Like most cities, if you arrive in London by plane, it’s quite likely you’ll be miles away from where you want to be (in fact it’s highly unlikely you’ll even be in London) and have to work out how to get from the airport to central London (as I’m assuming you’ll be heading to central London). This can be a daunting task, particularly if you have luggage, children and jet lag.
In my correspondence with people who have booked me for private tours around London, I quite often get asked about travel to and from airports, so have decided to format it in to a handy, and hopefully helpful guide. It’s the first post in a series entitled ‘Questions from London Tourists’.
There are five main airports you might arrive at, but only one of them is actually in central London. Ironically, this airport, London City Airport, is rarely used by tourists, but is mostly used by business people as it is next door to one of London’s main financial centres.
Two of the airports try to hoodwink you in to thinking they’re in London by having ‘London’ in their name, but they’re not. London Luton airport is nearly 30 miles north of central London in a place called Luton, which is not in London. London Stansted Airport is more than 40 miles north east of central London. These two airports are used by the cheap airlines like EasyJet and Ryan Air, but fear not, there are easy ways to get in to central London from them, which I shall explain shortly.
Most people tend to fly in to Heathrow or Gatwick, which are by far the biggest and most frequently used airports servicing London, but I’ve also included London Southend Airport (again …not in London), which I’d never even heard of until I met someone on a walk who had used it.
Heathrow airport is 14 miles to the west of central London. Most of the American tourists I meet fly to Heathrow.
How do I get to central London from Heathrow Airport?
Train – The Heathrow Express leaves every 15 minutes to Paddington Station and takes 15 minutes (from Terminals 2 & 3) and 18 minutes from Terminal 5.
The cheapest adult ticket is about £25, so although it’s the quickest route to central London, it’s also the most expensive in terms of public transport. Note – Unless you’re staying right by Paddington station, you’ll still have to either navigate the Underground or jump in a cab to continue your journey.
Underground – Heathrow Airport has three of its own stops on the Piccadilly Line (dark blue) and heads straight in to central London. At just £3-5 this is by far the cheapest option, but also perhaps the longest. The journey between Heathrow and Green Park (in central London) will take about an hour, because you’ll also stop 19 times. At rush hour when Londoners are using it, it might get pretty packed, hot and uncomfortable. However, it’s how I always get to and from Heathrow Airport.
Note – Underground trains will often display the final station on the line to let you know where they’re heading. In this instance it’ll be ‘Cockfosters’ which obviously creates much amusement for first time visitors. Also as Heathrow is at the end (or beginning) of the line, you can’t go the wrong way. Bonus.
Taxi – The taxi option from any of the airports is appealing based on the fact that you just dump all your luggage in to the car, then sit there until you arrive at your destination. However, taxis from any airport will be expensive and you run the risk of getting stuck in traffic.
A taxi to central London from Heathrow Airport will cost anything between £50 and £100.
I just got a quote from a taxi firm for x3 people in a people carrier with x3 pieces of luggage and hand luggage and was quoted £93 one way from Heathrow to Trafalgar Square.
Gatwick airport is 29.5 miles south of central London.
How do I get to central London from Gatwick Airport?
Train – The Gatwick Express heads from Gatwick airport to Victoria station in central London every 15 minutes. The journey takes 30 minutes and an adult ticket will cost about £18.50.
However, there are many other regular trains that go the same way. Southern Trains have x4 services an hour and it takes 35 minutes. If you book in advance, a ticket will cost £12.50.
Thameslink and Great Northern Trains have regular services that go to London Bridge, London Blackfriars, Farringdon and St Pancras International; all in central London.
Taxi – Depends on traffic but the journey will take an hour upwards and prices will start at £60.
London Stansted Airport
London Stansted Airport is 42 miles north-east of central London.
How do I get to central London from London Stansted Airport?
Train – The Stansted Express runs every 30 minutes and the journey to Liverpool Street Station takes just under 50 minutes. You could pick up a one way ticket booked in advance for £9.70 but generally a single will be £20.70 and a return £30.70.
Top Tip – The Stansted Express stops at a number of stations en route. One of them, Tottenham Hale, is on the Victoria Line (on the London Underground) so depending on where you’re heading it might be quicker to jump off there.
Coach – National Express coaches run frequent services to central London. It takes about 1 hour to get to Stratford in east London and then you can get the Central Line (red) in to central London. A single ticket is £16.
Taxi – A people carrier in to central London will cost about £132.
London Luton Airport
London Luton Airport is 28 miles north of central London.
How do I get to central London from London Luton Airport?
Train – London Luton Airport doesn’t have its own train station so you’d need to first get a shuttle bus to take you to Luton Parkway Station which will take about 10 minutes.
From Luton Parkway Station trains in to central London take about 40 minutes and run every 10 minutes. A ticket will cost about £16.50.
Coach – The National Express service to Victoria Coach Station (in central London) runs 35 times a day. It takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes and will cost £12.
Taxi – A taxi will take at least 1 hour and 15 minutes and prices start at about £70.
London City Airport
London City Airport is approximately 8 miles east of central London.
How do I get to central London from London City Airport?
DLR – The DLR stands for Docklands Light Railway and is part of Transport For London’s rail network which includes the Underground. In about 30 minutes you’ll be at Bank Station in the City of London and will cost you less than £3.
Taxi – A taxi in to central London will take thirty minutes or so and cost £40 or more.
London Southend Airport
London Southend Airport is approximately 36 miles east of central London.
How do I get to central London from London Southend Airport?
Train – There is no express service from London Southend Airport but Greater Anglia Trains run regular trains in to Liverpool Street Station every 20 minutes. It takes just under an hour and tickets start at £19.
Taxi - I got a quote from a taxi firm for x3 people in a people carrier with x3 pieces of luggage and hand luggage and was quoted £129 one way from London Southend Airport to Trafalgar Square.
Please note – All the taxi fares and times given will differ depending on the company you use, the size of the car, the amount of people in your group and luggage and of course …the traffic.
All information and fares were correct (as to the best of my knowledge) at the date of posting.
I am a Tour Guide in London and give both private and group walks around the capital for first time visitors and seasoned Londoners alike. If you are visiting London and would like to do a tour with me, please get in touch.
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