October 3, 2009
Tips and advice on getting from London’s airports to the centre of town, and using public transport to get around London.
Getting to and from London airports
When you fly into London you will arrive at one of the capital’s five airports – all of which are an hour or less from central London: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton or City Airport.
Train travel from London’s major airports can be expensive but it’s often the quickest option. At Heathrow and Gatwick airports you also need to decide between fast but expensive services such as Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express and the mainline train companies, who offer cheaper but slightly slower alternatives.
Heathrow Express to Paddington station in approx 15 minutes.
Heathrow Connect (which is cheaper) to Paddington station in approx 25 minutes.
Gatwick Express to Victoria station in approx 30 minutes.
Southern trains to Victoria station in approx 40 minutes.
First Capital Connect trains to London Bridge station in approx 30 minutes.
A shuttle bus (5 minutes) to Luton Airport Parkway station, then First Capital Connect trains to St Pancras station in approx 30 – 40 minutes.
Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street station in approx 45 minutes.
Dockland’s Light Railway from London City Airport to Bank station in approx 25 minutes.
By far the cheapest way of getting from the airport to central London is by bus – but only if you have the time. The bus companies run fares from as low as £2.
National Express: travel between central London and Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.
Heathrow: Number 9 night bus to Trafalgar Square: Transport For London
BY LONDON UNDERGROUND:
Travelling by tube is only really an option from Heathrow to central London, although at only £4 full fare (and as low as £2.20 with an Oyster Card off-peak) it’s a good budget choice.
London Heathrow airport to central London on the Piccadilly line (blue) in approx 50 minutes to 1 hour (to Piccadilly Circus): Transport For London
London black cabs are expensive by most world city standards but make sense if there are a few of you (up to 5) travelling. See approximate taxi fares here.
Private hire and mini cab companies run airport transfers to all the major London airports. Companies include Addison Lee.
Unless you plan to combine a trip to London with other places in the UK, then hiring a car is an expensive option in London given hire car costs, the congestion charge in central London and parking fees.
Parking: If you are staying out of London but driving in for the theatre then make use of Westminster City Council Car Park’s Theatreland Parking Scheme. You can save 50% on your car parking charge by driving to a participating car park and taking a paper ticket upon entry. Then at the West End theatre you are attending ask the box-office staff to validate your paper ticket using their special validation machine. When you return to the car park and insert your paper ticket in the payment machine you’ll enjoy a 50% discount off the standard casual tariff. The participating car parks are: Chinatown; Pimlico; Leicester Square; Soho; Marble Arch / Park Lane; Trafalgar Square; Oxford Street. See more details of theatres and corresponding car parks here.
When hiring a car it’s worth getting Car Hire Excess insurance to protect yourself against the excess charges you are expected to pay if the car is damaged. You can insure yourself rather than the car and choose between annual policies for unlimited car hire or day rates. Taking out independent excess insurance is cheaper than taking out a car hire company’s excess insurance policy. Read more about Car Hire Excess Insurance at CarHireInsure.
Car Hire companies:
Parking at the airport:
It’s usually cheaper and easier to pre-book if you intend on parking at one of London’s airports. See Purple Parking for details.
Getting around London
London has an extensive (and expensive) public transport system to whisk you around London. Run by Transport for London (TfL) you will find a wealth of maps and resources online at Transport For London
London’s eleven tube routes provide the fastest way of getting around town – but are not great for sightseeing! All you have to work out is which coloured line you need to travel on and in which direction (northbound, eastbound, southbound or westbound).
If you plan to be nipping about on tubes and buses then buy an Oyster Card for Visitors.
Ken Livingstone may have had his faults but there have never been so many buses on London roads. The days of waiting days for a bus are gone – and with electronic timetable signage at many bus stops and helpful automated signage and announcements on the bus it’s easy to get around.
On many buses you now need to buy a ticket BEFORE boarding – from one of the machines at the bus stop or from an Underground station. Bus passes, Travelcards and Oyster Cards are all a good idea to make life easier and cheaper.
London’s metered black cabs are expensive for single travellers, but if there’s a few of you (up to 5) then it often makes sense. Plus every black cab driver has to take the ‘Knowledge’ test so knows London like the back of his hand.
Minicabs and private hire taxis must now be licensed in London – and you should only take a mini cab that features one of the blue Transport for London “Private Hire” stickers in their car window. The CabWise service provided by TfL will text you the numbers of one taxi and two licensed minicab firms in the area you are texting from. Text HOME to 60835 (only within the UK) to get the numbers or see more on hiring mini-cabs here.
If you fancy some thrills and spills on the streets of London then bicycle taxis and rickshaws are everywhere – particularly outside West End theatres after the show.
It’s not as scary as you might think, but driving in London requires a bit of planning. The Congestion Charge zone is an area of central London that you have to pay £8 per day to enter on Mondays to Fridays 7am to 6pm. There are no toll booths or barriers – but rather cameras patrol the zone and you need to pay the charge online or call 0845 900 1234 or pay at selected service stations or newsagents.
Parking can be expensive – although if you are going to the theatre you can save up to 50% (see Parking above).
The ambition is for a whole network of Thames river boats to become an important means of transport in London. The current reality is rather different with a limited service of Thames River Boats – and quite expensive fares. However, it does make for a fun way to travel.
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