How to get to London

Getting to and from London is Nothing but a Piece of Cake

Plane, boat, train, helicopter, jet… there are plenty of ways to get into London (and in style, too).

Luke Abrahams
15 June 2023

You’re probably clued in enough by now to realize that London is one of the world’s major hub cities, and with that come some pretty excellent transport opportunities. As with any place on earth, how you get to London depends on where you are coming from - but with well-serviced airports, bustling ports, and an extensive rail network - getting to the city from wherever you hop off is an absolute doddle.

Getting to London by plane

London is serviced by five major international and domestic airports. The biggest is Heathrow (LHR), one of the largest airports in the world and where most global carriers fly, as well as the UK’s national airline, British Airways. The airport is connected to the city of London by high-speed rail via the Heathrow Express or the newly opened Elizabeth Line, as well as the London Underground aboard the Piccadilly Line (the longest, but cheapest way into the city).

Gatwick (LGW), though further out of the capital in leafy Sussex, also has great connections into Central London by way of a 30-minute ride on the Gatwick Express to London Victoria Station, or on the commuter Southern rail line (also to Victoria) and the Thameslink to King’s Cross St. Pancras via London Bridge stations.

In addition to these major hubs, Luton (LTN), Stanstead (STN), and London City (LCY) airports are great and less pricey alternatives should you fly into the city from Continental Europe. All have direct and speedy train links (although if you are landing in Luton, you have to take a shuttle bus from the airport to Luton Parkway) to London’s major railway stations via several rail network providers, and tickets can be booked on arrival or in advance online. Contactless payments are available at all major stations and on the train itself, but make sure you check before you board.

Getting to London by Bus

Pre-Book your Public Transport Tickets

Public transport is easily the quickest and easiest way to get around London. Book and register all your cards so they are ready for contactless travel, or purchase an Oyster card and refill it as you go. If you can, reserve train tickets pre-arrival for a smooth transit into the city – it will save you lining up after a long flight.

Bus services into London regularly run from all the UK’s major airports and can be booked directly online or at National Express ticket offices. Ride times vary from 45 minutes to upwards of one hour, depending on the traffic, and most bus services terminate at London Victoria overground station with a few local pit stops along the way.

For those already in Continental Europe, the much cheaper alternative to flying to London is also by hopping on a bus. Most head in aboard coaches that zoom in from Paris via ferry services that cross the English Channel, but as Europe is so well connected, don’t be surprised to see direct services driving in from the likes of Spain, Germany, and Italy, too.

Getting to London by train

London is expensive to get around, but the beauty of the city is that it's so walkable. Think twice before you hop on the Tube as most of the city's top attractions are within walking distance of each other.

The UK is home to countless UK airports, so even if your plane jets into the likes of Birmingham (BHX), Manchester (MAN), or even Edinburgh (EDI) in Scotland, speedy and direct train routes into London are near guaranteed.

The capital can also be reached thanks to Eurostar services that connect London to Paris. Regular trains run every day from the crack of dawn until late and take just 2h 20min. If you plan to do this, it’s well worth booking in advance as tickets can sometimes work out even more expensive than flying with a budget airlines’ flights to Stansted, Gatwick, or Luton.

Getting to London by Cab

London’s roads get notoriously busy during peak seasons, so it’s worth noting that taking a cab into the city will be very time-consuming. There are ways to cheat the jams, however. If your flight gets in early or during other off-peak times, journey times from Heathrow rarely exceed 40 minutes. Black cabs are generally the priciest option (expect to pay anything upwards of £100, around $124), and an Uber during rush hour bound for Central London hotels will roughly cost you between £50 (around $62) and £70 (about $87). Taxis are generally considered the luxe way of traveling into the city, so if you fancy a blowout cab ride just for the memories and the Instagram snaps, it’s perhaps the most stylish and convenient way to do so.

Getting to London by Boat

Yes, you can still travel by boat to London. The metropolis is only a few hours away from England’s east, south, and southeast coasts. The most accessible are the seaports of Dover, Harwich, and Newhaven, with luxury liners like Cunard dropping their anchors at Southampton, famous for where the Titanic set sail on its ill-fated voyage to New York.

If you do arrive by sea, there are frequent train services that run into London Victoria station from Dover, Newhaven, and Harwich railway stations. The same goes for ferry crossings into England from France. DFDS Seaways, P&O, and Brittany Ferries arrive at several UK ports that all have direct train links into the city from the likes of Portsmouth, Poole, and Plymouth.

While rarer, some do travel aboard the Stena Line, which operates a ferry service from Rotterdam (six hours) and from Esbjerg in Denmark to Harwich (18 hours).

Ferry crossings to and from Ireland follow the Dublin to Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead routes. As with all the other options mentioned, London can be reached via train once you set foot into the Holyhead ferry terminal.

What are the Visa and Passport Policies?

As with any country, visa and passport rules are dependent on where you are coming from. Several foreign nationals are granted entry visa-free, while others will have to obtain an electronic visa via the British consulate in their home state. If you are unsure, visit the UK government website for more information. A standard passport is acceptable for entry, although it must be valid for no less than six months at the time of entry into the United Kingdom and there must be at least one spare page to hold the visa. The UK’s constituent nations – made up of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales – have their own rules, but a visa for the UK is valid for all of them.

If you are entering the UK as a US tourist, you can do so without the need of a visa and you can stay up to 6 months but you must meet the Standard Visitor eligibility requirements. This can be done the earliest 3 months before your visit and it costs around £100 ($124.5).

It’s worth checking for any other travel restrictions before you fly just to be extra safe.

About the author

Luke AbrahamsLuke Abrahams is a London-based freelance journalist specializing in news, luxury lifestyle, and travel features. Luke was previously the features social media editor at the London Evening Standard. His work has appeared in more than 25 U.K. and U.S. publications, including British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, The Times, Town & Country, The Telegraph, Condé Nast Traveller, Time Out, House & Garden, Suitcase, Elite Traveler, Insider, and more. So far, Luke has visited 82 countries. His favorite is Italy, and it always will be.