Getting to London from Heathrow


18 September 2015 (Previously 1 June 2014)

Arriving in London

The two main airports serving North American travelers are Gatwick and Heathrow. Both have information showing service to London but as you have just landed, and perhaps for the first time, you may be a bit overwhelmed. Stop and take a breath; you will get in to London and not miss anything. This may be a good time to start using the proper lingo. London does not have a “downtown”. If you inquire, ask someone how to get to central London. If you ask how to get to the city they may think you want to go to The City, which is a specific part of central London. The “City” is the financial district: Lloyds, Bank of England as well as St. Paul’s and the Tower of London. There are many ways to get to London but I have limited my information to only a few that the majority of visitors typically use. Taxis and private-hire cars are available but at an expense.

Airport Checkpoint Alert

You may be restricted in what you can bring through a security checkpoint at any airport. After checkpoint you may purchase liquids such as water or alcohol in the departure area or Duty Free before getting on a plane. WARNING! You may have to go through another checkpoint at you destination airport if you are changing planes or going through customs. When I went through customs in Philadelphia I never left the secure area and after I re-checked my bags I went to the next gate. In Charlotte I re-checked my bags but I had to pass another checkpoint on my way to the next gate. Any liquids would have had to be placed in my checked-bags first. But I had no idea that another C-P was ahead. You should check with a member of staff first or risk loosing you duty free spirits.

Heathrow Airport (LHR)

Heathrow is 15 miles (24km) west of London and consist of five terminals. Typically, US visitors arrive at Terminal 4. You can use the Heathrow Express, a coach service or the underground (the tube) for service to London. See www.heathrowairport.co.uk for live flight arrivals, departures and other information. Heathrow's oldest terminal, T-2, has re-opened after a £1-billion renovation.

Heathrow Terminals

Heathrow has 5 terminals. Take note on your ticket which terminal your airline is using. All terminals are served by the Piccadilly line of the London Underground (Tube), which can be used for inter-terminal transfers or service to London. This is not a free service. The airport website has additional information on how to move from one terminal to another.

Heathrow Connect

The Heathrow Connect is a rail service that leaves Heathrow every fifteen minutes for Paddington station. Journey time is 30 minutes with brief stops. You must buy your ticket before you start and not on this train. The trip takes about thirty minutes unless work is being done to the track.
See Heathrow Connect for the latest fairs. It cost less but takes a bit longer. Unless you really need to be in London fast I would recommend this.

Heathrow Express

The Heathrow Express is a rail service that leaves Heathrow every fifteen minutes for Paddington station. Journey time is 15 minutes and is non-stop. You can buy your ticket before you start but it is easier to buy it on the train. The conductor accepts cash (£'s only) and most credit cards. The trip takes about fifteen minutes unless work is being done to the track. One should read the ticket information on the site below as the HE offers many options.
See Heathrow Express for the latest fairs.

Please note that there is a third party website for Paddington Express, but it is not the official site for the Heathrow Express.

National Rail from Heathrow

National Rail will get to nearby stations and connections to the airport by bus.

Coach Service from Heathrow

National Express has a service to central London. Check the departure area for more information.

A1 & A2 Airbus from Heathrow

At one time there were two buses that served London from Heathrow. They are no longer in service yet many web sites, including current American air carries may still promote them. You can get coach service into London but to a single stop. The A buses had many stops throughout London and often near a good number of hotels. Sadly they are no more as mentioned in this story from milesfaster.

Underground Service from Heathrow

The underground will take you from Heathrow to central London. This is on the Piccadilly Line and will take about one hour to one and a half hours from Terminal 4 to Piccadilly Circus. The train stops at each of the four terminals but most US travelers arrive at Terminal 4. Buy your ticket in the terminal near the tube stop. See www.tfl.gov.uk. Allow extra time if going to the airport. Keep your ticket, as you will need it to exit the tube station in London. This is typical with the tube and most rail service.

Underground Service Warning

Problems can occur on the tube and you may have to get off the train and find alternate means to your destination. This may mean a walk to another tube station or hailing a cab. Also, be aware that on a crowded train you may not be able to stay with your luggage. Under normal travel conditions allow one to one and a half hours from Heathrow to central London by tube.

Shuttle Service

There are a number of companies offering shuttle service between London airports and to central London. I am hesitant to mention them as their operation could change. A web search will bring them to you.

Money Issues

In a technical sense you can enjoy your visit with just a credit card. But it may be good to have a few pounds in your pocket. Depending on how you travel to central London, you may need to pay in cash. ATM’s, known as cash points, are well placed in the arrival hall. See the Special Service document in this guide for additional information.