With the craziness and anticipation surrounding the pending nuptials between Prince Harry and Ms. Markel, it made me think about my various trips to London. I’ll admit, it’s one of my favorite cities – it’s big, but livable – familiar, yet different – proper, but also laid back.
This is also the time of year that many visitors make their way to the city from summer backpackers to Gulf Arab royalty looking for a cooler climate. It’s literally a world city.
Most land in Heathrow which is a massive airport and can be somewhat overwhelming with full-on jet lag. So here are a few tips to help get you from Heathrow to the city center of London, even if you have no actual clue what day it is.
- British Passport Control (immigration) is usually very quick. They will snap a photo of you and scan your passport, so try to look a bit alive.
- Baggage claim is also usually fairly prompt – and the baggage carts are free to use.
- A taxi from Heathrow to downtown will be very pricey – you’ll want to hit that ATM after you exit baggage claim if you want to go that route. That being said, most (really all) taxis in London take major credit/debit cards – just be sure yours works outside your home country.
- The second option, my preferred, is the express train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, aka the Heathrow Express. Follow the purple signs for “Heathrow Express” when you leave baggage claim. Buy a ticket at the kiosk (or the service desk or online before you travel) labeled “Heathrow Express” and opt for the regular vs. first class option. For a 22 minute train ride, the extra expense really isn’t worth it. Then, follow the purple signs for the actual train. Depending on which terminal you land in, this could be a bit of a walk, so do grab that luggage cart when you’re at baggage claim.
- Third option is to take the London Underground or “the Tube” from Heathrow to your city center destination. This will be a slow to slowish option, but is the most cost effective. The underground system is massive, so check with your hotel, B&B, or AirB&B to find out what is the closest stop to where you want to be. Similar to the express train, just follow the signs for “Underground.”
Since London hosted the Olympics in 2012, they really got their travel hubs squared away in terms of efficiency and signage. Signs are big and repeat often, so you know if you’re still heading in the right direction.
If you plan on being in London for more than a couple days or visiting again in the future and will be using the Tube regularly, it’s worth your while to get an Oyster Card. This is the top-up travel card that works on just about all of London’s mass transit system. You can sign-up ahead of time and have it mailed to you, but it may make the most sense to buy it upon arrival. The visitor’s centers that sell the cards is here.
Now, there are buses that also go from Heathrow to the city center, but I haven’t gone that route yet. If you have, jot down your experience using the bus in the comments section.