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.
Airport to London by Train
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 airport: Heathrow Express to Paddington station in approx 15 minutes. Also see information about the new Elizabeth Line service, below.
Gatwick airport: Gatwick Express to Victoria station in approx 30 minutes. Also, Southern trains from/to Victoria station in approx 40 minutes; and Thameslink trains from/to London Bridge station in approx 30 minutes.
Luton airport: A shuttle bus (10 minutes) to Luton Airport Parkway station, then National Rail trains to London St Pancras station in approx 30 to 40 minutes.
Stansted airport: Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street station in approx 45 minutes.
London City: Dockland’s Light Railway from London City Airport to Bank station in approx 25 minutes.
Airport to London by Bus
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.
NationalExpress: travel between central London and Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.
At London Heathrow you can also catch bus number 9 to Trafalgar Square: see Transport For London
Airport to London by Underground / Subway
Travelling by London Underground (or Tube as we call it!) is a cheap option for getting from Heathrow – but not possible for other airports.
London Heathrow airport to central London on the Piccadilly line (blue) takes approximately 50 minutes to 1 hour (to Piccadilly Circus).
A new option for travel from Heathrow to Central London is the swanky new Elizabeth Line, which goes from Heathrow via Paddington to stations including Tottenham Court Road, Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf.
Airport to London by Taxi or Cab
London black cabs are expensive by most world city standards but make sense if there are a few of you (up to 5) travelling. Black cabs are a particularly quick way of getting from Heathrow airport. See approximate taxi fares here.
Private hire and mini cab companies run airport transfers to all the major London airports. Companies include Addison Lee.
Airport to London and the UK by Car Rental
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. However, travel websites such as Expedia.com and QEEQ.com are an effective way to search for car rental deals across different dates and locations.
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.
For further information and contacts for Car Hire companies please visit here.
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 Park & Go to compare airport parking.
Getting around London
London has an extensive and efficient 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. You can use your debit or credit card to touch in and touch out of London Underground stations, or touch in when alighting a London bus. You can also buy an Oyster Card, which works in the same way except you pre-pay money on the card.
London’s 11 tube routes plus the new Elizabeth line and London Overground, provide the fastest way of getting around town – but are not great for sightseeing! All you have to work out which coloured line you need to travel on and in which direction (northbound, eastbound, southbound or westbound). As well as checking the Tube Map for working out how to get from A to B, also check on a real map too, as sometimes two stations can look far apart on the Tube map, but in reality are a short walk from each other (Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, we are talking about you!) You also end up missing some great sights – London is one of the world’s great walking cities.
London has an impressive bus network, with electronic timetable signage at most bus stops and helpful automated signage and announcements on the bus to help make it easy to get around. Google Maps and Apple Maps are also useful for working out bus routes and times, using their Directions features.
Touch in on the bus as you enter using your debit or credit card, or an Oyster card. You don’t need to touch out before leaving the bus. If you change buses within an hour of having first touched in, you won’t be charged on subsequent bus trips.
There is an extensive London Overground train network in London – particularly useful if you are travelling to South London: see Transport For London or National Rail. Or see timetables and buy tickets at Trainline.com.
London Taxis and Ride Sharing
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 or her hand.
Minicabs and private hire taxis are fully 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 lists mini cab companies.
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.
Cycling in London
Millions has been spent in the last few years upgrading roads in London to create bicycle superhighways throughout the City. Check out bike maps from Transport for London; also Citymapper has a useful cycle planner to help you choose fast or quiet routes through the city, and where bicycle docks are.
London also has a bike hire scheme – sponsored by Santander. Read more about bike hire here.
London is also conducting a trial for Escooters – see more information about E-Scooters here.
Driving in London
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 to enter each day. 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).
London Ferries and Boats
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. There are also a number of Thames River Cruise services available. Also check out Thames River boat tours and cruises.
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