The best ways to get from Heathrow Airport to London

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London is a destination for many points enthusiasts since there are often great redemptions available for hotels and flights. But after landing at the largest London airport, Heathrow, how should you get into the city — or return to the airport after your trip? The best method depends on the time of day, group size, luggage, budget and personal preference.

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(Photo by Jean Arnas/The Points Guy)

The Tube

The London Underground is the least expensive way to travel between Heathrow and central London. Children under 11 travel for free when accompanied by an adult. You can purchase single paper tickets from a machine prior to boarding but it is definitely easier to use contactless or an Oyster card.

Trains from Heathrow on the Picadilly Line are very frequent, even at off-peak times. The airport has three stations: one each for Terminals 2 and 3 and one shared by Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. The Piccadilly line snakes through central London, hitting some of the most popular spots (South Kensington, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Kings Cross), and is likely your least expensive mode of transportation into or from the city.

It can be a bit difficult if you are carrying luggage, as many stations have stairs. And if you’re travelling in the middle of rush hour, and if you’re changing trains, it can be tricky so if possible avoid doing so between 7 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Trains start running just after 5 a.m. and stop around midnight, so double-check your train times on the TfL journey planner, especially for flights arriving early in the morning. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Piccadilly line operates 24 hours, with night trains to and from Terminals 2, 3 and 5 on average every 10 minutes. There is no service from Terminal 4 but you can transfer via a walkway.

The London Underground and a flight are very, very different. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
The London Underground. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Transit time: It takes about 50 minutes to travel from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Piccadilly Circus.

Cost: The standard single Tube ticket from Heathrow (zone 6) to central London (zone 1) is £5.90 for adults or when paying with a contactless debit or credit card, it’s £3.10 off-peak and £5.10 during peak hours. Kids under 11 travel free when accompanied by an adult.

When the Tube is not running, the N9 night bus can take you from Heathrow to Central London for just £1.50.

Heathrow Express

If you want to get into the centre of London quickly, the Heathrow Express is your best bet, especially if you’re staying near Paddington Station. The Heathrow Express runs between Heathrow and Paddington, taking 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 3 and 20 minutes from Terminal 5.

It can end up being expensive for a large group, but you can save up to 75% off fares by booking in advance and children 15 and under travel free when accompanied by a paying adult. The Heathrow Express has luggage racks, outlets at the seats and WiFi. Trains normally run from approximately 5 a.m. to around midnight — make sure to check for exact timings.

My boys and I at Paddington and on the Heathrow Express. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/TPG UK)

Transit time: The trip is 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 3 to London Paddington and 21 minutes from Terminal 5. If travelling to Terminal 4, you should start with the free transfer service from Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3, which adds an additional four minutes to the journey.

Cost: Tickets can be purchased on the app, at a machine or onboard (most expensive). Online tickets range from around £5 one-way advance tickets to around £25 one-way on the day so it is worth booking them more than 90 days in advance to secure the lowest fares. Heathrow Express accepts contactless cards at the gates too.

Taxi

Uber‘s advice for riders arriving at Heathrow: “To find your pickup location, check the Uber app after you request a ride.” The pickup spots are usually:

  • Terminal 2: Level 4, Row H (short stay car park 2)
  • Terminal 3: Level 3, Row A (short stay car park 3)
  • Terminal 4: Level 1, private hire pickup
  • Terminal 5: Level 1, Row R (short stay car park 5)

Transit time: The trip from Heathrow to London depends upon the traffic. Rush hour is to be avoided if you are short on time. Also, factor in additional time to meet your Uber and get to the short stay car park. Approximate time from T5 to Piccadilly Circus is one hour.

Cost: From Terminal 5 to Piccadilly Circus is approximately £42 in an UberX, but with luggage, you will need to order a larger car.

Black cabs

Black cabs are the traditional London taxis with five seats — three across in the back and two flip-down seats facing backwards. The rounded hackney carriage design is from the 1950s, a true London icon. These are the only taxis in London that you can hail on the street or get at a cab stand. Some apps such as Gett have fixed-price fares from Heathrow to central London (from £45 to £65) so you don’t have to watch the meter.

London cabs that you hail will vary in price.

Photo by Chris Jenner via Shutterstock
Photo by Chris Jenner via Shutterstock

Transit time: Approximately 55 minutes from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Piccadilly Circus in light traffic. Black cabs can take the bus lane, unlike any other cars, including Ubers.

Cost: The price can be fixed going to Heathrow, but variable if coming from the Heathrow cab stand: £45 to £75. The upside is that you can often fit your whole group and luggage in one taxi.

Car service

Car services, such as Addison Lee, will park and wait for you with a sign at the airport arrivals gate and help you with your luggage, as opposed to hauling your things to the Uber pickup spot. Additionally, you can book car seats for children or make other requests ahead of time including if you’re travelling with a pet, etc.

Transit time: It takes approximately 55 minutes from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Piccadilly Circus in light traffic. You will need to walk to the car with the driver but will have help with your luggage.

Cost: Prices start at £60 for a medium car for four people, including 30 minutes of waiting time.

TfL Rail Heathrow

The TfL Rail Heathrow (formerly Heathrow Connect) is a local train that travels between Heathrow and Paddington Station. It departs from the same platform as the Heathrow Express but stops five or six times between Heathrow and Paddington Station. It is particularly helpful if you’re staying at one of the locations along the TfL Rail Heathrow route, such as Ealing Broadway, which can connect you to much of west London. As it is part of the TfL network, you can use an Oyster card or use contactless payment.

Of note is that the TfL Rail to Heathrow starts earlier than the Tube or Heathrow Express, with the first train normally leaving Heathrow Terminal 4 at 5.22 a.m. on weekdays.

Transit time: TfL Rail takes 32 minutes between Paddington and Terminal 2, plus five minutes more to either Terminal 4 or 5.

Cost: The cost varies depending on train time and date. Our searches found prices from around £11 one-way on the day.

National Express

With service from about 6.50 a.m. to 10 p.m. currently, up to 16 times a day, the National Express coach is another option to get from Heathrow to Victoria Station.

You can find the National Express in the following locations at Heathrow:

  • Terminals 2 & 3: Central bus station (a five-minute walk from the terminal buildings).
  • Terminal 4: Stops 13 and 14 right outside the terminal building at the arrivals level.
  • Terminal 5: Stops 11 to 15, right outside the terminal building at the arrivals level.

Transit time: The fastest (middle of the night) trips are 40 minutes to Victoria, but can be up to 90 minutes during the day.

Cost: Fares range from £10 one-way plus £2 to choose your seat.

Photo by Pajor Pawel via Shutterstock
Photo by Pajor Pawel via Shutterstock

Feltham Rail link

I chose Terminal 5 to Piccadilly Circus as a test case to measure travel times and fares, but your hotel may be in another area of London. You can take a bus to the train station at Feltham to reach locations in south London in a cost-effective way.

The 285 bus runs from Heathrow to Feltham (for trains to Richmond, Camberley, Bracknell, London Waterloo and Clapham Junction). At night the N285 operates every 30 minutes on the same route.

Transit time: It takes approximately 30 minutes for the bus and then an hour on the train to London Waterloo.

Cost: Under £10. You can buy a combined bus and train ticket to cover the whole journey.

Bottom line

There is no perfect solution for getting from Heathrow to London, so it’s worth considering your method of travel ahead of time when booking both the time of your flights and your hotel’s location.

Featured photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Additional reporting by Hayley Coyle

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