London doesn’t need to be expensive if you do the research and have a sense of humor along the way.
You’ve just landed at Heathrow on the overnight flight from the U.S., walked what seems like forever from the gate (if you were lucky to get a gate and not a remote gate with the bus shuttle) to immigration where you waited so long you’ve made new friends to meet at the pub later. You’ve collected your bags, walked past the duty free shop into the T5 hallway (famous from movies like Love Actually) and now what? You want to get into London but are not sure which way is best. There are a few train options – the Heathrow Express, the Heathrow Connect, the iconic London Underground (Piccadilly line), a bus option, the National Express bus to Victoria and a plethora of black cabs and private cars. Which train option from Heathrow is best for your journey to London depends on your patience, budget and how many pints you want to have at the pub!
Let’s just skip the whole taxi/private car option which starts at £60+ and assume you are on a budget with one bag each. If you are traveling with many bags, family members or are less mobile? It might be a better choice to get a fixed rate car service from the airport to the city.
The Heathrow Express to Paddington (app: Heathrow Express)
The quickest train from Heathrow to London is the Heathrow Express to Paddington train station which does the journey in 15 minutes. The cars have spacious seats which are rarely full and enjoy luggage racks to make storing your bags easy. Free Wi-Fi is offered as well as television updates during the journey. The train stops at the airport and then express to Paddington.
Standard Fare (purchased online, ticket counter, ticket machine):
- One Way £21.50, Return £35.00
- Children under 15 free with paying Adult
Advanced Standard Saving Fares (buy online, non-refundable)
Print email ticket at home or use mobile SMS text ticket (helpful to have international mobile service):
- 90 Day Advance Purchase (65% savings) – One Way £ 6.99, Return £11.90
- 30 Day Advance Purchase (50% savings) – One Way £10.75, Return £17.50
- 7 Day Advance Purchase (25% savings) – One Way £16.10, Return £26.25
So you’ve made it into the city in about ½ hour because most likely you had to wait for the next train to arrive. In Paddington, you then need to pick a direction, make a left, go up the escalator to queue for a taxi to your hotel (expensive, usually runs me £15+ depending on where my hotel is located) which depending on time of day can take a while (I was once stuck almost an hour in traffic to the Hyatt Andaz Liverpool Street because I had too much luggage from Iceland – it cost me 35!) or go underground to the Circle line and make your way to the hotel with a potential connection. (note: there are many steps to navigate in the tube so be able to carry your bag).
The Heathrow Connect
The Heathrow Connect is a slightly slower train with a few stops on the way to Paddington. It cost less money than the standard and 7 day advanced fares of Heathrow Express fare. It is a viable option for many travelers, just not as heavily advertised in my experience. If arriving in Terminal 5 you need to take the Heathrow Express to change at Terminal 2&3 for the Heathrow Connect.
- One Way £10.10, Return £20.20
- Children (ages 5-15) One Way £5.05, Return £10.10
- Children under 5 are free
Arriving in Paddington, you have the same options as those who took the Heathrow Express – get a cab or go to the underground for the trip to your hotel/lodging.
The London Underground (app: London Tube)
The famous London tube is great as a quick way to transit the city but….with luggage a bit less so…..no air-conditioning…a lot less appealing. But that said, it’s a great bargain! The Piccadilly line is wheelchair accessible from the airport but not all stops along the way are accessible so be careful to plan your journey if this is a need. The Piccadilly (blue) line stops in Terminal 5 and just like most subways, there is no luggage rack so you and your luggage will need to be stuck like glue for many stops. The outer stops may not be too crowded but one you get inside Zone 1 (depending on time and day), be prepared to get up close and personal with Londoners. In my experience, avoid the last car as it gets crowded. Hey, I said you needed patience and a sense of humor for the journey.
Popular tourist stops along the way include Harrods (Knightsbridge), Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden and King’s Cross/St. Pancras (if you need to get the Eurostar to Paris) so if you are on a layover at Heathrow, the underground is a great direct option into the city.
- One Way £5.70 from Zone 6 into the city Zone 1 (fare differs if staying outside Zone 1)
- Oyster Card (bought in London and reloadable) Peak £5.00 (6:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.), off-peak £3.00
Time is definitely a factor but what is your time worth? The Terminal 5 to King’s Cross is about 27 stops and the app estimates 44 minute journey (we will need to test this out!). The upside to the tube is that it’s cheap and can be quick. The downside is that there are steps to consider at stations (can you carry your bags up and down stairs?), no air-conditioning and no space for your bags. So my last visit cost over £50 to get from the airport due to the taxi traffic, hopefully my next visit will cost just £3 as I have an Oyster card. My savings is more than enough for a day’s food and/or pub visit.
What is your favorite train from Heathrow to London? Good/bad stories to share?