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ARRIVING IN LONDON BY AIR
Arrival into London by air will bring you into one of six airports which are designated a London airport: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City , Southend or Luton. Most travellers will arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick, the two major international airports. Please allow extra time to go through security and customs at the airports. There are long queues at passport control, but once you have cleared this area, it is fairly easy and quick to reach the baggage hall. Most times of the day it takes around 40-60minutes to clear customs and collect luggage.
HEATHROW AIRPORT (LHR).
Heathrow Airport is the UK's biggest and busiest airport with flights to just about anywhere in the world with major carriers. It has five terminals, Terminals 1/2/3 in the central area while T4 and T5 are at separate parts of the periphery. Heathrow is well connected with good transport links, but it is so big, it can be quite daunting. Check out the Heathrow Airport website before you travel. BAA (British Airports Authority) has recently launched a Twitter account, twitter.com/heathrowairport, which is manned by Heathrow staff who will give you advice whilst you are on the move.
Travelling to and from Heathrow Airport. Heathrow is well connected and has various forms of transportation. Choice of connections to and from Heathrow include Express trains(very expemsive), the Underground(Tube) and local buses and national coach/bus services, Private Hire Licensed Car Services(also called Minicabs and must be prebooked) and London Taxi ranks. Some services have to be pre-booked, some services can be sought at the airport and some services offer both options, often saving you money if pre-booked. Check before travelling.
Heathrow by Train/Railway.
The Express trains from Heathrow are privately operated by the Airport owner and not part of the London travel-cards or Oyster scheme. The Heathrow Express rail service is known as the most expensive passenger rail route in the world, mile-per-mile.
Heathrow by Road: Taxis, Private Hire(Minicabs) and Coaches..
GATWICK AIRPORT (LGW).
Gatwick Airport is the second busiest UK airport, mainly aimed at leisure travellers. Gatwick has two terminals, North and South linked by a free monorail (shuttle). Gatwick has a good website with lots of useful information.
Travelling to and from Gatwick Airport.
Gatwick is actually located to the south of London, halfway between the city and Brighton on the coast, and is too far out to have an Underground(Tube) connection. Railway & Road links at Gatwick are good though.
Gatwick by Train/Railway.
Gatwick railway station is immediately adjacent to the South Terminal at Gatwick Airport. If leaving/arriving at the North Terminal take the free rail shuttle. Trains from Gatwick to London run to London Victoria station via Clapham Junction, and to Bedford calling at Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon and St Pancras (among others).
Gatwick Road: Taxis, Private Hire(Minicabs) and Coaches.
The train is the fastest route to Central London. If considering a taxi, pre-booked minicab or coach into London, note that the road journey to central London can be slow, on a weekday morning rush-hour it can possibly take three times as long as the journey by train. However if you are going somewhere not conveniently closeby a mainline (overground) station, you may need to continue your journey by taxis or underground. This will obviously incur more time/effort.
STANSTED AIRPORT (STN).
Stansted Airport, to the north of London, is used primarily used by charter and low-cost airlines, with mostly short-haul European destinations. Although it has just one terminal, it is the UK's third busiest airport, although it tends to exchange positions regularly with Manchester Airport. Stansted has a good website full of useful information about travelling to and from the airport.
Travelling to and from Stansted Airport.
Stansted is located to the North East of London, halfway between the cities of London and Cambridge, and is too far out to have an Underground(Tube) connection. Railway & Road links at Stansted are very good though.
Stansted by Train/Railway.
Stansted railway station is immediately below the terminal at Stansted and easily accessed. Stansted connects directly with London Liverpool Street to the East of London City, and other UK destinations.
Stansted by Road: Taxis, Private Hire(Minicabs) and Coaches.
Although the train is often considered the best & fastest route to Central London, a pre-booked minicab or taxi could also be considered as they go door to door and save loads of time and effort trying to work out interchanges and routes.
LONDON CITY AIRPORT (LCY)
London City airport is a small airport serving major European destinations, located a few miles east of Canary Wharf (home to many investment banks).
London City Airport by Train/Railway.
London City airport is served by the Docklands Light Railway, which feeds into the tube network and is easily accessed. The DLR connects directly to the City of London, and you can then take the Underground to other London destinations such as Westminster etc.
London City Airport by Road: Taxis, Private Hire(Minicabs) and Coaches.
