London's flagship airport for arrivals from across the globe is London Heathrow (LHR; www.heathrowairport.com), 17 miles west of the center and boasting five hectic, bustling terminals (numbered imaginatively, Terminals 1 to 5, although Terminal 2 is closed until 2014). This is the U.K. hub of most major airlines, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, and the North American carriers. London Gatwick (LGW; www.gatwickairport.com) is the city's second major airport, with two terminals (North and South) 31 miles south of central London in the Sussex countryside. As with Heathrow, you can fly direct, or with a connection, to or from pretty much anywhere on the planet.
Increasingly, however, passengers are arriving at London's smaller airports -- particularly since the recent proliferation of budget airlines, which now dominate many short-haul domestic and international routes. London Stansted (STN; www.stanstedairport.com), 37 miles northeast of the center, is the gateway to a vast array of short-haul destinations in the U.K., continental Europe, and parts of the Middle East. It's also a hub for Ryanair. London Luton (LTN; www.london-luton.co.uk) anchors a similarly diverse short-haul network, and lies 34 miles northwest of the center: easyJet and Ryanair are regular visitors. London City (LCY; www.londoncityairport.com), the only commercial airport actually in London itself, is frequented mainly by business travelers from nearby Docklands and the City, but it does have some key intercity links with regular direct flights to New York, Paris, Edinburgh, Florence, and Madrid. British Airways and Cityjet are the two major airlines at London City.
Changing Airports -- Some visitors may need to transfer from one airport to another. National Express (tel. 0871/781-8181; www.nationalexpress.com) buses leave from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton, circumnavigating the M25 to each of the others with varying frequencies throughout the day. Gatwick to Heathrow costs £21.50 for adults, and takes just over 1 hour. Check the website for timetables. For transfers between Luton and Gatwick airports, the quickest and most frequent interconnecting service is the direct train operated by First Capital Connect (tel. 0845/026-4700; www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk). A single fare costs £24.50.
Heathrow offers a range of transfer options depending on where your comfort/convenience versus value-for-money trade-off rests. A journey to the center of London via the Piccadilly Underground (Tube) Line takes 45 to 50 minutes and costs between £2.70 and £5 -- it's cheapest if you travel after 9:30am and use an Oyster Card. Trains leave every couple of minutes, but if you want to plan your connections use the online journey planner at www.tfl.gov.uk/journeyplanner.
The Heathrow Express (tel. 0845/600-1515; www.heathrowexpress.com) train service runs every 15 minutes daily from 5:10am until 11:40pm between Heathrow and Paddington station, just west of London's West End. Tickets bought online in advance cost £16.50 each way in economy class, rising to £18 if bought from one of the terminal ticket machines, and £23 on the train itself. First-class tickets cost £26. Children 15 and under pay £8.20 in economy, £13 in first class. The trip takes 15 minutes each way between Paddington and Terminals 1 and 3; 21 to 23 minutes from Terminals 4 or 5. The trains have special areas for wheelchairs. From Paddington, you can connect to the Underground ("Tube") system, or hail a taxi just outside.
A better-value, but slower, rail option is the Heathrow Connect (tel. 0845/678-6975; www.heathrowconnect.com). A couple of trains an hour ply the route from Paddington station via Ealing to Heathrow Terminals 1 and 3, where you make a quick change for a transfer to 4 or 5. Total journey time is about a half-hour for Terminals 1 and 3, 11 minutes more for Terminal 5, and a further 6 minutes for Terminal 4. A single fare from Paddington costs £7.90, with children 5 to 15 receiving a 50% discount.
Most expensive of the lot, a taxi hailed at one of the airport's official ranks is likely to cost anything from £70 to £90. You can make a saving of around £10 by booking a fixed-price minicab service in advance from Addison Lee (tel. 0844/800-6677; www.addisonlee.com). Pay online or over the phone with a credit card.
The fastest way to central London is via the Gatwick Express (tel. 0845/850-1530; www.gatwickexpress.com), which departs every 15 minutes, daily between 5am and 12:35am. The round-trip fare between Gatwick and Victoria rail station is £28.70 for adults and £14.35 for children age 5 to 15. (One-way fares cost £16.90 for adults and £8.45 for children.) If you book online, you can save 10% on ticket prices. The travel time each way is 30 minutes Monday to Saturday, and 35 minutes on Sunday. Check the website for regular pre-booking discounts, including 3-for-2 and 4-for-2 tickets that represent significant savings for traveling groups.
Marginally cheaper rail routes, operated by Southern (tel. 0845/127-2920; www.southernrailway.com) and First Capital Connect (tel. 0845/026-4700; www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk), also operate 3 or 4 times an hour between Gatwick and Victoria, or London Bridge, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, Farringdon, and St. Pancras International. Journeys take 30 to 40 minutes. See www.nationalrail.co.uk for timetables and service updates.
