The Best Way(s) To Get To Central London From Each London Airport

While most people think of Heathrow as ‘London’s airport,’ there are actually five airports servicing London, or six if you count Southend, which I will discuss below. There are a range of different options to get to and from each one.

I must preface any advice on transportation by saying the time, convenience and value will depend HUGELY on where in Greater London you are headed. London is so big and spread out that I’ve always had a different favourite London airport based on where I was living at the time, because of the proximity of one particular airport to my house.

To compare the different options I’ve used a baseline of leaving each airport at midday on a weekday. Peak hour travel can hugely increase travel times, particularly by road. A friend recently took a mini cab from Heathrow to East London in peak hour and it took 2.5 hours!

For consistency, I have looked at the cost of each option booked exactly one month in advance. I’ve chosen two destinations in central London to travel to – Trafalgar Square, which has for hundreds of years been considered the ‘true centre’ of London (and is what all street sign distances are based on), as well as Kings Cross, which has always felt to me to be a very central location, as it is next to one of the biggest tube, National Rail and Eurostar stations in London.

Some general notes and caveats before we jump into travel options:

  • As there are multiple terminals at both Heathrow and Gatwick, I’ve calculated time, cost and value from Heathrow Terminal 2/3 and Gatwick South, as they are slightly quicker and closer to London than other terminals at those airports.
  • Quickest won’t always mean ‘best,’ so I’ve tried to balance convenience, value and speed. I’ve visited each of these airports at least five times, some many more, so have done these journeys many times.
  • I haven’t included hire car prices as they would be both very similar times to Uber/cabs and I shudder to think where you would even park a car in central London.
  • FYI – Black cabs are those you take from a cab rank (not pre-booked), mini-cabs are those you pre-book through a specialist company and they send a car to collect you.
  • All UberX prices assume no surge given it is in the middle of the day.
  • In terms of waiting times (for trains, etc.) I’ve used an average waiting time, so if a train is every fifteen minutes I’ve factored in a waiting time of about 7-8 minutes. Naturally depending on when you reach the platform, if may be more or less time waiting.
  • There are also National Express bus services from most London airports but they take such a long time that I haven’t included them here despite the low prices. They will take much longer than the corresponding tube services and won’t cost much less. I once took a National Express to Stansted when I first moved, and it felt like it took about 2 hours, and I would not do it again regardless of price.

London Heathrow

Heathrow is the largest and busiest airport in the United Kingdom, and is where most true ‘premium’ flights will arrive.

To Trafalgar Square:

  • Express train: Heathrow Express to Paddington (£14.30 – journey takes 15 minutes with departures every 15 minutes) + Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross – (£2.40 – journey takes around 18 minutes with departures every 1 – 2 minutes) — total = £16.70 + around 40 minutes
  • Regular train/tube: Piccadilly line to Leicester Square + Northern line to Charing Cross (£3.10 together, departures on both lines every 4 – 5 minutes) — total = £3.10 + around 60 minutes
  • UberX: £29 – £38 and around 53 minutes
  • Black cab: around £70 pounds and around 53 minutes
  • Mini-cab: around £43 pounds and 53 minutes

Winner: regular tube for single travellers, UberX for families

To Kings Cross:

  • Express train: Heathrow Express to Paddington (£14.30 – journey takes 15 minutes with departures every 15 minutes) + Circle/Hammersmith & City line to Kings Cross St Pancras – (£2.40 – journey takes around 18 minutes with departures every 5 minutes) — total = £16.70 + around 40 minutes
  • Regular train/tube: Picadilly line all the way to Kings Cross (£3.10, departures on both lines every 4 – 5 minutes) — total = £3.10 + around 62 minutes
  • UberX: £32 – £43 and around 58 minutes
  • Black cab: around £79 pounds and around 58 minutes
  • Mini-cab: around £48 pounds and 58 minutes

Winner: regular tube for single travellers, UberX for families

The Heathrow Express is, per mile, the most expensive train route in the world.

London Gatwick

Gatwick is the second busiest single-runway airport in the world, and while it primarily serves as a premium leisure airport with many flights to the Caribbean and Southern Europe, it also serves as an ‘overflow’ airport where premium carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Qatar and Emirates operate limited services to after they have exceeded their Heathrow slots.

