Which London airport should you fly into?

You’ve just stepped off the plane. You want to get to your hotel. You have a big day tomorrow. But you’ve just realised that your airport is situated miles away from your hotel, and everywhere you’re planning to be during your trip. Argh!

There’s nothing worse than a bad airport experience to ruin the start of a trip. (I know, I’ve experienced it myself countless times!)

Let’s avoid that! London has a lot of different airports. Use this guide to London’s many airports when you’re planning your London trip. You’ll save yourself a lot of disappointment on arrival.

General tips

Here are some general tips on arriving in London:

  • You don’t have to take ‘Express’ train services. Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express are two “fast” train services which run from each airport. They carry a premium price, and there are alternatives.

  • The UK border experience is sometimes good, sometimes awful. Arriving at the UK border is not oppressive experience, but it’s often massively disorganised and under-staffed. There are rarely enough staff on the immigration desks, and the e-passport gates are often either broken, or half-closed. Prepare yourself for a miserable experience, so that you might be pleasantly surprised.

  • Install Citymapper on your phone. The Citymapper app is the best public transport app for London.

The airports

Airport Where it’s good for
Heathrow Airport West London
Gatwick Airport South London, City of London
London City Airport City of London, East London, Docklands
Luton Airport North London
Stansted Airport East London, Tottenham, Liverpool Street, Shoreditch
Southend Airport East London

What is the City of London? The City of London is a specific area within central London. It’s London’s old finance and merchant district. Sometimes called “The Square Mile”, it extends to St Paul’s Cathedral in the West, and Liverpool Street in the East.

Heathrow Airport (LHR)

Heathrow is one of the biggest airports in Europe. It likes to think of itself as the UK’s flagship airport.

But flying to/from Heathrow is not always a flagship experience.

Terminal 5 is British Airways’s dedicated terminal. Most (but not all) BA flights depart from here. The terminal is modern and airy. It also gets very busy.

Heathrow has only 2 runways. Compare Heathrow’s 2 runways with 8 at Chicago (ORD) or 6 at Amsterdam (AMS). What does that mean for you? You might be in a holding pattern in the skies waiting for your landing slot, or queuing for your takeoff slot (especially on morning peak flights).

There’s a lot of walking. There’s also endless retail. Terminal 5 has an obscene number of luxury fashion stores, but hardly any restaurants.

Easiest access to

  • Paddington
  • Hyde Park
  • Kensington
  • Hammersmith
  • Westminster

Tom’s Tips

  • Quickest option to London is the Heathrow Express. The Heathrow Express is an express train from London Paddington, but it is obscenely expensive at £25 one-way for a 15-minute journey.

  • TfL Rail is a cheaper alternative to the Heathrow Express. The “secret” TfL Rail service also takes you into Paddington. It takes about 30 minutes, and runs every 30 minutes. It’s half the price of the Heathrow Express, at “only” £11.60. To get this train, follow the signs to “Trains” and wait on the same platform as the Heathrow Express. See tomorrow’s timetable

  • For the cheapest travel from Heathrow to central London, take the London Underground. The Piccadilly line is a frequent underground (subway) service. But it takes almost an hour to get into central London.

  • Flying from Terminal 5? Try the hidden underground walkway. If you’re an av-geek and flying long-haul with British Airways from Terminal 5 and you have plenty of time before your flight, try taking the underground walkway to your gate. It’s an eerie corridor linking the different sections of T5. It’s a wonderful escape from the chaos up at ground level!

London City Airport (LCY)

London City Airport is my favourite airport in London! It’s super-convenient and you can breeze through the the airport very quickly, because it’s small and quite efficient.

Budget airlines don’t fly from here. London City Airport serves mostly domestic, European business destinations, and some leisure. British Airways is the main airline here. It has little competition, so prices can be high.

London City Airport is very small. It’s the only airport in London where you need to arrive only 30 minutes before your flight. You should clear security/bag-check quickly, and you don’t need to walk through endless “duty-free” shops to get to your gate.

LCY has a small runway, so it can’t take large aircraft. This limits the number and distance of flights.

London City Airport is connected to London’s tube network via the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) (it’s on the Woolwich Arsenal branch of the line). The DLR is an efficient, driverless train, with frequent services. You can use your contactless debit/credit card to pay.

Easiest access to

  • Canary Wharf
  • City of London
  • Docklands (East London)
  • Stratford
  • Greenwich & The O2