Because London is such a major transportation hub, you can get there from almost anywhere in the world. It's usually easier and less expensive to fly into London from North America than to do so from most European cities, but airlines offer direct flights from many locations around the world.
In the United States, East Coast hub airports like New York JFK, Washington Dulles, and Boston Logan provide direct cheap flights to London. You can book direct and connecting flights from Western cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle, but the prices are generally higher. Toronto is another option to consider, as Canadian flights to London are sometimes lower-priced.
For people traveling from Europe, flights to London abound nearly everywhere. When searching, check smaller airports and budget airlines for the best deals.
London has six airports, each with different flight and airline options. So, how can a traveler figure out which airport to choose? While you may want to price flights going into multiple airports to find the best deal, it helps to know a bit more about what areas each one services.
Heathrow is London's — and Europe's — largest airport. Most international visitors will arrive here, particularly those coming from North America. British Airways operates 40 percent of the airport's flights, but many other major airlines fly out of here as well. Your best bet for finding cheap flights to London Heathrow is to plan ahead and watch for flight sales, particularly ones from British Airways.
Gatwick is London's second-largest airport, but it's still quite sizeable by any other city's standards. The airport provides flights to over 90 countries, including the United States. Flights into Heathrow are generally cheaper, but you'll want to compare both airports for the best deal.
If you're flying to London from elsewhere in Europe, you have a strong chance of scoring a cheap international flight into one of London's smaller airports. London Stansted is the major hub for Ryanair and easyJet, two well-known budget airlines that occasionally offer flight deals for just pennies (you will want to read the fine print on taxes and other requirements, though). Stansted Airport is pretty far away from central London, but the savings may make the trek worthwhile.
Luton Airport is smaller than the abovementioned airports, but it also offers a variety of budget carriers like Wizz Air, Monarch Airlines, Flybe, and Ryanair. This airport has fewer public transportation options than the other airports mentioned in this article, but Luton makes it possible to get to London on a budget.
The two remaining London airports — London City and London Southend — are mostly commuter hubs, so they are unlikely to have a great flight deal.
After you've picked the right airport to fly into, you'll need to figure out how to get downtown from the airport. All of London's airports have transportation options that vary wildly in cost, efficiency, and ease of use.
The most expensive way to get from any of the airports to the city center is to take a black cab or minicab. From Heathrow, this will cost upwards of £55, and from Gatwick, more than £70! Additionally, taking a cab generally doesn't save much time, thanks to London's bog-like traffic. A better option would be to use some other form of public transportation.
From Heathrow, take the Heathrow Express train for the quickest trip to downtown. The train runs non-stop from the airport to London Paddington Station. The ride takes a mere 12 to 15 minutes, but it costs £18 each way. The slower Heathrow Connect train runs the same route, but with a few local stops; it costs just £8.50. The cheapest option is the London Underground, which will transport you anywhere in the city. Travel time is upwards of an hour, but you'll pay only £5.50. After midnight, the trains stop running, but the N9 night bus can connect you to central London in two hours for just £2.
You can't access the London Underground from Gatwick, Stansted, or Luton. The most cost-efficient option for reaching downtown from these three airports is a dedicated train. You can purchase tickets at the station, but it's cheaper to buy them ahead of time online. The Gatwick Express departs from London Victoria Station every 15 minutes. First Capital Connect Trains service Luton from St. Pancras International Train Station. The Stansted Express leaves from London Liverpool Street Station.
Stansted Airport is the farthest one from London's city center. A lot of the budget carriers that operate out of this airport are notorious for scheduling 6 a.m. flights, which leave long before any sort of public transportation to the airport is available. As a cost-saving measure, many travelers choose to sleep at the airport the night before their early-morning flights. Spending the night in the airport is quite acceptable and safe; on any given night, you might find several hundred travelers camped out in the atrium.
London is an interesting city to visit at any time of the year, as all the tourist attractions and sites are open year-round. The period from May to September is the most pleasant time of year to come here because of the good weather, long days, and heightened activity. However, it is also the most popular time of the year for visitors, so major tourist areas will be more expensive and crowded.
The cheapest time of year to fly to London is November to March (excluding the two weeks before Christmas, which act as a second high season). Although the weather tends to be dark, cold, and rainy during these months, there's still a lot to see and enjoy around the city.
For the best airfare deals during the fall and winter, start looking for tickets in August or September. Many airlines have sales during these less-busy times, so you may want to sign up for price alerts from major airlines like British Airways, United, and Delta. Icelandair runs some great promotions from North America, particularly in December, January, and February. If you can arrange it, either buy your ticket three or four months ahead of time, or wait until a couple of weeks before. If you're willing to take the risk of waiting, you could stumble upon deals for great last-minute London flights.
No matter how much time you budget for your visit to London, you'll simply never have enough time to see everything. London is a truly enormous city with several dozen museums, hundreds of historical attractions, and scores of interesting neighborhoods to wander.
Many of the most iconic London attractions are in Westminster and the city areas near the Thames River. These include the thousand-year-old Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. Across the river, you'll spot the London Eye, an expensive but beautiful way to get an aerial view of the city.
If you only have time to visit one museum, make it the British Museum. This free, absolutely epic museum of antiquities features Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone, and two different wonders of the ancient world. Other museums worth checking out include the Tate Modern, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
One of the greatest ways to experience London is simply to explore it on foot. The city offers numerous beautiful parks to stroll through, like Regent's Park, Green Park, and Hyde Park, where you can see memorials to Princess Diana and Peter Pan. Spend at least one morning browsing one of London's many markets; Portabello Road is probably the most popular one.
Other iconic London activities that you'll want to experience include seeing a West End musical (you can buy day-of tickets cheaply at the TKTS booth in SoHo); riding a double-decker bus; exploring the London Underground; having a pint at the pub; scheduling a traditional afternoon tea; people- and pigeon-watching in Trafalgar Square; and taking a boat ride down the Thames to Greenwich. The possibilities are endless.
Trying to see all of London can be overwhelming, so try to plan ahead and focus on the sites that truly interest you. Remember, with a good flight deal, you can always come back!
© 2015 Hipmunk, Inc. Hipmunk is a trademark of Hipmunk, Inc.
© 2015 Hipmunk, Inc. Hipmunk is a trademark of Hipmunk, Inc.