The big secret with Gatwick, is that the Gatwick Express is only a few minutes faster than the National Rail to Victoria, but much more expensive. I’ll include it for comparisons sake but would never recommend you take this option.

To Trafalgar Square:

  • Express train: Gatwick Express to Victoria (£17.80 and 27 minutes, with departures ever 30 minutes) and Circle or District Line to Trafalgar Square (£2.40 and around 20 minutes with departures every 1 – 2 minutes) — total = £20.20 and 62 minutes depending on when your next Gatwick Express leaves
  • Regular train/tube: National Rail to Blackfriars (35 minutes, departures every 13 or so minutes) and then District or Circle line to Embankment (3 minutes, departures every 2 – 3 minutes) — total = £10.30 and 48 minutes
  • Uber X: £55 – £71 and around 80 minutes
  • Black cab: £109(!) and around 80 minutes
  • Mini-cab: £61 pounds and around 80 minutes

Winner: regular train/tube for single travellers, mini-cab for families

To Kings Cross:

  • Express train: Gatwick Express to Victoria (£17.80 and 27 minutes, with departures ever 30 minutes) and Victoria Line to Kings Cross (£2.40 and around 14 minutes with departures every 1 – 2 minutes – the Victoria line is FAST) – total = £20.20 and 58 minutes depending on when your next Gatwick Express leaves
  • Regular train/tube: National Rail to St Pancras International (£8.10 and 50 minutes with departures every 13 or so minutes) — total = £8.10 and 56 minutes depending on next departure
  • Uber X: £76 – £99 and around 86 minutes
  • Black cab: £156(!) and around 86 minutes
  • Mini-cab: £62 pounds and around 86 minutes

Winner: regular train/tube for single travellers (it’s a no brainer given that you don’t need to change trains, but if you’re happily spending £156 on a cab, then this article probably isn’t for you anyway) mini-cab for families

London City

City is a true ‘business’ airport with narrow-body only services from Europe’s business capitals, as well as the famous BA2 A318 flight from New York. London’s City’s X-Factor is that it is, by far, the closest airport geographically, to Central London. Therefore, the prices and times will be quite different to the other airport.

There are no express/airport trains to the city because of its proximity.

To Trafalgar Square:

  • Normal tube: DLR to Canning Town (6 minutes with departures every 10 minutes) and then Jubilee Line to Westminster (15 minutes with departures every 3 – 4 minutes) — total = £2.80 and around 30 minutes
  • UberX: £21 – £28  and around 33 minutes
  • Black cab: £40 and around 33 minutes
  • Mini-cab: £35 and around 33 minutes

Winner: regular tube for single travellers, and I’d probably still take the tube for families, because it’s slightly quicker and much cheaper

To Kings Cross:

  • Normal Tube: DLR to Bank (21 minutes with departures every 10 minutes) and then Northern line to Kings Cross St Pancras (8 minutes with departures every 3 – 4 minutes) — total = £2.80 and around 38 minutes
  • UberX: £21 – £27 and around 38 minutes
  • Black cab: £44 and around 38 minutes
  • Mini-cab: £37 and around 38 minutes

Winner: regular tube for single travellers, UberX for families (Canning Town is a much easier station to change at than Bank, which is one of the busiest and most spread out stations in London)

London Stansted

I actually quite like Stansted. It was built as a true low cost airport, and is Ryanair’s biggest global hub – they fly from 170 destinations to Stansted alone. It doesn’t operate anywhere near capacity (unlike Heathrow and Gatwick) so while there’s nothing premium about it, I do find it fairly easy to navigate, even at peak times.

There are no underground/National Rail services from London, so if you are wanting to travel by rail you are limited to the Stansted Express. It’s imperative to buy tickets well in advance because they are very expensive last-minute.

