Long layovers can be a blessing in disguise. It gives you time to explore a bit of the city making it a bonus trip on top of your itinerary. You can choose to spend long layovers sleeping on the metal seats of the brutally cold airport waiting lounges or you can spend it wisely and go out and have a splendid time exploring, enjoying the food, the sound, the sights doing a walking tour of the city.
If you happen have long layover time in London Heathrow Airport (LHR), then you have time to go the city center, explore the sights and experience an authentic fish and chips and do a walking tour. You don’t have to stay cooped up inside the airport, loitering around its shopping malls. On my way to Paris from Singapore, I had about 10 hours of layover at London’s Heathrow Terminal 5 so I went out to the city and had a grand time seeing a bit of London and the famous clock tower for a quick photo walk.
Exiting Heathrow Airport
If you do want to go outside Heathrow Airport and see the famous tourist spots in central London, give yourself 2 hours maximum to deplane, clear security and immigration and exit to the underground tube ticket concourse. You need to check also if you require a tourist visa depending on the passport you are holding and your nationality. To check if you require a visa, visit this website. If you don’t want to lug around your luggage, you can deposit your hand luggage at the ground floor of the terminal and pay a fee of GBP10.00 for the first 24 hours.
To buy the ticket for the underground tube, in the ticket machine, select the day travel card. The ticked is priced at GBP16.00 and this should cover all zones and your return ticket. The ticket machines accepts credit cards too.
Going around London
The popular sights that I wanted to see London center is very accessible from the London Heathrow Airport. There are a lot of options to choose from but I came here wanting to experience the iconic underground tube, so there’s only one way to go. The train ride from Terminal 5 to Westminster station is an hour-long, and you have to change lines from Piccadilly line (blue on the map) the green District line.
From the map below follow the Piccadilly Line (blue line from Heathrow Terminal 4, bottom left corner) and alight in Hammersmith Station. From Hammersmith Station change to District Line (the green line) and alight at Westminster Station. Here’s a link to download the London Tube map for easy reference.
London on foot
I followed the map I created on google.com and downloaded in on my phone for easy reference. My first stop was to see the Big Ben, the famous Thames River and the London Eye. I am a big fan of Shakespeare on TV so I really laid all the spots that I could fit in my short stay (wink) in London.
When you exit the Westminster Station and start to climb the stairs heading to street level, the Big Ben should be right in front of you. The sidewalk at this point is very crowded with tourists stopping for selfies and photos and stalls selling souvenirs. At the exit on the street level, turn left and walk towards the Thames River and cross the Westminster Bridge, you should see the London Eye on the other side of the bridge facing you.
I was lucky that day because the annual Prudential RideLondon cycling event was going on, so for most of the streets, it was closed to vehicles and only pedestrians were allowed to roam the street. The sun and the sky were agreeing too, that indeed it was a great day to do a London-on-foot walking tour.
To head to St. James Park and Trafalgar Square, retrace your steps back to Westminster Station and walk past it. You should reach the intersection of Abingdon Street. At this point you will see the Parliament Square Garden and across it is the St. Margaret Church. London’s most notable religious building, the Westminster Abbey, is just beside the St. Margaret Church.
To head for another famous spot in London, the the Trafalgar Square cross over to the other side of Parliament Square Garden and head on to Whitehall street. Along Whitehall street is where you will find the street corner of London’s most famous address, 10 Downing street. I stopped for a while to get a glimpse of the notable door and for the changing of the horse guards in the Cabinet Office. After the changing of the horse guards, I moved on to the end of Whitehall street. At the end of Whitehall is the vibrant, crowded Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column and a thousand pigeons.
Nearby is another underground station, the Charing Cross station. If you want to see the London Bridge instead, you can take the tube from this station. I decided to go around another park and go walk along the famous street of Piccadilly. After some photos with strangers and selfies, I head out to the Mall street towards St. James Park.
The St. James Park is connected to another park, Green Park. From St. James park, I walked thru this park and came out on Piccadilly, one of the widest and straightest street in central London. Not to mention, one of the busiest.
I head straight to Piccadilly Circus to the east side, that famous landmark in the Sherlock Holmes TV series. I’m a big fan of Sherlock and its one of the many reasons I wanted to see London.
Upon reaching Piccadilly Circus, I sat at the steps for a while. Just taking in the scene going on around me. Observing everyone, the young crowd, some dressed in gothic outfits, other tourist who are also enjoying the sights and sound of central London, I breathe it all in. I glanced at my phone to check the time and realized that I have been walking around for 4 hours. I calculated the time left before I need to rush back to the airport allowing 2 hours for my check in to the boarding gate, I realized that I need to head back in a few minutes.
Oh well time to go. Back to the airport now. I stopped to buy a book at the nearby bookshop to accompany me on a long flight to Singapore. Then walked down the stairs leading to the Piccadilly Circus underground station.
Piccadilly Circus station is in Piccadilly Line (again the blue line) so it is just a direct tube ride back to London Heathrow Airport and just 40 minutes of train ride. When checking in again at the airport, give yourself another 2 hours to grab your luggage at the ground floor luggage deposit, clear border security and get into the boarding gate.
I’m so happy I conquered London in a few hours, said to Hi! Big Ben and sat at the steps of the Piccadilly Circus roundabout. This is the best part of layovers. It’s like a bonus trip on top of your original itinerary. I was walking for more than 4 hours and I think my feet just died but I don’t mind because not everyone can say to himself that he just came from Piccadilly Circus.
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