With five major airports that service the capital of the United Kingdom, when it comes to deciding which one to fly to, it can be quite confusing. Here’s our guide to helping you choose the best one for you.
The five major airports that service London are Heathrow, Gatwick, London Stansted, London Luton, and London City. They all differ in size, location, destinations they service and airlines they work with, and it’s important to know which one works best for you when deciding where to fly to. Technically, London Southend Airport is classed as a sixth London airport, but being more than 65 kilometres away from central London and with fewer destinations and countries serviced (watch this space though! London Southend Airport is growing rapidly), most people wanting to be near central London would use one of the five other major airports instead.
Many visitors to the UK may assume Heathrow is the best airport to fly to; that’s to be expected seeing as it’s the main aviation hub for the UK, and is one of the busiest airports in the world, serving more than 75 million passengers each year. However, Gatwick Airport follows hot on Heathrow’s tails, serving more than 40 million passengers a year, while Stansted and Luton are great choices for frequent low-cost flights, and London City is the only airport located in the heart of the city, making it ideal for business travellers. With all airports accessible to London, it pays to shop around and see which airport has the best flight options for your needs.
To help you pick the ideal airport for your trip, here’s the most important information you need to know about each of London’s major airports.
Heathrow Airport (LHR)
Best for: Long-haul flights
Worst for: Airport parking and queues
Heathrow Airport is consistently placed in the top 10 busiest airports in the world, and is the main international hub for flights to the UK. It is the home of British Airways, but more than 80 airlines fly here, serving more than 200 destinations in 85 countries, which makes it an excellent choice for variety of airlines and destinations. Being located only 24 kilometres from central London, it’s also a convenient airport for most travellers, especially those staying in West London.
However, with the availability of flights and huge passenger numbers comes queues; Heathrow is notorious for its long lines through border security, so if you’re travelling with young children or need to be at a business meeting swiftly after landing, it’s worth taking this into consideration when choosing your airport.
If you’re planning on driving to or from London Heathrow, you may want to think again; airport parking rates at Heathrow are eye-watering (find out more in our article Revealed: How Much Does Airport Parking Really Cost?). Consider instead an airport transfer; the cost of an airport transfer from London Heathrow to central London starts from as little as £21 for shared shuttles and £50 for private transfers on Jayride.com.
Gatwick Airport (LGW)
Best for: Variety of airlines
Worst for: Convenience
Gatwick Airport is the second largest airport in the UK, and according to Gatwick, they fly to more destinations than any other UK airport. Compared to Heathrow, there is more of a mix of types of flights, ranging from low-budget, to charter and long-haul, and flights from Gatwick go to more than 200 destinations in more than 70 countries. Gatwick works with more than 56 airlines, and is the biggest base for Europe’s popular low-cost line easyJet, meaning that it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a budget option. There are just two terminals – North terminal and South Terminal – and although there is not the selection, variety and glitz and glam of Heathrow, both have shops and restaurants to keep travellers entertained. Plus, immigration and border security lines do tend to move more quickly than Heathrow.
However, being located in West Sussex, to the south east of London and 45 kilometres from central London, Gatwick is further out than Heathrow, which some travellers will factor into their decision. The airport itself is well-connected and in fact was the world’s first airport to have a direct mainline train link, although delays and cancellations are a regular occurrence and the ticketing system and crowds can put off a lot of travellers. If you’re travelling with lots of luggage, in a group or with a family, or you just want to get into London quicker and without the crowds, then an airport transfer is a better option. Airport transfers from Gatwick to central London start from as little as £31 for shared shuttles and £67 for private transfers on Jayride.com.
London Stansted Airport (STN)
Best for: Budget European flights
Worst for: Accessibility
London Stansted Airport is unrivalled in the European flight network it offers, and is an important base for many low-cost airlines, including Ryanair, easyJet and Jet2.com. As London’s third-biggest airport serving more than 25 million passengers a year, it is chosen by many travellers wanting to fly over to Europe as the airport focuses mainly on short- and medium-haul flights. Stansted Airport is also one of London’s fastest-growing airports, and works with more than 15 airlines and tour operators flying to more than 35 countries.
If you’re looking for more global destinations, Heathrow and Gatwick are better bets. Plus, if you’re not an early riser, Stansted could prove a bit of a problem – the airport is known for its early flights, and being around 64 kilometres from central London, you may not welcome the bleary-eyed start. With busy trains and parking rates some of the highest in the country, booking an airport transfer to Stansted Airport is a great option. Airport transfers from London Stansted Airport to central London start from as little as £31 for shared shuttles and £65 for private transfers on Jayride.com.
London Luton Airport (LTN)
Best for: Getting to North London
Worst for: Accessibility
Another London airport popular with budget travellers, London Luton Airport is the fifth busiest airport in the UK, and fourth largest serving the wider London area, with more than 15 million annual passengers travelling to both international and domestic destinations. Currently the airport doesn’t have a huge selection of dining and retail options compared to the other London airports, but it is undergoing a multi-million pound transformation to improve transport options, increase destinations and upgrade the retail and dining options available, which will work to attract more travellers.
London Luton Airport is located more than 50 kilometres north of Central London, and public transport to the airport is not as well-connected than other London airports, as the train station is around a 10-minute shuttle bus ride away from the airport. For travellers with children or lots of luggage, or those with less time to spare, an airport transfer could be a much better option for getting to or from the airport. Airport transfers from London Luton Airport to central London start from as little as £31 for shared shuttles and £70 for private transfers on Jayride.com.
London City Airport (LCY)
Best for: Convenience and business travellers
Worst for: Variety of flights and destinations
London City Airport is by far the most convenient airport if you’re staying in central London; it’s located just 9.5 kilometres from central London and is technically the only airport in the city. Added to that is that being a small airport, getting through arrivals, departures and border security can be very swift, and you could be at your destination in an almost-impossible amount of time. In fact, the airport claims to have shorter check-in times than all the other London airports. City Airport is a top choice for many business travellers due to its accessibility and emphasis on short-haul business travel to Europe. It’s location is just 1.6 kilometres from the ExCeL London event centre and under 5 kilometres from Canary Wharf. With just over 4.5 million annual passengers, London City Airport is the smallest of the London airports, with around 10 airlines and serving just under 50 destinations. Private airport transfers to Canary Wharf for those all-important business meetings can be booked on Jayride.com for as little as £38.
The choice is yours! But whatever you do, make sure you start your trip off on the right foot by booking your airport transfer before you fly.