Ultimate Heathrow Airport survival guide

Negotiating your way through Heathrow Airport can seem daunting, but don’t fear the airport; it’s more scared of you we promise…

heathrow airport survival guide

A sprawling mass of crowds, congestion and chaos it may be, but it’s also the gateway to your holiday and a trip through the departure lounge signals the start of some serious fun times.

Don’t get lost in the crowds, our Heathrow Airport survival guide gives you the lowdown on all the essential info you need to navigate the UK’s busiest airport.

From where to eat, where to shop and where to lounge; to the basics like how to get there and how long to allow before checking in, we’ve got all the facts covered!

Getting to Heathrow

Heathrow airport survival guide

Starting out life as a small airfield way back in 1929, Heathrow has grown to accommodate five terminals and two runways and serves as the airport of choice for over 70 million passengers every year.

Located 14 miles west of the capital, Heathrow is well served by rail and road. There’s a mainline station with trains from Paddington and underground station that’s on the Piccadilly line. If public transport sounds like too much hard work, we suggest pre-booking yourself a space at one of the many car parks at Heathrow.

Choose from cheap and cheerful off-airport park and rides, on-airport convenience with a short stay, or push the boat out and treat yourself to a VIP start to your holiday with meet and greet parking, APH has some great deals on parking at Heathrow.

Which terminal?

There are five terminals at Heathrow, and hundreds of flights daily so make sure you are in the know when it comes to which terminal your flight is jetting off from. Head to Heathrow Airport’s terminal finder to find your flight before you fly.

If you already know which terminal you are flying from, you can head to APH where you can find handy guides to Terminal 1, Terminal 2, Terminal 3, Terminal 4 and Terminal 5.

Checking in early is always a good idea; rushing to make a flight can quickly take the shine of the start of your trip. Heathrow recommends the following guidelines for passengers:

Long-haul and El Al: Three hours before scheduled departure

European flights: Two hours before scheduled departure

UK and Ireland flights: 90 minutes before scheduled departure

Online check-in:

Checking in online could save you valuable minutes before security, so if your airline offers this service we highly recommend taking advantage of it! With online check-in you will be able to select your seats, print your boarding pass and confirm your flight details; check with your airline to see if they offer online check-in.

Mobile check-in:

Checking in with a mobile makes things even simpler; you are sent a boarding pass directly to your smartphone which you then present at security and again at the gate. As with online check-in, see your airline for details on whether they offer this time-saving service.

Facilities for disabled passengers

If you have reduced mobility or require special assistance, Heathrow is here to help. To find out more or to request a helping hand, head to Heathrow’s guide to special assistance.

Airport hotels; where to stay

heathrow airport survival guide

The gorgeous spa at the stylish Sofitel Hotel Heathrow

With hotels to suit every budget and every traveller, staying close to the airport really can make all the difference to your stress levels.

Choose a 4-star haven like the Sofitel which is on site at Terminal 4 so you can roll out of bed and into check-in, or add a touch of glamour to your trip with a stay at Radisson Blu Edwardian. If you’re feeling a little more budget conscious, Holiday Inn Express is in a handy location and provides a free breakfast along with great rates.

For a full range of Heathrow hotels head to APH and start your holiday in style!

Hunger pangs

heathrow airport survival guide

Dine with Heston down at Terminal 2’s The Perfectionist’s Cafe

No one would expect you to wait until you get on the plane to get eating; with a wide variety of restaurants on offer, Heathrow has something to please everyone. We’ve picked a favourite from each terminal to get you started!

Terminal 1: Giraffe

Serving up fresh globally inspired food, Giraffe is a vibrant and bustling family friendly restaurant. There’s a huge children’s menu meaning happy faces all round, and the kids will love the colourful and lively atmosphere.

Terminal 2: The Perfectionist’s Café

Scientist meets chef Heston Blumenthal’s first foray into airport eating is The Perfectionist’s Café! This is a great spot to spend some time before a flight if you’re after something exceptional; enjoy fantastic food served up fast.

Terminal 3: Leon

Leon go to painstaking lengths to ensure all their ingredients are fresh and healthy, making this a top choice if you are food aware and looking to start you holiday on a health kick!

Terminal 4: Bridge Bar and Eating House  

Anyone working to a tight schedule will appreciate the friendly and fast service that brings most meals to the table within 15 minutes. From breakfast to dinner and everything between, there’s a budget-friendly dish for all to enjoy.

Terminal 5: Frae

Frae’s freshly made frozen yoghurt comes from a farm in North Wales; the best part is that it tastes divine so you won’t even notice that it is super low fat.

Click here for the full range of restaurants, cafes and bars available at Heathrow, across all terminals.


heathrow airport survival guide

Heathrow’s personal shoppers will make you feel like an a-lister!

The departure lounges in each of the terminals are packed full of shops to help you while away the hours before your flight, or grab a last minute holiday essential that you neglected to pack. Choose from designer stores like Prada (T5) and Burberry (T1, T2, T3, T4) or high street staples like John Lewis (T2) and Zara (T3) and splash that holiday cash!

