You arrive in the capital of England at 9 a.m. Your next flight isn’t until 9 p.m? You are wondering how you will spend all that time stuck in an airport. No worries, although Heathrow (esp. that massive Terminal 5) or any other London airport, has plenty of things to pass your time, you don’t have to spend your time cooped up inside. Well, what is a layover? The layover definition is a broad one; it basically refers to time spent at a place before moving to your final destination. It can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. People almost always use layover and stopover interchangeably, we do too! A stopover can also be a layover, or a longer stop. When traveling internationally, a stopover is a stay that lasts longer than 24 hours. But for the sake of not creating confusion, we at Pula Travels will use layovers for both. Savvy frequent fliers must know the difference if you are using miles to book your award tickets. So check with your airline to clear the kerfuffle.
A lot of people always ask – can you leave the airport during a layover? Answer is yes! Get out and see these London streets & get some of that free Vitamin D! The best time to visit London is around March – April, so if you are around that time, get Westminster Abbey tickets before you go and see the city. If you are brave enough, hop on the Eurostar to Paris for the day. The London to Paris train is available at least 16 times a day. How’s that for a day trip from London! There are plenty of hotels near Heathrow Airport or Gatwick or Luton. Pop on the layover movie or Once Upon a Time in London and get a little lie-down, see what I did there! The Hilton London Hotel is connected to Terminal 4, while the Japanese-inspired hotel, YOTELAIR, is also available inside Heathrow Terminal 4 so you won’t deal with that pesky immigration officer.
1. How much time do you REALLY have?
Okay first things first. Your flight arrives at 9 a.m., and your next flight is at 3 p.m. That means you have 6 hours between deplaning and boarding the next plane. If you are thinking of getting outside the airport, that means you have 6 hours to deplane, clear passport control (long lines especially in the morning, especially if you don’t have a UK/European passport), collect and store luggage (team carry-on i’m looking at u), then take the train/bus/taxi/private car (ballin!) to town, sightsee, or whatever you wanna do in London. Then on the way back you have collect your luggage, go through security, and passport control. Personally, I wouldn’t chance it if I only had 6 hours. Secondly, not all terminals are created the same. Terminal 5 is a nightmare most of the time. Imagine five 380’s landing at the same time! Any layover less than 6 hours in terminal 5, forgetaboutit! You’ll be saying cheerio to your flight.
2. What’s your luggage situation?
If you think there is a slight possibility that you will leave the airport during your layover, check every bag except backpack and/or (man)purse. If, however you are team-cheapo, like me, and are using 2 separate tickets (so you have to collect up your bags and re-check them anyways), there are left luggage facilities in all terminals at Heathrow. All are on the ground floor, arrivals halls. It will run you £12.50 per luggage for 3-24 hours.
3. Is the U.K. part of Schengen Agreement?
NO. I know a lot of people used to/may still think the U.K is part of the Schengen, myself included, but it’s not and never was. With the whole Brexit situation, it still remains unclear how UK – EU movement is going to pan out in the future. In the meantime, it makes no difference where your next flight is heading, unless it’s within the U.K.
4. Do you need a visa?
And I’m not talking about the credit card, although you might need that too it if you wanna do some shopping. Thanks to the mess that is BREXIT, no one really knows how everything will play out in the end, but currently, EU citizens don’t need a visa. So do Americans and many other passports. But before you do travel to the U.K, check to see if you need one. Even if you are landing at Heathrow and flying out of Gatwick, you still need a visitor in transit visa. Don’t be that person.
Did you know the Kuwaiti Dinar is the strongest currency in the world? The rest of the top 4 is comprised of oil-rich Gulf countries, but I digress, the Pound Sterling comes in at #5. Every time I go to the U.K I always come home broker than broke.? But if you don’t mind this life of broke-ness, then get some £ from any of the ATMs in the airport. Don’t recommend using currency exchange places, but if you don’t have a choice, then go ahead. Don’t forget to tell your bank/cc company you will be using your card(s) in the UK.
Getting to the City
There are 2 trains into town; Heathrow Express and regular Underground. The Heathrow Express is more expensive (£22 for one way, £36 for return) but it is faster than The Tube/Underground (£6). Heathrow Express links Heathrow with Paddington station in 15 minutes. From there you can connect to other parts of London. On The Tube, the Piccadilly line leaves from all terminals and takes you into the city in about 45 – 60 minutes. If you do plan on using the tube quite a few times, then the Travelcard (£18.10 or £12.10 during off-peak hours) is your best bet. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy the Oyster card at the airport!! It’s almost twice the usual price.
Things to do
Breakfast – if you are coming from a long flight, you will want to find a cafe to fuel up and get some caffeine (or cucumber juice or whatever you drink in the morning) in your system. Check out the where to eat list.
The Big 5 [London Eye, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Parliament, Imperial War Museums] – Best thing about this list, they are all around the same area, so you don’t even have to take the tube. The London City Pass is not really worth the effort, unless you are in London for long and want to see more than 5 attractions. But, check out if it’s worth your time.
The Ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East (St. Dunstan’s Hill)- Used to be a church, but was destroyed during WWII. It’s now a public garden.
London Parks – Richmond Park, St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, pick one!
Hackney Downs Vegan Market (Amhurst Terrace, Hackney) – For the vegans. They have vegan cheese, soaps, candles…
Brick Lane Market (91 Brick Lane, East London) – best day to go is on a Sunday. Get everything from food, vintage stalls, art..
Portobello Road (Portobello Road, Notting Hill) – If you have seen the movie Notting Hill, you will recognize this market. It’s the world’s largest antiques market. I swear they have EVERYTHING.
Where to eat
Brick Lane Beigel Bake – If you love bagels, get the salt beef beigel to-go. You are gonna need the walk.
Caravan (King’s Cross, Fitzrovia, Exmouth Market, Bankside) – Health nuts can try the coconut, mango, and banana smoothie bowl. Great breakfast and lunch options.
Avobar (24 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden) – Has something for everyone; vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options.
LAYLOW (10 Golborne Road) – With a roof terrace and basement club, have a drink with your meal. And you might catch a glimpse of Rihanna.
BubblewrapWaffle (24 Wardour Street) – If you don’t mind your ice cream, fruit or chocolate wrapped in an egg waffle, then head over to this place.
The Cheese Bar (Chalk Farm Road, near the Amy Winehouse statue) – Not for the faint hearted or those watching their diets. It’s a restaurant dedicated to cheese, lot’s of it.