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Long Layover at Heathrow? Head to Osterley House
If you travel enough, it will happen. You’ll find yourself sitting around Heathrow Airport, suffering through an interminable layover. Here’s my advice: get out. Hop on the Tube and spend your London Heathrow layover at Osterley House.
This stately home is a National Trust property, surrounded by 365 acres of beautiful parkland. You can tour the house, have lunch in the old stables (now a rustic café), wander through formal gardens, or birdwatch at three scenic lakes. All this, and only five stops from the airport.
Timing Your Visit to Osterley
Make sure your layover is long enough to accommodate an outing to Osterley. Allow an hour to deplane, go through immigration, and make your way to the Tube station. If you have a cumbersome carry-on, you’ll want to deposit it at a left-luggage office—there’s one in every terminal (£15 for 3 to 24 hours).
It will take about a half hour to get to Osterley—15 minutes on the Tube and 15 minutes walking. Spend as much time as you can there, but don’t push it. You should be back at the airport a couple hours before your flight to clear security and find your gate.
Getting To Osterley House
The Heathrow Tube station for terminals 2 and 3 is located between the terminals, under the bus station. Go down, buy a return ticket to Osterley (£10) on the Piccadilly line and board a train going in the direction of Cockfosters. Five stops later you’ll be at Osterley Station. After you exit, turn around and check out the architecture. This small, modernist station was built in 1934 and features a brick tower topped by an obelisk finial.
Take a left on the Great West Road, then another left on Thornbury. Osterley is a multicultural neighborhood, with good Indian and Thai restaurants. If you didn’t get fed on the plane, stop for a bite. Then continue on Thornbury until you cross Jersey Road and enter Osterley Park.
Follow tree-lined South Avenue through fields of crops, cattle and horses. Things go from urban to rural very quickly here. You’ll even see produce for sale outside the farmer’s lodge. Keep going on this avenue until it swings around Garden Lake and up to the forecourt of Osterley House.
Osterley was built in the 1560s and redesigned in neoclassical style by architect Robert Adam between 1760 and 1778. The house was owned by the Child family at that time, wealthy bankers who hosted lavish parties for celebrity guests. They were also avid art collectors and many of their treasures remain on display. The 18th century Asian antiques, acquired through the Child’s involvement in the East India Company, are particularly impressive.
Hours vary by season, but Osterley House is typically open for visits Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets cost £14 and include access to the garden. If you just want to see the garden, the price is only £8, but you’d miss a stunning interior, Adam’s best-preserved work. He even designed the furniture and hanging oil lamps. Look closely at the bookshelves in the library—there’s a secret passage behind one that was used as the entrance to the Batcave in Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, one of many films and television shows shot at Osterley.
The garden ticket includes entrance to Sarah Child’s flower garden, the walled Tudor garden and the ornamental vegetable garden. Whatever the season, there’s always something colorful to enjoy. Be sure to pop in the neoclassical Garden House, designed by Adam in 1780. Originally used for entertaining and filled with exotic, aromatic fruit plants, today it houses an interesting array of temperate flora.
Shopping at Osterley
If you’d like a botanical souvenir, plants grown in the Tudor garden are available for purchase in the Stables Courtyard at the secondhand bookshop. And why not pick up a novel for the next leg of your flight while you’re there? If you’ve already finished a book or two over the course of your travels you can donate them. All proceeds fund the invaluable conservation work of Britain’s National Trust.
The Stables Shop stocks delectable condiments and jams, wooly blankets and lots of other gift shop fare. Stop in after you’ve taken some nourishment at the Stables Café.
Eating at Osterley
Stables Café is located in the estate’s former stables. It’s a wonderful repurposing of a fine Tudor building (dating to 1575) that retains many of its original characteristics. Stalls where horses were kept are now dining booths! Food at the café utilizes organic produce grown in Osterley’s own garden. You can get full hot meals or a light snack. Nothing beats their flapjack (like granola) and hot chocolate on a chilly autumn morning.
Back in Tudor times, Osterley’s brewhouse (also in the stables building) supplied the estate’s inhabitants and workers with good strong ale. The beer still flows at Brewhouse Café, thanks to hops from the National Trust’s farm at Scotney Castle in Kent. Coffee and cake are available as well, and ice cream in summer.
Exploring the Grounds at Osterley Park
Even if you’ve already seen the house and gardens, the sprawling estate grounds will keep you coming back to Osterley layover after layover. There’s no charge to explore this varied greenspace with its abundance of wildlife. Stroll under centuries-old trees, through meadows of wildflowers, or along lakes populated by carp and preening waterfowl.
If walking’s not your thing, rent a bike from the Cycle Hire Hub and pedal the trails.
Lodging Near Osterley House
If you have an overnight layover, the mid-range Park Grand Hotel is 1.5 miles from Osterley House on the Great West Road. The budget Bridge Inn (near Isleworth Train Station) is about the same distance, and more affordable, with a friendly pub serving Thai food.
After you spend a London Heathrow layover at Osterley House, you’re sure to look forward to your next one!