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I'm a US citizen. I have a 4-hour layover in London. I don't have heavy luggage, just a backpack. What are the most time-optimal choices for transport to get downtown, have a meal, take a picture, then get back to the airport?

Thanks.

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    Be sure to calculate with being back at the airport at least an hour before your scheduled departure, to have time for security lines and getting to your gate. And get the backpack checked through so you don't have to worry about that. – Henning Makholm Aug 4 '18 at 21:04
  • The more I think about this the more risky it sounds. Is 4 hours simply not enough to do the minimum? – MisterOH Aug 4 '18 at 21:06
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    Personally I wouldn't risk it; a routine screwup-of-the-day on the railway can make you miss your connecting flight. – Henning Makholm Aug 4 '18 at 21:08
  • Yeah thought so. Well thats that then. Thanks for your feedback. – MisterOH Aug 4 '18 at 21:10
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    You could try taking a taxi to Windsor and back take a photo of the castle there. It's about 20 minutes away from Heathrow. – Sarriesfan Aug 4 '18 at 22:05
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Optimal in terms of time or money?

London has 5 airports, but a US citizen will probably transit through Heathrow.

There are three reasonable options to go to central London.

  • Taxi. Expensive but only fast if there are no traffic problems.
  • Heathrow express. Fast and expensive, to Paddington railway station, but unless you want to visit Madame Tussaud's waxworks museum you'll need to travel on.
  • Underground. Is the cheapest option. The Piccadilly line will take you to central London in less than an hour, but is boring. Not subject to overland traffic problems, it is easy to use, and with little luggage; that is my optimal choice.
  • So leave at least 2 hours for transport i'm guessing? immigration is another hour ? So around 60 minutes for anything else? – MisterOH Aug 4 '18 at 21:00
  • @MisterOH: Heathrow Express is considerably faster, 15 minutes running time and departs every 15 minutes. But depending on where you want to go, you'll need some onward transport from Paddington. – Henning Makholm Aug 4 '18 at 21:02
  • Subject to the frequency of trains. The timetables can be looked up. – Weather Vane Aug 4 '18 at 21:02
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    The tube could be held up by the man that decides today is the day to end it all by jumping on the tracks at Acton Town or a similar event. – Sarriesfan Aug 4 '18 at 22:03
  • @Sarriesfan if you plan your life around terrorism, they have achieved their objective. – Weather Vane Aug 5 '18 at 20:25
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4 hours from Heathrow really isn't going to give you sufficient time:

  • Immigration. Their official service standard for non-EU citizens is 95% of passengers getting through in 45 minutes or less. They don't achieve that standard. It's hard to predict, as you don't know how many flights are arriving at the same time as yours, but this could take an hour or more.
  • To/from London. By Heathrow Express, which is fast but expensive, it's a 15 minute trip and runs every 15 minutes. So that's a half hour of train time, plus 0 (best case) - 15 (average case) - 30 (worst case) minutes of waiting time, plus time walking to/from platforms.
  • Back to Heathrow. It's a large unfamiliar airport, and you'll need to go through security and get to your gate sufficiently before boarding closes, or you'll miss your flight. Let's say you aim to get back 1.5 hours before your departure time.

You'd be left with 30-45 minutes of actual free time, and you'd be starting at Paddington Station, which doesn't give you much for an iconic photo.

And any complication (a delayed flight, a longer wait at immigration or security, a small train delay, etc...) would be enough to mess this up.

I personally enjoy madcap adventures doing layovers, and I'd skip this one. You could buy access to a lounge in your terminal if you want a more comfortable place to wait.

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