford. Get off at Westminster. You should be there before 1130. Exit.

Here, we have many postcard shots, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye. If the weather's nice, I'd explore a bit, otherwise, just head for the Abbey. I'll assume you can waste 90 minute here, so we're pushing 1300.

Now, your choice. Museums? Cathedral?

For the museums, it's easy. Back into Westminster tube, find the Circle/District platforms for westbound trains. Take to South Kensington, follow the subway to the museums. You have Natural History, Science or the V&A Museum of Design to choose from, and since they're free (throw in a few quid -- or dollars -- to the donation bins) you can jump around. Come 1700, when they close, get back on the Circle/District line, same direction as before, to Paddington.

If you prefer a Very British Museum, the best way from Westminster is by cab. To get back to the station on the tube is somewhat annoying, so I'd go for a cab here as well.

If you want the cathedral, and your legs are good, and you want a lovely walk, do just that. I'd do it on the south bank, since it's a better view to the north. After the abbey, cross the bridge to the Very Dramatic Building next to the London Eye (it's now a Marriott and another Hotel.) Walk downstream until you reach a power station with artists names on it. This is Tate Modern, the small and odd looking footbridge is the (in)famous Millennium Bridge. Cross. You'll notice a large cathedral dome as you cross. That's St. Paul. Go to it, enjoy. To return to Paddington, follow the signs around St. Paul's to the St. Paul's tube stop take the line (there's only one) west to Oxford Circus, change to the Bakerloo westbound, off at Paddington.

If you're not in a walking mood, the fastest way from Westminster there is by cab. Indeed, there's an argument that cabbing is better for the time tradeoffs.

Once you're back at Paddington, a bit of London I always enjoy is upstairs at the station. Head to the enclosed area at the back, between the platforms and the Hilton hotel. Go up two floors, and head for the pub up there, the (IIRC) Mother Bear and Goose. Something like that. Walk in, order a pint of Fuller's ESB. They do a very good job of keeping beer. Enjoy, then head back.

It'll take you 15 minutes from departing Paddington to reach Heathrow T1-3, and a couple more for T-4. Add in the time to fetch your bags, so you'll want to get on the train just after 1800 (6PM)

The running around like mad and beer should help you sleep on the long flight to SA.
posted by eriko at 4:18 AM on March 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

How about Osterley Park? Only 10mins by tube from Heathrow. From the link:- In 1761 the founders of Child's Bank commissioned Robert Adam to transform a Tudor mansion into an elegant neo-classical villa. This was their house in the country, created for entertainment and to impress friends and business associates. Today the spectacular interiors contain one of Britain's most complete examples of Adam's work. The magnificent 16th-century stable block survives largely intact. The house is set in extensive park and farmland, complete with 18th-century gardens and neo-classical garden buildings.
You have to pay to get into the house and gardens but the park is free and great for walking in. You'll feel like you're out in the country and will see horses, cows etc. There's a cloakroom for your bags and you can eat there if you want, or else there are a couple of places on Osterley Lane between the station and the park.
posted by boudicca at 5:20 AM on March 8, 2007

If you do go to Paddington, there's a left luggage place at the end of the station near the high numbered platforms. Should you need it.
posted by biffa at 5:30 AM on March 8, 2007

Oyster cards are not hard to get for a foreigner or anyone else: you go up to a ticket booth and ask for an Oyster card. It costs three pounds (as I said, refundable) and takes about the same number of minutes. I've given this same advice to every visitor I've had in London and not one has had difficulty with it, whether they enter via Heathrow or Waterloo.

Chiswick is a good idea.
posted by louigi at 8:32 AM on March 8, 2007

Best answer: second that about the oyster card, it's easy, get it, it's cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives and allows you to scoot around for the day

if i was spending tons of time on planes and in airports, i'd opt for the parks -west to east, and nearly in a row, holland park, hyde park, kensington gardens and st. james park. all are quite different from each other, very airy and beautiful, and abutt a variety of wonderful and different sorts of neighborhoods. you could really get some air, stretch out and get a feel for london all at once. kensington high street along the south side of the parks is a busy shopping street, but it's also home to royal albert hall, a site within itself, and the albert monument across the street in the park.

Starting from the west, Holland park is a very neat, almost magical place, and is near some very quiet, very upper class neighborhoods.

head east through those neighborhoods a few blocks and you come to kensignton park and its beautiful gardens. it's really fun to wander that area, and don't forget to check out kensington palace, which is in the park

the north side of the parks has some beuatiful spots to sit by the serpantine and other bodies of water in there, and the neighborhoods up that way are busy and rather commercial but nice

then keep heading east into hyde park, it runs along side kensington park, and they really seem like one big park, there isn't a visible dividing line

then you come to the very picturesque st. james park, which sort of veers east and south of hyde park on your walk. there you can look at flowers, birds and coy fish. continue heading southeast, and you'll come to buckingham palace, pall mall and kind of the edge of the theater-y busy, fun and touristy parts of the city....

if you so choose you can keep on heading east into that area, coming to picadilly station, and from there you can ride on back to heathrow

you can really see a lot just wanding around and through the four corners of that string of parks - holland, kensington gardens, hyde park and st. james...

good luck! and bring a map!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:26 AM on March 8, 2007

Best answer: One more thing, if you're group of at least 4 adults, you're entitled to half-price weekend fares on the Heathrow Express.

Express fares:
With 4 adults are more, you're paying £14.50 per person roundtrip.
W/ less than 4 adults: £28.00 r/t per person
After 1 pm: £17 r/t (only really worth considering if you come around noon or later)

Tube from Heathrow to Central London:
A £6.70 travelcard (1 day, off-peak, zones 1-6) will cover all public transportation for the day (including Heathrow on the tube). The oyster card will save you £0.50, but requires a £3 deposit, so keep that in mind.

If you take the HEX, a travelcard for central london is £5.10. Compare this to a single fare of £4. Again, the oyster card will save you £0.50, but with the £3 deposit.
posted by timelord at 3:19 PM on March 8, 2007

Response by poster: I just wanted to say thanks for the many wonderful suggestions. I think I've narrowed it down to Cheswick or, if the weather is nice, the idea of park hopping. Stonerose and I really appreciate your help.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:30 PM on March 8, 2007

« Older Effexor and Iron   |   Worth Traveling to Nepal for Only 6 or 7 Days? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.