With six 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.
Heathrow is the busiest airport in the UK and Europe, with 80.8 million passengers passing through its doors in 2019. As such, there are a variety of ways to get from the terminal gate to Aldgate (or Bishopsgate, Moorgate, New Gate, Ludgate, you get the idea). Here is a brief list, 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: £1.55 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: £5.30 (peak — Mon to Fri, 0630 to 0930), £3.30 (off peak).
- 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.
If you don’t fancy riding the rails, then this is probably the best option for the open road.
- Price: from £7.15
- Pros: CHEAP(ish). Good for late night/early morning arrivals and there’s plenty of room for your luggage. You can buy tickets online in advance.
- Cons: Vulnerable to traffic-related delays.
Feeling rich? Get comfy in spacious carriages that make up this speedy link to Central London, and bonus cheapo points if you save a few quid by booking in advance.
- Price: £22.00 on average.
- Pros: Fast and direct to Paddington. Comfortable. Lots of luggage space.
- Top tip: 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 details, 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. Visiting one of those beautiful European spots from London? Be sure to check our budget guide first! However, it’s not the closest airport 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 in to or 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.
Provided by EasyBus, Terravision or National Express.
- Price: From £6.50
- 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
Pro tip: Book at least two days and ideally two weeks in advance for big savings on train fare—you can book your Gatwick train tickets here.
- 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) Getting in early? Here’s a few cheap and easy ways to kill time in the area while you wait for your hotel check-in.
- Cons: More expensive than the bus. Slower than the Gatwick Express.
Note: Gatwick Express service is currently suspended.
- Price: Just under £20.00.
- Pros: Fast and regular service into London Victoria.
- Cons: EXPENSIVE (we advise you to save the money for an over-priced pint instead).
London City Airport
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)
- Price: £3.40 (peak), £2.80 (off peak).
- 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.
Provided by EasyBus, Terravision or National Express
- Good for: Luton and Stansted.
- Price: From £1.99. EasyBus tends to be the cheapest option.
- Pros: CHEAP. Great for late-night/early-morning transfers.
- Cons: Slower than the train and liable to delays.
Good for: Luton (National Rail into St Pancras), Stansted (Stansted Express or National Rail into Liverpool Street) and Southend (National Rail into Liverpool Street)
- Price: Luton – from £18.40, Stansted – from £19.90, Southend – from £14.50.
- Pros: Direct service into Central London.
- Cons: More expensive than the bus.
Ditching your luggage
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! What’s more, if you use our link you can take an extra bag free of charge—courtesy of our friends over at Tokyo Cheapo.
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.
This post was originally published in 2016. Last updated: April 6, 2021. Information is subject to change.