A Guide to Airports in London

An airplane lands at an airport with Canary Wharf in the background

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There are five major airports in London: London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London City, London Luton, and London Stansted. 

Travelers flying direct from the US on major airlines will most often fly into Heathrow, though some lower-costs transatlantic carriers such as Norwegian now fly into Gatwick. Both Heathrow and Gatwick are located outside of London but they’re conveniently linked to London via direct, dedicated airline trains (the Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express, respectively).

London Stansted is the third-largest airport but like Luton, it’s popular with budget airlines that mainly serve Europe. Both Luton and Stansted are located outside of London and linked to public transportation, though Stansted is better linked with the Stansted Express train.

London City is set within the city limits but offers minimal flights, usually only to domestic or short-haul destinations. Here’s what you need to know about each of the five airports.

London Heathrow Airport

  • Location: 15 miles west of central London
  • Best If: You’re staying in central London or near Paddington Station, as there are nonstop direct trains to the airport via the Heathrow Express
  • Avoid If: n/a
  • Distance to Houses of Parliament (Big Ben): Heathrow is about an hour’s drive to central London, which in a licensed black cab would cost about £80. There are several public transportation options including the Heathrow Express, a non-stop train running directly into London’s Paddington; the London Underground’s Piccadilly line; TfL Rail; coach buses; and ride-share apps like Uber.

    London Heathrow (LHR) is London’s largest and busiest airport, as well as one of the busiest airports in the world, which means you can expect long lines at immigration. Most direct flights from the US land at Heathrow, and there are five total terminals (through Terminal 1 is not in use). There are many ways to get from Heathrow into London, and what you choose will largely be determined by where you’re staying. Here are the key options:

    Heathrow Express is usually the fastest way into London, as it runs non-stop trains into Paddington Station every 15 minutes. The journey time is 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 3, and about 10 minutes more from Terminals 4 or 5. The Express Saver single fare is around £25. 

    London Underground is the most affordable rail route to London, and Piccadilly line trains run from all terminals and will get you into London in around an hour for about £6.

    TfL (Transport for London) Rail’s service runs several trains into London as well, though these are not direct.

    Coach buses run all day into Victoria Station, which makes them a good option if you’re arriving very late when the trains and Underground aren’t running. Coaches are very affordable starting at just a few pounds, but journeys are often very long and subject to terrible traffic.

    Licensed black cabs are available at Heathrow, as are Ubers, which is always the more affordable option, though there may be a wait for an Uber. Costs are very much dependent on where you’re going, but expect to pay around £80 for a black cab.

    London Gatwick Airport

    • Location: 30 miles south of central London
    • Best If: You’re staying south of London or near Victoria Station, as there are nonstop direct trains to the airport via the Gatwick Express
    • Avoid If: You’re staying north of London
    • Distance to Houses of Parliament (Big Ben): Gatwick is about an hour-and-a-half drive to central London, which in a taxi would cost about £100. There are several public transportation options including the Gatwick Express, a non-stop train running directly into London’s Victoria Station; trains; coach buses; and ride-share apps like Uber.

      London Gatwick (LGW) is London’s second busiest airport, though most US and major carriers do not fly direct into Gatwick. There are two terminals, North and South, and there are many ways to get from Gatwick into London, but here are the key ones: Gatwick Express is the fastest way into London with non-stop train service to Victoria Station every 15 minutes with a journey time of 30 minutes, costing around £30. There are also trains, which can be more affordable but take longer, and coach buses, which are a good option if you’re traveling when the train lines aren’t running (otherwise they take very long due to ever-present traffic).

      Metered taxis (there are no black cabs at Gatwick) and Uber is also an option but are prohibitively costly at around £100.

      London Stansted Airport  

      • Location: 35 miles north-east of central London
      • Best If: You’re staying north of London or near Liverpool Street Station, as there are nonstop direct trains to the airport via the Stansted Express
      • Avoid If: You’re staying far south of London
      • Distance to Houses of Parliament (Big Ben): Stansted is about an hour-and-a-half-drive to central London, which in a metered taxi would cost about £100. There are several public transportation options including the Stansted Express, a non-stop train running directly into London’s Liverpool Street Station; trains; coach buses; and ride-share apps like Uber.

        London Stansted Airport (STN) is London’s third largest airport and is a major base for low-cost European airlines. There is only one terminal, and there are several ways to get from Stansted into London. One of the best and quickest options is the Stansted Express, which will get you into London’s Liverpool Street Station in around 50 minutes, costing about £30. There are also several companies offering 24-hour coach buses to/from Stansted. Coaches are cheap, but very time consuming. Metered taxis and Uber are available but costly at around £100.

        London Luton Airport

        • Location: 35 miles north of central London
        • Best If: You’re staying north of London
        • Avoid If: You’re staying far south of London
          Distance to Houses of Parliament (Big Ben): Luton is about an hour’s drive from central London, which in a taxi would cost about £80. There are several public transportation options including train and coach buses.

        London Luton Airport (LLA) is a major hub for low-cost carriers (mostly European), as such it is very busy. There is only one terminal. There are a few options for transport from Luton into London: Taxis will be expensive from Luton, but there are several other public transportation alternatives: A train is most likely your best bet, as there is an airport shuttle bus linked to Luton Airport Parkway train station, where you can catch East Midlands Trains or Thameslink trains into London, which take around 45 minutes to get to central London and cost around £15.

        If you arrive late when the trains aren’t running, you can hop on a coach bus, which takes you to Victoria Station in Central London (but depending on traffic, this could be a very long ride).

        London City Airport

        • Location: 6 miles east of central London
        • Best If: You can actually find a flight that goes there. It’s also ideal for Canary Wharf.
        • Avoid If: n/a
        • Distance to Houses of Parliament (Big Ben): City airport is about a half-hour’s drive into central London and would cost around £45 in a black cab. There’s also quick and affordable public transportation, as City is right near the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), which links to London’s tube, rail, and bus network.

        London City Airport (LCY) is London’s most central airport, and as it’s so small (with only one runway) it’s not only easily accessible but also quick and easy to navigate with short lines and less crowds. The problem is there are few flights. There are several options to get from City into London: Black cabs and Uber will be relatively affordable compared to the other airports, and public transportation is a breeze: The airport has its own stop on the DLR, which takes you right to the tube and costs the same as the tube.

        London’s buses are another affordable option, and the airport is linked by buses number 473 and 474.