The Ultimate Guide to London Airports

London has four major airports but only two typically service routes originating in the United States.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Published
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Travelers considering a trip to London have no shortage of airports to choose from. These range from London-Heathrow (LHR) airport — one of the busiest airports in the world — to London-Southend, which served fewer than 90,000 passengers in 2022.

All of these London airports can be confusing. Let's break down what you need to know about the airports in London, how to get from these airports to the city center, and which is best for your trip.

Major airports in London

In 2022, four of the airports in London served more than 10 million passengers: London-Heathrow, London-Gatwick, London-Stansted and London-Luton. While much smaller than the others, London-City is also worth mentioning as it's perhaps the most convenient London airport.

London-Heathrow

London-Heathrow is one of the busiest and most well-connected airports in the world, easily making it the main London airport.

As of July 2023, a whopping 81 airlines operate flights from London-Heathrow to 218 destinations across 86 countries.

A vast majority of those destinations are served by British Airways, followed by Virgin Atlantic. American Airlines (with 11 routes) and United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Aer Lingus (all with eight routes) round out the top six airlines currently operating from London-Heathrow.

Despite being the main London airport, London-Heathrow is located pretty far west of the center of London. As the crow flies, the airport is only around 13 direct miles from Trafalgar Square. However, whether you take a taxi or the train from Heathrow to central London, it takes at least 40 minutes — and often over an hour.

Travelers have three options to get from Heathrow to central London by train: the Underground (also known as the "Tube"), the Elizabeth Line and the Heathrow Express.

Of the three options, the London Underground Piccadilly Line is the most cost-effective, with fares starting around $7 (5.50 pounds) for the 50-minute journey. For a slightly faster travel time, take the Elizabeth line into central London for around $16 (12.80 pounds) each way.

If time is of the essence, take the Heathrow Express. You'll zip between the London-Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 station and London Paddington in just 15 minutes.

If you buy your ticket at the last minute, you'll pay as much as $32 (25 pounds) each way. However, you can pay as little as $7 (5.50 pounds) each way by booking your tickets far in advance.

London-Gatwick

London-Gatwick is the second-largest airport in both London and the U.K. Despite often being overshadowed by London-Heathrow, London-Gatwick is also one of the top 10 busiest international airports in the world.

During July 2023, 47 airlines connected London-Gatwick with a combined 193 destinations in 60 countries.

British Airways is a major airline at London-Gatwick, operating 60 routes during July 2023. However, low-cost airlines generally dominate this airport. EasyJet serves the most destinations with 120 routes in July 2023. Wizz Air and Vueling (18 routes each) along with Norse Atlantic Airways (11 routes) round out the top five airlines at London-Gatwick.

Several airlines have routes that connect London-Gatwick with 10 U.S. destinations: Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Orlando, San Francisco, Tampa and Washington, D.C.

London-Gatwick is located around 25 miles south of Trafalgar Square, farther from central London than Heathrow. However, the train from Gatwick can often be quicker than the train from Heathrow.

The Gatwick Express takes just 30 minutes to reach Victoria, while Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern trains connect London-Gatwick to various destinations in central London in 30 to 45 minutes.

London-Stansted

Located around 30 miles northeast of central London, it may seem like a stretch to even say that Stansted airport is located in London. But it's where many low-cost airlines decided to operate flights to and from the capital. Despite being the third-largest airport in London, Stansted virtually tied Manchester as the third-busiest airport in the U.K. in 2022.

In July 2023, 17 airlines connected London-Stansted to 192 destinations across 37 countries — almost exclusively in Europe. The longest flight serves Dubai in just about seven hours. That means this airport is mostly going to be relevant for Americans looking for a cheap flight between London and a destination in Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.

Ryanair (and its subsidiaries) is by far the largest airline at London-Stansted. Jet2 is the other major airline at the airport, with all other airlines serving five or fewer routes.

As with Heathrow and Gatwick, London-Stansted is served by an express train — the Stansted Express. Trains depart every 30 minutes and take 50 minutes to reach London Liverpool Street station. Fares vary but generally cost around $28 (21.90 pounds) each way.

Taking a bus from London-Stansted to central London will take longer but is much more affordable, with one-way fares starting around $6 (5 pounds).

London-Luton

Despite being in distant fourth place, London-Luton still connects London travelers with 125 destinations in 37 countries — almost entirely limited to Europe, with a few northern Africa and Middle East destinations as well.

Like at London-Stansted, low-cost carriers dominate operations. EasyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair operate almost all flights from London-Luton with SunExpress, El Al and Fly One operating the few remaining flights.

The cheapest way to get from London-Luton to central London involves taking a National Express bus starting around $6 (5 pounds) one-way — although close-in bookings will cost more. The journey takes around 50 minutes by bus, beating the generally more expensive connecting train option.

Which London airport is best?

The best London airport for your trip will depend on where you're flying from and what part of London you're planning to visit.

Despite the many airports in London, you have just two options if you're flying from the U.S. to London. Currently, all transatlantic flights involve flying to either London-Heathrow or London-Gatwick.

If you're visiting central London, the better option of the two likely depends on the price of the flight, as the best way to get from Gatwick or Heathrow to London involves taking a train ride of similar length.

Americans who are combining a trip to London with a visit to Europe should consider flying in (or out) of London-City airport. This small airport is located much closer to the center of London than the other main London airports, making it more convenient. Plus, the airport's compact size means a shorter walk from the Tube to your gate.

As of the time of writing, nine airlines operate flights between London-City and a combined 35 short-haul destinations throughout the U.K. and Europe. While cash fares from London-City may be higher than other London airports, this airport is ideal for booking cheap points flights within Europe.

With four major airports — plus several additional smaller airports — travelers have plenty of choices when flying to and from London.

Flights between the U.S. and London are generally limited to London-Heathrow and London-Gatwick. However, London-Stansted, London-Luton and London-City can all be useful for flights between London and mainland Europe.


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