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  • "9 hour layover in London! What can the 4 of us do in this time?"

Crystal Paul

St Paul, Minnesota

9 hour layover in London! What can the 4 of us do in this time?

We have approximately a 9 hour layover in London from 0620 to 1600 in January. There are 4 of us traveling, but none have ever been to London. We would love to hit the best sites (not necessarily most touristy) within enough time to get back to the airport to catch our flight to South Africa. What are some things we could do and how long would they take? We love to eat, drink, people watch and take photos. We wouldn't have much luggage to worry about, as it is checked through.

Is it worth it to pay the extra to use the Express from Heathrow? What types of outdoor things are still great to do in January? Mind you, we come from Minnesota (known as Minne-snow-ta) so we don't mind the cold, just as long as its not prolonged.

Any insight would be spectacular, thanks!


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  • Alan Hayes

    top answer by

    Hi Crystal.

    Skip the Heathrow Express if you are on a tight budget - it is notoriously expensive. Instead take the Tube (Piccadilly Line) from Heathrow Airport (all terminals) to central London. Make sure you buy an all-day Tube pass that includes the zone for Heathrow. Look here for more information on that https://tfl.gov.uk/fares-and-payments/ticket-types/paper-tickets?intcmp=11507

    You can also buy the legendary Oyster card in advance from outside the UK, for the entire network. http://visitorshop.tfl.gov.uk/

    It lets you swipe through and it's plastic. I have had friends from overseas buy paper day passes and bend them too much to be used (also spill Coke on them in their bag - same result!). Wastes time replacing it.

    OK, the Tube takes longer but not that much, and at that hour of the morning, in January, you won't want to be in central London until places start to open at around 9am. You could always take the Heathrow Express one-way back to the airport if you want to linger late in town.

    Either way, with transit through Heathrow in both directions (90-minute check-in, minimum?), your nine-hour layover is probably more like about 5-6, total.

    As far as places to visit are concerned, remember most London museums are free of charge (although some charge for 'big draw' temporary shows), so the National Gallery http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/, Tate Modern http://www.tate.org.uk/ and Victoria and Albert Museum http://www.vam.ac.uk/ would each 'kill' at least two hours.

    If you want to stay outdoors, do a 'river circuit'. Get off at Temple Tube, briefly visit Somerset House and its fountain courtyard, right by the station, then walk along the riverside (the Embankment) to the Millennium footbridge. (You could visit St Paul's Cathedral here if you have time but you need at least an hour IMHO. (https://www.stpauls.co.uk/)

    Cross the bridge to Tate Modern (see above) and the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Even if you do not enter either, it's a great spot.

    Continue along the river westwards to the iconic 'south bank' complex (National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall etc)., then re-cross the river on Hungerford footbridge to Embankment Tube. Two hours, with a couple of stops for pictures and people watching!

    Another great place to visit is the re-vamped King's Cross area. Check it out at https://www.kingscross.co.uk/ Pancras Square, Granary Square and the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras (if stations are your thing!) are all worth a visit - and, like the walk above, mostly free (with lots and lots of food options).

    If the weather is kind, why not walk through Hyde Park up to Buckingham Palace and say 'hi' to the Queen, then into St James's Park to Parliament.

    Whatever you decide to do, always employ the London rule of thumb: 'Think of all the things you want to do in a day, halve it, then knock off one.' You will then have a realistic goal.

    This doesn't even scratch the surface but I hope it gives you some inspiration.

    Have a great trip to London!



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    • Crystal P.

      Crystal P.

      Thank you SO much! I love that you threw in approximate times for things! I will definitely keep the London rule of thum in mind! · (0 likelikes)

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  • JJ D

    answered by

    9 hours isn't a lot once you factor in travel time to and from the airport.

    The Heathrow Express is very fast and convenient, about 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station . Then from there you can take different lines depending on where you're going. However, it is pricey at £21 per person one way, that's roughly $30 USD. If you want first class it's about £10 more I believe. Given there's four of you, might be worth to just take a cab from the airport, but do factor in traffic and look up taxi fare in case you have a specific budget in mind.

    An inexpensive way to see a lot of major attractions is the hop-on, hop-off bus. If you ride it all the way around it's about 2.5 hours so time wise, you should be fine there.

    My recommendation is to visit Borough Market, you can get lunch and browse around. The Shard is practically right next to the market, where you can climb up and get a breathtaking view of London.

    The British Museum is always on my must-see recommendation list for anyone who is visiting London. However, given your time frame, I would pass because you really need to invest a good 3-4 hours for this.

