London and Its Six International Airports
When travelers book their first flight to London, they might wonder about the number of available airports. In total, there are six international airports to choose from when traveling to England´s capital.
London Heathrow is England’s biggest and most famous airport. With a turnover of more than 74 million passengers per year, Heathrow is also the largest airline hub in Europe and ranks sixth on the global scale. Heathrow originated in 1929 as a small military airfield next to the hamlet of Heathrow and was expanded to an international civil airport in 1966. It is located 22 kilometers outside the city of London at its west-end. Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are using Heathrow as their main hub for international flights.
Serving about 40 million passengers per year makes Gatwick Airport London´s second biggest airport. It is located 53 kilometers outside the south of London. Its single runway is used more frequently than any other airport-runway around the globe. Plans to extend Gatwick Airport have been impeded by protesting citizens and politicians from the surrounding towns are blocking an expansion.
The third largest airport of London, Stansted Airport, is located 64 kilometers away in the local government district of Uttlesford in Essex and serves more than 22 million passengers per year. As the main hub both for Ryanair and easyJet, Stansted Airport is mainly used by budget travelers within Europe.
Luton, about 50 kilometers northwest of London, is the home of the capital´s fourth largest airport. Its yearly turnover is about 12 million passengers and similar to Stansted, it serves mainly budget airlines. easyJet´s headquarters are located at Luton airport and many flights from the airline are operating from there. Also Ryanair and other budget airlines such as Wizz Air, Thomson Airways und Monarch are operating from Luton.
London City Airport which opened in 1987 is not only the newest but also the closest of all the six London airports. With a limited runway measuring only 1508 meters, it can only handle medium and smaller sized planes. But its proximity of just 11 kilometers to the city center of London makes it the preferred choice for hasty business travel to other European cities. But also flybe, Britain’s largest domestic airline is using the airport for many connections inside the country.
About 64 kilometers away from London, London Southend Airport serves as the smallest of all six mentioned airports. Its turnover of roughly one million passengers per year comes mainly from EasyJet and flybe, which provide nearly all flights. It connects London with cities in Spain and France and some other single European cities.
London Heathrow transit options: metro, train, bus, taxi
Gatwick Airport transit options: train, bus, taxi
Stansted Airport transit options: train, bus, taxi
Luton Airport transit options: train, bus, taxi
London City Airport transit options: train, bus, taxi
London Southend Airport transit options: train, taxi
Ground transport connections
Heathrow Airport has the best connection with London as it is the only one being connected to the Tube, London´s Underground transit system and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). Using the Oyster card, travelers can get to the city center for about £8.
Coming from Gatwick Airport, Heathrow Airport, Luton Airport or Stansted Airport, travelers can use mainline trains to get into the city center. There are different connections, but transit time is usually about half an hour at ticket prices between £12 and £20.
There are also bus connections operated by National Express for Luton Airport, Stansted Airport, Gatwick Airport and Heathrow Airport. Transit times and ticket prices until Victoria Station in the heart of London: Luton Airport (80-100 minutes / £11-12), Stansted Airport (100-115 Minutes / £12-13), Gatwick Airport (80-95 Minutes / £8), Heathrow Airport (40-60 Minutes / £10)
If you consider taking a cab from or to the various airports, hold your breath. This option is very expensive and usually not worth the money, considering the time it takes. Taxi Fare Finder reveals the following price estimates for itineraries until Victoria Station: Heathrow Airport ( > 42 Minutes / from £76), Gatwick Airport ( > 80 Minutes / £106+), Stansted Airport ( > 71 Minutes / from £145+), Luton Airport ( > 64 Minutes / from £122+), London City Airport ( > 37 Minutes / from £44+), London Southend Airport ( > 79 Minutes / from £153+)
How to choose the right airport
The prices and travel times for ground transport connections show that choosing one airport or another can make a big difference. Especially budget travelers that come to London via Ryanair, easyJet or one of the many other budget airlines should be careful. Even with the cheapest plane tickets at single digit prices, traveling to London is not cheap.
London is a vibrant but also expensive city, and public transport is just one of the many places where you will spend substantially. The plummeting Pound following the Brexit poll might have changed this a bit. But for London to be fun, you should plan accordingly.
For Europeans, plane tickets eventually might make the smallest share of what they will spend in England’s historic capital. Choosing a particular airport and daytime can quickly lead to unexpected extra spending, which is even more painful if you come for a short weekend trip. Using Uber to move around and Airbnb for accommodation might be smart ways to save some money.