Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, London City. Five airports, one city.
We are lucky to have easy access to Europe and the rest of the world. You can take low-fare carriers from Luton or Stansted, hop on commuter flights from London City, or fly almost anywhere in the world from Heathrow or Gatwick. But, with five airports all connected by various forms of public transportation, not to mention a wide range of cost and travel time, things can get confusing. How best to travel to/from airports is one of our most frequently asked questions!
We decided to put together a London airport guide, a reliable source of the best and cheapest ways to navigate airports in London.
If you are flying into London from outside of Europe, chances are you will be arriving at London Heathrow. Heathrow is due west of London, making journey times to west London much quicker. If you are staying in southeast or east London, expect much longer journeys.
Heathrow Express: This express train runs from Terminals 2,3, and 5 to London’s Paddington Station on the northwest side of central London every 15 minutes. If you land at Terminal 4, you have to take a connecting train to Terminals 2 and 3 to catch the Heathrow Express. There are no stops after Heathrow and the train runs directly to Paddington. Tickets cost £22 one way or £36 return. It is quick, but expensive.
National Express Bus: The most common route for National Express is to Victoria Coach Station in southwest central London. The fare is cheap, at about £6-8, and buses depart every 30 minutes or so. The bus does make one stop at Hammersmith, and the journey can take almost 2 hours with traffic. Slow, but cheap.
London Underground: The cheapest option and faster than the bus is the Tube, London’s subway system. The Piccadilly line runs directly from all terminals at Heathrow. With an Oyster card, the journey costs £3.10 and takes about 45 minutes to get to Piccadilly Circus. If paying by cash for a one use ticket, it will cost around £6.
Gatwick services a mix of overseas flights and intra-Europe flights, both on large airlines like British Airways and on low-fare carriers. This airport is really far from London, closer to the English Channel and the southern coast than central London. Luckily, it is well connected by rail.
Gatwick Express: This train runs directly from Gatwick (station is just outside the terminal) to London’s Victoria Station. The journey is a short 30 minutes, but is expensive at £17.80 for a one way ticket. The Gatwick Express departs every 15 minutes on average.
National Rail: If you need to go to the east side of central London, then the commuter trains are you best bet. National Rail trains run to London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon and St. Pancras. Journeys to London Bridge are the fastest and cheapest, about £9 for the 35 minute train. The Thameslink trains that connect through the other stations take about an hour and cost around £10-12. The schedule on these can be erratic, but there are normally multiple trains departing per hour.
National Express Bus: The bus connects you to Victoria Coach Station in about 90 minutes and for £8. There is only one bus per hour, so if you just miss it, it will be a long wait for the next departure.
easyBus: With drop offs at Victoria (operated by National Express buses), Waterloo, and Earls Court, easyBus provides easy transfers, taking about 70-90 minutes and costing around £8 for a one way ticket. Buses depart every 10 minutes on average.
Located in Essex, to the northeast of London, this is the major low-fare carrier airport. A major bulk of Ryanair flights arrive at Stansted, as well as easyJet and a few other airlines.
Stansted Express: This train leaves from underneath the terminal, and links the airport with Liverpool Street Station in East London. It leaves every 15 minutes and the travel time is around 45 minutes. The Stansted Express is quite expensive, at £19 for a one way ticket. If you are staying in west London, you will need to change to the Underground at Liverpool. To save some money, book online with one of their deals. We usually used the WebDuo Offer, which allowed us to book 2 return tickets for £48 total, a big savings over purchasing tickets at the station.
National Express Bus: Probably the best way to get to London from Stansted if on a budget. National Express runs various routes from the airport (called A6, A8, A9) to east London destinations like Liverpool Street Station and Shoreditch, as well as to more central stops like Baker Street and Marble Arch. The buses leave every 20 minutes and the trip can take 90 minutes or more depending on traffic. It is the cheapest option, about £8-12 for a one way ticket. They operate the A6 in conjunction with easyBus.
This airport in far, northwest London has the least convenient links to London, which is why we tend to avoid it like the plague. It features mostly low-fare carriers, like Wizz Air, that fly to many Eastern European destinations.
National Rail: You can take a train to London, but Luton does not have a train station on site. There are buses that ferry passengers to Luton Airport Parkway Station, a 5-10 minute drive from Luton Airport. From there, trains depart every 15-20 minutes for London. The most common stations are St. Pancras and Blackfriars. A ticket costs roughly £12 and the train takes anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour.
National Express Bus: The bus departs Luton Airport every 30 minutes, making stops in Marylebone, Portman Square, and Victoria Coach Station in central London. The ride takes 60-80 minutes, and costs £11 one way.
easyBus: They serve the same stops in a partnership with National Express. In addition though, they offer non-stop journeys to Liverpool Street Station in east London, departing every 30 minutes. The trip costs around £8 and takes 70 minutes.
London City Airport
‘City’ as we call it, is the closest airport to central London and by far our favorite airport. Flight destinations are limited, as they tend to run commuter jets to other European hubs like Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich, and Amsterdam. The airport is small, security is a breeze, and the journey to London is efficient.
DLR: There is only one real public transport link to London from London City Airport. The DLR is part of the Underground system, and the airport’s terminal is connected to the DLR platform. The trains that terminate at Bank in the heart of City of London leave every 4-8 minutes, and the journey is 20 minutes to reach Bank Underground station. With an Oyster Card, the DLR costs around £3, or just under £5 if you pay cash for one journey on the Underground.
A taxi or car service is another option for swift airport connections, and an especially good one especially if you arrive late at night, after the Underground is closed or the if the National Express bus schedule is too limiting.
While I love black cabs, using one from an airport will cost a minimum of £50, even from London City Airport, and as much as £100+ from Heathrow or Gatwick. If you know where you are going in advance, your best bet is a car service (like London2Airport which we use) which can be booked ahead of time and provide a set rate.
If you are traveling with 3 or 4 people, especially from Heathrow, this could end up being the cheapest option, especially compared to the express trains (a car for ~£40 versus four train tickets at £20 each). It affords you the luxury of arriving directly to your destination, while many of the public transport options may require you to take the Tube to get you to your final stop, adding time and expense to the trek from the airport. Traffic can be a major issue though, so if you arrive at 5pm during the week, do not expect a swift journey into London.
Here are some sample journey costs and time from the various airports to the W1 postcode, in central London. Obviously, if you are going to other parts of London, the time and cost may vary.
Heathrow: £45, 40-60 minutes
Gatwick: £60, 90 minutes
Stansted: £65, 60-80 minutes
Luton: £70, 60-80 minutes
City Airport: £40, 40-50 minutes
Have any other tips or hints for the London airport guide? Share you comments or experiences below!