Due to London's huge global city status it is the most served destination in the world when it comes to flights.
London (all airports code: LON) is served by a total of five airports. Travelling between the city and the airports is made relatively easy by the large number of public transport links that have been put in place over recent years. However, if transiting through London, be sure to check the arrival and departure airports carefully as transfers across the city may be quite time consuming. In addition to London's five official airports (of which only two are located within Greater London), there are a number of other regional UK airports conveniently accessible from London. Since they offer a growing number of budget flights, choosing those airports can be cheaper (or even faster, depending on where in London your destination is).
For transfers directly between London's airports, the fastest way (short of an expensive taxi or private helicopter) is the direct inter-airport coach service by National Express. Coaches between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton run at least hourly, with Heathrow-Gatwick services taking 65 min (£18) and Heathrow-Stansted services 90 min (£20.50) (services between Stansted and Luton run only every two hours). However, it's essential to allow leeway, as London's motorways, especially the orbital M25 and the M1, are often congested to the point of gridlock. Some of these coaches have toilets on board.
Heathrow is London and Europe's largest airport and the world's busiest airport in terms of international passenger movements, with services available from most major airports world-wide. Currently, four of the five terminals are operational - T2 is closed until 2014 for redevelopment. Flights landing at Heathrow are often delayed by up to an hour as a simple result of air traffic congestion and waiting for parking slots. To complicate the matter, airlines that fly into Heathrow are currently playing a system-wide game of musical chairs as gate assignments are cycled through the new terminal, making it even more necessary for travellers to check their terminal and gate assignment in advance. Do plan your itinerary to allocate some time needed to get through Heathrow Airport T3, it can be long if you are not holding a UK / EU passport. See our separate Heathrow Airport article, but here's a quick summary of transport options:
Fastest: by Heathrow Express railPhone: +44 845 600 1515Hours: Every 15 min, journey time 15 minPrice: One way, adult prices: 18 (if purchased online or from ticket machine/office) and 23, when purchased onboard; round trip is 34Travelcard & Oyster card not valid. These train lines terminate at London Paddington which for most people will require a tube, bus, or cab ride to their final destination. Despite the Heathrow Express & Connect's speed, they are often not the fastest way to a final destination in London. Second fastest: by Heathrow Connect railArriva HotelPhone: +44 845 678 6975Price: One way 9.10, round trip 17.80Travelcard & Oyster card not valid to Heathrow. Does not serve Terminal 5. Follows same route as Heathrow Express but stops at several intermediate stations to London Paddington so journey is 25 minutes and trains less frequent. Unlike Heathrow Express trains, the Heathrow Connect trains are poorly marked both at the airport and at Paddington. Ask a Heathrow Express attendant how to get to the train from the airport. For the return trip, Heathrow Connect leaves from Paddington Platform 12. Cheapest: by London Underground (Piccadilly line)Phone: +44 845 330 9880Hours: Every few minutes, journey time approximately 1 hour, however this depends on your destinationPrice: With Oyster one way 2.90 (off-peak) to 4.80 (peak)For the cheapest single fare ask for an Oyster card (5 refundable deposit). Zone 1-6 Travelcard valid. The first train leaves at 05:14 and the last train leaves for central London at 23:46 (Monday to Saturday). When travelling from central London to the airport check your destination carefully - some trains don't go to the airport and those that do go have 2 distinct routes. During the day trains are at least every 10 minutes and usually more frequent. Be aware that weekend engineering works can result in replacement buses being run in place of the trains - check with the TFL website beforehand.
Bus N9 operates service from midnight-05:00 between Heathrow and Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, roughly following the Piccadilly Line into Central London. Buses depart every 20 minutes and take about 1 hour 15 minutes to reach central London.
TaxiA taxi from Heathrow to central London will cost 45-60. You may wish to consider taking a taxi if you have a lot of baggage or small children. Alternatively catch public transport into the city centre and then catch a taxi. There are two types of taxis: Black cabs (these can be hailed on a street or at a taxi rank) and licensed mini cabs (these are typically cheaper - but must be booked in advance over the phone or on the web). There are over 1000 minicab companies in London.
Pre-booked Mini CabA pre-booked sedan transfer from Heathrow to central London will cost 39-44. This an excellent and cheaper alternative to a black cab. The big advantage is the fixed fare, regardless of traffic conditions or route. There are dozens of companies serving Heathrow, just google 'heathrow minicab'. Once booked, the driver will be waiting for you with a sign bearing your name in the arrivals area. Tipping when using minicabs is not required, although is certainly welcome.