To Trafalgar Square:

  • Express train: Stansted Express to Liverpool Street (£14 and around 50 minutes, every 15 minutes) and then Central line to Tottenham Court Road/Piccadilly line to Leicester Square (£2.40 and around 23 minutes, every 2-3 minutes) — total = £16.40 and around 92 minutes
  • UberX: £59 – £74 and around 67 minutes
  • Black cab: £150(!) and around 67 minutes
  • Mini-cab: £63 and around 67 minutes

Winner: express train for single travellers, mini-cab for families

To Kings Cross:

  • Express train: Stansted Express to Liverpool Street (£14 and around 50 minutes, every 15 minutes) and then Circe/Hammersmith & City/Metropolitan line to Kings Cross St Pancras (£2.40 and around 12 minutes and every 2 minutes) — total = £16.40 and about 78 minutes
  • UberX: £54 – £69 and around 60 minutes
  • Black cab: £137 and around 60 minutes
  • Mini-cab: £59 and around 67 minutes

Winner: express train for single travellers, mini-cab for families

London Luton

The lowest of low-cost airlines like Wizz fly to Luton, and the facilities reflect this. It’s essentially a giant shed in the middle of nowhere, a long, LONG way from London. I do everything I can to avoid landing at Luton mainly because there is no train to the airport so any public transport requires the frustrating bus to the train station.

If you have to land there, here are your options.

To Trafalgar Square:

  • Local train/tube: Take the annoying transfer bus from Luton airport to Luton Airport parkway, which is included in your National Rail ticket, and takes 10 minutes, then take a National Rail direct to St Pancras International (£17, and 34 minutes leaving 10 – 15 minutes) then take the Piccadilly line to Leicester Square (£2.40 and around 10 minutes, every 2-3 minutes ) — total = £19.30 and around 70 minutes
  • UberX: £53 – £68 and around 70 minutes
  • Black cab: £121 and around 70 minutes
  • Mini-Cab: £56 and around 70 minutes

Winner: local train/tube for single travellers (but it’s hell), mini-cab for families

To Kings Cross:

  • Local train/tube: Take the annoying transfer bus from Luton airport to Luton Airport parkway which is included in your National Rail ticket and takes 10 minutes, then take a National Rail direct to St Pancras International (34 minutes leaving 10 – 15 minutes) — total = £16.90 and around 60 minutes
  • UberX: £49 – £64 and around 58 minutes
  • Black cab: £114 and around 58 minutes
  • Mini-Cab: £54 and around 58 minutes

Winner: local train/tube for single travellers, mini-cab for families

One more consideration: London Southend

Most Londoners don’t consider Southend to be a London Airport, because it is even further from London than the other five airports. I’ve only flown out of there once (it was the only flight to the tiny Spanish island of Menorca on a Friday night), and while it took a VERY long time to get there, it was quite an easy airport to navigate because it is so small and only had one flight ever hour or so.

I would not dream of arriving into Southend late at night (i.e. after 11pm) on any night of the week because train links do run very late into the night, and it is so far from London a black cab would be horrendous as you’ll see below.

As you might expect for such a small airport, there is no express airport train into London.

Nonetheless, assuming you land at noon as per the other London airports, here are the Southend timings:

To Trafalgar Square:

  • Local train/tube: National Rail to Liverpool Street (around 53 minutes, every 20 minutes), and then Circle line to Embankment (around 13 minutes, every 10 minutes) — total = £17.10 and around 82 minutes
  • UberX: £68 – £91 and around 73 minutes
  • Black cab: £147 and around 73 minutes
  • Mini-Cab: £58 and around 73 minutes

Winner: local train/tube for single travellers, mini-cab for families

To Kings Cross:

  • Local train/tube: National Rail to Liverpool Street (around 53 minutes, every 20 minutes) and then Circle, Hammersmith & City or Circle line to Kings Cross (around 11 minutes every 2 minutes) — total: £17.10 and around 76 minutes
  • UberX: £70 – £93 and around 70 minutes
  • Black cab: £150 and around 70 minutes
  • Mini-Cab: £58 and around 70 minutes

Winner: local train/tube for single travellers, mini-cab for families

Bottom line

There are about a million variables in these calculations, and I expect many of you will point them out in the comments. Traffic, weather, crowds, time-of-day, delays, strikes, familiarity with London, luggage, mobility, etc., can all affect times, cost and convenience.

You’ll notice that I usually place value over convenience, particularly for single travellers. This is because I am regularly booking extremely cheap European flights in and out of London as low as £20 each way and cannot stomach the thought of paying two or three times the cost of the flight just to get home from the airport!

This is not a ‘be all and end all definitive list.’ But if you didn’t even know London had so many airports, are not familiar with how to get from them into the city, hopefully this will be a useful starting point to ensure you don’t waste both too much time and money getting into the city.

