So you've set aside the time to go and you already have a good idea of the sights to see and activities to do. You're big London vacation is eminent! But which airport is the best option for you to fly in and out of and how should you go about making such a decision?
Odds are if you're coming from North America you can probably expect to arrival and depart from one of London's two biggest airports: Heathrow or Gatwick. But if you're considering hopping over to mainland Europe, or even some further afield and even rather exotic or off-the-beaten path destinations it's worth keeping the city's other airports in mind.
Depending on how you look at it, there are as many as six airports servicing the greater London area. Each one has international flights and only one is actually within the city limits of London.
Here's a list of London's six airports along with brief descriptions including proximity to Trafalgar Square (considered by many to be the center of London) to help you determine where to catch your flight.
London City Airport
Under ten miles from Trafalgar Square, this is the only airport that's actually located in London. It's small and efficient seeing mostly business travelers coming to and from other European capitals and financial centers but there are connections to JFK as well. The airport is well served by public transportation with a number of buses stopping just outside the terminal and the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) making your journey into the heart of town, easy, inexpensive and relatively quick. For people keen to keep East during their visit or have work in Canary Wharf, this is your idea airport. Find out more at londoncityairport.com.
London Gatwick Airport
One of London's two main airports for long haul flights, Gatwick is located about 30 miles south of Central London. The quickest way into town is via the Gatwick Express, a 30 minute direct train service to Victoria Station. There are other rail services offered by First Capital Connect for London Bridge, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, Farringdon or St Pancras International stations too, and if you know where you're headed these could be the quicker (and most likely less expensive) option. Southern Rail also offers regular train services during the day from Gatwick to London Victoria via East Croydon and Clapham Junction. Visit Gatwick online at gatwickairport.com.
London Heathrow Airport
If you ever hear anyone mention the London airport, they probably mean this one. It's one of the world's busiest and about 18 miles to the west of Trafalgar Square. British Airways own Terminal 5 is considered one of the world's most pleasant and attractive terminals while the refurbished (just reopened this summer) Terminal 2 aims to claim such a distinction for itself. The Piccadilly Line of the London Underground stops here and is a great and affordable way to get to/from town. The 15 minute Piccadilly Express train direct to Paddington Station is a breeze too. If you're staying in West London even just hailing a cab can be a fairly affordable option (especially if you're sharing with one or more passengers). For more details go to heathrowairport.com.
London Luton Airport
Just over 30 miles north Central London, Luton is a popular airport for budget travelers with flights offered across Europe as well as a few to North Africa and the Middle East. First Capital Connect runs trains to Luton on a regular schedule from St Pancras International, Farringdon, London Bridge and Blackfriars station. Checkout Luton online at london-luton.co.uk.
London Stansted Airport
More like a giant international bus station than an airport, Stansted is home to budget airlines aplenty. For some of the cheapest flights in and out of London. If you're up for a quickie beach weekend or heading off to explore lesser known and quirkier destinations, Stansted services more than 150 worldwide – mostly to other small regional airports. Stansted is about 40 miles northeast of Central London. The Stansted Express to/from Liverpool Street Station is an affordable option to get there by train. Find out more at stanstedairport.com.
London Southend Airport
Just over 40 miles away from Central London on the shore in Southend-on-Sea, this small airport sees flights leaving from its runway to the Channel Islands, Cornwall, and a short list of Western European destinations mostly with a flight time of two hours or less. The airport has its own rail station for traveling to and from Central London. For details go to southendairport.com.
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