Airport hacks: how to get to London

3 December 2020

If you are coming to study at UCL from abroad, one of the very first steps of your UK adventure will be the journey from one of London’s many airports to your final destination in the capital city.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) and travelling to the UK

We understand that due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there are a range of travel restrictions for individuals from many countries for entering the UK during this time. As such, we understaand that some of you may be studying remotely to begin with.

When you are able to arrive here in the UK by plane, this article should be useful for you to plan your journey from the airports to our UCL campus here in London.

Due to the pandemic, some transport options from the airports may be operating different working hours so please check online in advance to avoid any issues on arrival.

For the latest on travel to and within the UK, please see the GOV.UK website.  

Whether you are a seasoned traveller or you are coming to the UK for the first time, read on for a few tips on how to make your journey cheaper and easier. 

Plan ahead

Although this may seem straightforward, planning your journey can make it easier to navigate an unfamiliar environment once you arrive. London has many airports, so take note of where you will be landing! These are Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, Stansted Airport, Luton Airport and London City Airport.

You can find more information about travel connections on each airport’s website, and to make it easier we have put together information on how to get to UCL from London’s main airports. Even if you are not coming to UCL directly, this can helpful if you are planning your journey to central London.  

Visit the ‘Getting to UCL’ webpages for more information on the transport options for getting to the UCL Bloomsbury campus from London’s airports.

If you are purchasing any travel tickets in advance, give yourself sufficient time between your plane landing and when your chosen service leaves. Even if your flight is on time, London airports can be very busy at passport control and baggage claim.

Travelling by train

If you are travelling by train, check in advance what station is closest to your destination. You can use the National Rail and Trainline websites to plan your journey.

Most airports will have an ‘Airport Express’ train, such as the Stansted Express, which is a safe bet to get to central London. However, remember to do your research! For example, the Heathrow Express train could cost you £15 more for a journey to London Paddington station that will take only 15 minutes less on a regular train!

Visit the National Rail website to plan your journey.

Visit the Trainline website to compare train prices.

Travelling by tube

You may use the underground, or ‘tube’ as most people call it, at some point in your journey. If you are landing at Heathrow airport, you can access the Piccadilly line directly from the terminals, which will be cheaper than taking a train or coach.

If you are arriving with plenty of luggage, use tube stations that are marked on the map as having ‘step-free access’, meaning they have lifts and escalators rather than stairs. Remember to always keep to the right if you are standing on an escalator, and to the left if you are walking, and that it can be very busy during peak times (usually between 7.30 to 9.30am and 5.00 to 7.00pm).

Find out more about taking the underground from Heathrow airport

Travelling by coach

Travelling by coach will most often be the cheapest option to get to London! Depending on which area of the city you are going to, this may also be the most convenient as some coaches will make multiple stops before reaching their destination.

Most airports will be served by companies such as National Express and Megabus, and booking online is often cheaper. For example, a ticket from Gatwick airport to Victoria Coach Station in London (which is very close to Victoria Underground) can cost £5-£10 if pre-booked.

Visit the National Express website to plan your journey.

Visit the Megabus webpages to plan your journey.

Travelling by cab

Taking a taxi or minicab can be a good idea if you are travelling with others who are headed in the same direction, so you can split the costs. You can find a taxi rank at each airport, but it is significantly cheaper to pre-book a private minicab – Transport for London (TfL) has a list of suggested firms.

Transport for London (TfL) has a list of suggested firms on their website.

Private minicab hires will offer a fixed price to your destination. Depending on the airport, prices can range from £30 to £120, and you should confirm when booking that the driver will meet you in the Arrivals area.

For more information on how to get to London, visit the ‘Getting to UCL’ webpages.

Visit London has also put together a number of useful webpages about London airports and their facilities. 

Safe travels!

UCL International Student Support Team