The major airport for arrivals from North America is Heathrow (LHR), outside London. This is the hub of most airlines, including British Airways and American carriers, and has the best transportation links to London. Gatwick (LGW) is the second major airport outside London, but it is much farther from the heart of the city, requiring longer and often more expensive hauls into the city.
Chances are you will not land at London's minor airports, certainly not if you're making a transatlantic crossing; however, you might land at one of these airports if you're winging in from the Continent. They include Stansted (STN), London City (LCY), London Luton (LTN), and London Southend (SEN).
If you plan to skip London altogether, you might have a direct flight winging into one of the two leading regional airports of England, including Manchester (MAN) and Birmingham (BHX).
Chances are you will not use one of the small airports of Wales, since most visitors arrive by rail or car. However, there are airports in the capital of Cardiff (CWL) and in the second city of Swansea (SWS).
British Airways (tel. 800/247-9297; www.britishairways.com) offers flights from 19 U.S. cities to Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as many others to Manchester. Nearly every flight is nonstop. With more add-on options than any other airline, British Airways can make a visit to Britain cheaper than you may have expected. Ask about packages that include both airfare and discounted hotel accommodations in Britain.
Known for consistently offering excellent fares, Virgin Atlantic Airways (tel. 800/821-5438; www.virgin-atlantic.com) flies daily to either Heathrow or Gatwick from Boston, Newark, New York's JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington's Dulles, Miami, Orlando, and Las Vegas.
American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) offers daily flights to Heathrow from half a dozen U.S. gateways -- New York's JFK, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and Dallas.
Depending on the day and season, Delta Air Lines (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) runs either one or two daily nonstop flights between Atlanta and Gatwick. Delta also offers nonstop daily service from Cincinnati.
Northwest Airlines (tel. 800/225-2525 or 800/447-4747; www.nwa.com) flies nonstop from Minneapolis and Detroit to Gatwick.
Continental Airlines (tel. 800/231-0856; www.continental.com) has daily flights to London from Cleveland, Houston, Newark, Orlando, and San Francisco.
United Airlines (tel. 800/864-8331; www.united.com) flies nonstop from New York's JFK and Chicago to Heathrow two or three times daily, depending on the season. United also offers nonstop service from Dulles Airport, near Washington, D.C.; Newark; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.
For travelers departing from Canada, Air Canada (tel. 888/247-2262; www.aircanada.com) flies daily to London's Heathrow nonstop from Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. There are also frequent direct flights from Calgary, Ottawa, and St. John's. British Airways (tel. 800/247-9297) has direct flights from Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
For travelers departing from Australia, British Airways (tel. 1300/767-177) has flights to London from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane. Qantas (tel. 612/131313; www.qantas.com) offers flights from Australia to London's Heathrow. Direct flights depart from Sydney and Melbourne. Some have the bonus of free stopovers in Bangkok or Singapore.
Departing from New Zealand, Air New Zealand (tel. 800/262-1234 in the U.S., or 0800/737-000 in New Zealand; www.airnewzealand.co.nz) has direct flights to London from Auckland. These flights depart daily.
Short flights from Dublin to London are available through British Airways (tel. 800/247-9297), with four flights daily into London's Gatwick airport, and Aer Lingus (tel. 800/IRISH-AIR [474-7424]; www.aerlingus.com), which flies into Heathrow. Short flights from Dublin to London are also available through Ryanair (tel. 353-1-812-1676; www.ryanair.com) and British Midland (tel. 0870/6070555; www.flybmi.com).
If you plan to transport a rented car between Britain and France, check in advance with the car-rental company about license and insurance requirements and additional drop-off charges before you begin.
The English Channel is crisscrossed with "drive-on, drive-off" car-ferry services, with many operating from Boulogne and Calais in France. From either of those ports, Sealink ferries will carry you, your luggage, and, if you like, your car. The most popular point of arrival along the English coast is Folkestone.