How do you get to London from your preferred London airport?

Comments

  1. If I’m arriving at Heathrow, I always take the Tube. It’s so cheap that I can’t imagine paying for a cab! There was one instance that I did have to take a city bus to Paddington, then take the Heathrow Express…we had a ridiculously early flight back to the US and works were being done on the Tube stations nearest our hotel, so it was the best (inexpensive) option. I once flew to London for the day whilst visiting Ireland, and flew RyanAir into Stansted since it was $20 USD roundtrip. We took the Stansted Express and while it was nice, the roundtrip train ticket was much more than our flight!

  2. If you’re going to include Southend, why not Southampton? 59 minutes from Waterloo with its own station. Before the Channel Tunnel it used to be faster going from central London to Southampton and flying than schlepping all the way out to Heathrow.

    A few bit-picky things…

    From Stansted, the express train stops at Tottenham Hale to connect to the Victoria line (which, as you point out, is fast). That’s usually quicker for any destination near that line than travelling into Liverpool Street.

    Some of your tube station choices for Trafalgar Square look odd to me: only a rube would suggest changing at Tottenham Court Road for a tube to Leicester Square – you may as well walk down Charing Cross Road (which is also slightly downhill, so easy). But if you’re happy to recommend Embankment or Westminster as being close enough to Trafalgar Square, why is Piccadilly Circus not close enough?

    Incidentally, I think this is just wrong:
    “Stansted. It was built as a true low cost airport”

    The brand-new terminal opened in 1991, pre-dating the LCC revolution, and was intended to be a genuine alternative to Heathrow for long haul flights (from memory, so happy to be corrected, it has the longest runway of any London airport). That’s why then-owners BAA commissioned swanky international architect Norman Foster to design it. It didn’t work out, and it later became the home of LCCs.

  3. As a regular LHR to Canary Wharf commuter, the Elizabeth Line cannot come online soon enough.

  4. You are assuming ppl have an oyster card when you mention the price of the tube. Paying cash would cost almost double.

  5. James,

    Could you please do a review to Canary Wharf from Heathrow on the new Elizabeth Line, when it opens. So looking forward to when it starts!

  6. D’oh. The Southampton example was about flying London to Paris. I got carried away and missed that out.

    “Bit picky” should be “nit picky”.

    I should be applying my pedant’s eye to my comments before posting, damn it.

    And I agree with Sheena – never, ever take a black cab to/from Heathrow. It can easily got to £100, £150 or more. Only Narita has more expensive taxi journeys to the city centre.

  7. Great article, but you’re missing one key option to/from Gatwick, Stansted and Luton … EasyBus: http://www.easybus.com/en/

    You don’t need to fly EasyJet to book a seat, and I found it the best/cheapest option to Luton several years ago, as one of the pick-up spots was just a five minute walk up the road from my hotel in Marylebone; True to the website’s word, it took just about an hour (fortunately heading out of Central London during the morning rush hour).

  8. The Heathrow Express is only 8 quid on weekends if booked 30+ days in advance, which is worth remembering.

  9. Nice article, good info.

    Of course, if you’re able to book HEX for weekend travel (Sat/Sun) 60 days in advance, it approaches the affordability of the Tube 🙂

  10. Also for people mentioning not having Oyster it is possible on most tickets to get a ticket to ‘London Z1’ which includes a journey on the tube.

  11. Stanstad has bus service as well, but please never ever opt that one. Seems the cheapest option but most likely its a scam.( at least I got into this several years ago) Really the best way to the city is the train.

    Uber prices are insane from all airports, reminds me new york 🙂

  12. Heathrow express £14.30??? Really,you need to mention this us an advance fare with conditions ,you will never get under £20 when you buy on the spot.
    Tube £3.10 this is off peack fare you will never get under £5 for peak time (morning).

  13. Nice post James. I live in King’s Cross and I definitely appreciate how easy is to travel to all the airports from here (never tried Southend yet though).
    I’d have added a part talking about moving to/from the airports late in the evening or very early in the morning: I believe Gatwick, at least from here, would easily win as there are trains through all the night, while getting to Heathrow before 6am is quite a trip itself (maybe not anymore, since zipcar has started a one-way option to/from/between Islington and Heathrow at very reasonable prices). In the past there has been a bus from St Pancras to Stansted, taking just 50/55 mins to get there, and very cheap too, but unfortunately the service has been discontinued

  14. Sure the Heathrow Express is expensive, but last time in London I was staying at the Indigo Paddington (two blocks from the station) so I had to do it. It was fine, but the regular tube would have been fine as well.

  15. @ Derek – contactless credit and debit cards can be used for the same price as an oyster. I haven’t used an Oyster card for over a year.

  16. James,
    What about a single traveller ith 2 large luggage & 2 cabin bags, all on 4 wheels? How is it to travel on the tube with transfers & steps?

    What about the Heathrow Connect option?

    Hope you will update this article once Crossrail is completed & up & running.
    Thanks

  17. @Derek You can buy an oyster card and at the end of your visit get the deposit plus up to 10 pounds credit that you may have added to the card refunded.

  18. @ May Lin

    Much of the tube system was designed and built in the 19th century, so wheelchair access (and, thus, ease of use for people with loads of luggage) is not great in many parts. The new parts are all easily accessible, as are many of the refurbished parts (King’s Cross, for example) – and every station will have a map showing accessibility options at all stations so you can plan your journey.

    For years, LT (TfL now) recommended that if you had lots of luggage you should use a bus rather than the tube. London’s bus network is amazingly comprehensive, but it can take an agonisingly long time to travel any distance.

    Heathrow Connect is exactly the same route as Heathrow Express, with a couple of local stops, it’s a little slower, and very significantly cheaper. Heathrow Airport does a miserable job of advertising it, because they want people to use the hyper-expensive Express instead (which they own). The last time I checked it was every half hour. But for most people the tube is a better option than the Heathrow railway, unless your destination is the Paddington area.

  19. I dunno Heathrow Express is fine but there is also the Heathrow connect which is much less and only takes 10 or so minutes more and still takes you to Paddington. I suppose it depends on time of day as well. Last time I got into LHR it was about 2pm and I took a Black cab to Victoria/Belgravia and it was only 60 quid and took about 35 minutes.

  20. This is great information!!!! The only catch is hat if you have a family of 4 like me that has lots of luggage the best option I found was to have a driver waiting for us in a van that could accommodate us all and the bags. I used Blackberry Cars and it was great and the price was decent.

  21. I agree Luton “cowshed” airport is the least desirable but would be inclined to take the bus there as it brings you straight to the airport instead of faffing with the shuttle bus. Plenty of opportunities to use the 787 bus from Victoria and Baker Street.

  22. Tube for me, can’t imagine a reason not to take it from LHR or LCY.
    And yes, very useful information and could be repeated for other cities.
    Lucky’s strength is hotels/premium cabins but he’s clueless when it comes to ‘real world ‘ ground transport options.

  23. Missed off Heathrow connect (or TFL rail as it has recently been renamed), a few other niggles, and your tube game needs a little work…but forgiven because Australian.

    Also crossrail coming soon which is a game changer

  24. “There are no underground/National Rail services from London, so if you are wanting to travel by rail you are limited to the Stansted Express”

    1) The Stansted Express is National Rail lol
    2) For Kings Cross, it’s both cheaper and quicker to take the Stansted Express to Tottenham Hale tube, then Victoria Line to King’s Cross. Probably like 30 mins train then 20 mins on tube?

    Also really really bad timing because of the Elizabeth line/Crossrail… may want to update when it’s opened?

  25. James — thanks for a great clip! I’ve lived in London for eight years now and found your article to be amazingly informative. Your data shows me I’m not being stupid taking the tube from Heathrow and skipping the Gatwick Express. Please keep up the good work.

  26. If anyone has a membership for the car sharing app Zipcar they’ve started doing one way rentals from central London to Heathrow.

    I wouldn’t do it when the public transport is running but it’s brilliant for getting to Heathrow for early morning flights. Use the app to find a car in your area and it costs £12 for a hour plus a £5 fee for pickup/drop off at the Airport

  27. Nothing wrong with either the Heathrow or Gatwick express services if you are staying somewhere close to their stations. Sure they cost much more than the tube but unless you are traveling light (no more than a single rollaboard per person) you will find taking crowded subway cars with multiple bags extremely awkward. While the Transport for London website has information on which stations have elevators, remember that having an elevator to the platform level doesn’t guarantee there won’t be an additional staircase to the actual trains.