Heathrow also offers an army of personal shoppers; these dedicated stylists will find you exactly what you’re after from over 140 brands, while you sip champagne in a private lounge. Personal shoppers need to be pre-booked 48 hours before your flight.

Pharmacies: Last minute medical issues and make-up malfunctions can all be remedied at Boots, which can be found both airside and landside at all terminals apart from Terminal 4, where the branch is located after security only. Check opening times and locations of all Boots Pharmacies at Heathrow here.

Newsagents: Last minute holiday reading, sweets, drinks and toys can be found at WHSmiths, located after security in all terminals.

Technology: You arrive at the airport only to discover that your cat has successfully nibbled its way through your prized pair of headphones. Fear not, help is at hand at Dixons Travel; perfect for all your travel technology related needs and found in the departure lounge at all terminals!

Money: If you’ve left it until now to change your money, you won’t be getting the best rate, but Travelex and Moneycorp found in the departures lounges at all the terminals will get you out of a hole.

Post Office: Head to Terminal 3 Departures for the airport’s post office, or if you have a letter or card to pop in the post, post boxes can be found both before and after security at all terminals.

Click here for a full list of all shopping available at Heathrow.

Heathrow with kids

heathrow airport survival guide

One of the many kids play areas available at Heathrow

There are lots of ways to make travelling with kids a little easier; Heathrow have handily provided kids play areas and even a special first-come-first-served family lounge which can be found at Terminal 3.

The lounge is a dedicated area for families and includes play areas, a quiet room, a game zone for older kids and an area for mothers who are nursing. You can get hot drinks and soft drinks at the lounge, its open from 6:00am to 9:00pm daily and can be found after security in T3, near to Ted Baker.  Entry is free but time may be limited during very busy periods.

Play areas are available at all terminals; they are free to use and feature slides and soft play areas for kids aged up to nine years old. Open from 6:00am to 9:00pm daily, they can be found:

Terminal 1: The play area can be found after security, in the departure lounge near to Caffè Nero and Dixons.

Terminal 2: After clearing security, head for Terminal 2A departure lounge where you’ll find it near Gate 16.

Terminal 4: Once you are through security make you way towards Gates 1-6.

Terminal 5: Find it in the main Terminal 5A departure lounge, after security, near Gate A7.

Family lanes

If you’re travelling with your brood, family assistance lanes can really make a difference to your day. Designed to give extra help to families travelling with little ones, these can be found at all terminals, just look out for the family assistance lane signs.

Baby changing facilities

In all terminals you can find baby changing facilities both before and after security; there are clearly marked signs for you to follow. You can also download a map of your chosen terminal to keep a tab on the facilities before you hit the terminal. Find Heathrow terminal maps here.

Staying connected

Modern life is hectic, and if you don’t want to miss a thing then you’d better make sure you are connected…

Wi-Fi: Heathrow offers all passengers with 45 minutes of free Wi-Fi, if you need a little more time online, you can double this by signing up for Heathrow Rewards Scheme which is nice and free. Register here to claim your free minutes.

Charge your mobile: New security guidelines state that devices that cannot be switched on may not be permitted onto planes departing from Heathrow, so having a full battery has never been more important. If your battery is on the low side you can charge it at a free Power Pole charging station which can be found before and after security in every terminal. They are compatible with UK and European plugs as well as USB cables.

Got baggage?

Luggage trolleys: If you are carrying lots of bags then you first thoughts may well turn to luggage trolleys. Luckily Heathrow provides these free of charge and they can be found in departures and in the baggage reclaim area for arriving passengers.

Luggage storage: laden with a heavy load and got time to kill before check-in? Heathrow has baggage storage facilities at every terminal. You can store your bags for up to 90 days and rates are £5.00 for 0-2 hours, £10 for 2-24 hours and then £5.00 for each additional 24-hour period or part thereof.

Terminal 1: Arrivals, next to lifts for Heathrow Express. Opening hours: 6:00am to 11:00pm.

Terminal 2: Arrivals level, on the ground floor. Opening hours: 5:30am to 10:00pm.

Terminal 3: Arrivals. Opening hours: 5.30am to 11:00pm.

Terminal 4: Arrivals and Mezzanine levels. Opening hours: 5.30am to 11:00pm.

Terminal 5: Arrivals near UK arrivals. Opening hours: 5.30am to 11:00pm.

Get fresh

heathrow airport survival guide

Catch up on a little Hollywood glamour at No 1 Traveller at Heathrow Terminal 3

Heading off early or late and looking for a place to freshen-up? Showers are available in the No. 1 Traveller Lounge in Terminal 3 departures, where you can also book bedrooms, enjoy a bite to eat or unwind with a glass of something cool. It also boasts a cinema, a games room and a spa, ideal for indulging in some serious me time. No 1 Traveller can be booked here!


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