Related Content
Travel Info & Tips London By Train: What's good to know
What's good to know when arriving in London by train

London By Train: What's good to know

Tips for avoiding 'taking the Tube' to and from London's main stations, plus how to travel between the main city center stations, and access the most popular tourist attractions.

| Last Updated: 23 days ago
Share

When railways began to be the primary form of long-distance public transport, London was at the time, the world’s largest city, so the upheaval and costs that would have incurred by the creation of a dominant city centre rail station, were too prohibitive.
As a result central London is ringed by 11 stations and at each of them (except London Bridge and St Pancras), all or most of the long-distance trains which use them, reverse direction to head back out of the city.

Therefore when travelling between a main London station and a location in the city centre, the fastest and often cheapest option is to use the Underground; the link connects to the official Underground map, which also shows the route of the Elizabeth line.
But taking the Underground often isn’t the easiest way to go, particularly if you’ll be arriving at a London station with luggage, strollers, young children or anything else that will be tricky to manoeuvre up and down escalators and staircases.
So this guide to arriving, departing and travelling within London by train will focus on the alternatives to ‘taking the tube’.

Though three universal things worth knowing are:

  1. The access to and from the Underground trains and both the Elizabeth line and Thameslink trains. is always through a line of ticket gates, but one wider gate through which luggage etc can be wheeled through is always available.
    These wider gates are also typically staffed.
  2. Tickets for end-to-end journeys which cross London typically include the cross-city transfer, you won't normally have to purchase separate tickets for the part of the journey by Underground, but such tickets can't be used on buses.
  3. On the signage at the Underground stations within central London, the direction of the trains leaving from each platform is designated by the use of compass points and not the final destinations of the trains.
    So trains heading to destinations north of the city centre are northbound trains and those heading west are wetsbound trains etc.
    This doesn't always make perfect sense, for example, 'northbound' Piccadilly line trains heading to destinations in north London actually spend much of their route travelling east<>west across the city center.
    So it can be a good idea to take your time at stations and look twice, so that you also see the list of stations that the trains heading in that direction, will be calling at.

How to use the larger London stations

These are the stations from which the trains provide access to multiple holiday destinations and tourist attractions.

The different types of Underground lines:

A tube train on the left and a sub-surface train on the right A tube train on the left and a sub-surface train on the right

Worth knowing when taking a rail journey to and from the UK’s capital city is that there are two different types of Underground lines:

  1. the ‘Tube’ lines, and
  2. the sub-surface lines.

The Tube lines:

The type of tube trains used on the Piccadilly line The type of tube trains used on the Piccadilly line

These are the Underground lines which cross the city’s central area and use tunnels deep beneath the streets.
Because they’re buried far down under the city, the access to and from the parts of the stations that these trains use, typically involves taking long escalators, though some of the lesser used stops only have elevators.
Though all of the 'tube' stations at the mainline stations are accessed by escalators and few have lift (elevator) access too.
Though be warned that step-free access by lift (elevator) between street level and the platforms, from which the trains can be boarded, is comparatively rare at central Underground stations.

The tube lines are:

*= the tube lines are the only type of Underground line available at these central London railway stations.

Aside from the Piccadilly, the tube trains don’t have luggage racks, though what are becoming more common are spaces by the train doors with flip-up seats, which are ideal for accommodating large bags, folded pushchairs etc; when they are not full of standing passengers who have squeezed onto the trains.

the Sub-Surface lines:

Two District line trains Two District line trains

The other Underground trains are similar to full size commuter trains and they use a railway which loops around the city in a tunnel just below street level; hence they known as the sub-surface trains.
The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines use this tunnel.
On the northern edge of central London, the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines all serve Liverpool Street; King's Cross and St Pancras stations directly; while Euston Square station is a short walk from Euston.
Both the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines also serve Paddington

Towards the southern side of central London the Circle and District Lines serve Cannon St, Blackfriars and Victoria.

Because these lines are not far below the surface, staircases provide most of the access to the trains at the stations.
Though lifts (elevators) are becoming more common, they’re available when accessing the trains on these lines at Cannon Street, King’s Cross St Pancras, Paddington (not the eastbound District line) and Victoria railway stations.