Also: to South LondonPhone: +44 845 748 4950Price: 2 singleBus 285 (or taxi) to Feltham railway station (20 minutes) then a train to London Waterloo on the South Bank or Clapham Junction in South West London. Furthermore, bus X26 (limited stop) is an express route stopping in three of South London's district centres: Kingston, Sutton and Croydon. Zone 1-6 Travelcard valid on all London buses and trains.
Airport Parking. Heathrow Terminal 5 Parking.
London's second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. It is the world's busiest single runway airport and is split into a North and South Terminal. The two terminals are linked by a free shuttle train (5 minutes). The train station is located in the South Terminal. To get to the centre of the city, the following options exist:
By rail: First Capital ConnectPhone: +44 871 200 2233Price: Much cheaper than Gatwick Express - about 10 (they occasionally have advance tickets priced at half that)To London Bridge, Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras International, Luton Airport and further north. By bus: easyBusHours: Every 15-20 min, journey time 60-90 minPrice: One way prices start from 2. Book online.To Earl's Court/West Brompton. By bus: National ExpressHours: Every 30 min, journey time 75-110 minPrice: One way prices start from 7. Book onlineTo London Victoria. By cycleThere is a long-distance cycle path into Central London, but as it involves an indirect route, going over the North Downs and through South-East London, it will likely be quite a ride. For adventurous people.
When departing, no drinking fountains are to be found in the South Terminal departure lounge after passing through security.
Stansted is London's third airport, and is dominated by the two low-cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair.
Transport options into central London:
By coach: National ExpressPhone: +44 870 580 8080Hours: Every 15-30 min. Journey time to Stratford: 1 hour. To Victoria: 90 minPrice: To Stratford: 8 single, 14 return. To Victoria: 10 single, 16 return. Travelcards not validTo Stratford (tube: Stratford) or Victoria (tube: Victoria). Folding bicycles only. By coach: TerravisionPhone: +44 1279 680028Hours: Every 30 minPrice: To Liverpool Street: 8 single, 14 return. To Victoria: 9 single, 15 return. To Stratford: 6 single, 11 return. Travelcards not validTo Liverpool Street tube, Victoria tube or Stratford. By minibus: EasyBusPrice: From 2 (advance web purchase) to 8 single. Travelcard not valid.To Baker Street (tube: Baker Street) By taxiPhone: +44 20 8577 0009Hours: Journey time 90-120 minPrice: approx 70The airport is a long way from central London. It's normally a better idea to take a train to Liverpool Street and continue by taxi from there.
London Luton Airport is London's fourth airport after Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. It's nearer to central London than the latter two airports at 35 mi (57 km) north of central London and situated 1.7 mi (2.8 km) east of Luton town centre. It's a major hub for easyJet, Ryanair, Wizzair, Thomson Airways and Monarch Airlines. The vast majority of routes served are within Europe, although there are some charter and scheduled routes to destinations in Northern Africa and Asia.
Except for the City Airport, Luton Airport is the smallest of the London international airports, but still a major hub for many low-cost airlines and over 10 million passengers fly through the airport each year. It has the same facilities as the other major airports and also, like Stansted, it is commonplace for some passengers on early morning flights to sleep in the terminal before their flights. There can be heavy traffic congestion on the access road caused by the surge of early flights. The Parkway Airport station, which serves the terminal, is about 20 minutes walk back into town, although there is a regular shuttle bus charging £1.50 to take you to the station. If your train ticket says Luton Airport (rather than Luton Airport Parkway), then the bus ride is included in the ticket.
The airport is a major hub for easyJet, Ryanair, Wizzair, Thomson Airways and Monarch Airlines, with other airlines also serving the airport like Aer Arann, FlyBE and El Al, to cities primarily in Scotland, Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean Basin. If leaving on a morning flight (departing between 0700-0830), it is advisable to leave extra time to check in and clear security due to the large number of flights leaving (particularly Wizzair).
By railHours: Journey time: 20-55 minPrice: 12.50 one way. Travelcard not valid
The airport has its own railway station "Luton Airport Parkway", served by trains 24 hours a day from Central London using "First Capital Connect Trains" from St Pancras International. There are up to 10 trains an hour, depending on the time of day. All trains go to London St Pancras International, but many also continue on to Blackfriars, London Bridge and Elephant & Castle, Gatwick Airport and Brighton. The station is nearly 2 km (1 mi) from the terminal building, a shuttle bus service connects the terminal and airport every 10 minutes, costing £1.50 each way. At rush hour times, this journey can take up to 25 minutes.
