How to get the best out of a Heathrow layover (Part 1)

Flying via Heathrow this winter? There’s no need to stay at the airport. Instead, take a trip into London and have a taste of what the British capital has to offer.

Part One: Getting to Central London


Notting Hill is comfortably doable on a layover

Take the train. Don’t be tempted with taxi or bus transfers; London’s traffic is too unreliable for you to risk wasting valuable layover time stuck in traffic. Instead, you have three options.

Most expensive, but fast, is the Heathrow Express. It takes 15 minutes to get from LHR to London Paddington station, from where you’re well connected by Tube to the centre and its attractions. But because you won’t want to buy your ticket in advance in case your flight’s delayed, you’ll have to buy your ticket from the machine and a return will set you back a cool £35. Don’t be tempted to buy it on the train instead as you’ll pay an extra fiver.  Machines (and conductors) accept cash as well as credit and debit cards.


Heathrow Express ticket machines


Heathrow Express Second Class


Heathrow Express First Class

Cheaper, and leaving from the same platforms, is the Heathrow Connect. It takes longer, around 25 minutes, stopping at intermediate stations, but it gets you to the same place, London Paddington. Check the timetables in advance; Heathrow Express services normally depart every quarter of an hour, so if you’ve just missed one, you won’t be much worse off taking that departing Connect. Tickets are a more reasonable £20.20.


Paddington-bound Piccadilly Line train by Terminal 5 Insider CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Cheaper still is the Tube. The Piccadilly line connects Heathrow to popular tourist destinations such as Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Hyde Park and Leicester Square. Journey times can feel tediously slow as the numerous stations aren’t far apart, but on average you’re looking at around 45 to 50 minutes to get into Central London. Fares vary according to the time of day and whether you have an Oyster card. Heathrow’s in Zone 6 and Central London is Zone 1; a cash single is £6, single at peak times with Oyster is £5.10, off peak £3.10. A day’s Travelcard, so long as you avoid travelling at peak times is £12, so depending on your flight, you could hop on and hop off all day for the price of a standard cash return.

Useful links

Heathrow Express: https://www.heathrowexpress.com/
Heathrow Connect: https://www.heathrowconnect.com/
London Underground: https://tfl.gov.uk/
Tube and rail map: https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/track
Tube fare table (subject to change from January 2016): http://content.tfl.gov.uk/tube-dlr-lo-adult-fares.pdf
Heathrow transport information: http://www.heathrow.com/transport-and-directions#

And if you really want to take a cab: http://www.heathrow.com/transport-and-directions/taxis-and-minicabs

For some well-known and more unusual suggestions for what to do once you’ve reached Central London, read my next blog: https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/how-to-get-the-best-out-of-a-heathrow-layover-part-2/

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