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My flight lands around noon at LHR terminal 5 and my connecting flight departs also from terminal 5 at 7pm the same afternoon. Will that give me enough time to take the express train into London (Paddington) for a short (say 2 hour visit)?

I am mostly concerned with the return to terminal 5 and going through security (I will already have my boarding pass at that time).

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May depend on your nationality and if you need a visa. Also, what sort of things were you hoping to do - museums, galleries, wander round seeing sights, bus tour, nice meal, etc? –  Gagravarr Apr 25 '12 at 17:44
    
Mostly just walking around, getting a feel for the city, maybe have a late lunch or an early dinner. Last time I noticed that restaurants didn't open for lunch until after noon, so maybe a late lunch will be possible. –  Philipp Schmid Apr 25 '12 at 18:00
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4 Answers 4

Definitely, more than 2 hours. I actually have such a connection quite regularly, and always spend some time in the city. Wouldn't go to museums and such though, but enough for some general site-seeing and even maybe some shopping on Oxford Street. You could probably squeeze in a whole round-trip on the tour buses they have there, without getting out anywhere.

You can go to see the Windsor castle in that time or spend 3-4 hours in London, and have enough time to watch the airplanes taking off from the terminal while you're waiting for boarding.

The express train takes ~20 minutes to Paddington, and from there you can take the tube - 5-10 minutes to virtually anywhere interesting.

Going through security is pretty fast, they have like 20 lanes there, and it never takes me more than 10 minutes to get past that. Accommodate some spare time, but generally they're pretty efficient. Be at the airport at least 1 hour before the boarding starts.

You can expect some delays at the immigration (on arrival, unless you're a EU citizen), and waiting for the train in each direction, check the timetable.

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It's just getting through the border in time that's the bottle neck at Heathrow, I have had a couple of greater than 2 hours waits there recently. –  Stuart Apr 26 '12 at 13:29
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On the getting back side, from the BA website:

  • You must pass through check-in no later than 45 minutes before your flight (Means get your boarding pass, have your passport checked etc)
  • You must have entered Security at least 35 minutes before your flight departs. (The bit where they scan your boarding pass, before the xray stuff)
  • You must be at your boarding gate at least 20 minutes before your flight departs (For B/C gates this means you have to wait for the little train, get out there etc. For A bus gates, it's to the wait for the bus)

So, if your bags are checked through and you already have your boarding pass, and you don't mind cutting it close, you could theoretically not need to leave Paddington again until gone 5.30pm! However, ~6pm can be a little busy, so allowing the minimum 35 minutes might be a bit tight to get to the B and C gates.

If you're an EU citizen and you get lucky, with a 12pm arrival you could theoretically be in Paddington just before 1pm if you take the Heathrow Express, or the west end by a little after 1.30pm if you take the tube. If you're not an EU citizen, and you've arrived at a busy time, it may take longer...

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I am Swiss (so technically not EU). Will that take longer then? –  Philipp Schmid Apr 25 '12 at 17:53
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IIRC, that's OK too, but check the UK Border Agency site for details. If you have a biometric passport then you may be able to get through quicker, as they have E-Passport gates at T5, but it's sometimes faster to queue up for a real person –  Gagravarr Apr 25 '12 at 17:56
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So the other answers have focused on intra-terminal time. I'll point out that once you take that into account, you'll have what, 3-4 hours outside the terminal, to be safe.

We can improve this by getting you to checkin BEFORE you leave the terminal. So exit immigration, go around to your departures terminal and check in - luggage if you have any, and so on. Then head off. Worst case you'll lose your flight and they'll chuck your luggage off the plane, right? ;)

Now you COULD take the express to Paddington and then as you say, anything is close. You could also do something outside London.

For example, Kew Gardens is reachable by tube, and you could spend a couple of hours there if the weather is nice.

But otherwise, from Paddington it's 30 minutes to Wimbledon tennis stadium if you'd like to see something else outside central London - but beware, one tube stoppage and you may be struggling to get back.

Odds are you're safer doing something in central London, as you then have several speedy-ish options for getting back to Heathrow.

Make sure to pick up an Oyster card either at Heathrow or at Paddington, as it'll make your tube journeys less expensive.

You can also buy an Express train ticket online, which I gather saves you some money over buying it on the train. And get a return, again saving you some time.

There's also bag storage at Heathrow, but if you checkin before you go, you won't have to worry about your bags, and it'll save you time and money :)

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What do you mean "checkin in before you leave the terminal"? I've had a layover for 8-10 hours in London, and never had I had to take my luggage out or check in again, I got the boarding passes from the beginning of the trip to its final destination. London immigration won't let you in without it anyway. –  littleadv Apr 25 '12 at 23:42
    
oh sorry, I often buy separate legs of a trip from different airlines (read:cheap), so have to collect bags and check in with the next group. If it's a regular layover then you'd be fine. –  Mark Mayo Apr 26 '12 at 2:36
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In this case my luggage is already checked through to my final destination. Good thing to consider though if that's not the case. –  Philipp Schmid Apr 26 '12 at 20:05
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You've just about enough time to get into London for a couple of hours. However, it will be easier, as you're a tourist, to catch the Piccadilly line tube from Heathrow itself. That means no waiting for trains (the express is real quick but you will have to wait for it and you'll have to get to Paddington to get it and it requires you to change tubes) and no changing.

So I'd suggest to limit yourself to seeing stuff that is going to be near this line. The oyster card you have to pay a deposit for, but with this plan you just need a return tube ticket (and not a travelcard/OYSTER).

p.s. Green park is right next to Buckingham Palace.

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Does the tube depart (and arrive) at Terminal 5, or do I have to transfer to a different terminal first? Apparently the express train departs directly from Terminal 5. –  Philipp Schmid Apr 30 '12 at 16:48
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Piccadilly line runs straight from T5. However, coming back, not all Piccadilly lines go to T5, so check you're getting on the right one before boarding! (Platforms all have indicator boards, and they do announce) –  Gagravarr Apr 30 '12 at 21:32
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Also, given the relative prices, I'd suggest someone in this situation gets a paper one day travelcard, if they haven't already got an oyster. Not much more than two singles, and much more flexible! –  Gagravarr Apr 30 '12 at 21:33
    
Off peak yes. As its £8.90 against 5.5 for each single. Peak is £16.40. –  James Woolfenden Oct 22 '13 at 10:23
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