  28. Seems Mini Cab and tube win out (where applicable). I will say that if the youngest member of the family is over 10 I’d still consider the tube to be the best in most cases, unless your family runs 8 deep or you plan on moving during peak hours.

  29. The advantage of taking Gatwick Express from Victoria TO LGW is that when there are delays the GWE gets prioritised.
    For arrivals to LGW, for many London locations, get the Thameslink train which takes a different route including Blackfriars and Farringdon (particularly for the City).

    Re late night arrivals (and early departures), at Southend there is a cheap Holiday Inn Express 5 minute’s walk away (even with rolling bags), and Gatwick has Bloc (like CitizenM) and Yotel (like Japanese cubicles), as well as Sheraton, Hilton, and Hampton.
    Luton has no hotel, Stansted has something with wildly variable pricing.
    Heathrow T4 and T5 have connected hotels which are usually expensive.

    When going to the City, I will pay GBP30 extra for flights into LCY to save on ground transportation costs and time.

  30. I use Heathrow Express every time from Heathrow. It’s not cheap, but extremely convenient. I try to buy my tickets when they go on sale whenever I can. Worth every pound!!!

  31. I’ve had a couple of good and a couple of terrible rides on the Piccadilly Line from central London to Heathrow. I highly advise against it on Sunday morning heading out of central London. I entered the train at Russell Square and it was already packed. So I had to stand with two suitcases for the entire journey. It was like riding the Atlanta Hartsfield inter-terminal train, except for over an hour. Hard to hang onto yourself and two suitcases when the train stops and starts. After that experience I just make a point out of staying near Paddington and riding Heathrow Express. Bayswater, to be exact.

  32. Just returned from London. I used Blackberry cars. They were right on time both directions, met me at the airport with a sign. 30 GBP in a nice van both directions. I was traveling alone with 2 bags. Would highly recommend.

  33. Did something change with Heathrow Express pricing? When I was in London last year, non-advance purchase tickets were way more than you are showing. I seem to remember $70 each, something like that.

  34. James,

    great analysis. A few things from me:

    – I hope when you stopped using an Oyster card for a contactless credit card. If you are using a debit card, you’re missing out on earning points with auto-refresh
    – I concur with the Nice Paul when using Stansted. Tottenham Hale changing onto the Victoria Line is quicker than Liverpool Street unless you are heading to the city or an “E” postcode. TfL are working towards running peak services on the Victoria Line every 75 seconds.
    – I have to disagree with London being spread out. I thought you were from Melbourne? The Pakenham line goes out around 65km from Flinders St. That’s about the same distance out to Stansted or Luton, and the urban sprawl doesn’t make it that far in London

  35. Great article James! My notes:

    1) I HATE Stansted and hope to never fly in/out of there again. Way too far and inconvenient, had a bad experience there.
    2) I disagree with you, London is not that spread out. I actually find it to be a small city with LOTS crammed in it. Sure, im talking about Zone 1 mainly, but still. Los Angeles though, THATS spread out.
    3) Always take the tube from Heathrow, never the Express. $$ difference.

  36. Nice report yet it is all quite conditional. The tube is fine if you are not traveling with too much luggage, and there are no delays or work related issues. And even if you are not a frequent traveler to London, it is so easy to pick up an Oyster card. They also seem to last forever as I recently found 2 Oyster cards that I misplaced and had to be over 4 years old. They still worked. That would never happen anywhere else.

  37. Great article with comprehensive information, including handy hints from locals. It is up to the individual to finesse this info further taking into consideration their travel requirements. In particular I remind that when changing lines on the tube you need to check out the accessability issue, whether it be mobility issues or simply hauling too much (heavy) luggage. Many stations have long escalators, but the last bit might, infuriatingly, be a dozen steps or more! (Shepherds Bush springs to mind!). Changing at one station may mean simply walking across a platform, while the next one might mean schlepping up 50 steps then down another 50 to another platform, not to mention a possible half-km. walk along a few tunnels! On my many visits I have worked out some byzantine ways to overcome these pesky problems by trial and error.

