The great British polymath Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), most famous for his A Dictionary of the English Language, once said something about London that I always think of when I visit:
Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
London is still the amazing city that Johnson knew, but it is also one of the largest and most expensive cities in the world. My purpose here, with this post, is to help you save some money while you’re in London.
Let’s start with a quick look at how to get from your arrival airport (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City, or London Luton) into Central London. Each airport has options: I’ll try to make it easy to decide! First we’ll look at direct (non-stop) train services from each airport into Central London.
(Heathrow Terminal 4 Building)
#1 Heathrow Airport Many North Americans will fly into Heathrow, so we’ll start there. From Heathrow you can take the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station. The trip costs £37 for the round-trip and takes 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 3. (Please note: those prices are for online bookings: it’s higher if you buy your tickets on the train or at the station. And it’s a pain to do: just book online! It’s easy, and you print your tickets at home.)
(Heathrow Express train: nice and modern!)
This is a nice, quick way to get into town, but Paddington Station isn’t where most people end up staying, so you’d have to connect with the Tube from there. There are, however, some good hotel/B&B options around Paddington, though, so you might want to stay here to save time.
#2 Gatwick Airport This will be the other main arrival point for most North Americans. From here, you can take the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. The round-trip fare is £31.60, and it’s an “any time ticket“, meaning you can take any train you want, both ways. The trip takes about 30 minutes. I would again recommend that you book online and print your ticket at home.
Victoria Station is close to many of the top tourist attractions in London (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament) and there are a lot of hotels and B&Bs in this area, so it’s a prime place to stay. And if you are planning on seeing the play Wicked while you’re in town, you couldn’t be closer: the theatre is RIGHT NEXT to the station!
#3 Stansted Airport Very few transatlantic flights arrive at Stansted, but it is the main hub for intra-European flights to the UK. If you are flying Ryanair or easyJet, for example, you’ll probably be landing here! The train from here is called the Stansted Express and takes 47 minutes to reach Liverpool Street Station. If you book in advance online, the round-trip fare is £25.
Liverpool Street Station has quite a few accommodation options nearby, varying from very small B&Bs to large, chain hotels, and hostels. It’s a good area in which to stay, with plenty of restaurants, grocery stores and shopping.
#4 London City Airport This airport is only used for intra-European flights, and mostly has flights going to holiday destinations. If you happen to land here, though, it has three things to recommend it: it’s the only airport within the City of London; it’s small and very easy to navigate to public transport; and it’s very modern and clean. To get into Central London from here, you take the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) for three stops to Canning Town Station, and then change to the Tube (Jubilee Line: the grey line on the map below.) The Jubilee Line stops at many important stations, including Westminster (Houses of Parliament, Big Ben) and Waterloo (London Eye), so it’s a good line to get you into London .
(The DLR station at London City Airport: never crowded either!)
#5 London Luton Airport
London Luton Airport (LLA) isn’t actually IN London: it’s in Luton, a city that’s about 34 miles (55 km) northwest of London. But the connections to Central London are GREAT, and there are several other things that recommend LLA for travelers coming to London.
First of all, LLA is much less crowded than any of the main hubs (especially compared to Heathrow or Gatwick, or even Stansted.) It’s home to eleven airlines: you can reach just about any country in Europe from here, as well as places like Morocco, Israel and Turkey.It’s home to several of the budget airlines, including Ryanair, Wizzair and easyJet. If you are looking to travel within Europe, LLA may just be the place for you.
At LLA you catch a shuttle bus after baggage claim, which takes you to the train station, which is called Luton Airport Parkway. From there, you hop on a train that takes you to London’s Kings Cross/St-Pancras station is 22 minutes! The roundtrip fare is around £20. Kings Cross/St-Pancras station is served by several lines of the London Underground (Tube): Victoria, Northern, Piccadilly (tube to Heathrow!), Hammersmith and City, Circle, and Metropolitan. It is also where you can catch the Eurostar trains to Amsterdam, Brussels, Avignon, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Paris, and Rotterdam, by way of the Channel Tunnel!
That same train also continues on through London, stopping at Farringdon, City Thameslink, and Blackfriars, and continues on to Gatwick Airport. So if you’re connecting to Gatwick, it couldn’t easier!
Those are the train connections from the airports to Central London. What other options do you have?
Is there anything cheaper from Heathrow? Yes, you can take the Tube (London Underground.) The one-way trip will cost you £5.70 per person, and takes around 50 minutes. If you’ve got a lot of luggage, though, you might end up standing all or most of the trip.
Is there anything cheaper than the trains from the other airports? Yes, from Stansted and Heathrow, you can take a National Express bus direct to London Victoria. The Stansted bus takes 1 hour 35 minutes and costs £18 round-trip. The Heathrow bus takes 57 minutes and costs £17 round-trip.
From London Luton, National Express runs frequent coach services to Central London 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 4 departures an hour during the daytime. You can choose to go EITHER to Paddington Station (the A2 service) OR Victoria Station (A1). This service costs £16 roundtrip, when booked online. Green Line coach service 757 runs to Victoria Coach Station twice hourly throughout the day, also stopping at other key London stops including Brent Cross, Finchley Road, Baker Street, and Marble Arch. This one costs £17 roundtrip.
There is no bus service from Gatwick to Central London.
What other options do I have? At this point, you’re looking at a taxi. On the positive side, a taxi will take you directly to your hotel, which can save a lot of stress and hassle, wrestling with luggage on trains and buses, and so on. However, it will cost a lot more. From Heathrow, the trip takes 45-60 minutes and costs £50-75 one-way, depending on traffic. From Gatwick, a taxi will cost between £60-100, and take around an hour (with average traffic.) From Stansted, the cab will cost around £100 and take a little over an hour. From London City Airport, a taxi will cost £35-45 and take about 45 minutes.
Is there a better option than a taxi, but more convenient than a train? I’m glad you asked that, because YES, there is! This is what I do if I’ve got a lot of stuff and I know I’m going to be tired. I book a car in advance! I’m met at Arrivals by the driver (carrying a sign with my name on it!). He takes me to the car, gets my luggage put in back, and drives me directly to my hotel. On my departure date, I’m picked up at my hotel and driven directly to my proper terminal. Just now I checked for a round-trip from Heathrow Terminal 2 to a hotel near the London Eye, and the price was £ 82. That’s not cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than a taxi; I don’t have to bother with finding a cab; and it’s very reliable. I have one company that I always use: if you check in the “Travel Guide” section, you can find the link to them!
I’ve also put in links for the National Express bus line, Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express, and Stansted Express.
I hope you’ve found this information useful, and I wish you all the best in London!