This post is about taking the London Underground between Heathrow Airport and Central London, including tips and tricks on fares, switching trains, and handling luggage.
- The Pros and Cons
- Tickets and Fares
- Map and Hours
- Luggage Tips
- How to Use the Underground
- Things to Do in London
THE UNDERGROUND VS. OTHER OPTIONS
In terms of mass transit, there are 4 ways to get from Heathrow Airport to Central London.
There is the super-fast 15 min Heathrow Express to Paddington Station (most expensive).
The slightly slower Heathrow Connect commuter train, also to Paddington Station, a National Express coach bus to Victoria Station, and the London Underground to just about everywhere.
Most people who opt to take the Underground to and from Heathrow Airport do so because of the cost. It is clearly the cheapest option.
The frequency of trains is the second reason. Trains depart every 10 minutes or less, even during the off-peak times.
Trains run from 05:00 am in the morning and the last train leaves just before midnight and overnight from Friday to Saturday and Saturday to Sunday.
However, the Underground is not the fastest option. It could be depending on where you are headed, but there are usually faster, and more expensive, options.
With that said, most journeys to central London are between 45-60 min.
Another con is traveling with luggage. The Piccadilly Line trains are rather small and there are no luggage racks.
Likewise, you might have to transfer to another line and that could be difficult, especially if you have lots of luggage/strollers, as you might need to walk large distances and take elevators, escalators, and/or stairs.
Despite these issues, we think you should still consider taking the Underground, and we provide tips to combat both of these issues in the content below.
TICKETS AND FARES
A single-use paper ticket costs £6 each way, but for most visitors to London, there really is no need to purchase a paper ticket.
First, they are more expensive than the following options. Second, you need to stop at the ticket machines every time you travel with the Tube.
Most visitors to London should opt to get an Oyster Card, a pay-as-you-go card that looks and feels like a credit card.
Oyster Card fares from between Heathrow and central London are as follows:
- £5.30 during rush hour (Mon-Fri 06:30 - 09:30 and 16:00 (4pm) - 19:00 (7pm)
- £3.30 all other times
In fact, Oyster Card fares are always much cheaper than buying single, paper tickets.
|Zones Traveled||Single Ticket Adult||Single Ticket Child (11-15)||Oyster and Contactless Cards (Peak)||Oyster and Contactless Cards (Off-Peak)|
An Oystercard currently costs £5.00, payable at time of purchase.
You can also retrieve up to £10 of the pay-as-you-go credit that you might have on the card.
There is a Visitor Oyster Card that does not allow these refunds, but you can order the Visitor Oyster Card before your trip and have it mailed to you and ready to go when you land.
There are also what are called Travelcards, cards that allow for unlimited travel each day, but unless you are staying in London for 6 or more days, these are usually not worth it.
We explain in full the differences between the Regular and Visitor Oysters Cards as well as the Travelcards.
Another benefit of the Oyster Cards is that there is a cap on the amount of money that you pay each day. This cap depends on which zones you travel in and through.
For most visitors, travel on the Underground is limited to Zones 1-2 and the daily cap is £6.80.
However, Heathrow Airport is in Zone 6, and the daily cap for travel between Zones 1-6 is £12.50.
Simply put, get yourself an Oyster Card upon arrival at Heathrow Airport.
Learn about how to add value and to calculate how much you need for your stay in our post on Oyster Cards.
MAP AND HOURS OF OPERATION
Heathrow Airport has 3 Underground stations, one for Terminals 2+3 and one each for Terminals 4 and 5. There is no longer a Terminal 1 at Heathrow.
When you arrive at Heathrow, you can take any train from your terminal. They all go to Central London.
However, you need to be pay attention to which train you take from Central London to Heathrow. There are 2 routes and neither route visits all Terminals.
All routes stop at Terminals 2+3, but one route will also visit Terminal 4 while the other route also visits Terminal 5.
As we mentioned previously, one of the benefits of taking the Underground to and from Central London is the frequency of trains, which is never more than 10 minutes even during off-peak hours.