By coach: Green Line number 757Phone: +44 844 801 7261Hours: Every 20 min, journey time 90 minPrice: Travelcard not validTo Victoria (tube: Victoria) via Brent Cross, Finchley Rd tube station, Baker St, Marble Arch and Hyde Park Corner. 14 one way if bought from the driver, tickets can be purchased in-advance online from 2. Service is run by Greenline and in conjunction with easyBus (but can be used by all travellers regardless of airline you travel with).
By car60 km (34 mi) north of London, just off the M1 motorway which connects London with the Midlands and the North of England. Depending on where you are travelling from in London and time of day, journey times take 45-90 mins. Road users should plan their journey and check traffic conditions, as if an incident occurs on London's busy roads, journey times can dramatically increase. It costs 2 to stay in the "drop off zone" for a maximum of 10 minutes (non-extendable without penalty). There is also a short stay car park nearby. The "Medium stay" car park allows a short period of free parking (30 minutes), so passengers may be left here to catch the shuttle bus to the airport and collected, if the arrival time is known with certainty. No parking or drop-off is permitted at any other roadside locations - this is enforced by cameras and "parking charges" of 80 (40 if paid promptly).
London City Airport
London City Airport is London's fifth airport after Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. A commuter airport close to the City's financial district, and specialising in short-haul business flights to other major European cities. There are also growing numbers of routes to holiday destinations that include Malaga, Ibiza and Mallorca.
The airport is located on a former Docklands site in the London Borough of Newham, some 11 km / 6.9 miles east of the City of London and a short distance from Canary Wharf. It mainly offers flights to major European cities by full service carriers. British Airways operates two services a day to New York JFK on weekdays and a daily service on weekends using an Airbus A318 in an entirely business class configuration.
Not as expensive to fly into than it used to be, and you may indeed find that in some instances this may be your cheapest London airport to fly to. This doesn't take into account the cost savings of not coming from the distant larger London airports with £10+ transfer costs. Then there is the added bonus is that it is close to central London with its convenient link to the DLR. Minimum check in times for most airlines is around 30 minutes, with some offering 15 minute check in deadlines. Queues for security can be long at peak business times. Touchdown to the DLR (including taxi, disembarkation, immigration and baggage reclaim) can be as fast at 5 minutes, although 15 minutes is normal.
To get to the city centre the following options exist:
By Docklands Light Railway (DLR)Price: Travelcard validSee also: Get around. The DLR runs to Bank station. There is a convenient change to the Jubilee line at Canning Town.
By taxiHours: Journey time approximately 30 minPrice: 20-35
By busPrice: Travelcard validTake the 474 bus to Canning Town station and then the 115 or N15 into central London. See also: Get around.
Other airports near London
, a journey time of 55-65 min. Travelcard not valid. The airport has its own railway station "Southend Airport", and is served from Liverpool Street, via Stratford
by trains 17 hours a day. There are up to 8 trains an hour, depending on the time of day. The station is approximately 200m from the terminal building.
London Ashford Airport, also known as Lydd Airport has rather seasonal, limited services and is used primarily for businessmen.
Southampton AirportPhone: +44 870 040 0009Hours: Every 30 min, journey time 1 hourPrice: 30-35 round trip(IATA: SOU, ICAO: EGHI) is not officially a London airport, though accessible enough to conveniently serve the capital, especially South West London. A couple of budget carriers serving an increasing number of European destinations are based here. Direct trains connect Southampton airport to London Waterloo station. Bournemouth Airport
similarly operates a couple of Ryanair flight among others, and is not too far west on the train line from Southampton.
Birmingham International AirportPhone: +44 870 733 5511Hours: Every 20 min, journey time 72 min with Virgin TrainsPrice: From 10 (advance web purchase) one way, 35-100 round trip(IATA: BHX, ICAO: EGBB) is another non-London airport worth considering as a less congested and hectic alternative to Heathrow, being just over an hour away from London. As a major airport serving the UK's second largest city, there is a good choice of long distance and European destinations. Direct trains connect Birmingham International to London Euston and Watford. The train station is connected to the terminal via a free shuttle train (2 minutes).
Other small airports, such as Oxford Airport can also be useful. Kent International Airport and Shoreham Airport (near Brighton) are similarly small. Biggin Hill in Bromley borough had a rejected licence bid in 2010 for commercial flights for the Olympics but may receive one in the near future.
Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
London is the hub of the British rail network - every major city in mainland Britain has a frequent train service to the capital, and most of the smaller, provincial cities and large towns also have a direct rail connection to London of some sort - although the frequency and quality of service can vary considerably from place to place.
Rail fares to London vary enormously from very cheap to prohibitively expensive - the golden rules are to book Advance tickets for a particular train time, don't travel into the city on Friday afternoons and Sundays, and avoid buying tickets on the day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket, which are summarised below. Note that much of the advice applies to rail travel in general within the United Kingdom.
ANYTIME - travel on any train, any operator at any time, returning within one month with few restrictions. Very expensive however - on a long distance journey from Northern England or Scotland for example - an Anytime return ticket to London won't leave you with any change out of £250!
OFF-PEAK - travel on certain trains within a specific time-frame; again returning within one month. Typically this excludes anything that arrives into London during the morning rush hour (before 10:00 typically), or any train which departs during evening rush hour (16:30-18:30). Weekends generally carry no restrictions on the use of Off-Peak tickets. There are however, a monumentally complex number of exceptions for which Off-Peak tickets are and aren't valid which are barely fathomable to the British, never mind overseas visitors. If you are in any doubt at all about the validity of an Off-Peak ticket, ask a guard at the station or a ticket office BEFORE getting on a train - as on-train conductors can be notoriously unforgiving.
ADVANCE - travel on a specific day and train time, booked up to 12 weeks in advance either in person at a railway station, over the telephone, or online. Two Advance single tickets for the outward and return legs of the journey are generally cheaper than the Off-Peak return ticket. Better deals can often be had by going directly to the train operator's website. The earlier you book, the more you save - you can get down to as little as £12.00 one-way from Scotland for example, but these tickets are non-refundable, and cannot be used on anything other than the date, train time and operator that is printed on the reservation. Go on any other train and get caught and you will be obliged to pay the Anytime fare for the journey you are making - which, as we've said before, is hideously expensive!
The local and commuter rail companies within the London and Home Counties area also have a bewildering array of special fares which are all in essence, variations of the Off-Peak ticket and are far too detailed to cover here, go directly to the website of the operator concerned for more information. Note that if you only intend to use trains within the Greater London boundary, then the Oyster Card (explained below) is by far the easiest and cheapest option to use.
Seats can be reserved for free on all long-distance trains to London - the reservation is always issued automatically with an Advance ticket, and with most Off-Peak and Anytime tickets bought on-line. If, for whatever reason you hold an Anytime or Off-Peak ticket and there is no seat reservation coupon, then it is highly recommended you get one from any railway station ticket office - if you want to avoid camping out in the vestibule for all or part of the journey!! First Class is available on all long distance services to London, the standard of service varies from operator to operator, but in general you get a wider, more comfortable seat, free tea/coffee for the duration of the journey, and some sort of complimentary catering service. If can be great value if you get an Advance first-class fare, but it is extremely expensive otherwise, and to be honest - not really worth it. You can pay a Weekend supplement (generally £15-£20) to sit in the first class section of the train on Saturdays and Sundays, - useful if the service you are on is hideously overcrowded - but you don't get the same catering service as during the week.
If you are the holder of a Britrail pass, things are simpler - but remember you still have to make a seat reservation for the train you intend to travel on - otherwise you run the risk of standing for the journey! If you intend to use the overnight Sleeper trains to London, you will have to pay a berth supplement for every member of your party - provided there is berth availability on the train.
London has one international high speed rail route (operated by Eurostar 0870 518 6186 ) from Paris (2hr 15min) and Brussels (1hr 50 min) diving under the sea for 35 km (22 mi) via the Channel Tunnel to come out in England. It terminates at Saint Pancras International Station. For domestic train services, there are no fewer than 12 main line National Rail terminals (although in conversation you may hear the brand National Rail infrequently if ever it differentiates main line and London Underground services; journey planner on-line or phone 0845 748 49 50). With the exception of Fenchurch Street (tube: Tower Hill) these are on the London Underground. Most are on the circle line. Clockwise starting at Paddington, major National Rail stations are:
, serves some north western suburban stations such as Amersham
, Harrow on the Hill and Wembley Stadium. Also serves Aylesbury
, High Wycombe
and the city of Birmingham
. It is much cheaper but slightly slower to take a train from Marylebone to Birmingham instead of a train from London Euston.
