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Heathrow Layovers: The Experts Weigh In

Christina Talcott

The kind folks at the British Travel office recently read our Monday chat and offered some tips on Heathrow layovers, which we talked about a lot during the course of our one-hour gabfest.
Here's what they said about arriving at Heathrow:

"While the fantastic Heathrow Express is your fastest option into central London, taking just 15-minutes and costing £14.50 [$28] each way (purchased online), you have several other options... a second train option is Heathrow Connectwhich takes 25-minutes into central London, but costs just £6.90 [$13.50] each way. Your cheapest option from Heathrow is to take the Tube, or subway, which costs £4 [$7.80] for a single fare from Heathrow Airport to any location in central London; remember to use an Oyster Card and the fare from Heathrow to central London is as low as £2 [$3.90]. Dot2Dot is a new shared airport shuttle between Heathrow and many London hotels costing £35 round-trip. National Express coaches offer fares from Heathrow Airport central bus station to Victoria coach station in central London for as low as £4."

They also reminded me that a layover at Heathrow doesn't necessarily mean a trip into central London is in store. In fitting with the theme of this Sunday's issue (about interesting, lesser-known London neighborhoods), not all the spots suggested by British tourism are in downtown London. But first a few tips from the agency:

Tip: If you can't check your luggage for your connecting flight, there is storage available at Heathrow Airport and at Paddington station in central London.

Tip: Agree on fares with taxi drivers before setting off. The attractions mentioned here are outside the London Metropolitan area, so standard fixed rates don't apply. We've given a variety of options, some utilizing the train and subway where possible.

The tourism agency also offered these suggestions for things to see:

No. 1 Explore Diana, Princess of Wales' Kensington Take the Heathrow Express from the airport direct to Paddington Station -- in just 15 minutes, you're in the heart of London. A few minutes' walk and you're out of the station onto Eastbourne Terrace. Head down Spring Street, do a right on to Lancaster Terrace to the entrance of Kensington Gardens. Kensington Gardens is our favorite of the Royal Parks. It's a little less well known and is not so busy with tourists. Walk through the park, passing the Peter Pan Statue and Italian Garden. Kensington Gardens adjoins Hyde Park where you will find The Serpentine lake -- if you have time, enjoy a stroll around the lake or perhaps take a row boat out. In Kensington Gardens (on the border of Hyde Park) is the fantastic Serpentine Gallery, with free admission daily 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Walk across to the west side of Kensington Gardens where you will find Kensington Palace, former home of Diana, Princess of Wales. If you have time, Kensington Palace is a great place to visit and explore (admission around $20). You will see furniture and ceiling paintings from the Stuart-Hanoverian periods and rooms from the Victorian era. There is a magnificent collection of Old Masters, the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, including those worn by HM Queen Elizabeth II and Diana, Princess of Wales.

If you have less time, head straight to The Orangery, which is located next to the palace. Visitors can go in the Orangery restaurant without paying admission to the Palace, to enjoy afternoon tea, lunch, or simply a cup of tea and home-made cake. The Orangery building was designed by Sir John Vanburgh for Queen Anne in 1704 and is a stunning structure featuring Corinthian columns and woodcarvings.

Depending how much time you have left, either take a taxi back to Paddington Station for the Heathrow Express to the airport, or stroll back across Kensington Gardens. On the north-west of Kensington Gardens is the Princess Diana Memorial Children's Playground.

No. 2: Head to Knightsbridge and visit Harvey Nics Either take the Heathrow Express to Paddington station (15 minutes), then hop in a cab for the ten minute ride to Knightsbridge; or sit it out on the subway by taking the Piccadilly Line to Knightsbridge station (42 minutes) direct from Heathrow Airport.

On the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street, Harvey Nichols' flagship store, which opened in the 1880s, offers eight floors of fashion, beauty and home collections as well as a stylish bar, restaurant and café including a summer terrace. Shop, or window-shop, 'til you drop, before heading back to the airport.
Knightsbridge is also where you will find Harrods and, just a short walk north; you'll be in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The Victoria and Albert Museum (with free admission) is just a short walk down Brompton Road.

No. 3: Visit a stately home
Located just 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport by car/taxi, Syon Park is a magnificent stately home with 40 acres of sweeping gardens. Home to the Duke of Northumberland for more than 400 years, the house features perhaps the finest Robert Adam interiors in Britain. The gardens include a collection of rare trees and plants and a spectacular Great Conservatory dating back to the 1820s. Be sure to check the opening days and hours as Syon Park tends to open only mid-March through end-of-October on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Osterley Park is just over six miles from the airport - also under 20 minutes in a taxi. Another option, cutting down the taxi fare, is to take the subway from the airport four stops to Osterley station, then a taxi or walk the half-mile to Osterley Park. Osterley Park is a magnificent neo-classical house with fine Adam interiors, landscape park and 18th century gardens. Check the website, though, as the house and tearooms are only open certain days and times.

No. 4: Find out about a British sport
Americans might love baseball and football, and not "get" the Brits' love of soccer, cricket and rugby. But here's the chance to find out what the lure of rugby really is, with a visit to the museum of Rugby and a tour of Twickenham Stadium for a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour, where there is also a restaurant. Check the website for details of tour times in advance. Twickenham rugby stadium is less than seven miles from Heathrow airport -- around 20 minutes in a taxi.

No. 5. Check out a royal palace or a royal castle
Head to Hampton Court Palace. From Heathrow airport, take the number 111 bus, which takes just over an hour to get to Hampton Court. Or the journey will take around 30 minutes in a taxi. Hampton Court Palace is the oldest Tudor palace in England, with many attractions including the Tudor kitchens, tennis courts, maze and State Apartments and King's Apartments.
Or, the historic town of Windsor, and Windsor Castle are just 10 miles away from the airport, and less than 20 minutes in a taxi."

So there you go. Now that I'm done shilling for British tourism, it's your turn: Ever done something fun on a Heathrow layover?

By Christina Talcott |  June 12, 2008; 10:27 AM ET  | Category:  Christina Talcott , Europe , Travel Logistics
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While it was not a layover, we spent the Memorial Day weekend in London. In the brief time that we were there, it raised my level of interest to return for an extended stay in the city. We did use the Heathrow Express to and from the airport and did purchase the Oyster card which is a great idea for tourists. We did the open bus tour of the city, a long stay at the Tower of London, a visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Museum of London; we finished our trip with a visit to Harrods. We were amazed to see cloth seats on the trains in the Tube and pleased by the politeness of the locals on the public transportation. Great time but far too brief.

Posted by: Sam | June 12, 2008 1:55 PM

great tips. thanx

Posted by: Anonymous | June 12, 2008 9:36 PM

You guys rock. Thanks for keeping us up to date on London doings!

Posted by: Travel section fan | June 15, 2008 4:19 PM

The link above to the "British Travel office" doesn't work. Can you fix or provide the website?

Posted by: Lisa | June 18, 2008 12:57 PM

Uh oh, sorry that link isn't working. The address is http://www.visitbritain.us/.

Posted by: Christina Talcott | June 18, 2008 1:01 PM

None of the links I tried in the article worked when I clicked on them. For example, here's the URL that comes up as the link for Heathrow Express:
http://blog.washingtonpost.com/travellog/2008/06/www.heathrowexpress.com
Shouldn't it be http://www.heathrowexpress.com

Posted by: Carol | June 18, 2008 2:31 PM

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