With 6 London airports to potentially fly into (most of which are not technically in London), figuring out how to get yourself into the city centre is enough to make your head spin! Here’s a breakdown of the easiest and cheapest transport options, so you can save your money for the fun times ahead.
Quick note: Oyster cards (a top-up card that you scan at ticket gates to pay for travel in London) and contactless payment are referred to below. Be aware that contactless cards from some countries are not accepted on London’s transport network. In this case (and if you don’t have contactless), it is possible to purchase (£3) and top up an Oyster card at any of the London airports listed below.
Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK and Europe, with 76 million passengers passing through its doors in 2016. As such, there are a variety of ways to get from the terminal gate to Aldgate (or Bishops Gate, Moorgate, New Gate, Ludgate, you get the idea). Here is a brief list of these, ranked from the cheapest to the most wallet-flattening.
Mingle with the charming West London locals and catch a big red double decker bus to Central London.
Price: £1.50 with contactless card/Oyster.
Pros: SO CHEAP. An adventure! Ride the top deck and see the real London.
Cons: Hardly any room for luggage. Takes ages to get anywhere.
Go underground (well, for some of the way) and take the dark blue line to zone 1.
Price: £5.10 (peak), £3.10 (off peak), £6.00 (cash fare)
Pros: CHEAP. Feel like a proper Londoner. It’s easy—no need to book. And you get to ride the famous Tube and hear the man say ‘Mind the Gap’ hundreds of times!
Cons: Time dependent—avoid this option at rush hour at all costs, unless you really like being jostled and jeered at by commuters. Not much space for your luggage.
(Provided by National Express)
If you don’t fancy riding the rails, then this is probably the best option for the open road, if you don’t mind getting up close and personal with a stranger.
Price: from £6.00
Pros: CHEAP (ish). Good for late night/early morning arrivals.
Cons: Requires either booking in advance, or waiting for an available service. Vulnerable to traffic-related delays.
Feeling rich? Get comfy in spacious carriages that make up this speedy link to Central London.
Price: £22.00 on average.
Pros: Fast and direct to Paddington. Comfortable. Lots of luggage space.
Pro’s secret: On weekends and if you book super early, the fare could be as low as £5.50.
Cons: EXPENSIVE—most of the time (I advise you to save the money for a lovely fish n’ chips instead).
If you’re travelling as a couple or as a family, then the otherwise expensive option of getting Uber starts to make a lot of sense. £30.00 compares very favourably to the £50.00 you would pay as a family of 2 adults and 2 kids on the Heathrow Express.
Price: From £30.00.
Pros: Minimal waiting, door to door service.
Cons: Expensive if travelling alone, a little challenging to find the pick-up point on your first trip to Heathrow.
For more detail, see our article on getting from Heathrow to central London.
Gatwick is the second largest airport in the UK, and tends to be seen as the ‘overflow’ runway choice for many long-haul carriers flying into London. Having said that, it does offer a gateway to many European destinations. However, it’s not the closest airport in the world to central London—in fact it’s probably located close to the half-way point between the city and the south coast. Upon stating to an acquaintance that you will be flying into/out of Gatwick, most people will simply reply with ‘oh, bad luck’, or ‘sorry, something’s come up, I won’t be able to meet you at arrivals anymore’.
So, there are three options for you.
Price: from £2.00
Pros: CHEAP, lots of choice, regular services.
Cons: You will be at the mercy of the traffic of the M25 (the infamous circular motorway around London).
Regular train service
Price: £8.00–£14.00 (you can now use contactless/Oyster from Gatwick)
Pros: Quicker than the bus. Cheaper than the Gatwick Express (it’s the same train line, but there are more stations at which to stop). Choice of destination (London Bridge or Victoria).
Cons: More expensive than the bus. Slower than the Gatwick Express.
Price: Just under £20.00
Pros: Fast and regular service into London Victoria.
Cons: EXPENSIVE (I advise you to save the money for an over-priced pint instead).
This small airport is unusual. It is located incredibly close to the main business districts of London, and the East End, meaning flights from Europe and the rest of the UK soar impossibly close to the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. If you are lucky enough to touch down here, then getting into Central London is a cheap breeze.
DLR (Docklands Light Railway)
Pros: CHEAP. Ride at the front and pretend to drive the train!
Cons: I can’t think of any cons, unless you don’t trust driverless trains.
See Heathrow advice above, but this time you will be mingling with charming East Londoners.
London Luton, London Stansted and London Southend
I group these three airports together because they share many similarities. They are all (just about) north of London, they all deal primarily with European flights, and none of them are in London—despite having the word ‘London’ prefixed onto their names (my dear old Grandma lives near Southend and I can assure you that it is not part of the capital). They also all present similar methods to transport yourself from the arrivals hall to Whitehall, or the Royal Albert Hall, or indeed Vauxhall.
Good for: Luton and Stansted
Price: From about £5.00. EasyBus tends to be the cheapest from Luton. Terravision is cheapest from Stansted.
Pros: CHEAP. Great for late night/early morning transfers.
Cons: Slower than the train and liable to delays.
Price: Luton – from £14.00, Stansted – from £12.00, Southend – from £16.00
Pros: Direct service into Central London.
Cons: More expensive than the bus.
Arriving into London early and don’t fancy hauling your luggage around for the day? Providers like Luggagent will same-day deliver your suitcase from the airport to your hotel or residence for around £40.00. Just register beforehand and drop your cases off at the desk. They can also pick your luggage up and bring it to the airport for you—potentially giving you an extra baggage free day of exploring!
Right then! Unless you’re arriving by private jet or helicopter (unlikely I assume), I think that just about covers all your options for arriving into London by air, ready to spend a few days or to start a new life over here in the United Kingdom.