LUTON AIRPORT (LTN)
Luton is located to the north of London in the City of Luton and is used primarily by charter and low-cost airlines, servicing mostly short-haul European destinations. Trains stop short of the airport and a futher bus ride is necessary. It is not well served by local roads, and there are constant delays getting into the airport whichever way you decide to travel! Give extra time for a journey to this airport!
Luton by Train/Railway.
The confusingly named 'Luton Airport Parkway' station is located a bus ride from the airport (£1.50 single, every 10 minutes). Trains from here are on the Bedford -Brighton line (via Gatwick Airport), and stop at St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, and London Bridge in central London. Fares are lower at weekends; consider buying a travel-card off-peak.
Luton by Road: Taxis, Private Hire(Minicabs) and Coaches.
Although the train is often considered the best & fastest route to Central London, here at Luton it is not. A pre-booked minicab or taxi is the fastest way to & from Luton as they go directly from the airport to your door and save loads of time and effort trying to work out interchanges and routes.
Southend airport is situated about 40 miles east of London in the Essex district of Rochford. It has its own station on the Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria line. Be aware the service does not run to connect with early/late departures/arrivals at the airport. There is a train every 20 minutes, and the walk up off peak fare is £15.80 at 2015 prices. The X30 bus runs to Chelmsford and Stanstred Airport.
Taxis will be expensive because of the large distance involved. See TripAdvisor Article.
GENERAL TRANSPORT ADVICE.
Taxis & Private Transfer Safety Advice:
Never take the offer of a Taxi or Minicab transfer from anyone stating they are a Taxi or Minicab inside a UK airport. (Even if they have a badge!) Many touts operate in London Airports, particularly at Heathrow. They are often illegal, non-licensed and unsafe vehicles driven by unskilled and unsafe drivers. Many unlicensed 'taxis' are operated by criminal gangs, fares often rise by the time you reach your destination (if you aren't stopped by the police terminating your ride on the way) and it is not unknown for individual passengers to be assaulted.
Any taxi driver, licensed or not, approaching you to offer a ride at any UK airport immediately invalidates their insurance and licensee (if they have either) and your holiday insurance too! Just say 'no, thanks').
Be Safe, Be Sure! There are two ways of hiring a car transfer from UK airports... Book in advance (on-line or by telephone) with a licensed private car transfer or taxi company. Check any website you book through has a physical contact address and license number showing). If you are already at the airport, take a Licensed Taxi from an authorised rank or office at the airport. If you want a private car go to the Airport Information desk for a list of licensed car companies or go on-line/directory enquiries and find a telephone number.
If in doubt go to the Airport Information Desk available in all UK airport terminals for advise.
It is worth shopping around for your parking around the airports. Even though some parking seems more expensive, check out where the car park actually is. If using a BAA airport - Heathrow, Stansted, (also Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Southampton) - you may pay more marginally more by booking on the BAA Airport website, but the car park and on-airport and therefore saves you hassle and time transferring between car park and terminal. You can often get a good deal by booking an airport lounge at the same time.
Purple Parking offers parking at a wide selection of UK airports. Unfortunately it is off-airport parking (but you do get a free shuttle bus to and from the airport), and they also offer 'chauffeur' service where they can drop and pick you up outside terminal building).
Car Hire/Car Rental
Another way to get from the airports to London is through car hire ( North American term: rental car.) . But mind, driving around London can be a hellish experience, especially during "rush hour", the daily morning and afternoon commutes that, despite their name, tend to last from about 07.00 to 09.00 and 17.00 to 19.00. Car hire in the UK is expensive, but all the major rental companies operate from the airports, though most travellers will find they have no use for a car in central London. Only consider hiring a car if you're planning to visit more rural areas. Also remember that if you rent a car, you are responsible for paying the congestion charge, £10 per day, to drive into central London. Parking is also very costly.
International train travel
Eurostar is the only high speed international train service operating between the UK and France/Belgium. Journey times are currently approximately 2hrs from central London to central Paris, and 2hrs to central Brussels. Onward connections are available throughout Europe. If you are landing at one of London's airports, it's generally better to connect via plane to Paris or Brussels than to make the complicated journey to St Pancras for the Eurostar. However if you are staying a few days in central London first, the Eurostar will be a better choice than the plane.
Domestic train travel
King’s Cross, Victoria, Waterloo, Paddington and Euston stations are just a few of the main terminals for train travel, and all connect to the Underground and buses. If you get lost, there are maps galore in all the Underground stations and you can always ask one of the knowledgeable staff members who patrol the stations.
Train times from London airports: