London has a lot of airports. Well, there’s a lot if you’re like me and come from a city where they only have one and a half airports, if you count the one 2 hours south that you have to cross into another state and back again to get to it and really: who has the time?
Choosing your preferred and most convenient airport can be a bit of trial and error. It can be oh-so-tempting to get that cheap £30 return flight in and out of Luton, only to be slapped with a £30 3 hour train journey there and back. Really you should have got that £50 flight in and out of Gatwick and saved yourself the torture of going to Luton. (Spoiler alert: I hate Luton).
So I’ve compiled some information on all the airports, including general information about the best / easiest way to get there. This is based on my own mistakes and my own experiences of travelling to and from the airports from West London. I have also included more general information going to and from Central London so you East Londoners can get a better idea of what you’re in for.
The basic moral of this entire blog is not to rush into booking budget airfares! Check where you’re flying in and out of and add the costs of travelling there to your airfares. Chances are, those budget flights aren’t so budget anymore…
This post only covers Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, Stansted Airport, London City Airport and London Luton Airport. These are the only airports I have ever even seen flights available for, and I’d literally never heard of London Southend or London Biggin Hill before right this second, so I’m assuming they’re irrelevant.
All prices are current as of July 2017, and may have changed since time of publishing. Always double-check your personalised journey costs before travelling, and use the below as a general guide, rather than hard and fast confirmation of prices. I take no responsibility for variances in costs to your own journey.
London isn’t 24 hours —- yet!
Most London Underground (Tube) and National Rail services start at around 5am and finish at around midnight. Notable exclusions to this are the Night Tubes that run 24 hours a day on Friday and Saturday. These lines are the Victoria (light blue), Jubilee (grey) and most of the Central (red), Northern (black) and Piccadilly (royal blue) lines. If you’re travelling around or outside of these times, I can’t help you. You might need to look at Night Buses, minicab services, or miscellaneous ride-sharing services founded upon sexism and other illegal practices who shall not be named.
Railcards — hot tip!
For those of you living in the UK for awhile, if you’re between the ages of 16-25, you should take a look at the 16-25 Railcard. It costs £30 per year and provides discounts of up to a third off train tickets.
Over the age of 25, like me?
If you’re travelling with the same person regularly, whether they’re your best friend, your boyfriend or your sworn enemy, consider getting a Two Together Railcard. This is also £30 per year, that has both your faces printed on it, and provides discounts of up to a third off train tickets if you are travelling together.
Railcard discounts include National Rail services, Heathrow Express, Heathrow Connect, Gatwick Express, and Stansted Express, so it’s well worth it if you’re going to any of the airports frequently. None of the prices below take into account the Railcards, but you can test how it can save you money on either of the above websites. After just a couple of journey’s, the thing will have paid for itself.
I don’t like buses
Buses are unreliable, especially in London. I’ve told you before about how my ten-mile journey home from work can sometimes take 2.5 hours. I don’t like getting them when I’m not in a hurry and my nerves can’t take being on a bus with a deadline. Basically: I don’t catch buses to the airport because I don’t want to miss my flight while stuck in traffic. As such, I haven’t gone into a huge amount of detail on how to get buses to each airport. You can find out if buses are an option for you by perusing the coaches here or checking Citymapper to see if any buses local to you go there. Unless you live really near one of the airports though, I doubt they do.
Heathrow Airport is the largest and most famous airport in the UK (not fact checked, so sue me). It is ranked the sixth busiest airport in the world by total passenger traffic, with over 75 million passengers in 2016. They counted me at least thrice though, so take from that what you will.
Heathrow is located in the West London borough of Hillingdon, which is uncomfortably close to the borough I live in and also the borough I work in. Uncomfortable, because Heathrow is responsible for 2015-2016 Nitrogen Dioxide levels to rise in 9 out of the 12 monitors within 2 kilometres of the airport; in Hayes and Hillingdon, it remained in breach of EU limits. Yet – they’re still going ahead with building another runway there, so whatever, we’re all going to die anyway.
How do I get to Heathrow by Tube?
Heathrow is accessible by the Piccadilly line (the royal blue one) on the London Underground. Find your way to any Piccadilly line station and jump on any westbound train heading to Heathrow. Make sure you check though, because there are also westbound trains going to Uxbridge, and nobody wants to spend more time in Uxbridge than they have to.
Major Piccadilly line stations you may have heard of would be Kings Cross St Pancras, Piccadilly Circus and Earl’s Court. Depending on how many zones you’re travelling, this will cost maximum £5.10 if you’re using a contactless / oyster card.
If you’re already west of Acton Town (where the Piccadilly line forks for the two westbound arms), you can either jump on an eastbound train to Acton Town and then change to a westbound Heathrow one, or you know, just get a bus. Just plug it into your Citymapper app – all London buses cost a flat £1.50 so that’s a bargain way to get the airport. Airport buses can be a bit more, and you can find out more about that here.