  38. Since I am now semi retired and commute between my home in North London and Chiang Mai I find that the Piccadilly Line from Oakwood to Heathrow.T1-2-3-4-5 always comes out best.Having a Freedom Pass also means that the 1.5 hour journey is of course… free.Just for info…many years ago I used to arrive mostly from working in West Africa…Nigeria,Sierra Leone,Ghana…etc with British Caledonia who provided a free Helicopter transfer service between Gatwick and Heathrow…about 10 minutes…to catch my BA shuttle to Glasgow…..Believe someone complained about the noise so was discontinued…

  39. Interesting & informative article, thanks, James

    May be a NOT missing here, though?

    “I would not dream of arriving into Southend late at night (i.e. after 11pm) on any night of the week because train links do (NOT) run very late into the night…”

  40. A lot of this will change later this year when Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) opens later this year.

    For families it’s worth noting that kids are free (at least if booked on line) for the Heathrow Express – which also offers first class if you want it to be even more expensive.

    For road travel remember that London traffic can be a lottery and, based on experience, some of those times sound optimistic.

  41. The ideafor this post is great, but the actual advice is not. Most people don’t live that centrally – so it isn’t really great advice.

    Also you discount National Express too easily, when you can often book tickets for £1.99 through easyBus, and for Stansted it is often the easiest and best value way to get there with really frequent schedule almost 24 hrs a day.

    You also forgot to mention the the cheap advance tickets offered by both Heathrow Express and Stansted Express. Booked in advance it can be as low as £5 each way!

  42. If you want to make Gatwick even cheaper using Oyster or contactless you can get off the train at East Croydon and go through the ticket gates then back through to the platforms and jump on the next train to London. Costs only £6.50

  43. I wouldn’t dismiss Southend so quickly. Sure, the ride to Liverpool St. takes some time, but small airports have their advantages – such as extremely short distances within the terminal, and even the train station is right in front of the arrivals hall. If they had eGates, it would be almost ideal.

    Stansted, on the other hand, can be a mixed bag. The train is fine, but the airport annoys me. Security lines can get insane, especially with lots of inexperienced fliers, so the ability to book fast track is a valuable option. Also, I don’t appreciate that STN makes you navigate a crowded duty-free mall before you can get to the gates.
    I’d take SEN over STN almost any day.

  44. I’m not sure which tube you are taking from Heathrow to central London but it CERTAINLY does not cost £3.10!!! At least double that last time I checked

  45. I wonder if there’s a bus that goes to LHR? In London, after using the bus a few times, one can reach a cap and then the rest of the bus journeys that day are free. However, it’s possible that it’s only in zone 1 but maybe not.

    When I first visited London, I used the tube everywhere. This was partly because tube maps are better and easier to understand than complicated bus maps. Now, I use the bus a lot because it’s more scenic. The tube is just used for longer trips when speed is essential.

  46. @Terence McManus

    Your reference to BCal brought back memories of my first flights to the UK, in the mid-80s… SJU to LGW on their DC-10s.

  47. Good post, though I’m sure most people would rather walk the five minutes from leicester square to Trafalgar Square rather than taking a tube to Charing Cross which will take a couple of minutes and then do a 5 min walk to Trafalgar square on top of that.
    And anyone who has said ‘Elizabeth line’… it’s called cross rail

  48. @ vlcnc – did you miss the headline that this article is about how to get to central London, and the disclaimer that travel times depend hugely based on where in London you are actually headed?

    This article is for visitors to London who may be overwhelmed by the choice of airports and travel options, not someone who lives in Zone 3 or 4 and already has their favourite airport and transportation method.

  49. @ Jurag – I almost always fly out of Stansted on Fridays between 6pm and 8pm. Even though the airport is very busy I’ve never waited more than 5 minutes at security.
    When you think how many thousands of people London airports process through security each hour, they are pretty efficient at it.

  50. Thanks James! Perfect timing as my wife and I planning a summer trip to London and your report confirmed my suspicions that it is better to travel from Heathrow to central London by tube.

  51. @James Firstly I don’t like the condescending tone towards someone living in Zone 3 and 4 ( for the record I live in Zone 2 for what it matters). Secondly I don’t think your advice is correct – you have chosen not include some of the most convenient and best value options. More than that you have missed out some key tricks one would expect as tips such as the cheap advance fares on the airport trains. If you are a visiting chances are you want the best value option especially when your flight to somewhere like Stansted or Luton will have cost you very little.

