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London Airport Guide: How to Choose the Right Airport

Credit: Wikipedia
Credit: Wikipedia

London is home to 8 million people, in a country of 65 million. 31.5 million tourists passed through the United Kingdom's capital in 2015.

That's a lot of people, doing a lot of traveling. To service this, London has not one, not two, but seven airports at its disposal.

When I say seven, I mean that seven airports within the UK have the name “London” in their title – no matter what their distance from the city center, or general purpose.

Some are ideally placed for onwards travel, no matter where you are staying in London. Others can be a right pain to get to.

Here's everything you need to know about accessing the capital from London's many airports.

Heathrow Airport (Credit: Wikipedia)
Heathrow Airport (Credit: Wikipedia)

London Heathrow Airport

Heathrow holds several crowns as far as the country's airports are concerned.

It's the airport that is most synonymous with London and the biggest in the UK.

Plus, it's the busiest airport by passenger traffic in Europe and the primary hub for British Airways.

The airport has five terminals and is located out in the far west of the city.

There's an express train that links the terminals with Paddington Station. It's clean, speedy, and expensive.

Those wishing to penny-pinch can opt for the much cheaper Piccadilly line.

Be warned – if you're headed for central London, you're in for a long ride.

London Gatwick Airport

The UK's second-largest airport is located in the south of the country, 29.5 miles (47.5 km) from Central London.

While many international flights (think long-haul to places like Australia, New Zealand, and Asia) tend to originate from Heathrow, Gatwick is Europe's leading airport for point-to-point flights.

So, if you're using London as a landing platform for Europe, the chance that you'll be continuing your journey from Gatwick will be pretty high.

The airport is relatively easy to get to. The Gatwick Express runs between the airport and Victoria Station in south-west London.

You can also catch express trains from both London Bridge or Blackfriars station if you happen to be staying around that part of the city.

City Airport's DLR Station
City Airport's DLR Station (Credit: Wikipedia)

London City Airport

I've only flown out from City Airport once, but I'd happily repeat the process.

It is hands down my favorite airport in London, for many reasons.

Considered an airport for business travelers, City is the only airport in London.

Access to the terminal is simple, through the capital's DLR (District Light Rail), which provides public transport around the Docklands and south-east of the city.

Locations that travelers can fly to from City tend to be business-based.

However, the number of leisure destinations that the airport services have increased over the last few years.

Particularly over the winter, when the demand for flights to ski-resorts increases.

Here's a fun game to play while waiting for your plane to board.

Grab a table, order a glass of wine and try to guess between those traveling for business and those who are traveling for leisure!

London Luton Airport

Otherwise and more correctly known as Luton Airport, this airport is located 29.02 miles (46.71 km) directly north of central London.

It's the UK's leading hub for budget flights, serving as a base for EasyJet, Monarch and Thomson Airways.

Most routes are scheduled within Europe, although you can fly to select destinations in the United States, Asia, and Northern Africa.

As far as public transport goes, Luton can be accessed via both rail and shuttle bus from Blackfriars, Farringdon, City Thameslink, and St Pancras International station.

London Stansted Aiport

As far as I'm concerned, Stansted is a carbon copy of Luton – it just happens to be a little further out (30 miles, or 48 km).

The fourth busiest airport in the UK, it too, serves as a hub for budget airlines. Ryanair, in particular, flies to 100 destinations, with Stansted as its base.

The airport has its own express train, which runs from Liverpool Street Station in central London.

Southend is tiny. (Credit: Wikipedia)
Southend is tiny. (Credit: Wikipedia)

London Southend Airport

Someone tossed the word London in front of Southend Airport as a cruel joke, as it's technically in Essex.

The airport is 42 miles (68 km) from central London and was once the capital's third-largest airport.

These days, only three airlines have regularly chartered flights from the airport, with EasyJet topping the list.

I once quite foolishly got the airport codes for Southend and Stansted mixed up when booking a flight back from Amsterdam (STN vs. SEN, it could happen to anyone).

Yet, the trip back to my home in Central London was both pleasant and stress-free.

I'd fly from there again. Next time I might break up the travel trip to Southend Pier – at 1.34 miles, it's the longest pleasure pier in the world.

London Biggin Hill Airport

An honorable mention goes to London's Biggin Hill airport, which I did not know existed until I started writing this article.

Located in south-east London, the airport once serviced the Royal Air Force, used as one of the principal fighter bases during the Second World War.

Here's the reason I and possibly you have never heard of it.

While the airport is used by several business jets, it has no scheduled services for fare-paying passengers.

Whether this may change in the future remains to be seen.

So far, the local council seems determined to keep the airport as it is – a landing platform for only the very, very rich.

As the website notes, it is very conveniently based, being only a 6-minute helicopter ride to the city!

No matter where you're going to, or coming from, London's many airports should get you from point A to B with minimum stress on your part.

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