A feature to be aware of when using these different sub-surface lines is that they share tracks, so trains on different lines follow each other in and out of the platforms at the stations.
Meaning that, for example, when taking the Underground from Kings Cross to Paddington you need to avoid boarding a Metropolitan Line train; and when heading to Paddington from Victoria you need to take a Circle Line train.
Though on other journeys such as Liverpool Street ↔ King's Cross, because the lines share the track, it doesn't matter which specific 'line' is taken, instead it's possible to simply hop on the first train to arrive.

Avoiding the Tube lines when arriving in London by train:

Transferring to the tube lines, particularly the Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines when arriving by train in London is often best avoided.
The tube stations at the mainline stations tend to be exceptionally busy and the trains are usually crowded with the people they’ve picked up outside the city centre.

Plus accessing the trains can take a while with multiple escalators and corridors to be negotiated, in the summer temperatures rise and neither the tube trains, or the stations, have air-conditioning.

However, the center of London is not devoid of conventional railway lines and now there are three routes which can be highly useful alternatives to taking the Underground, particularly as Oyster cards can also be used to travel by these mainline trains in the city centre.

1: the Elizabeth line:

The Elizabeth Line stations in central London are inevitably larger than the Underground stations The Elizabeth Line stations in central London are inevitably larger than the Underground stations

The brand new Elizabeth line links Paddington and Liverpool Street stations and it also connects with the Thameslink trains (see below) at Farringdon.
So when travelling from both Paddington and Liverpool Street stations to and from both King’s Cross and St Pancras, this interchange at Farringdon provides a new step-free alternative route compared to travelling direct by Underground.

Also when taking trains which are travelling to and from Liverpool Street, it will be easier to make the connection in and out of the Elizabeth Line at Stratford, if your train will be calling there; particularly when heading towards London.

The access with many areas in central London has been transformed, particularly when taking trains to and from Paddington, thanks to that station’s somewhat distant location.
The Elizabeth Line station at Tottenham Court Road is within easy walking distance of The British Museum, Covent Garden and Chinatown.

Thameslink trains at Blackfriars station Thameslink trains at Blackfriars station
 Blackfriars station spans the River Thames on a bridge Blackfriars station spans the River Thames on a bridge
Elizabeth line to northbound Thameslink trains at Farringdon Elizabeth line to northbound Thameslink trains at Farringdon
Take the lift from the southbound Thameslink trains to the Elizabeth line at Farringdon Take the lift from the southbound Thameslink trains to the Elizabeth line at Farringdon

Thameslink trains cross central London in both directions on a London Bridge - Blackfriars - City Thameslink - Farringdon - St Pancras International route.

Kings Cross is across the street from St Pancras and in that station the Thameslink southbound platform has super easy access by escalators and lifts (elevators); though not all trains from platform A at St Pancras go to London Bridge station, but most do, typically providing a minimum of 12 trains per hour.
Escalators and lifts are also available at London Bridge, where the Thameslink trains share the part of the station used by Southeastern’s train services.
London Bridge station is within a 10 min walk of Borough Market, Tower Bridge and The Shard.

The south entrance of City Thameslink station on Ludgate Hill is a 5 min walk from St Paul’s cathedral.

At Blackfriars there is an entrance/exit on the south bank which offers easy access to the Tate Modern and The Festival Hall; board by the front of the trains at St Pancras.

At Blackfriars interchange is also available with the Circle and District Lines, so a combination of Thameslink and those lines is the best route from Kings Cross/St Pancras (board at the rear of the trains) to a swathe of destinations including Embankment (for Trafalgar Square), Tower Hill and Westminster.

Connecting between the Elizabeth line and Thameslink trains

Multiple cross London routes without having to use the Underground are now possible, because at Farringdon station a transfer between Thameslink services and the new Elizabeth line is also now available.
Though the shortest routes to take within Farringdon station depend on the direction of travel on the Thameslink trains:

  • The escalator which links the Elizabeth line to the Farringdon station exits also provides the connection with the northbound Thameslink trains heading to St Pancras from London Bridge.
  • The lift / elevator from the Elizabeth line, which leads to the exit at Farringdon, stops on the southbound Thameslink platform, used by the trains heading to London Bridge.
    So if you want to use the lifts to transfer between the Elizabeth line and northbound Thameslink trains, you need to use the lift which links the Elizabeth line to the ticket hall, and then use another lift which links the ticket hall with the northbound platform.

