London is a true world city by any definition. Sprawling and cosmopolitan, the capital is a global center for business, finance, fashion, food, art and culture, and just about everything else.
If you find yourself having to make a stopover in one of London’s airports, it’s tempting to try and see at least a little of this famous city. Whether it’s your first visit to London or your hundredth, there’s always something new to experience. And there are many things worth seeing while you wait for your connection. Plus, if you drop off your bags at a London luggage storage service, you’ll find it much easier to get around town.
London is one of the world’s major aviation hubs, and has no fewer than six major airports. However, if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll most likely end up at either Heathrow or Gatwick. Heathrow lies in the city's western outskirts, while Gatwick is 55 miles south of the heart of the city. Gatwick is connected to the more centrally located Victoria Station by the Gatwick Express train, which takes around 30 minutes to reach London. Heathrow, on the other hand, is connected to the Piccadilly line of the London Underground. There is also a Heathrow Express train which takes only 15 minutes to reach Paddington Station from the airport.
Thanks to these transit connections, it’s possible to get a glimpse of London even on a relatively short Gatwick Airport layover. And if you’re traveling through Heathrow Airport or you have an overnight layover, you can see much more of what the city has to offer. Here are some ideas to get you started.
6 hour layover in London
Once you’ve landed, cleared customs, picked up your bags, and dropped them off at a convenient luggage storage spot at either Heathrow or Gatwick, a six-hour layover doesn’t leave a ton of time to see what the city offers. Still, there are some options that are easy to reach from both airports that can help you pass the time if you don’t have a long layover.
From Heathrow Airport, your best bet is to jump on the Paddington Express, which will whisk you into the city faster than any other option. Once you arrive at Paddington station, a short walk will bring you to Hyde Park. This legendary London green space has miles of walking trails, a boating lake, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and the stunning gardens of Kensington Palace. You could easily spend an hour or two relaxing in the park. On a short layover, it’s a far better way to spend your time than waiting at the airport.
Gatwick Airport's greater distance from London makes things a little trickier. If all goes smoothly, the Gatwick Express can bring you to Victoria station in half an hour, and from there, it’s a remarkably short walk to Westminster Abbey. This ancient church is the place where England’s monarchs have been crowned for centuries, and is the resting place of some of the country’s most notable historical figures, including Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, and Charles Dickens.
- Remember that a 6 hour layover in London doesn't mean you'll have 6 hours to spend in the city itself
- Whether you land in Heathrow or Gatwick, check how long it will take you to get out of the airport and into London.
- For a 6 hour Heathrow layover, try a walk around Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens. If you've got a 6 hour layover from Gatwick, try a walk around Westminster Abbey instead.
10 hour layover in London
With a 10 hour layover, you have more leeway to see other aspects of the city. If you’ve taken the train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, you can head over to Portobello Road Market. This lively street market is one of London’s most famous, and is the perfect place to shop for vintage clothing, antiques, food, souvenirs, and just about anything else. Even if you don’t feel like buying anything, the lively market is a perfect place to immerse yourself in the local culture, and you’ll get a great insight into how Londoners live. You’ll probably need to spend a couple of hours here to do it justice.
If, on the other hand, you’ve traveled from Gatwick to Victoria, you’re ideally situated in the historic heart of central London. After seeing the relics of Britain’s deceased rulers, it’s time to visit the home of the current one. Buckingham Palace is just a short walk from Victoria station, and its extensive art gallery alone is worth visiting. Time your visit right and you may also get to see the daily changing of the guard, which is a spectacle not to be missed on any London visit.
- A 10 hour layover means you can travel a little further. Portobello Road Market is a great place to spend a couple of additional hours if you’re traveling from Heathrow.
- If coming from Gatwick, Buckingham Palace is an icon of London a great place to learn more about the British monarchy.
12 hour layover in London
With a 12 hour layover in London, you can be much more ambitious. You can combine several famous landmarks and attractions into one busy day, or else visit a site that deserves more time. For instance, from Heathrow, you could travel to the British Museum. This is one of the world's most extensive museums, and it houses artifacts not only from British history but from around the world. Visiting is like a crash course in world history and art, and you’ll need several hours just to scratch the surface of what the museum contains. Best of all, this world-class attraction is free to visit and located in central London, a short walk from Holborn Station.
If you’d rather see multiple sites, after visiting Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, you could take in the unrivaled view of the city from the London Eye. This gigantic Ferris wheel sits on the south bank of the River Thames and offers an incredible panorama of the city. Purchase a fast-track ticket in advance to avoid the great British tradition of queueing, and take the 30-minute ride to get incredible photos of the heart of London. You can also explore the excellent selection of street food on the Southbank while you're there.
If you’ve arrived from Gatwick on a 12 hour layover, you could add a visit to the Natural History Museum to your itinerary. This museum is a hit with both adults and kids, and contains incredible exhibits of animals from around the world. It’s a great place to spend a couple of hours, especially on a rainy day.
- A 12 hour layover gives you time to see just about anything you want in London. You could visit two or three different locations in the city or spend your entire 12 hours at one major attraction.
- The London Eye is an awesome place for photos, but you’ll want to plan ahead and book a ticket in advance to maximize your time.
- If traveling from Gatwick, the Natural History Museum is a great place to visit, especially with a family.
24 hour layover in London
An overnight layover in London means you can really get into what makes the city so special. With 24 hours to spend, you could combine several of the city’s top attractions into a busy day of sightseeing, or concentrate on one or two bucket list items that are worth devoting a whole day two.
Part of the joy of a long layover is that it allows you to sample the city’s nightlife. If you’ve arrived from Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station, you’re ideally placed to experience the heart of London nightlife in the West End. London is home to some of the world’s top theaters, and taking in a show in the West End is the perfect way to enjoy your London layover. Or, you could hop on the London Underground over to London Bridge, eat the street food at Borough Market and catch a play at either the National Theatre or Shakespeare's Globe. With your bag safely stored in a London luggage locker, you’ll be free to enjoy performances by some of the world’s top talent.
If you’ve arrived from Gatwick to Victoria, you can treat yourself to an incredible meal at Be-Stro Chelsea. This restaurant, opened by executive chef Francois Roldan, offers a contemporary spin on classic French cuisine. Be warned that it does get popular, so you may want to make a reservation before your trip. Alternatively, you could head across town to the Sky Garden. This iconic skyscraper and its garden offer incredible views of the city, and you can dine in the restaurant while you take in the panorama. It’s especially stunning at sunset, when the city lights glow in the darkness. It’s also located close to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, so you could visit this iconic fortress and see the crown jewels before dinner. There’s a lot to see at the Tower though, and you should plan to spend about 3 hours there to make the most of your visit.
With more time at your disposal, you can explore sides of London away from the busy tourist attractions. For example, the counter-cultural neighborhood of Camden can easily eat up a day as you explore cool restaurants, bars, and quirky stores. Or you could visit Soho and take in the unique atmosphere of London’s main LGBTQ district. Twenty-four hours in London is enough to get a good taste of the city and whet your appetite for future visits.
- With 24 hours to spend in London, you can visit top-notch restaurants and experience the city’s theater scene.
- If booking a hotel, make sure it’s easy to find your way back to the airport the next day and allow plenty of time for any delays.
- 24 hours may seem like a long layover, but don’t try to do too much.