Editor’s Note: Viator’s founder, Rod Cuthbert, is a frequent traveler to London. He wrote the following after being asked (one too many times, apparently) how to navigate London Heathrow’s airport shuttles, trains and taxis. Airport transport to London? Rod has your answers below. So please stop pestering the man.
Heading to London Heathrow? The easy part is finding a flight. The tricky bit is getting from Heathrow into London itself. That’s something we know a little bit about here at Viator, and we’ve decided to share it with you, unbiased, unvarnished, warts and all. Take a few minutes to check out the options.
Heathrow Airport Transport: Piccadilly Line
The London Underground (a.k.a. The Tube) is a good option if you’re comfortable with public transport. On the plus side it is cheap (about £4 per person). There are also a few negatives. First of all, check your hotel’s address and see if it’s near to a tube station, and if so, what line.
If you’re near the Piccadilly line that’s good, but you still need to deal with the fact that the Underground was designed for commuters with briefcases, not travelers with kids and two pull-along suitcases. If you’re arriving at peak time — i.e., 7 through 10am, or 4 through 7pm — be prepared for lots of crowds and jostling. That could be an unpleasant experience; if you have a family group with you, consider other options.
In any case note that the Tube stops at all stations, and your ride into London will take an hour or so, depending on your exact destination. Transfers to other lines can be simple, just a few steps onto another platform, or excruciatingly long journeys down passages, along corridors, and up so many stairs you’ll think you’re in France.
Verdict: Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Heathrow Airport Transport: The Heathrow Express
The Heathrow Express is a superior public transport option, but a lot more expensive at £15.50 per person. You’re paying for a fast train that runs every 15 minutes, and takes only 15 minutes into Paddington Station. There are stops at Heathrow’s Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5; and a quick connection is available from Terminal 4.
Once again you need to feel comfortable with public transport, but the upside here is that the whole service is designed for travelers, so there’s no worries about luggage or being jostled by crowds of commuters.
From Paddington you can walk to your hotel if it’s nearby, transfer to the Tube, or grab a taxi from the well-organized taxi stand at the station. Maybe I’ve always been lucky, but using Heathrow Express I generally find I can be at my hotel 45 minutes after I clear customs, at a cost around £25, including the cab.
Verdict: Fast, civilized, good value.
Heathrow Airport Transport: London Airport Taxi
This might be the best option for a group of three or four, but don’t forget you need to fit your luggage in there as well. The fare depends entirely on your hotel’s location and can run as much as £70, which might be a bit of a shock for your first expense on UK soil.
The benefit of this option is it’s door to door; the downside is you may hit traffic and sit on the motorway for an hour when you’d rather be in your room and taking a shower. There are well-managed taxi stands at each terminal, and cabs are plentiful so you’ll be off and going quickly without having to lug your bags and children up stairs and down passageways. Personally? I never take a taxi either to or from the airport because I’d rather just get into the city quickly, and you can’t beat Heathrow Express for that. But I can certainly see that a family group might have a different view.
Verdict: A good option for families and groups of three or four. Bring cash.
Heathrow Airport Transport: National Express Bus
It’s London, after all, of course there’s a bus. And if your hotel is near Victoria Station, maybe this is even the best option. The bus picks up from Terminals 1, 2 and 3; from Terminals 4 and 5 there’s a free train link. Three to six buses run every hour, it’s a cheap option at £4 per person, and the trip to Victoria takes about an hour. Some people can hack riding the bus, and some can’t. I can’t say much more; I’ve never tried this service and I never stay near Victoria, so that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Verdict: Staying near Victoria? Like the bus? On a budget? This one’s for you.
Heathrow Airport Transport: Shared Airport Transfer Shuttles
A shared London airport transfer from Heathrow is a decent alternative to a London taxi and public transport options. It’s good value at around £19 per person, so it’s perfect for one or two people traveling together; three or four might be better off in a cab. You do have to put up with the annoyance of stopping at other people’s hotels. (I don’t know about you, but whenever I use services like Supershuttle I am always the last to get dropped off.)
Of course another way to look at this is you get to see some more of London at no extra cost. There are well-located desks at Terminals 1, 3 and 4; and a meet and greet service at Terminal 2. Like the taxi option this will take about an hour, but then add the extra 15 to 30 minutes drop everyone else off.
Verdict: Good value door-to-door service for one or two.
Heathrow Airport Transport: Private Airport Transfer Services
If you’re envious of the people who are met on arrival by their own driver, holding a sign and carrying bags and so forth, a private London airport shuttle is for you. It’s pretty good value, too: £50 total for one, two or three people; £60 total for four to six people; and £78 total for seven or eight. It has all the benefits and shortcomings of a London taxi, but add the nice feeling associated with being met on arrival.
Verdict: For many travelers this is the best option, but it still may be slower than the Heathrow Express.