Generally speaking, the first train to depart Heathrow Airport leaves just after 05:00 am in the morning and the last train leaves just before midnight.
On Friday and Saturday nights (or early Saturday and Sunday mornings), there is what’s called the Night Tube and trains run 24 hours a day roughly every 10 minutes to and from Heathrow, with the exception of Terminal 4.
If you are heading to Heathrow from central London, the first trains depart at just before 06:00 with the last trains departing at roughly midnight (23:00 on Sundays).
There is a night bus operated by National Express (the N9) for overnight trips outside of the weekends.
LUGGAGE ON THE UNDERGROUND
Taking the London Underground from Heathrow Airport to Central London is the cheapest and most popular option for travel.
However, there are some issues with taking this route and we have some tips to deal with them.
By the way, in case you arrive too early for your accommodations, we have tips on where to store your luggage.
Tip 1 - Know where to sit on the Piccadilly train.
First, move toward either end of the platforms at the Heathrow Underground Stations.
The stairs lift from the airport are located in the middle and this is where most people board the trains.
Second, you want to make sure that you find the little spaces where you can place your luggage and sit next to it.
The train cars are rather small and there are no luggage racks.
If you are landing at Heathrow Airport, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern, especially if you are arriving at Terminals 4 or 5, as these are the starting points of the line.
The station for Terminals 2+3 is always the 1st stop and the best spots might already be taken.
It’s more of an issue if you need to transfer inside of London, especially during rush hours, or you are on your way back to the airport, again, especially during rush hours.
The train cars on the Piccadilly Line are small and it’s a popular line. Rather than the image above, you are likely to experience the scene in the image below.
Tip 2 - Transfers from the Piccadilly Line can be difficult.
If you look at the London Underground Map, you will notice that some lines connect to each other at particular stations or between stations, and travel apps like Google Maps will suggest transfers that in theory would be faster.
However, some of these transfers require a lot of walking and the possibility that you will have to navigate stairs, and these apps don’t take into account your struggle carrying luggage and kids after a long flight.
At other stations, different lines share the same platform.
At these stations, all you need to do is walk 6 meters or 10’ to the next train. These are the stations that you are looking for.
For example, say your destination is the Grosvenor Hotel next to Victoria Station.
Google might suggest a transfer at Earl’s Court, but here you will need to travel a long distance, take stairs, elevators, or escalators to get from the Piccadilly Line to the District or Circle Lines.
But, if you change trains from the Piccadilly to the District Line (westbound) at Hammersmith or Barons Court Station, which are just before you reach Earl’s Court, you can just cross the platform from the Piccadilly to the District Line eastbound (as in the image above).
After Barons Court, the Piccadilly Line descends below the other lines, which is why transferring from the Piccadilly Line to the District Line eastbound beyond this point, such as at Earl’s Court, is more difficult to do, particularly if you have a lot of luggage, strollers/prams, or young children.
This tip is very useful if your final station is one of the following on the District Line:
- Gloucester Road
- South Kensington
- Sloane Square
- St. James's Park
- (and any station west of Westminster on the District Line)
Tip 3 - Look for handicap symbols.
Some stations have handicap symbols.
These denote stations that have step-free access from the street to the platform (circle with white background) and step-free access from the street and in and out of the trains (circle with blue background).
If you see this, you can at least be sure that you won’t have to carry your luggage up flights of stairs, though you still might have to navigate your luggage on escalators and elevators if you are changing lines.
Tip 4 - Take It Easy
It's very possible that you will have to make one of these long transfers between lines, particularly at the dreaded Green Park Station, where the Piccadilly Line connects with both the Jubilee and Victoria Underground lines.
The transfer between the Piccadilly and Victoria lines is a long 1 min and 30-sec walk through a narrow corridor.
The transfer between the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines is 2 min and 30 seconds.
Particularly during rush hours, you might feel stressed as commuters jockey to pass you and your luggage as you get off the train and walk along the corridors or toward the escalators and elevators.
Our tip, stay calm. Get off the train and stand against the wall. Let the other passengers hurry about and wait till the crowd disperses a bit.
Then, you won't have to worry as much that you are holding others back.