London is one of the most amazing cities in the world, so many travellers try to take advantage of any chance they can get to tour some of its unique attractions.
One common way to sneak a short sight-seeing trip in is to travel through London’s major international airport and make a quick dash to the city proper in between two legs of a long-distance journey. It sure beats hanging out at the airport for a lengthy layover!
Before we get started, it’s important to mention that, while a whistle stop tour is certainly possible to do, it’s only a good idea if you have a layover that lasts several hours – otherwise you might get stuck in traffic, fail to see anything worthwhile, and even risk missing your flight out of Heathrow. Not fun!
Guests with more time on their hands could of course engineer an itinerary for a longer visit, but you’ll still have to be selective with your agenda in order to fit the most exciting activities into your available window.
If you are staying in one of the hotels near Osterley Tube station like Park Grand Heathrow (or just visiting Heathrow for a few hours) and are thinking about a short trip to London while you are there, here are some things to consider before you embark on your exciting (albeit quick) London adventure:
Distance can be deceiving – London takes time to reach
If you look on the map, you’ll see that downtown London is not located too far from Heathrow. At just 15 miles away, the capital looks deceptively close, but it takes more than an hour just to reach the city centre on some days, and even more if you arrive during rush hour.
In practice, that means you shouldn’t even think about making a run for the city if your layover is shorter than 6-8 hours, and even that will allow you just enough time for a quick cup of coffee, fish and chips to-go, and a few photo opportunities.
To truly experience London without having to rush, you need at least one day and – preferably – more than that. If you are staying at Heathrow for just a couple short hours, it’s wiser to leave the touristic bits for another occasion – this city is far too great to be seen in a rush.
Visit attractions outside of the city centre
Greater London has a lot to offer, and some of the most remarkable sights are located outside of the urban core. In fact, some are actually quite close to Heathrow!
With a smart choice of locations, you could end up having a blast while barely setting foot within the city limits of London. Some of the most commonly visited attractions that can be accessed without going into the city proper include several venues associated with the royal family such as the iconic Windsor Castle, historical Hampton Court Palace, as well as the famous Ascot Racecourse.
Some other charming sites are nearby, like the Osterley House or Marble Hill House, which might require a bit less time to explore. Travellers with overnight layovers would be wise to stay at Park Grand Heathrow in the immediate vicinity of the airport. That way, you’ll have easy access to all of the aforementioned and many other interesting sites.
Staying overnight and scheduling a tour
As we noted previously, a lot of opportunities open up if you are staying the night in the vicinity of the Heathrow Airport and can use the day after your arrival to explore.
Still, even in such a scenario, time is in short supply and London has hundreds – if not thousands! – of venues worth seeing in person. The quickest way to soak in as much as possible is to go on a guided tour around the city, with a professional guide explaining each location you pass by.
On the other hand, we live in the age of Google, so it’s entirely possible to research places that are of the greatest interest to you in advance and make your own bespoke schedule. However, if you are going at it alone, keep in mind that London traffic can be truly brutal and eat up hours of your time. This is especially the case near major attractions and, once there, they’re typically crowded and the waiting lines can get intimidatingly long.
We advise you to be extra careful when planning your time and to leave an extra hour or two just in case.
What to keep in mind while visiting London during a flight layover
The first (and most important) thing to keep in mind is that you should make sure you go back to the airport in time to check-in for your next flight. While it’s easy to get sucked into this great city, we’d hate for you to miss your flight.
That means that no matter how great of a time you might be having, it’s better to head back a half an hour too early than it is to be a half an hour too late. After all, you are just catching a glimpse now. If you like what you see, you can always come back.
Early morning flights are particularly easy to miss, so late-night clubbing and frothy pints should be enjoyed in moderation if you need to be ready and packed at an early hour. On a more positive note, London is a high-tech city with first-class public services, so you will be able to find an ATM or Wi-Fi connection no matter where you might find yourself as well as easy-to-use and efficient public transportation.
This means you can’t truly get lost in London, and even if you do, locals will be more than happy to direct you towards your destination.
Whether you are taking advantage of budget-friendly but luxe Park Grand Heathrow Hotel and its hotel deals to make a brief run to the nearest attractions or are making the most of a free afternoon at the airport, there is a chance to see a little bit of London’s beauty in a short time.
The key is not to try to do too much, since you can’t possibly make time for a full tour during a layover.
Our recommendation? Be cautious with your time, allow room for error as you’re in a foreign city, and be aware of how busy this British capital really is. Traffic can be bumper-to-bumper on routes to and from Heathrow, and these delays could cost when it comes to boarding your next flight on-time.
No matter what, if you are staying for just a short time, make sure to come back again to really experience London and all it has to offer.