As someone who’s spends time at an airport every week, I know a good few of them quite intimately. I know how to get to them in the easiest and quickest way, where to eat, and when your travel plans are most likely to be impacted. I’m the girl who know where to stand on the platform, which bathroom is least crowded and which gates have the farthest walk. Keep reading to see which airport I prefer and why!
London has five major airports – London City, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. If I had to rank them, I would rank them from best to worst in this order.
1) London City
For business trips, always try to fly out of London City. It’s the quickest to get to from central London and has the most efficient security staff. Downside? If London is foggy, your flight will probably be cancelled, so travel with caution during bad weather months. Need a quick coffee ? Head to Nero, or walk down towards the gates on the left side to find a significantly less crowded Prêt.
How to get there – If you’re traveling early in the morning or after 7:30pm, grab an Uber. Any other time, I’d recommend taking the DLR for the fastest route into the City or Canary Wharf.
Heathrow is one of the world’s largest airports. While it’s frequently in the News for the chaos travelers have faced when airline systems shut down, it’s also one of the world’s most efficient and safest airports. I’ve come off an airplane from the US, been through immigration, gotten my bag at baggage claim and been standing on the platform waiting for the Piccadilly line in 25 minutes. Even if this timing was luck, I’d dare to say very few other airports of this size can get close to this level of efficiency. I usually don’t travel from Terminal 1 or 4, but have spent days of my life at Terminal 2, 3, and 5. My preference is by far terminal 2. Easy to get through security, a large waiting area, clean bathrooms, and a few shops to keep you busy. Need a quick bite to eat ? Head to Leon’s on the ground floor. You’ll find a WHSmith on the first and ground floor to pick up water and snacks. They won’t charge you an arm and a leg like the shops in the US do. Headed to the B gates? Don’t fret. There’s a few shops and coffee over there too.
How to get there – If you’re headed to a hotel around Paddington, or you’re traveling for business, take the Heathrow Express. If not, the price is steep. Cheaper than a taxi, but not by much. If you’re headed to London Bridge or south, you’re better off taking the tube, or pre-booking a taxi. Whatever option you choose, don’t take a black cab from Heathrow. You will pay at least 2 times what a pre-booked can will cost you. Flat rates start at 30/35 pounds depending on which area of London you’re headed to. Last option? The Piccadilly Line. If you’re traveling as a family, or have a lot of luggage, do yourself a favor and avoid the Piccadilly Line, especially during rush hour. Commuters will not hesitate to push you and your luggage out of the way. You’ll also realize few tube stations have lifts.
Gatwick is another good option – for business or pleasure travel. Both terminals have decent food options; however, I do prefer flying out of the South Terminal because it’s cleaner and a bit smaller. A few gates in the North Terminal require a 15-20 minute walk from the waiting area. It’s the home of EasyJet & Norwegian, so there won’t be any exclusive lounges like you’ll find at Heathrow.
How to get there – Flying early in the morning? Split an Uber or pre-book a cab. The last thing you’ll want to do on a foggy or rainy London morning is head to a bus stop with heavy luggage for the long 1.5 journey. If you’re traveling during the day, both the Gatwick Express and the Thameslink are good options. Remember to check the trains ahead of time. There are often planned works on the southern tracks, so there’s a chance you’ll face delays or cancellations, especially on the weekends.
As the Gatwick of the North, Stansted is a little more chaotic and will require extra time for check in and security. This is the one airport, I’d avoid checking in luggage at, especially if you’re traveling on Ryanair. The lines are long and you’ll find a fare share of really irritated travelers battling agents for one reason or another. Once last security, you’re taken on a winding path of shops through to the main shopping area, where you’ll find a bar and a Prêt. Depending on how lucky you are, you could also be facing a longer walk for certain gates. There are limited food options near the far gates, so grab something in the main area before heading to the gate.
How to get there – The Stansted express is the easiest way to get into London (Liverpool Street), but it comes at a steep price. This train is the most expensive for travelers headed to a London airport, with the sole exception being the Heathrow Express. If you’re traveling at an odd time, check to the first and last trains. Often the last train out of Stansted is at 12:30am, leaving you with the bus or an Uber as your only options after that time. The buses run regularly to a few locations in London, including West London, Stratford and Liverpool Street. The downside is the journey time, which is on average an hour longer than what the train takes depending on your final destination.
Luton is my least favorite of the London Airports. I avoid flying out of Luton unless the prices are significantly cheaper. The journey out to Luton is long as you first take a train and then a shuttle from the Luton Train Station to the Terminals. It’s the home of several low cost airlines and always looks like it’s in the middle of a renovation. There are a few food options on the other side of security to grab food before taking off.
How to get there – Take the train out to Luton and the shuttle to the Terminals. You can buy the tickets separately or together from the train ticket booth. Alternatively, you can take an Uber, but you’ll need to walk far into the parking garage as the Uber’s aren’t allowed to pull up close to the Terminal. I haven’t tried the buses from Luton, so I can’t speak to how well they work.
Do you travel through London’s airports on a regular basis? If so, which one is your favorite? Do you agree with my ranking of the five?