While Heathrow is probably the most famous, there are actually a total of six airports around London. With so many choices, how do you choose?
You can fly to a “cheaper” airport, but it might cost just as much time and money to get to central London than if you flew to a more “expensive” airport. In the seven months that I lived in the city, I tried all the airports around London, I tried all of them on purpose so I could write this guide. From how to get to the center to how much it costs to how transfers work, and which airports are truly the best, here are all my tips!
London Travel Guide
The Ultimate Guide to Airports Around London
Before we take a close look at all six airports to determine which is the best, it’s important to mention that “best” is selective. Everyone has different priorities, such as price, distance to the center, and which airlines fly into the airport.
Cheapest Airport in London
In my experience, London Stansted is the cheapest airport in London, because you can fly RyanAir into it. Also, Luton and Southend are generally cheap, because they can be reached with EasyJet. London Gatwick is usually the cheapest of the “central” airports in London. Heathrow is often pricey, and London City is usually the
Closest to London City Center
The most centrally located airport is London City Airport. Only London City and Heathrow are within the limits of “Greater London” and can be reached by metro.
Full Service Airlines
If you do not want to fly to London with a budget airline, but with a full service airline, then it is best to fly to London City, London Gatwick or London Heathrow. Then you can fly with, for example, KLM and / or British Airways.
My Favorite Airport in London
If you are curious which airport I generally choose when I fly to London … that is London Gatwick. Usually the tickets to London Gatwick are not much more expensive than to the “budget airports” and you can get to the city center very quickly via train.
Stansted Airport (STN)
Year of construction: 1942
Distance from Stansted Airport to City Center: 56 km north of the city
Travel Time to City Center: 47 minutes
How expensive is it to fly to Luton Airport? €
From London Stansted Airport to Central London
You can get from Stansted Airport to central London by bus or train. Of course, you could also go by car, but it’ll either be incredibly expensive (if you go by taxi) or insanely awkward (if you rent a car).
Bus from Stansted to Central London
Buses leave for London every 15 minutes. You have two options: Airport Bus Express (formerly Terravision) and National Express. It’s cheaper to buy tickets online, but you can still by them at the station. A single ticket starts from £5 depending on your destination. Buses stop at various points in London – Paddington, Victoria, Liverpool, St. Stratford, and London Bridge. It’ll take about an hour depending on traffic.
Train from Stansted to Central London
You can also take the train into the center. It’s the fastest option at 47 minutes. You can use the Stansted Express, which runs to Liverpool Street. The cheapest option is to buy tickets in advance, but you can also buy them at the airport. Trains leave every15 minutes. If you book in advance, tickets cost £7 (at the station, I think they’re £ 17). Note: You can’t use an Oyster card on this train.
Luton Airport (LTN)
Year of construction: 1938
Distance from Luton airport to Center: 50 km north of the city
Travel Time to Center: 40 minutes
How expensive is it to fly to Luton Airport? €
From Luton Airport to Central London
The two best options to get from Luton Airport to central London are also the train and the bus.
Bus from Luton to Central London
The bus takes at least 50 minutes to the city center, although it’s often closer to 60-90 minutes with traffic. National Express departs four times/hour and stops at Paddington or Victoria with a number of stops along the way. Tickets start at £5.
The other option is Green Line, Bus 757, which runs to Victoria twice an hour. Tickets start from £11. You can buy National Express tickets at the airport or online. Green Line tickets can be purchased online or from the bus driver.
Train from Luton to Central London
The fastest option to get to the city center from Luton is the train. You’ll arrive at the train station by taking the shuttle bus from the airport. It costs £210 for a single journey (£3.50 for a return ticket) and you can only pay in cash. The shuttle bus takes about ten minutes. The train then takes about 30 minutes to get to St. Pancras Station in the center of London. You can travel either with the East Midlands or with the Thameslink train. There is no “Luton express” train. The costs of a train ticket from Luton Airport vary; see Trainline.com for prices and departure times.
Southend Airport (SEN)
Year of construction: 1947
Distance Southend airport to Central London: 68 km east of the city.
Travel Time to City Center: 53 min.
How expensive is it to fly to Southend Airport? €
From London Southend to Central London
The only realistic option to get to and from Southend Airport is by train. There are about two to three trains per hour to Stratford and Liverpool Street. It takes you 53 minutes to get to Liverpool Street from Southend Airport. The train company you travel with is called Greater Anglia, and the train station is opposite the airport. Costs from Southend Airport vary, so see Trainline.com for prices and departure times.