Roughly hourly National Express (tel. 0871/781-8181; www.nationalexpress.com) coaches link Gatwick with London's Victoria coach station. The walk-up fare is £7.50 single, but that can fall to £4.50 if you book in advance online. Children aged 3 to 14 pay half-price. easyBus (www.easybus.co.uk) connects both Gatwick terminals with West Brompton Underground station, close to Earl's Court, west of the center, at bargain rates as low as £2 if you book ahead online; the walk-up fare is £7.50 one way. Services depart a couple of times an hour, and there are no children's discounts. Journey time on any bus is at the mercy of London traffic, but ought to be under 1 1/2 hours.
A taxi from Gatwick to central London costs over £100. Fares vary according to a price list that defines the fare from Gatwick to whichever neighborhood of London you're traveling to.
Your quickest route to central London is via the Stansted Express (tel. 08457/850-0150; www.stanstedexpress.com) train to Liverpool Street station, which runs every 15 minutes from 6am to 11:45pm. If you book ahead of time online, it costs £18.80 for a standard ticket and £30.70 for first class -- return fares are £26.70 and £44 respectively. Children pay half-price. The journey takes 45 minutes. Tickets cost an extra £1 each way from a machine or teller window at the station. If your final destination in London is in the West End, alight at the Express's only interim stop, Tottenham Hale, and then switch to the Tube's Victoria Line. The Stansted-Tottenham Hale return fare is a couple of pounds cheaper, and the journey time is 11 minutes less.
An alternative, slower rail route on National Express East Anglia trains (tel. 0845/600-7245; www.nationalexpresseastanglia.com) is no cheaper but does terminate at Stratford, ideal if you're heading to the Olympic Park or lodging in East London. Journey time between Stansted and Stratford is 1 hour, and trains leave hourly for much of the day, Monday through Saturday.
By bus, you have several options depending on your final destination. The regular National Express A6 Airbus (tel. 0871/781-8181; www.nationalexpress.com) heads for Victoria station, via the West End, 24 hours a day; tickets cost £10 one way, £5 for children aged 3 to 15. The National Express A9 Airbus connects the airport with Stratford station, which lies on the Jubilee and Central Tube lines. Tickets cost £8 for adults, £4 for children aged 3 to 15. easyBus (www.easybus.co.uk) connects Stansted with Baker Street, at bargain rates as low as £2 if you book ahead online (but no child discounts). Terravision (tel. 01279/680-028; www.terravision.eu) runs two generally half-hourly services, to Victoria and Liverpool Street stations respectively. One-way tickets cost £9 for adults, £4 for children aged 5 to 12. Note that because of distance and traffic conditions, any bus from Stansted to the center of London will take between 1 and 2 hours; at the lower end of that range for eastern destinations such as Stratford and Liverpool Street. If you're pressed for time, stick to the Stansted Express.
If you prefer the relative privacy of a taxi, you'll pay dearly for the privilege. For a ride to London's West End, a cab will charge around £100. Expect the trip to take around an hour during normal traffic conditions, but beware of Friday afternoons, when dense traffic could double the travel time.
Like Stansted, Luton Airport is well served by airbuses. Greenline (tel. 0844/801-7261; www.greenline.co.uk) service 757 links the airport with Victoria station via Baker Street and Marble Arch. Fares are £15 for adults, £12 for children aged 5 to 13; a return costs £22 for adults, £17 for kids. (easyJet passengers can claim a significant discount by booking online ahead of time.) Buses leave half-hourly for most of the day. easyBus (www.easybus.co.uk) follows a similar route, with bargain one-way fares as low as £2 available if you book ahead online, though you're more likely to pay around £10 (with no child reductions). Buses depart every 20 minutes or thereabouts. The National Express (tel. 0871/781-8181; www.nationalexpress.com) airport bus runs a similar service, with similar frequency; tickets cost around £14 one way; children get 50% off full fare. All bus journey times are around 1 1/2 hours, a little less if you alight at Baker Street.
It's quicker if you make for central London by train, although you first have to take the short shuttle bus to Luton Airport Parkway station (£1.50 each way, children £0.75; buses leave every 10 minutes). Both First Capital Connect (tel. 0845/026-4700; www.firstcapitalconnect.co.uk) and East Midlands Trains (tel. 08457/125-678; www.eastmidlandstrains.co.uk) run services to St. Pancras station. Several direct trains leave every hour, taking between 27 and 33 minutes. One-way tickets cost £11.90; children aged 5 to 15 travel half-price. See www.nationalrail.co.uk for timetables and service updates. Buy tickets for any of the bus or rail routes into town from the booths in the airport arrivals hall.
London City Airport
Trains on the Docklands Light Railway, known locally as "the DLR," make runs at 10-minute intervals from City Airport to Bank Underground station in the heart of London's financial district. From there, you can change onto the Central or Northern Line, or walk below-ground to the adjacent Monument station for the District or Circle Lines. A one-way ticket to anywhere in zone 1 costs £4 for adults and £2 for children aged 11 to 15 (substantially cheaper with an Oyster Card). The journey from London City to Bank takes 23 minutes. If there are problems with the DLR, local buses 473 (alight at Plaistow station) and 474 (alight at Canning Town station) will connect you quickly with the regular Tube network. The cash fare is £2.20, or £1.30 with an Oyster Card .
A taxi should cost £20 to £40, depending on how far west you're going.
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.