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Advice for Long Layovers at LHR

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Hello, my name is Amanda and I am new to this website. In the next few months I will be traveling with a cousin to Africa. We have a 9.5 hour layover on the way there (arriving at appx 11:30am and leaving at 9pm) and an overnight 15.5 hour layover (arriving at 4pm and departing at 7:30am) on the return flight.

If possible we'd love to go out and see London but don't feel that we'd have enough time. Having never been aboard before, neither of us are sure what to expect. I've read the US citizens don't need visas, so we should easily be able to check in and out of the airport (by claiming nothing with customs on the way back in). Is this true?

We will only have one carry on each so we will not have to drag much luggage around. We would like to stay somewhere for somewhere around $200 if possible. And most of all we'd love to have lunch or dinner somewhere where we feel we've gotten a small taste of London. Is there anywhere near the airport that would offer this?

Also, does anyone have any recommendations on hotels, nearby restaurants and travel around town (if necessary)?

We will only have US dollars. Is there a way to switch our currency into Euros?

Thank you!

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