Which London airport should I choose?

We’ve all been there. It’s cold; you’re dreaming of warmer climes. You jump online, find an impossibly cheap ticket to Madrid or Marrakesh, take a deep breath and hit book. You’re now the proud owner of a plane ticket from London Southend airport or Heathrow airport. Job done. But the day before you’re due to travel, you realise something important. That London airport is on the other side of town from where you’re staying. Or it doesn’t have a train connection early enough to make your morning flight. Or it’s actually not even in London at all…

Flying in or out of the English capital can be a confusing business. With six airports – a few of which really stretch the definition of being in London – how do you know which London airport location is best for you? Whether you’re in a rush or on a budget, travelling for business or with kids, Rome2rio’s essential guide to London airport travel has the answers.

What’s the best London airport?
Which London airport is cheapest to get to?
Which London airport if I’m travelling with kids?
Should I choose Heathrow or Gatwick?
How do I transfer between airports?

What and where are all the London airports?

There are six major airports in or near London: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, City and Southend.

map showing distances of 6 London airports from central London
Greater London, surrounded by the M25 motorway, showing relative distances to the six London airports.

What’s the best London airport?

That’s a loaded question. Obviously the main factor in deciding which is best for you is finding the right flight for your schedule and budget. Heathrow is the busiest airport with the most routes and flights – but some might prefer London’s #2 airport, Gatwick, for its smaller size and (usually) shorter queues.

For budget flights, first check out Stansted and Luton airports. Southend is also an option, but has fewer flights and is generally harder to get to – although Ryanair is opening a new base at Southend in 2019. Business travellers to Europe should look at City – as should regular travellers who are holidaying in cities that are European business hubs; you might find a good deal, plus the proximity to central London makes it perfect for those planning a Friday evening departure for a weekend break.

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Which airport is closest to central London?

London City is the closest airport to London. It’s the only one of the six that’s actually in central London, and it’s an easy taxi ride or quick hop on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway).

However, this airport mainly flies to European business hubs. If that doesn’t suit your needs, Heathrow is probably your next best bet. You can get there in 15 minutes on the Heathrow Express from Paddington station, and there’s plenty of other transfer options to suit all budgets (the Tube, Night Tube, Heathrow Connect, coach, bus, and night bus).

All transport options from central London to City airport
All transport options from City airport to central London
All transport options from central London to Heathrow airport
All transport options from Heathrow airport to central London


Heathrow: free, unlimited   |   Gatwick: 90 mins for free   |   Stansted: 4 hours free   |      Luton: 4 hours free   |   City: free, unlimited   |   Southend: free, unlimited

Which London airport is cheapest to get to?

There’s a few answers to this one, but the most likely one is Heathrow. You can get there on the London Underground for just £3.10 off-peak using an Oyster Card (note: A single DLR fare to City Airport is even cheaper, but City services far fewer routes and destinations than Heathrow).

Your other budget transport option is the coach, which serves all airports except Southend and City. National Express bus tickets can be as low as £3.50, but you’ll need to book online in advance for the cheapest fares – and obviously you’ll be competing with all the London road traffic.

Which London airport is quickest to get to?

If you’re in West London, take the Heathrow Express from Paddington (15 minutes). If you’re in central or East London, City Airport is just 6 minutes from Canning Town DLR station.

time map from central London to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Southend and City airports
Time map showing quickest journey and transport type to each London airport

Which airport is best for flights to/from the US?

Heathrow has the most choice of flights to the US, and the Heathrow Express is convenient if you have lots of luggage. (TIP: Book the Heathrow Express online in advance for heavily discounted tickets). However, Gatwick also has lots of scheduled US flights and can be an easier airport to navigate since it’s smaller.

Business travellers should also check out City Airport’s Clubworld service that flies between London and New York JFK on a 32-seater plane with flatbeds.

If you’re specifically looking for a low-cost transatlantic option, Primera Air flies direct from Stansted to New York, Boston and Washington; WOW flies from Stansted and Gatwick to numerous US destinations (via Reykjavik); and Norwegian Airlines operates direct low-cost, long-haul flights to the US out of Gatwick – including an impressive day return to NYC.

Which London airport is best for cheap flights to/from Europe?