Taking a car beneath the Channel is more complicated and more expensive. Since the Channel Tunnel's opening (commonly called the "Chunnel"), most passengers have opted to ride the train alone, without being accompanied by their car. The Eurostar trains, discussed below, carry passengers only; Eurotunnel trains carry freight cars, trucks, and passenger cars.
The cost of moving a car on Eurotunnel varies according to the season and day of the week. Frankly, it's a lot cheaper to transport your car across by conventional ferryboat, but if you insist, here's what you'll need to know: You'll negotiate both British and French customs as part of one combined process, usually on the English side of the Channel. You can remain within your vehicle even after you drive it onto a flatbed railway car during the 35-minute crossing. (For 19 min. of this crossing, you'll actually be underwater; if you want, you can leave the confines of your car and ride within a brightly lit, air-conditioned passenger car.) When the trip is over, you simply drive off the flatbed railway car and toward your destination. Total travel time between the French and English highway system is about 1 hour. As a means of speeding the flow of perishable goods across the Channel, the car and truck service usually operates 24 hours a day, at intervals that vary from every 15 minutes to once an hour, depending on the time of day. Neither BritRail nor any of the agencies dealing with reservations for passenger trains through the Chunnel will reserve space for your car in advance, and considering the frequency of the traffic on the Chunnel, they're usually not necessary. For information about Eurotunnel car-rail service after you reach England, call tel. 0870/535-3535, or go online to www.eurotunnel.com.
Duty-free stores, restaurants, and service stations are available to travelers on both sides of the Channel. A bilingual staff is on hand to assist travelers at both the British and French terminals.
Britain's isolation from the rest of Europe led to the development of an independent railway network with different rules and regulations from those observed on the Continent. That's all changing now, but one big difference that may affect you still remains: If you're traveling to Britain from the Continent, your Eurailpass will not be valid when you get there.
In 1994, Queen Elizabeth of England and President Francois Mitterrand of France officially opened the Channel Tunnel, or Chunnel, and the Eurostar express passenger train began twice-daily service between London and both Paris and Brussels. In 2003, the completion of a new section of high-speed rail in England, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, shaved 20 minutes off the trip between London and Paris, reducing it to just 2 hours and 35 minutes (or 2 hr., 20 min. to Brussels). This extension allows Eurostar trains to go at the rate of 482kmph (300 mph). One of the great engineering feats of all time, the tunnel is first link between Britain and the Continent since the Ice Age.
So if you're coming to London from say, Rome, your Eurailpass will get you as far as the Chunnel. At that point, you can cross the English Channel aboard the Eurostar, and you'll receive a discount on your ticket. Once in England, you must use a separate BritRail pass or purchase a direct ticket to continue on to your destination.
Rail Europe (tel. 888/382-7245; www.raileurope.com) sells direct-service tickets on the Eurostar between Paris or Brussels and London. A one-way fare between Paris and London costs $156 to $292 in second class and $292 to $425 in first class.
In London, make reservations for Eurostar by calling tel. 08705/186-186; and in the United States, it's tel. 800/EUROSTAR (800/387-6782; www.eurostar.com). Eurostar trains arrive and depart from London's Waterloo Station, Paris's Gare du Nord, and Brussels's Central Station.
Bus connections to Britain from the Continent are generally not comfortable, though some lines are more convenient than others. One line with a relatively good reputation is Eurolines, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, SW1W 0AU (tel. 0871/781-81-81; www.nationalexpress.com). They book passage on buses traveling twice a day between London and Paris (9 hr.); three times a day from Amsterdam (12 hr.); three times a week from Munich (24 hr.); and three times a week from Stockholm (44 hr.). On longer routes, which use alternating drivers, the bus proceeds almost without interruption, taking only occasional breaks for meals.
P&O Ferries (tel. 08716/645645; www.poferries.com) operates car and passenger ferries between Dover and Calais, France (25 sailings a day; 75 min. each way).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.