    Have a great time!

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  • Philip Morris

    answered by

    Personally I wouldn't get the Tube in, you'll be coinciding with rush hour. Get National Express into Victoria or with 4 of you, you could justify a taxi. If you want a quick 'hit' of sights then yes, follow some suggestions on here already. But you mentioned outdoors stuff - it'll be cold in January but Richmond is a good option. Lovely town on the river and a short walk away is the best park in Greater London: in winter the wild deer should make a nice backdrop to stretching your plane legs.

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  • Kristi Dabertin

    answered by

    6:20-14:00 gives you 7 hours and 40 minutes and is not as much time as you think. Depending on arrivals, the immigration process and retrieving your luggage can take 30-60 minutes. Getting into central London takes about 45-60 minutes via tube, getting back another 45-60 minutes. You have to go back through security and get to your gate, the conservative estimate for this is 2 hours if you have your boarding pass and luggage checked through, some people will do it with less but you are traveling to South Africa and it's not like there are loads of flights every day and if you miss yours, it's an incredibly expensive mistake.

    The Heathrow Express takes 15 minutes to get to Paddington Station, you would have to take the tube or a bus to get to central London so any time savings you have will likely be eaten up especially since you are not familiar with London transit.

    I'm not saying all of this to discourage you, rather to make your expectations more realistic, you will likely have only 3-4 hours to spend in London. If it was me, I'd take the tube to Leicester Square, straight on the Piccadilly line from Heathrow, walk down to Trafalgar Square, hop on an eastbound bus 15 which is the route that goes past Saint Paul's Cathedral and the Tower Of London.

    Or you could take the tube from Heathrow to Westminster, you will have to change trains once, I recommend Hammersmith or Baron's Court as there is a cross platform change to get on the District line towards Barking or Upminster. There you can see the House of Parliament, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey. If you want to try fish and chips or a full English breakfast, within walking distance from there you can try Laughing Halibut for fish and chips or Regency Cafe for a full English breakfast.

    If you are traveling on a Saturday or Sunday, buy a 1 day travelcard zone 1-6 for 11.70£ which will cover your rides to/from Heathrow plus any buses or tube rides you will take in London. If you are traveling on a weekday you will be traveling at peak times and the 1 day travelcard will be £17, the Oyster will cap at 11.70£ but I believe there is a £5 deposit that you may or may not get back when you get back to Heathrow and will take some of your time to return. If you only plan on going to/from Heathrow on the tube, it will likely be 8.20 in cash fares, 5.10 on the way out, 3.10 on the way back unless it's the weekend when it will be 3.10 each way.

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  • Michelle Dunner

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    Provided you don't have a significant delay getting through immigration (and the queues at Heathrow can be long), jumping on the Heathrow Express to get into Paddington station is the way to go. Taking the London Underground from the airport is a long trip - you'd use up an hour of your valuable layover time each way. The Heathrow Express, which costs a lot more than the tube, is a much quicker trip. I wouldn't bother considering a bus or taxi - you want to avoid traffic snarls.

    Once you get to Paddington, you can transfer to the Underground system to get to all the sights. Perhaps look to get a day pass for the tube/buses so you don't waste time standing in queues to buy individual tickets. Be aware that it's not particularly cheap to ride the Tube.

    In terms of sights, it really depends what you're interested in, but, if you want to get a sense for how big the city is and a great view, maybe try the London Eye. Depending on which day you're there you can head up to Borough Market for lunch. Some of the stalls sell food and there are some great little cafes and pubs around the market itself and it can be great for people watching. It's very easy to navigate towards the various landmarks in London using public transport. Even if it's cold or snowy, you should still be able to walk most places - they do a fairly good job of keeping the walkways prepared. The sights might look a little bleak, but there's still plenty of history to see like Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace Big Ben and the House Of Parliament. If the queues aren't too bad, you could even take a visit to Tower Of London and be dazzled by the Crown Jewels.


    If you want something a bit grungier, loads of bars, cafes and restaurants abound in the Soho area.

    Enjoy!


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  • Sarah Farrell

    answered first by

    Covent Garden is a great place for people watching. There are buskers, street entertainers and bars and cafes to sit. It is touristy but worth going to.

    If you get the No 11 bus from Victoria Station it will take you past many of the main sights such as Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Horse Guards Parade, which is close to Buckingham Palace and St James's Park, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Old Bailey and Saint Paul's Cathedral, which isn't far from Tower Bridge. Good shopping places are Oxford St, Regent St and Knightsbridge.


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