Luton, Stansted and Southend are the main budget airline-friendly airports, offering low-cost flights all over Europe and beyond. We’d suggest checking out Stansted first as it’s the home of Ryanair and has the most scheduled flights out of the three, followed by Luton (as the base of budget-flight heavyweight Easyjet). The main thing Southend airport has going for it is the fact that it has so few flights and is so far from central London that the terminal is generally quiet and easy to navigate. However, Southend will become more appealing from April 2019, when Ryanair opens a new base there, operating flights to Barcelona, Corfu, Dublin and Venice among others.

Whether you choose Stansted or Luton really depends on where you can find the best flight for your needs, and where you’re coming from or going to in London. The Stansted Express links you to Liverpool Street Station in 45 minutes, which is great if you’re travelling from/to East London or the City. Luton is a 22-minute run from St Pancras in the city’s north, and you can also connect to this route from other central London stations, including Farrington and Blackfriars, but you have to get a shuttle from the train station to Luton airport. It only takes 10 minutes, but it’s one more annoyance to add to the many hassles of flying (as is the fact that Luton is currently under renovation, which means the terminal is extra chaotic).

TIP: Don’t book an early morning flight out of Southend airport unless you’ve figured out a way to get there. The first train doesn’t arrive until 6:30am (Mon–Sat; 8:18am on Sunday) and disruptions to weekend services are frequent.

ONE LAST TIP: it’s worth checking out Gatwick. You might not associate it with budget airlines, but it has a high volume of low-cost and charter flights.

Which London airport is best for business flights to Europe?

London City Airport. It’s aimed at business travellers travelling to/from Europe (and also has an amazing 32-seater flight to New York City). You can’t get more convenient if you’re working in central London.

Which London airport if I’m travelling with kids?

Both Heathrow and Gatwick have plenty of family-friendly facilities. Heathrow even has Hamleys toy store, although Gatwick’s smaller size might be more palatable if you’re travelling with small children. Some other great tips are:

  • Kids under 15 travel free on the Heathrow Express with an adult (and children under 10 are free on the Tube), so if you’re travelling as a family Heathrow Airport might be worth it. Plus Heathrow has kids eat free on certain dates.
  • Luton offers free fast-track security for kids under 2 (£3-5 pounds for an adult)
  • Gatwick Premium Security is free for children under 12 (£5 for an adult)
  • The Stansted Express is free for children under 5, and half price for children aged 5–15
  • Southend airport parking is a just few minutes’ walk from the terminal, so no need to wait around for shuttle buses
  • Children under 11 travel free on the London Underground and DLR, if you’re travelling to Heathrow or City

Should I choose Heathrow or Gatwick?

Heathrow vs Gatwick is a common question for travellers. Heathrow (airport code LHR) and Gatwick (airport code LGW) are London’s #1 and #2 airports in terms of size, routes and number of flights. If you’re tossing up between the two – and can find suitable flights at both – consider the following:

Since its smaller, Gatwick is likely (though we can’t promise!) to be less hectic than Heathrow with shorter security and immigration queues. In addition, Gatwick Premium Security is free for kids under 12 (£5 per adult) which could be an extra sweetener if you’re travelling with your family. That said, Heathrow has free, unlimited WiFi, while Gatwick only offers 90 minutes for free.

But your choice will really depend on where in London you’re travelling to/from. If you’re near Victoria, anywhere in South London, or coming from Brighton, Gatwick is probably going to be the most convenient via the Gatwick Express. If you’re in West or North London, Paddington may be easier to get to (for the Heathrow Express or TfL Rail to Heathrow). If you’re on a budget, the Tube to Heathrow is always a winner, although you should allow an hour from central London (you can’t get to Gatwick on the Tube). And in general, Heathrow is easier to get to and from; commuter train connections to Gatwick have the reputation of being confusing and expensive.

How do I transfer between the London airports?

If you have connecting flights at different London airports, think very carefully about your timings and travel plans. An airport transfer from Gatwick to Heathrow, for example, isn’t as straightforward as you think it would be, with no direct train service from Heathrow to Gatwick (or Heathrow and any other airport, for that matter). Your best bet is a National Express coach, which links all four major airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. Tickets are cheapest when booked in advance.

Your only relatively simple rail option between airports is the Thameslink train that runs between Luton and Gatwick. Otherwise, you’ll need to head into central London and change trains at least once.

All transport options between Heathrow and Gatwick
All transport options between Gatwick and Stansted
All transport options between Gatwick and Heathrow
All transport options between Gatwick and Luton
All transport options between Luton and Stansted

Which London airport infographic

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