    I am not here to bring you down as I enjoy most of your contributions but this article is not the best advice and misguided from someone who supposedly travels alot and has lived in London sometime.

  52. I took the Piccadilly line to Heathrow twice, once with a big suitcase plus rollaboard, and once with rollaboard only. Having to change at Green Park the walking is far and not ideal if you have heavy bags. However, my biggest gripe is the unreliability of that particular line. Signal failures are endemic, making it a high risk endeavour. Almost missed my flight on one of the two occasions as well due to person under a train; luckily it was behind us but we were still held at the station for some time. My ex missed his flight on a later occasion due to a signal failure. Also: these are regular tube trains with no extra storage space, and not ideal during rush hour.

  53. Just to add another option that most international travellers often overlook and that is Birmingham Airport. It has a people mover with a direct connection to the train station that takes a couple of minutes. Trains then go to Euston around every 15 mins or so and takes about an hour, then just a minute or so on the Tube to Kings Cross.

    Cost can be expensive but advance tickets can be under £10.

    Overall probably no worse (and in some cases better) an option than Luton or Stansted depending where in London you want to get to.

    Also James – on the point of trains have you ever considered an article on split tickets? Can save a fortune. Happy to assist if you would like some examples.

  54. During the years when I worked in the east end of London ( and lived near to Sutton) it was Thameslink every time for Gatwick, whether leaving from home or from work.

    Anyone using Gatwick should take a close look at the Thameslink route map whether they are heading for central London, North London / Hertfordshire or the south coast.

    PS: full marks for spelling ‘Stansted’ correctly ….. and that’s not being patronising – it is usually spelled wrongly!

  55. I used to take Heathrow connect because it was so much cheaper than the express and the added benefit that most tourists don’t know about it so it was always pretty empty. But I hear that went away or about to? One thing about taking the tube. If you happen to be riding through rush hour with all your luggage… good luck.

  56. Whenever I visit another city I email the front desk of my upcoming hotel and ask what the best public transit option and route is. They give me the same itinerary they use themselves when they travel, it’s always seamless, cheap and generally different from Google Maps directions.

  57. @ Joe

    Heathrow Connect will be rebranded as Elizabeth Line (possibly via a short period as “London Rail”), but frequency will increase from 2 per hour to 4 per hour.

    That’s one of the first phases of the opening of the new cross-London railway (which was known as Crossrail).

    By the end of 2019 you’ll be able to travel from LHR through central London and out the other side (eg, to the financial district on the Idle of Dogs), all on one fast-ish train. Fares will be much lower than the current Heathrow Express rip-off.

  58. London airports crack me up >< I feel bad for travellers who arrive at Luton or Stansted and think they're gonna be in central London already. They're far out and you've gotta be prepared! Thanks for shedding some light on how to navigate all of them: Gatwick airport is my favourite 🙂

  59. Don’t black cabs have a flat rate 65GBP from Heathrow to the West End? They prefer to run the metre in case you hit traffic, but I thought they couldn’t refuse the rate? Or was that in the past?

  60. I fly out of London roughly once a week – the one thing that’s not mentioned is that cabs the reliability of cabs at LGW/STN/LTN late in the evening is rather low, acutely so during inclement weather.

    An example just last week – there were storms around LGW. I landed 2.5 hours late at midnight (along with 20 other delayed flights) and all of the central London trains were canceled. It took almost 2 hours, 10 canceled ubers, and a whole lot of irritation before I was on my way in an Addison Lee. Had similar scenarios play out at STN several times over the years (where ubers are not really an option on most evenings, good weather or bad)

  61. Absolutely love this article! Great to see all the options compared. London is definitely a challenge when it comes to coming from and going to the airport.

    In my experience London is usually very busy. It’s one of my favorites cities and I’m fortunate enough to have visited it frequently. While I understand the timings set out in this post, they are nowhere near realistic in usual day-to-day London traffic.

    Be very careful with the black cabs. I recently took one during rush hour from Heathrow to central London (near London Bridge) and it set me back close to £150. I took an Uber back, similar traffic conditions, and that cost me about £65. Both trips took me about 2.5 hours.

  62. Do you have any recommendations on agencies for mini-cabs? There seem to be a million online and it is hard to see how legit they might be.

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