London is served by a number of main airports and several other airports which (confusingly) brand themselves as ‘London ….’.
Main Airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and London City
The main international airport that services London is Heathrow Airport. Located to the west of the city, it provides connections to many domestic, European and International destinations. Spread over 4 Terminals (numbered 1, 3, 4 and 5) it provides airside connections between terminals using coaches. The airport is large and can be confusing. There is a lot of information at the web site .
Transport from the airport is available by the fast (but expensive) Heathrow Express, the slower and cheaper Heathrow Connect and by the London Underground. In addition, coaches serve large numbers of destinations from the coach station and some of the terminals. Local buses serve hotels in addition to the (expensive) Hotel Hoppa buses.
The second airport is Gatwick Airport, located south of the city and is some considerable distance from the centre of London. It provides connections to some domestic, some European and a few international destinations. Primarily used by low cost carriers (easyJet and Ryanair) and by charter operators.
Transport to and from Gatwick is primarily by train, with services running to London Victoria (Gatwick Express and Southern) and to the City (Blackfriars and City Thameslink on First Capital Connect) as well as to Brighton in the opposite direction. The Gatwick Express is the most expensive of the three options.
Coaches run to Heathrow and to numerous other UK destinations.
The third airport is Stansted Airport, actually located in Essex to the north east of the city. Journey times take about 45 minutes from London Liverpool Street on the train and there is a good connection at Tottenham Hale which on the Victoria Line. The Stansted Express is the primary train service here. An extensive range of trains serve the airport now, providing service throughout the UK without the need to travel in to London.
Travel from Stansted to Heathrow and Gatwick is possible – options are listed here.
Stansted primarily serves low cost carriers and charter flights to European and some domestic destinations. It is also the designated diversion airport in the case of hijack or terrorism and has been used for this purpose several times.
London City Airport is a niche East London airport – primarily because it serves major European and UK business destinations, but also provides service to New York (JFK) with a refuelling stop in Shannon (recent report). This airport has a single runway and typically handles smaller aircraft. It is very much designed for the business traveller but in recent years it has added some more holiday destinations in response to demand from people who have enjoyed the good transport links and quick security. The airport has a curfew with no flight between Saturday lunchtime and Sunday lunchtime.
You can read a series of posts I wrote about the airport LCY, when I had a behind the scenes tour.
- Part 1 – Waking up a sleeping Giant
- Part 2 – Ramp Control
- Part 3 – ATC, How many planes above us?
- Part 4 – Fire Service
- Part 5 – Highlights and the future
Access to London City is on the Dockland Light Railway, a sister service to the London Underground which uses unmanned vehicles. The station integrated with the airport and the DLR connects with a number of Underground and overground services.
Secondary Airports – Luton and Southend
London Luton Airport and London Southend Airport are some distance from central London but are both accessible by train.
London Luton serves about 90 destinations in Europe using low cost carriers. Details of the two train companies that serve the airport can be found here. The shortest journey time is 21 minutes, but a coach is required between the airport and the Luton Airport Parkway station. When booking tickets on the train you should book to Luton Airport rather than to the rail station as this avoids a supplement of £1.60 which is otherwise required to ride the coach.
London Southend Airport is the newest airport claiming the ‘London’ moniker. Serving a small number of European destinations, and Edinburgh, the route network is provided by Aer Lingus Regional and easyJet.
I often get asked about which hotels are best, particularly as there are so many option at Heathrow. There are several at Gatwick, a couple at Stansted and Luton. I know best those that serve Heathrow. There are a wide range of options from the major chains (Starwood, Holiday Inn, Marriott, Hilton, Premier Inn etc.) Most of them are located on the edge of the airport and are served by Hotel Hoppa buses.
I’ve reviewed several of them in the past:
- Holiday Inn Ariel
- Premier Inn, Terminal 5 – Earlier Review
- Hilton Heathrow, Terminal 5 – Earlier Review
- Doubletree Heathrow
- Heathrow Hilton, Terminal 4
- Radisson Blu, Heathrow – Earlier Review
- Park Inn, Heathrow
- Holiday Inn, Heathrow
Rates can be very pricey on weekdays but can be good value at weekends. Weekend stays at Heathrow can be a good way to earn points towards promotions such as IHG’s The Big Win.
If you pressed me, of the hotels above, I’d pick the Hilton at Terminal 5 as my first choice, although it is a ten minute bus ride away. The Premier Inn, Terminal 5 is excellent but usually only available a few days in advance as BA books it out for their crews.
So, tomorrow, Part 2 – Getting Around London.