Things To Do on a Long Layover in London

Big Ben stands against a typically blue English sky
Big Ben stands against a typically blue English sky | © Daniel Kaesler / Alamy Stock Photo

Why kill time plodding around duty-free or the airport lounge when you can explore one of the greatest cities in the world luggage free? London is heaving with attractions, whether you’re a culture vulture, history buff or full-time shopper.

Many of London’s attractions are free and within easy reach of the city’s main airports, so if you have a long layover, stash your bags with Stasher, a worldwide luggage-storage service, and choose one of these urban adventures. But don’t get too carried away – you have a plane to catch!

Trace human history at the British Museum

Building, Museum, Library
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The British Museum attracts 7 million visitors per year
The British Museum attracts 7 million visitors per year | © Panagiotis Kotsovolos / Alamy Stock Photo
There aren’t many institutions that can match the British Museum when it comes to ancient exhibits. Among its 8 million objects you will find the Olduvai chopping tool (which is more than 1.8 million years old), a prosthetic toe from 600 BC and, of course, the Rosetta Stone. Pick up a map and follow your interests, or join a handy one-hour tour. If you’ve got your luggage, bags aren’t allowed in the museum – but there’s a StashPoint conveniently outside where you can leave your stuff. Afterwards, you can wander through the squares of Bloomsbury or saunter along fashionable Lambs Conduit Street before you head back to the airport. Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG. Around 40 minutes from London City Airport, 51 minutes from Gatwick Airport or 57 minutes from Heathrow Airport by public transport.

Pick up a special souvenir at Spitalfields Market

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Great Britain London Old Spitalfields Market
© Reiner Elsen / Alamy Stock Photo
Spitalfields Market dates back to Victorian times and is still going strong. Wander through a maze of stalls selling everything from hand-made trinkets and independent fashion to exotic street food. (Lahpet and Sangucheria are two local favourites.) While you’re here, check out some street art around the nearby Brick Lane and the local-led Nomadic Community Garden. Brushfield Street, E1 6AA. Around 31 minutes from London City Airport, 43 minutes from Gatwick Airport or 1 hour and 9 minutes from Heathrow Airport by public transport.

Browse in the boutique arches at Coal Drops Yard

Shopping Mall
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Coal Drops Yards, Kings Cross, London.
© Geraldine O'Regan / Alamy Stock Photo
Once a fuel transportation hub and subsequently an edgy quarter of London clubland, the yard has now become a hip retail destination designed by Heatherwick Studio. Here, established names such as Aesop and Margaret Howell sit beside Beija lingerie and other emerging brands. There are countless places to grab a bite – look out for KERB market at lunchtime. Stable Street, N1C 4DQ. Around 33 minutes from London City Airport, 51 minutes from Gatwick Airport or 1 hour and 4 minutes from Heathrow Airport by public transport.

Immerse yourself in art and design at the Victoria and Albert Museum

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The Victoria and Albert Museum
© david a eastley / Alamy Stock Photo
Marvel at creativity through the ages in one of London’s most stunning buildings – from a fourth-century tapestry to Da Vinci’s notebooks and a 3D-printed gun. The V&A has also held blockbuster exhibitions about leading cultural figures including David Bowie and Christian Dior. Look out for one of the free tours. Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL. Around 41 minutes from Heathrow Airport, 43 minutes from London City Airport or 44 minutes from Gatwick Airport by public transport.

Grab a pint at the Sherlock Holmes pub

Pub, Beer, $$$
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Group of friends enjoying a beer in a pub
A long layover is plenty of time for a round of beers, no? | © DisobeyArt/Shutterstock

This charming establishment doesn’t just serve great beer and hearty pub food. It’s also home to the Holmes Collection – a replica of the great sleuth’s study at 221b Baker Street. The dining room features vintage film posters, pipes, even a stuffed Hound of the Baskervilles. See how many clues to his cases you can spot. 10 Northumberland Street, WC2N 5DB. 45 minutes from London City Airport, 52 minutes from Gatwick Airport or 58 minutes from Heathrow Airport by public transport.

Shop ’til you drop at Selfridges

Shop, Store
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Classic art deco time statue and clock outside the entrance of Selfridges
Selfridges features some classic Art Deco details | © Stephan Stockinger / Alamy Stock Photo
Arguably the daddy of British department stores, Selfridges offers anything from the latest designer fashion and fragrances to stylish gadgets. Its artful window displays alone are worth the trip into Central London. 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB. Around 50 minutes from London City and Gatwick Airport or 57 minutes from Heathrow Airport by public transport.

Crane your neck at the Royal Observatory

Building, Museum
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The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London
Trace the development of time zones at the Royal Observatory | © Chris Dorney / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s nothing quite like gazing at the stars to conjure a sense of childlike wonder. Contemplate the origins of the universe in the planetarium at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and find answers to a few big questions in one of the interactive galleries. Stand on the Prime Meridian Line and discover what Greenwich Mean Time is really all about. If you can squeeze in a bit more, grab a farewell pint at 18th-century watering hole The Mitre. Blackheath Avenue, SE10 8XJ. Around 50 minutes from London City Airport, 51 minutes from Gatwick Airport or 1 hour and 29 minutes from Heathrow Airport by public transport.

Catch some greenery at Kew Gardens

Park, Botanical Garden
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Step into Palm House at Kew Gardens for a change of scenery
© Andrew Daymond / Alamy Stock Photo
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew are like a giant playground in the woods, with more than 30,000 living plant species, an arboretum of 14,000 trees and loads of other attractions. With so much to see, avoid lugging your bags around by leaving them at a StashPoint outside Kew Gardens station – then you’ll be free to step into the Hive (a multisensory simulation of life as a bee), ramble along the treetop walkway or go totally tropical in the rainforest-like Palm House. If it’s sunny, mooch around the nearby Strand-on-the-Green before grabbing a quick bite at the riverside Bell & Crown pub. Richmond, TW9 3AB. Around 40 minutes from Heathrow Airport, 48 minutes from Gatwick Airport, or 1 hour and 12 minutes from City Airport by public transport.

Need a safe place to stash your bags? Stasher offers luggage storage in hundreds of trusted hotels and shops across London for only £6 per day – including spots near Heathrow and City airports and all around central London. Find out more.

These recommendations were updated on February 27, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.