1 hour to kill | 2 hours to fill | 4 to enjoy
Suggestions for a London layover
1. GREAT FOOD
With the possible exception of Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal are the two most famous celebrity chefs in the UK. Ramsay’s empire includes nearly forty restaurants internationally, many of them michelin star, while Heston’s Fat Duck was voted best restaurant in the world in 2005. Today both of these culinary giants have restaurants in Heathrow Airport. Located in Terminal 5 for nearly ten years now Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food has been serving high quality ingredients with amazing flavours inspired by influences from all around the globe. “Setting the standard for airport dining,” in the man’s own words. Not enough time to sit and relax? Don’t worry, Plane Food now offer pre-packed picnics to be enjoyed at 30,000 feet. Great innovation. The exciting and dynamic Perfectionist’s Cafe is Heston Blumenthal’s celebration of quickly-cooked food. Famous dishes that bring families and cultures together. All cooked fast. “It’s better that way”, he says. So you have pizza baked in an ultra-hot oven for one minute, fish battered and fried super-crispy, super-fast, and ice cream frozen by nitrogen in less time than it took you to read this sentence. With the help of these two greats chefs Heathrow have raised the bar for airport dining.
Heathrow has been called a shopping centre with runways. An accurate description. With nearly 200 stores spread across the four operational terminals there is plenty for the window shopper and the retail therapist. A huge variety of stores display products on which to feast your eyes and credit your card. But keep this in mind: at Heathrow your boarding pass is also your shopping pass. In other words you are confined to the terminal from which you are boarding. So if the Chanel perfume you desire is in terminal 3 and you are in terminal 5 the only hope you have of a purchase is by utilising the airport Personal Shopper Service to reserve an assigned accredited stylist who will meet you and bring you items from anywhere in the four terminals. It sounds simple but the service must be booked in advance, a recommended 48 hours before you travel. Useful for the serious shopper. Meanwhile the casual browser can enjoy a relaxed wander to see if anything catches the eye.
3. PLANE WATCHING
If you don’t want to eat and you don’t want to shop why not enjoy the best thing an airport has to offer: plane watching. As with many a technological wonder, one eventually gets used to the spectacle and the fascination and novelty wear off. Yet there is still a relaxing pleasure to be found in watching gigantic 400 ton aluminium cylinders with wings take off into the sky. The miracle of flight. Terminal 4 probably offers the best vantage point for watching the aircraft, with a 270-degree view of the southern runway, binoculars and flight-tracking touch screens. But there are also intimate views from various areas in the lounges and near the gates right across the airport. If you plan on sitting watching the planes for any length of time I suggest you bring a good novel. To borrow a modern word, plane watching can become a bit ‘samey’ after a while, so you may enjoy mixing up your viewing of the aircraft takeoffs with a good book you can drift in and out of reading.
4. CROWNE PLAZA
The Crowne Plaza is 7 minutes in a taxi from Heathrow. The hotel has a 16 meter pool, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi and they are all available to Sanctifly members. There is plenty to do nearby as well including a few good spots for an open air run and a golf course right next to the hotel. Orwell’s Brasserie in the hotel is popular for steaks and on-site Indian Restaurant Eriki has a reputation for a great curry, with vegetarians well looked after. Everything you need right next to your gym.
5. WINDSOR CASTLE
Home to the Queen and 900 years of Royal History Windsor Castle is the oldest constantly occupied royal castle in the world. This popular attraction is a grand residence located on acres of beautiful land where visitors can climb 200 steps to the top of the Castle’s iconic Round Tower and experience a behind the ropes tour of the magnificent State Apartments. Adult admission is £20.50 or if the State Apartments are closed it is only £11.30. Prebook if possible as the queues can be very long, taking up to an hour. The long walk up the castle driveway offers breathtaking views and is popular with joggers. If you are worried you don’t have time for the queues and the whole experience then you might consider going instead to Eton’s riverside meadows where the views of Windsor Castle are also splendid. 20 minute taxi from the airport to the area. Decide what to visit based on how much time you have.