How do I get to Heathrow by Train?
Alternatively, the Heathrow Express runs between Paddington station and Heathrow and takes like, 15 minutes. If you book your tickets 90 days in advance, and you’re travelling on a weekend, it can be as little as £5.50 one way. If you buy them at the airport then it can be £27 one way (don’t do that). Paddington is a great station, with connections to other National Rail services, buses and multiple Underground Stations, including Hammersmith & City (pink), Circle (yellow), Bakerloo (brown), and District (green) lines.
There are also general National Rail services to Heathrow, such as the Heathrow Connect service from Paddington, which calls at Ealing Broadway, West Ealing, Hanwell, Southall, and Hayes & Harlington. Your Oyster / contactless card will get you as far as Hayes & Harlington but isn’t valid all the way to Heathrow. You need to buy a ticket to Heathrow online or at the station. These start at £6.30, full details can be found here.
Remember to take into account the costs of travelling to Paddington or the Piccadilly line as well, on top of the above prices. Don’t forget there’s a daily cap on travel using an Oyster / contactless card, which may keep your prices down if you need to make a lot of changes.
For me as a West Londoner, this makes Heathrow the easiest and cheapest airport for me to get too. I am walking distance(ish) from a Zone 2 Piccadilly station, with contactless travel for Zone 2 to 6 coming in at as little £1.50 off peak. Unfortunately, not many of the budget airlines fly in and out of Heathrow, so it’s not often I get to take advantage of this! If you’re close to the Piccadilly line wherever you are in London, it’s a great choice price wise, but the underground can sometimes take it’s time (from end to end the Piccadilly line takes an hour and a half without delays).
Gatwick Airport is a dream airport and I’ll never hear a bad word against it. If you can have a favourite place where you stand in pointless queues for ages and have your privacy invaded by random security staff, then this is mine. Located south of London in the West Sussex borough of Crawley, it is the second busiest airport in the UK with an annual passenger traffic of over 43 million.
I like Gatwick because while it’s busy, it’s generally pretty fast through security, customs and passport control. There’s heaps of seating and a few restaurants and bars, so you can get a drink in before your flight (if you can afford to drink at an airport). There’s a decent selection of budget airlines that fly in and out of Gatwick, but initially it can still seem more expensive than Stansted and Luton. Don’t let it fool you though – Stansted is an expensive airport to travel to. But I’ll get to that later.
How do I get to Gatwick by Tube?
You will have to get the tube to a National Rail station and then find a train to take you to Gatwick.
How do I get to Gatwick by Train?
Gatwick is accessible by National Rail services – it is far outside the jurisdiction of the London Underground. National Rail services travel from a couple of different stations through to Gatwick: get the full map here. If you get on a Gatwick Express train from Victoria (not recommended) it’ll cost you at least £20, but it does only take 30 minutes: so if you’re in a rush, go right ahead. Instead, I recommend the following courses of action:
- From Victoria: pick any other train going South that isn’t the Gatwick Express but will call at Gatwick, such as a train to Brighton or Ore. Don’t let Citymapper fool you – it’ll try to tell you that the only / best option is to get on the Gatwick Express. If you click on this option and then scroll down it’ll pull up a list of other trains you can also get on. All of those trains also go to Gatwick and don’t cost £20. The most this journey has ever cost me is like £8.
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- From any other National Rail train station: Find a train that will take you to Victoria, Clapham Junction, East Croydon, Red Hill or Gatwick (obviously). You can jump on a Southbound train to Brighton (etc) from any of these stations.
Victoria train station is also a busy one, and can be accessed by National Rail on Southern, Southeastern or Thameslink trains. Underground lines include the Victoria (light blue), Circle (yellow) and District (green) lines. Travelling from Zone 2 (west) on the District Line, I leave about an hour and a half to get all the way to Gatwick, which isn’t awful and accounts for minor delays. All up, it’s about £9-10 one way, and the second cheapest / easiest option for West Londoners.
Stansted Airport is where we start getting to the proper budget airlines. Ryanair flies out of Stansted, and they’re renowned for their flash sales and bargain deals. Stansted is easily accessible from Central London, and these two factors combined make it really appealing for those weekend getaways. Just punch out a little early from work and you’re in Germany in time for dinner.
Stansted is located north-east of London near the Hertfordshire border. If you happen across the reviews of Stansted on Google you’ll see comments along the lines of “prices are good, but avoid at all costs”, and “the difference in price is paid for in parking fees”, which gives you a good insight into where I’m going with this. Stansted is the fourth busiest airport in the UK though, losing out third place to Manchester, and was used as a bomber airfield in the second world war. Not really relevant, but I love little historical tidbits like that.
How do I get to Stansted by Tube?
How do I get to Stansted by Train?
The Stansted Express leaves from London Liverpool St, calling at Tottenham Hale and operated by East Anglia trains. It is the only train that goes to Stansted. I’ve spent a lot of time researching this and I’d love to be proven wrong by someone, but it seems the only way to get to Stansted is by the Express, or by bus. We all know by now how I feel about buses.
Tickets start* at £16.60 one way, and £28 return, or there is a WebDuo Offer which is for two people travelling together, for £29 one way and £48 return. It’s easy to see how this can really affect the price of your budget airfares.
*As of right now, July 2017, Stansted Express is doing a deal on their website with tickets starting from £7 each way. There’s nothing on there about how long it will last or why it’s “limited availability” but here you go – snap them up!*
About the only time this starts to seem worth it, is when you qualify for a group offer, at £36 one way and £56 return. For four people, basic maths tell us that’ll be £9 each one way or £14 return. You still have to add the cost of getting to Liverpool St or Tottenham Hale on there as well. The Stansted Express takes about 50 minutes from Liverpool St, so for me that’s about a 2 hour journey.
Coaches start from £5, but can take up 100 minutes, leaving from a variety of stations such as Paddington, Liverpool St, Kings Cross and Victoria. If you’re on a serious budget, and you’ve got to fly out of Stansted, this might be your best option really.
London City Airport is located in the heart of London – the clue is in the name. The tiny airport has a single short 1500 metre long runway that is kind of terrifying when landing: most runways are usually at least 1829 metres long for context. I did it once coming in from Rome and it was the sharpest slam-on-the-brakes style taxi I’ve ever experienced. The plane then makes a sharp 180 degree turn to head back towards the terminal before letting you out. It’s a great airport though because it’s pretty easy to get to.
How do I get to City Airport by Tube?
There’s a DLR (Docklands Light Rail) station for London City Airport, which is just 20 minutes from Bank (where the DLR starts).
Hot tip: if you get the DLR, try to sit at the very front. It’s a driverless train that makes it feel a lot like a rollercoaster. It’s pretty cool.
You can get the Central line from either direction and change to the DLR at Bank. Bank is a bit of a running joke for Londoners since it’s a labyrinth of a station, but it’s well signed and you’ll find your way pretty easily so don’t be alarmed. All this for just the cost of a normal contactless / Oyster card journey: shouldn’t be more than £5 or so.
You can also connect to the DLR via the Jubilee line at Canning Street or straight from Stratford or Woolwich Arsenal – all depending on where you are in London. A full map for the DLR is available here if you want more information.
Only a handful of airlines fly in and out of City though, and they can be pricey. If you can get a bargain though, I think it’s well worth it.
How do I get to City Airport by Train?
Just get the National Rail to a Tube station that connects with one of the above options.
London Luton is the last airport I’m going to talk about, and I’ve saved the worst for last. In my year of being in London I’ve yet to hear anyone have anything nice to say about Luton. Then again, I live and work in the west, so presumably people in the North feel a bit differently about it. For some reason, it’s just not straightforward to get to anywhere in North London from here. I’ve actually heard friends joke that people are dead to them once they move to Stoke Newington. Also, Luton only has 2.5 stars on Google, coming in well behind Stansted with 3.1. Also, I’m forever astonished by people who take the time to give airports star ratings on Google; but then again I’ve written like 3000 words on the matter.
Irrelevant chit-chat aside, as I said Luton is also located north of London, like Stansted. It’s found near Bedfordshire and is astonishingly the fifth busiest airport in the UK – what are all the other airports in the UK even doing?
Admittedly, we effed up pretty bad when we were returning from Amsterdam into Luton. Neither of us had been to Luton before as we’d flown out of Gatwick. After looking it up on Citymapper, I came to the conclusion that we could get there and back easily enough using Oyster / contactless. This is because it looks like you can, as the route options appear similar to getting to Gatwick. The difference is that while Citymapper tells you that the Gatwick Express is the only option when it isn’t, it actually is in Luton’s case.
How do I get to Luton by Tube?
How do I get to Luton by train?
The train to Luton starts at around £12 one way (but there’s no way to know until you search for them), and that’s the entirety of the options you have. It doesn’t matter if you buy them in advance or on the day, that’s just how much it is or more. For me, from West London, it starts at closer to £15 and I’ve seen it be as much as £20. So for me and my boyfriend to get there and back, that’s at least £60 down the drain. After a loose weekend celebrating being back together again after 6 months apart, my boyfriend and I really didn’t enjoy forking out £30 to get home. Because they don’t have set prices, I can’t give you much of a better idea than that. Basically you can search for your trains and prices here. Just make sure you do it before you book your flights!
What do you think? Do you know any better ways of getting to the London airports? Tell me in the comments below.
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