St Pancras International
, serves Paris, Brussels, Lille
, as well as Luton Airport, Bedford, Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Catford
several destinations in Kent
and the East Midlands
London Moorgate, serves some northern suburbs.
London Liverpool Street
, serves East Anglia
. Also the Central London terminus of the Stansted Airport Express.
London Fenchurch Street
, serves commuter towns north of the Thames estuary to Southend
London Blackfriars, serves Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
, serves south east London and England: Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne
. Also the Central London terminus of the Gatwick Airport Express.
In South London many areas have only National Rail services (no London Underground services but there are buses). London Bridge, Victoria, Cannon St and Charing Cross serve the South East. London Waterloo serves the South West. First Capital Connect (frequently referred to as Thameslink) is a cross London route between Bedford and Brighton via Luton Airport (Parkway), Saint Pancras International, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, London Bridge and Gatwick Airport.
Most international and domestic long distance bus (UK English: coach) services arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster close to London Victoria rail station. All services operated by National Express or Eurolines (see below) serve Victoria Coach Station, which actually has separate arrival and departure buildings. Services by other operators may use this station, or the Green Line Coach Station across Buckingham Palace Road. The following are among the main coach operators:
National ExpressPhone: +44 870 580 8080is by far the largest domestic coach operator and operates services to / from London from throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Advance ticketing is usually required and recommended practice in any case. Fares are low - especially when booked in advance via the web. A few journeys are fast but most are notably slower than using the train. MegabusPhone: +44 900 160 0900 (premium rate)operates budget coach services from/to London (Victoria Coach Station) to/from several major regional cities, it is even possible to get to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. Also offers service to continental Europe including Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Fares are demand responsive but can be very cheap (1.50 if you book far enough in advance). Megabus also offer a Sleeper service to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
London is the hub of the UK's road network and is easy to reach by car, even if driving into the centre of the city is definitely not recommended. Greater London is encircled by the M25 orbital motorway, from which nearly all the major trunk routes to Scotland, Wales and the rest of England radiate. The most important are listed below.
M1: The main route to/from the North, leading from the East Midlands, Yorkshire and terminating at Leeds. Most importantly, Britain's longest motorway - the M6, branches from the M1 at Rugby, leading to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District and onwards to the Scottish border, and ultimately Glasgow.
A1/A1(M) The A1 is the original, historic "Great North Road" between England and Scotland's capital cities and has largely been converted to motorway standard; it runs up the eastern side of Great Britain through Peterborough, York, Newcastle and continues north through Northumberland and the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh.
M40/A40: Arrives in London from a north westerly direction, linking the city with Oxford and providing an additional link from Birmingham.
M4: The principal route to/from the West - leading to Bath, Bristol and cities South Wales (Cardiff and Swansea). It is also the main route towards Heathrow Airport.
M3: The main route to London from the shipping port of Southampton.
M2/M20: Together, these motorways are the main link to the coastal ferry (and Channel Tunnel) ports of Dover and Folkestone from Continental Europe.
M11: The M11 connects Stansted Airport and Cambridge to London, and it terminates on the north eastern periphery of the city.
In addition to the M25, here are two inner ring roads in London which skirt the central area:
A406/A205 North Circular/South Circular The North Circular is a half circle on the North of the Thames, and is mostly a dual carriageway. It has direct connections with the M4, M40, M1 and M11 motorways and can be useful if you want to quickly get around the northern suburbs of the city. The corresponding South Circular is really a local road which is made up of segments of main suburban thoroughfares. The two roads are connected at the east end of the circle in North Woolwich/Woolwich Arsenal by the Woolwich Free Ferry, which runs approx. every 10–15 minutes and is free of charge, although it can only carry a limited amount of vehicles so avoid during busy periods as the queues can be very long! The ferry stops running after 10pm, so it's advisable to travel through the Docklands and use the Blackwall Tunnel instead.
Comparatively few people will actually drive into (or anywhere near) the centre of London. The infamous M25 ring road did not earn its irreverent nicknames "The Road To Hell" and "Britain's biggest car park" for nothing. The road is heavily congested at most times of the day, and is littered with automatically variable speed limits which are enforced with speed cameras. Despite the controversial "congestion charge", driving a car anywhere near the centre of London remains a nightmare with crowded roads, impatient drivers and extortionate parking charges (that's if you can find a space in the first place, that is!). From Monday through Friday, parking in the City of London is free after 18:30; after 13:30 on Saturday and all day Sunday.
There are also a number of Pay as you go car rental companies operating around London including WhizzGo and Car Clubs