London City Airport (LCY)
Year of construction: 1987
Distance London City to Central London: 14 km
Travel Time to City Center: 22 min
How expensive is it to fly to London City Airport? €€€
From London City Airport to Central London
There are two options to get from London City Airport to central London. The first option is by taxi or Uber. The second option is to use public transport. Take the Docklands Light Railway, and from there you can go to Bank Station with the DLR. You can just use your Oyster Card for this. This costs only £2.80 (or £ 3.30 between 6.30 and 9.30).
Gatwick Airport (LGW)
Year of construction: 1933
Distance Gatwick to City Center: 47 km
Travel Time to City Center: 30 min
How expensive is it to fly to Stansted Airport? €€
From Gatwick Airport to Central London
The best option to get from London Gatwick to central London is by train. You can also take the bus, but this takes a lot longer.
By Train from Gatwick Airport to Central London
The Gatwick Express takes 30 minutes to reach Victoria and departs every 15 minutes. This costs £19.90 (£ 17.80 online). You can also use a regional train: the Southern or the Thameslink, which is cheaper and takes about 50 minutes. This costs only £8.30 (or £14.70 between 6:30 and 9:30 am). You can use your Oyster Card for all trains, including the Gatwick Express. The trains leave from the South Terminal, where you can also find ticket machines and booths.
I always take the train to London Bridge, City Thameslink, or Farringdon Station, and then transfer to a metro or bus.
By Bus from Gatwick Airport to Central London
The cheapest option to get from London Gatwick to London center is by bus. You’ll want to use the National Express, and it’ll take you to Victoria even if you buy your ticket via EasyBus. If you buy your ticket online a few days in advance, it costs from £5 and takes about 90 minutes.
Heathrow Airport (LHR)
Year of Construction: 1946
Distance Heathrow to Central London: 27 kilometers
Travel Time to Central London: 15 minutes
How expensive is it to fly to Stansted Airport? €€€
From Heathrow to Central London
You can get to central London in four ways—Heathrow Express, the regular train, the metro, or a taxi. I don’t recommend the latter because it’s very expensive.
By Train from Heathrow Airport to Central London
The fastest way to get from Heathrow airport to London center is with the Heathrow Express. It runs every 15 minutes to Paddington Station, and takes 15 minutes. Tickets cost £22 (or £25 between 6:30 am and 9:30 am), but they can also be cheaper if you buy them online in advance.
You can also take a regular train to the city center. They take about half an hour and cost £ 10.20. You can use your Oyster Card for this.
By Metro from Heathrow Airport to Central London
Most locals take the Underground from Heathrow. It takes about an hour on the Piccadilly line. This costs £3.10 (or £5.10 between 6:30 and 9:30 am). You can use your Oyster Card for this.
By Bus from Heathrow to Central London
Finally, you can also take the National Express bus from Heathrow Airport, but I honestly don’t know why you would. Tickets are £10 and take an hour.
Which airport around London should you choose?
Which airport around London is best for you depends on three things:
The cheapest option is to fly into Stansted Airport. Flights are always very cheap, and if you buy your bus or train ticket in advance, then you can get to the center very cheaply.
The fastest option is to fly into Heathrow or London City Airport. Both take about 20 minutes to reach the center.
Location depends on your hotel in London. Stansted and Luton are best for hotels in North London. London City is best for East London, though you can also still use Southend and Stansted. Gatwick is best if you’re staying in South London, and Heathrow is best for West London. If you stay in the city center, then everything is a pretty good option, although I find Gatwick offers the best price-time-quality ratio.
My Choice for the Best Value
I always choose London Gatwick or Stansted Airport. Choose Gatwick if you are staying South, West, or central London. It has a good price-quality ratio because you are in the center quickly and for relatively little money. Also, the tickets are usually not much more expensive than Stansted Airport
Choose Stansted Airport if you are staying Northern, Eastern or central London. Stansted also has a good price-quality ratio, but only if you buy your Stansted Express train tickets in advance. Pay attention to that, otherwise you will immediately lose the benefit!
I hope this guide helps you choose an airport around London and for how to get around. Good luck!
What’s your favorite airport around London?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe.