What's The Best Way To Get To Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted And Luton Airports?

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 12 months ago
What's The Best Way To Get To Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted And Luton Airports?
Walkways at Heathrow. Photo by Andy Blackwell from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Hooray, you're going on holiday! Boo, you now have to get to the airport. There are so many different ways to get to and from London's airports that it can get a bit confusing — and expensive. Here, we've listed the cheapest and fastest ways to get from central London to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and City airports.

For all these public transport options, it's worth bearing in mind that the most convenient option is generally a cab (black, minicab, Uber) — particularly if your flight is at a ridiculous hour. It's all very well the trains running all night, but not great if you have to use a night bus to get to the station. If there's a group of you travelling, or you're a family, it could very well also work out cheaper.

Heathrow

Cheap: If you've got an Oyster card and use Pay As You Go, the tube is the cheapest option: £5.10 single adult fare during peak hours, or £3.10 off peak. If you're paying cash, however, the tube is £6 — exactly the same as a National Express coach from Victoria. Depending on the traffic, the journey time is about the same as well: 50 minutes on the tube from (to pick a central example) Leicester Square to Heathrow and 45-55 minutes on the coach — and less lugging your suitcase up and down steps with the latter, too.

Fast: The Heathrow Express from Paddington takes 15 minutes to get to Terminals 2 and 3, with an extra few minutes on top if you want to go to Terminals 4 or 5. It's a journey time that rivals the DLR trip from Bank to City Airport as the fastest possible way of getting from central London to an airport, but comes at a price. A single adult ticket costs from £22, making this the winner in the 'HOW bloody much?' public transport stakes.

If you have a bit more time and a bit less cash, Heathrow Connect takes between 31 and 49 minutes to travel between Paddington and Heathrow, mainly because it makes some extra stops along the way. An adult ticket costs £10.20 from Paddington and less if you want to travel from, say, Ealing. It only goes to Terminals 2 and 3, but there's a regular shuttle service to Terminal 4.

Gatwick

Cheap: easyBuses leave from Waterloo and Victoria, and if you book online far enough in advance you can get a ticket for as little as £2. Even with just a few hours' notice it was possible to get a ticket for £7.95. The journey does take a timetabled 90 minutes, however — and that's without getting stuck in traffic. If you prefer getting the train, an off-peak fare on pay as you go (not Gatwick Express) will cost £8 (although if you're returning, a paper ticket may be cheaper).

Fast: the Gatwick Express from Victoria takes 30 minutes, give or take (it's timetabled as 33, accuracy fans). Adult single fares cost from £15.40 (if you take a Southern service, which isn't technically the Gatwick Express but there you go) to £19.90.

If you're not near Victoria, however, we recommend you investigate the Brighton to Bedford line run by Thameslink. Calling at St Pancras, Farringdon, City Thameslink, London Bridge, Elephant and Castle and a few other stations outside zone 1, it goes direct to Gatwick. The journey from London Bridge takes as little as 37 minutes (changing at East Croydon because of works around the station) and from St Pancras it's 55 minutes with no changes. It's cheaper, too: adult single fares from St Pancras start at £10.30 and from London Bridge it's £9.40. Regular Thameslink commuters will warn you that it's notorious for delays, though.

Heathrow Terminal 5. Photo by Michael Barrett from the Londonist Flickr pool.

Stansted

Cheap: the cheapest easyBus to Stansted costs £6 and the journey takes over two hours. Prices can rise to £12 for a journey; a price point we suspect has been deliberately chosen as it appears to be the cheapest possible ticket from central London to Stansted on National Express coaches.

Fast: the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street station takes between 45 and 50 minutes. An adult ticket costs £19. You don't have many options when it comes to Stansted; you very much have to take what you're given.

Luton

Cheap: it's easyBus again, though for Luton you really need to book online significantly in advance: we had to search 11 days ahead before we found a £1.95 ticket. Still, the most expensive journey (£9.95) is cheaper than the equivalent on National Express. The journey is timetabled to take 90 minutes from Victoria, but takes less time (not necessarily reflected in the price) if you can leave from somewhere like Finchley Road or Baker Street tube stations.

Fast: Get the Thameslink train from various stations through the centre of London — it takes 49 minutes from Elephant and Castle, or from St Pancras you could be at Luton Airport Parkway in as little as 20 minutes. Adult fares start from £15.50, but beware you have to catch a shuttle bus from the train station to the actual airport, which takes 10 minutes and is free so long as you've bought a ticket to the airport and not just the train station. (This costs £1.50 more than buying a ticket to the train station, so 'free' in this context is open to interpretation.)

City

Just get the DLR. If you happen to live on the 474 or 473 bus routes you've got it made, but otherwise — get the DLR.

Last Updated 05 December 2016

Colm Fitzgerald

The Heathrow Express is a wonderful service. If you have your trip booked well in advance they offer advance fares as of recently. As cheap as £5.50 single at the weekend and £7/8 during the week.

Martin Hayes

Surely the cheapest option from Central London to Heathrow is via London Bus N9 (Night Bus). £1.50 using your Oyster Card?

mickybar

Well, I would avoid Easybus. I tried it once, I was living in west London, a few minutes away from their West Brompton stop, and for £2, well, it's worth trying! I was coming back to Gatwick, terminal South. I was at the stop at 10.10pm, 20 minutes before the scheduled time (10.30pm), as recommended by Easybus. The first minivan came in at 10.45pm, coming from the terminal North, where it already picked up a few people, so the space was limited: because of this, the driver allowed in only the people with that specific ticket. I complained about the fact that the 10.30pm service never arrived, but the driver assured me that it would have been there soon. After another 15 minutes, so 11pm, another minivan came in, and it was the same story, so I started to lose my patience. In the end, to be sure to go home with the tube, I took the last Gatwick Express service, I paid around £20 after having lost 1 hour waiting in the cold. Nevermore!

Regarding the Stansted Express, they started to do pretty good deals: if you book a ticket at least 1 week in advance, it's £12. It you book it at least 1 month in advance, it's £8

James Samarasinghe

This article is a bit inaccurate & misleading regarding Victoria trains to Gatwick. The Gatwick Express IS timetabled as 30 minutes. There is a completely separate Southern service which is far cheaper, £10.20 (£16.20 Off-Peak) on Oyster, and only takes 3 mins longer. It also stops at Clapham Junction and should be recommended.

Michael Jennings

A couple of additions to this: the Heathrow Express is free to ride between Heathrow Stations, so if you want you can get the Heathrow Connect to Terminal 2/3 at Heathrow and then the Heathrow Express to one of the other terminals, it will not cost you extra.

Also, it is cheaper – sometimes a lot cheaper – to buy a ticket from Gatwick airport to/from East Croydon, and then use Oyster Prepay and/or contactless credit/debit cards for the portion of the journey inside London.

Plus a lot of the mainline train fares to the various airports will by cheaper (outside the morning peak period) if you have a railcard of some kind. Many of the readers of this will likely have a gold card due to having some kind of season ticket, and a Network Card is a good deal if you do this more than occasionally. (I easily make the annual cost several times over just going to and from airports, but I do fly a lot).

Karishma

Even though Heathrow connect only goes to terminal 2/3. You can get on the free Heathrow express shuttles to terminals 4/5 from here

If you have any kind of railcard, prices are 2/3 except At morning peak hours

Return train journey bookings are cheaper than singles

That said, as a single traveler leaving Paddington early early morning, uber is cheaper than Heathrow express. And if you are more than one person, uber xl is definitely cheaper than 2 Heathrow express tickets

Patrycja Polczyk

Stansted Express cost as little as 8 quid if bought early

Daniel Pharaoh

I'm not one to cry plagiarism, but this is quite similar to an article I wrote not 12 days ago:

http://www.dayoutinlondon.com/...

Obviously this one is better written than mine, but still....

At least it's nice to know someone from Londonist is looking at my insignificant corner of the internet!

Spich

If you book well in advance you can get tickets for the Heathrow Express extremely cheaply! I got a 90 Days Advance 1st Class ticket on the Heathrow Express for £9.99. Can't argue with that!

Kieran

Terravison bus from Redbridge station to Stansted Airport is very good at £6 pound single or £11 return. It's effectively like a taxi as its one stop and it's all motorway and takes 30 minutes. Great option coming from the airport as when you get to Redbridge you are on the central line platform in seconds. Way quicker transfer than at Stratford or Liverpool Street and you miss out on the traffic between Redbridge and Liverpool Street. You are easily past Liverpool Street or Stratford on the central line rather than staying on the bus. and if you are going to get the tube network anyway it's a no brainier.

CanAmSteve

Possibly worth a mention that the Heathrow Connect service seems purposefully short on luggage space. And a nod to the future - when Crossrail is functional (we can hope) and calls at Heathrow, the Express will be no more (I have heard). This perhaps explains the exorbitant fares - they had to make back the investment in a short time. Crossrail will also provide Heathrow train service from the west (Reading) so it will not be necessary to come into Paddington and return (or take the Airbus).

Bermondsey James

Good way to save some cash is to avoid the London termini in Zone 1 unless you live there. E.g. Coming from Gatwick you can go to New Cross and on from there. From Luton you can use West Hampstead, etc. Always worth thinking about where you need to be, not just "I must get to London"

Juno

In terms of "quickest", the Heathrow Express station can be a long hike to the actual terminal you want with whatever luggage you've got; which may be an argument in favour of taxis.

Greg Tingey

Better still
DON'T GO AT ALL
All major airports are visions of hell, compete with the demons of "security" (that don't actually protect anybody from anything) running around giving people a hard time.

Silver Scroll

I already posted this on the "Travel Through Zone 1 At No Extra Cost" article from forever ago, but I don't think I'm likely to get a good response there - and since this article does at least mention Oyster fares, it's not completely off-topic. I hope. Please correct me if wrong.

I know this is an old article, but I just discovered a much more blatant exploit that should be possible, and I'd be interested if anyone can confirm this, for both alternatives. It also involves travelling to Highbury & Islington from Clapham Junction. First of all, the TfL single fare finder says the default fare is £1.70 peak/£1.50 off-peak, which is entirely correct for using the Overground ring. But now consider the following:

Travel to West Brompton with Overground or Southern
Travel to Victoria with District Line
Travel to Highbury & Islington with Victoria Line

Since there are (as far as I know) NO ticket gates on that route, for all intents and purposes that route should be charged with the same default fare, despite going through zone 1 and being faster than going around.

The other possiblity I found is even more interesting:

Travel to Clapham High Street with Overground
OSI to Clapham North
Travel to Stockwell with Northern Line
Travel to Highbury & Islington with Victoria Line

This should be a zone 1-2 journey on the TfL-LU fare scale - but the single fare finder lists NR1-T fares (for taking Southern or SWT to Victoria or Vauxhall) as the only alternatives to the default. Since this route involves an Out of Station Interchange, this is not a sneaky trick like the above - the system should know what you are doing. The question is - does it? The fare it should charge does not show up in the single fare finder, and Clapham High Street/Clapham North (rightly) doesn't show up in the stations that trigger the higher NR1-T fare when changed at in the single fare finder.

So, what does it do? Does it charge the default fare? Does it charge a fare that doesn't show up in the single fare finder, but would be logically correct? Or does it simply give up and charge a penalty for going beyond what it can understand (hopefully not!)? I'd be really interested if anyone could test this.
Kristian Johnson

What about London Southend Airport? Getting there seems to be such a hassle - Not being a Londoner!

Sue Sinton Smith

Travelled to Gatwick last week, using night bus and Thameslink with Oyster. Painless, as long as you check for cancellations.

Jimmy Edwards

Does the Green Line coach still serve Luton?

Nicole Wevers

You can now use Oyster/Contactless on the Thameslink network to Gatwick, making a single journey between £6.60 and £8 from London Blackfriars (which you didn't mention as a stop in your article).

martinbaines

Don't forget the Stansted Express connects to the Victoria Line at Tottenham Hale, which is often more convenient for central and south London. It is also possible to connect to it by mainline trains from Stratford via Tottenham Hale more conveniently than via Liverpool Street.

As others mentioned, advanced and off peak tickets on Stansted Express are a lot cheaper than the £19 quoted in the article.

Tom Payne

Thameslink trains to Gatwick don't call at Elephant & Castle. On paper it looks like it would be handy with the connection to the Northern and Bakerloo lines, but it's quite an horrendous climb up to the platforms and even worse with luggage.

The extension of Oyster to Gatwick is great if you've got an annual Travelcard; for example with an annual zone 1-2 the off peak fare is only £3.85.

Line

Gatwick express is very unreliable. When they mess up they are unable to communicate when things go wrong which is does 50% of the time, there are no other options unless you have started 4-5 hours ahead of your flight. They offer no alternative route on failure, cannot even point you to the busstation (although that in most cases is too late). 31 pounds is the ticket, and the probability of them putting you on a souther slow train is 90%.

JohnnyFox

This might be ready for an update because National Express and Terravision compete for the coach service between Stansted and both Liverpool Street and Stratford, always found it quite good value.

And, sorry to seem smug, but with a 60+ Oyster or Freedom Pass, Heathrow and City are both free and Stansted and Gatwick about £3 as you only pay train fare from the end of Zone 6 and obviously also have a Senior Railcard. :-)

Chris Amies

A shame there is no longer a direct train from Kensington Olympia to Gatwick. You have to change at CLJ instead.
An option for Heathrow from south London is the X26 bus - regular TfL bus fare but quicker than the alternative 111 or 285 from Kingston.