London Heathrow Airport is the gateway to the UK and, if you’re flying Qantas, the gateway to Europe. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both use London-Heathrow as a hub, and Heathrow Airport is currently the only European airport that Qantas flies to. If you’re flying Qantas to Europe, you will probably have a London stopover after arriving from either Singapore or Perth.
London is also a key destination in its own right. From the city’s many museums to attractions like Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge, you’ll never run out of things to see and do in London!
This AFF stopover guide won’t show you how to spend a long holiday in the UK’s capital. But if you’re just passing through in transit – or staying for a few nights – this article will show you how to make the most of your London stopover!
Note that there are 5 airports in and around London. This stopover guide is all about London Heathrow Airport, which is the busiest international airport. But other London airports include:
- London Gatwick Airport (LGW) – a major international airport located to the south of London
- Stansted Airport (STN) – an airport located not-that-conveniently to the north-east of London, used predominantly by low-cost carriers such as Ryanair
- Luton Airport (LTN) – a smaller airport located not-that-conveniently to the north-west of London, used exclusively by low-cost carriers such as EasyJet and Wizz Air
- London City Airport (LCY) – an even smaller premium airport located conveniently in the heart of downtown London, used exclusively by narrow-body aircraft
How to get from Heathrow Airport to London city
There are multiple train services to and from Heathrow Airport. The Heathrow Express train runs non-stop to Paddington station every 15 minutes and is the quickest option, with a journey time of 15 minutes. But it’s also the most expensive option. If you do use the Heathrow Express, samh004 recommends booking at least 14 days in advance as it’s cheaper. If you happen to have Star Alliance Gold status, don’t forget that you can get a free upgrade to Business First Class on the Heathrow Express train.
A much cheaper option is to jump on the Tube and take a Piccadilly Line train towards Cockfosters. This train service stops at every station but will take you to downtown London.
My over-riding tip would be to avoid Heathrow Express and take the tube (eg Piccadilly Line) for a cheaper ride, with more options to get off at stations for hotels. Will take longer, but often HEX is slow too!
Public transport in London is generally very good – although strikes and trackwork do occur from time to time. You may wish to obtain an Oyster card to get around during your London stopover, but you can also tap onto the Tube with many Australian credit cards.
Remember that Aussie contactless credit cards (AMEX, Mcard, Visa) – eg 28 Degrees card – can be used at Tube access points – you don’t have to buy an ‘Oyster card’. The system keeps tabs on your daily usage and stops when the ‘cap’ is reached.
Taxis and buses are also readily available at Heathrow Airport. Alternatively, you can book a private driver to pick you up at the arrivals hall and take you wherever you need to go. James Shann recommends Great Britain Cars.
If two people are travelling, we have found GreatBritainCars.com to be quite cheap and better than using the tube etc. They meet you at your arrival hall. Two of us travelled from Heathrow to Gatwick for 48Pounds and from Heathrow to Bloomsbury for 45Pounds. This is much more convenient than catching trains, carrying luggage around and is much quicker. In some cases it is cheaper, too.
If you’re flying with Qantas or Emirates to London in Business or First Class, don’t forget that you may be entitled to a complimentary Chauffer Drive service to and from Heathrow Airport.
Where to stay in London
If you’re staying in London for at least a few nights, you’ll probably want to stay in the city. There are literally thousands of hotels in London and the usual rule applies – the closer to the city you stay, the higher the price!
Read more: The Best Hilton Hotels in London
If you just have a short London Heathrow stopover between flights, you may consider staying closer to the airport as it is cheaper (and probably more convenient). There are several hotels right outside Heathrow Terminal 4, and a 5-star Sofitel property at British Airways’ home of Terminal 5. But there are dozens of other cheaper options just a short drive from the airport. handy72 recommends staying in Colnbrook.
If you’re on a layover and not worried about heading into the city, I’d recommend staying in Colnbrook.There’s a couple of good hotels (Holiday Inn T5 in particular), that you can get to either on Hotel Hoppa bus or public bus from T5. Then once there, you can bus or walk to at least 3 pubs. Ostrich Inn is recommended for food and beer. It doesn’t feel like you’re next to Heathrow, or even in a big city.
The best Heathrow Airport lounges
There are many lounges at Heathrow Airport, including Priority Pass and pay-per-use lounges where you can pay for entry at the door. Some of these lounges also offer the use of showers for a fee – which could be nice if you’re departing Heathrow on a long-haul flight.
In Terminal 5, British Airways operates Galleries Club and Galleries First lounges. There’s also the prestigious Concorde Room, which is reserved for passengers flying British Airways First Class.
Depending on the airline you’re flying and your lounge access eligibility, there’s a SkyTeam lounge in Terminal 4, an excellent Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge in Terminal 3 and various lounges operated by Star Alliance airlines.
If you’re flying Qantas out of Terminal 3, the new Qantas London Lounge is a nice space with its own gin bar. Champagne is not readily available unless you’re flying First Class or have Platinum One status. But if you head over to the American Airlines lounge, champagne is available there. For eligible Oneworld frequent flyers, the Cathay Pacific lounge in London is also a popular choice with its own noodle bar.
If you’re landing in London in the morning after a long-haul flight in Business or First Class, you may also have access to an arrivals lounge.
The UK Air Passenger Duty
If you’re planning a shorter London stopover, it could pay – literally – to keep it to under 24 hours. That’s because the UK government charges what it calls an “Air Passenger Duty” to passengers departing the UK. The amount of this departure tax, which is included in your airfare, varies. On short-haul international Economy flights departing the UK, the tax is only £13 (~$24). But if you’re departing on a long-haul flight in Premium Economy, Business or First class, you could pay as much as £172 (~$320) in tax!
The UK Air Passenger Duty is not charged if you’re just transiting through the UK on a single ticket for under 24 hours.
Do you have a great London stopover tip to share? Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: London (LHR) Stopover Tips