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Guide To London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR)

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4 months ago

By now, you’ve probably heard that Heathrow is Europe’s largest airport. This means that, if you’re not familiar with it or prepared, Heathrow will feel like a maze. Here’s everything you need to know from a London local – I travel through Heathrow every two weeks at least!

If you have a choice of airport in London to fly into, I would always pick the airport that best suits your London plans or London accommodation.

terminal 2 at london heathrow

It doesn’t take long to get through immigration at Heathrow Airport for most travelers. If you know how do it, you’ll be out in ten minutes!

Getting to and from Heathrow Airport

Heathrow has four passenger terminals: terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Terminals 2 and 3 are the easiest to access. But if you’re going to terminals 4 or 5 you need to make sure you’re a little more careful about your transport. I’m going to tell you what to do to make sure you can get to London Heathrow terminal 4 or 5 easily. 

st pauls cathedral in london
Get from Heathrow to London with speed so you can get going with your London itinerary!

Trains

By far and away the best mode of transport to get to and from Heathrow is the trains. Heathrow is serviced by three lines:

  1. Piccadilly London underground line (Heathrow to King’s Cross is 60 minutes)
  2. Heathrow Express (Heathrow to Paddington in 20 minutes)
  3. The brand-new Elizabeth line (Heathrow to Bond Street in 30 minutes)
Windsor Castle, one of the best day trips from London
Heathrow is very close to Windsor Castle, one of the best day trips from London

Travel tip: Always take the Elizabeth line if you can! It’s cheaper, cleaner and usually faster.

The Elizabeth Line – Queen of them all

When the Elizabeth line opened in the middle of 2022, Londoners everywhere breathed a sigh of relief – and I really do mean everywhere. The Elizabeth line links Heathrow directly with London’s west, east and north – it does it almost as fast as the Heathrow Express, and for half the cost!

So, really, it doesn’t matter where you’re going, the Elizabeth line will almost always be the better option. It’s the best way to get from Heathrow to London.

View of the City of London from the Culpeper in Spitalfields
The City of London’s iconic skyline as seen from The Culpeper in Spitalfields

One big thing Americans, Canadian or, frankly, any traveler should know is that you can use your contactless card (whether a physical card or on your phone through ApplePay or Google Pay) for the Elizabeth line, so you don’t even need to worry about getting a ticket in advance. 

Travel tip: The Elizabeth line is built for the future so the platforms are very long.

For the fastest exit from Heathrow: Sit in the middle carriages (carriages 4, 5 or 6). The carriage number is displayed in all carriages.

For the fastest exit going to Heathrow: Sit in either carriages 1 or 2 (if you’re exiting to the west) or 8 or 9 (if you’re exiting to the east). 

Before, you had to take the slower Piccadilly line, or fork out at least £25 for the Heathrow Express. Not anymore! Get on the Elizabeth line and you’ll be right in the heart of Central London (and I really do mean the heart: Bond Street and Soho) in just 30 minutes.

Door to Dennis Severs's House in Spitalfields with red brick and navy paint
Special things await you in London, like Dennis Severs’s House in Spitalfields

But if you’re going to Heathrow, watch out for this: 

All Elizabeth line trains stop at terminals 2 and 3, but after that the trains only go to either terminal 4 or 5.

If you’re going to terminal 4 or 5, make sure your train specifically says it terminates at terminal 4 or 5 (depending on which you need to go to). 

elephant statue in spitalfields market london
The famous bronze elephants at Spitalfields Market

This is super important because, if you need to go to terminal 5 and your train terminates at terminal 4, you’ll have to go back through terminals 2 and 3 in order to get to terminal 5. This could add up to 30 minutes to your journey.

Don’t be the person that misses their flight because you got on the wrong train.

Brick Lane street sign in Bengali. Shoreditch, London
The Elizabeth Line cuts all the way across Central London, bringing you to hip and edgy East London in as fast as 35 minutes

Road

Taxis and Private Transfers

Although not as frequent as Paris, London’s train network is often hit by strikes and delays. If you’re caught up in this (or just if you prefer to go by car), you can always take a car to and from Heathrow. 

Travel tip: If you do drive to Heathrow, I strongly suggest you take a black cab (a normal taxi) to the airport. Why? Black cabs are allowed to drive in bus lanes.

black cabs in west london
Black cabs are also a quintessential London experience

When you’re driving through Central London to get to the airport, this can save you so much time (it once saved me half an hour). So if you’re rushing to get to the airport and you can’t take a train, don’t take an Uber, take a black cab.

The problem is, a black cab is usually so much more expensive than a transfer service. So if you’re not rushing to Heathrow, take a transfer service

Purple and pink colored houses in Chelsea
The colored houses of Chelsea

If you’re going from Heathrow into Central London, I would avoid a car because you’ll very likely be stuck in traffic (unless you’re on the road at 5 am) which could double your travel time (yes, double). Having said that, the drive from Heathrow into Central London becomes progressively more pretty as you get closer to Central London, so it might be a nice way to start your trip to London.

Buses

The bus terminal for London’s Heathrow Airport is located between terminals 2 and 3. It’s super easy to find: simply follow the signs for the bus at Heathrow Airport (you can even bring your luggage trolley the all the way there). 

central bus station at london heathrow

A word of caution if you’re landing in terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport and want to take the bus: there are limited National Express buses from terminal 5. Most intercity buses leave from the main bus terminal at terminals 2 & 3. 

Travel tip: If you are going to take a bus from Heathrow Airport, book your ticket in advance. These buses often fill up very quickly, so it pays to have a prepaid ticket sorted. 

If you’re going to or from other cities in the UK such as Cardiff, Brighton or Oxford, you can find direct buses from Heathrow to those cities – and they’re usually much better than taking a train (contrary to what the information desk will tell you).


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