6. MOTOR MUSEUM
The only custom car museum in Europe is a ten minute taxi from Heathrow. It houses a unique collection of privately owned cars, over 200 vehicles, mainly american, ranging from the 1930s to the present day. Exhibits include The Movie Car Section, The Bat Cave (home to the 1966 and 1989 Batmobiles), Muscle Car Alley and The Supercar Paddock, where some of the fastest cars in the world are parked. Lots of selfie opportunities, of course. The museum can also be reached by rail to Hayes & Harlington Station. Admission is £30 for an adult or $22.50 if booked online. This collection will be lapped up by petrolheads but non motor fans may feel a little underwhelmed. Each to their own.
Bowling is one of the oldest sports in the world dating back 4,000 years to Greek and Roman times. In the late 1800s the game grew in popularity around New York. Today it is the most widely played amateur sport in the USA. In the UK it isn’t quite as popular but, with 36 lanes, one of the oldest and biggest bowling centres in the country is only a 9 minute bus ride from Heathrow airport. A good way to get some gentle exercise. Bowling is a great light activity. Players typically walk more than half a mile over three games. And of course every now and again you get to hear that lovely sound when you throw a strike. Beware the busy periods as the high-pitched yelps and chatter of children can soon drown out the soothing sounds of the bowling lanes. More pleasant at quieter times, and cheaper early in the morning on weekends.
8. HAMPTON COURT PALACE
Architecturally, some feel that Hampton Palace is far more interesting than anything you will see in central London. First built by Henry VIII’s chief minister Cardinal Wolsey, it was taken over by the Crown after Wolsey’s disgrace. The buildings feature warm red-brick Tudor courts and fine classical architecture by Christopher Wren. There are amazing and immaculately kept formal gardens, rich tapestries, great paintings, bright stained glass, and of course the river Thames runs not far away. The garden really is spectacularly colourful in summer. Apparently the lawns are trimmed by the only remote-controlled mowers in the country. There’s also a tricky maze of hedges to get lost in but don’t waste too much time there because the grounds of Hampton Court are sprawling and glorious, and you have a flight to catch! Admission at £18.40 (concession £14.80) is not particularly cheap but worth it. A 25-minute taxi journey gets you there from Heathrow where there is a lot to see around the grounds. You could easily fill 5 hours wandering the gardens, or focus on one or two sections if you have less time. A stately paradise.
9. THEME PARK
Why not ride a roller coaster. What could be further from sitting in an airport terminal. One of the best theme parks in the UK is located 20 minutes to the south by taxi. Thorpe Park is not for the faint-hearted. It caters for thrill-seekers with fast, high and terrifying rides. In fact, this amusement park has some of the biggest and most famous roller coasters in the world. Loggers Leap has the tallest log flume in the UK; Nemesis Inferno is a corkscrew inverted roller coaster with the longest pre-lift section of any coaster in the world; and Saw: The Ride is as yet the only roller coaster themed around a horror movie. Fastrack tickets allow you to skip the long queues and focus on one or two rides. If you like speed and screams you won’t be disappointed. An island like no other!
10. PADDINGTON STATION
The Heathrow Express takes just 15 minutes to get from Terminals 2 & 3 to Paddington Station. Return fare is £37. The streets and parks around the station are great for a wander. Hyde Park is very near, featuring Kensington Gardens and the famous Speaker’s Corner which comes alive with impassioned rhetoric every Sunday morning. There are also two lovely restaurants in the area - sister establishments The Summerhouse & The Waterway - which both have fantastic menus and canal bank views from beautiful terraces. You may feel that Central London is just a little too far away, so if you want to see a bit of the city, the Express train to Paddington is your best bet. Send a selfie with the cute little bear in bronze to firstname.lastname@example.org and we might have a treat for you!
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