Transport to London
30 November 2010
There are several ways of getting to central London but they vary is time and cost. The fastest way is to use a rail service. The express trains are non-stop but cost more than the national rail companies. The regular trains do not take that much longer and you have more options as to what station or part of London you want to terminate. I list all of London’s airports in this chapter but the emphasis here is from Gatwick & Heathrow.
To check if your journey to London via underground may be disrupted, please check TfL Planned Engineering Works statement. Check with your rail operator (Gatwick Express, Heathrow Express, Heathrow Express Terminal 4 (journey time is different than to other terminals), National Rail, Eurostar) for planned works closure. Be aware that some disruptions may cause you to use transfer buses. Some rail disruptions may cause you to transfer to the underground. This may involve steps bit not always lifts or escalators. There is always the chance for an unplanned disruption (power fault, breakdown, man on track)
Things to Remember
Should you ask directions as to how to get to London, don’t ask how to get downtown. London doesn’t have one. Trains, coach and rail arrive in different locations in London and the financial center is the City. If you ask to get to the city you will be told how to get to the area near the Bank of England. If you are staying in the West End then you will do a lot of sightseeing on your first day.
Most Americans for whom this guide is written for, land in Heathrow or Gatwick. Stansted, Luton and London City Airport are also used on European flights. These airports have rail and or Overground service to London. London Overground does not service central London and may not be suitable for most tourists.
Eurostar is a high-speed rail service from continental Europe that brings you in to St. Pancras Rail Station, which is in central London.
I land at Gatwick but I stay far from Victoria station. I save money by taking First Capital Connect to St. Pancras via London Bridge. I can walk to my hotel but the cab is cheap enough that I don’t have to lug my luggage. The cab from Victoria would be way more than twice what it cost from St. Pancras. It does take more time but I still wait for check-in anyway.
Once you arrive at an airport don’t get overly concerned about getting transport. There are people there (in uniform) that can help you select a method and how to pay. Once on a platform read the monitors to see what train is approaching and its destination. It may not be yours. There are audio announcements as well.
Coach service typically brings you into the Victoria Coach Works in South West central London south of Victoria Rail Station. This is not true in some cases but your coach operator will guide you. Still you will be in the tick of it. Airports have well displayed signs showing departure points. See my pages: From Gatwick and From Heathrow for more on this.
Should you be unfortunate to drive a car into London you will pay dearly for it. Central London has a congestion charge of £10 a car to enter the central part of London. This is the Transport for London Congestion Charge page.
A cab ride or limo into London from an airport other than London City Airport will cost a lot and take some time. If you need to do this fine as a cab ride will be scenic and a limo means somebody else is paying. London City Airport is actually in London and easy to get in and out of.
If you plan on traveling from any airport by taxi please read this fare guide from Transport of London and the PDF files within it.
The only airport offering underground (tube) service to central London is Heathrow.
Credit Card Issues
Ticket machines typically have a credit card reader that one inserts a card into. If the reader is not a swipe style then you insert, but sometimes the card needs to remain in the reader until you are instructed to remove it. I have used these types for rail service from airports and pushed in and pulled out quickly; just like I do in the states. The long line of unhappy travelers gave me further instructions on using the machine. They were so kind.