When arriving in Farringdon on a Thameslink train from St Pancras, the lift is very much the shortest route to the Elizabeth line, despite the fact its labelled as a link to the exit.
The alternative to using the lift when transferring from the southbound Thameslink trains to the Elizabeth line at Farringdon station, involves walking up and over a footbridge and then taking the escalator.

3: London Bridge ↔ Charing Cross

To London Bridge from Charing Cross station To London Bridge from Charing Cross station

The West End of London and the London Bridge area are linked by frequent trains which travel to and from Charing Cross station, which is located on The Strand by Trafalgar Square.
All trains to Charing Cross now call at London Bridge station and the journey only takes 7 minutes.

Taking a bus:

Note that this is bus stop 'H', all stops near stations have letters Note that this is bus stop 'H', all stops near stations have letters

In recent years the number of bus routes (lines) in central London has been extensively reduced, but for visitors to the city this is no bad thing.
Fewer routes mean both less confusing choices; and less congestion, particularly now that on many central sections of the journeys, the buses are separated from the cars.

Bus travel has been transformed for the better in central London in other ways; access on to the buses has become easier, they have luggage storage and also have on-board info, both audio and visual, which informs passengers of the stop they’re about to arrive at.
Plus asking the driver where you need to leave the bus is of course still an option.

Taking the bus is also cheaper than taking the Underground, the bus fare is £1.50, but a Zone 1 journey by Underground is £2.40 when using an Oyster Card.

Avoid having to make an indirect journey by Underground

Buses can also often provide a direct service between a main rail station and areas of central London, which otherwise require a connection between tube lines.
Examples include:
London Bridge ↔ Liverpool Street (routes 149 & 388)
Euston and Waterloo ↔ Holborn (routes, 68 & 168)
Kings Cross/St Pancras ↔ Tottenham Court Road (route 73) and Trafalgar Square (route 91)
Victoria ↔ Knightsbridge (route 52) and Piccadilly Circus (route 38)
Waterloo ↔ St Pauls (route 76) and Islington (route 341).

Good to know:

The two key obstacles to taking a bus are:

  1. You can’t pay for a ride with cash, so have to use a bank debit card (beware of international bank fees) or Oyster Cards which can’t be purchased from the driver, but can be issued by machines in the Underground station.

  2. Finding the bus you need to take at a station.
    At Euston, London Bridge and Victoria there are bus stations in front of the main rail station exits; though they’re not used by most of the bus routes (lines) which serve these stations.
    So at these and the other stations, multiple bus stops are scattered around the immediate ara, but most stops have diagrams which show which bus leaves from each stop; and the stops also have letters to help find them.
    These diagrams, which show which bus route leaves from each stop, are also available on the relevant ShowMeTheJourney station guides.

Options for avoiding crossing London between stations

Unlike Paris, London doesn't have an express train route which avoids the city, but when travelling between the two key rail routes which link the capital with the North of England, and destinations to the south of London, two alternative cross-city rail routes are available.
Taking either of them results in a slower and more expensive journey, but they're particularly good options if you want to avoid taking heavy luggage, kids and strollers etc on a deep-level tube line across central London by Underground; or if you'll simply be more comfortable taking lifts/elevators to and from the trains, rather than negotiating a journey involving long escalators.

1: Watford ↔ Clapham Junction:

Many of the trains operated by Avanti West Coast between London and a swathe of destinations including Birmingham, Blackpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh call at Watford Junction.
Hourly trains operated by Southern provide a link between Watford Junction and Clapham Junction, which happens to have more departures per hour than any other station in Britain.
It has direct trains to and from numerous destinations including Brighton, Gatwick Airport, Guilford Hastings, Portsmouth, Richmond and Salisbury.

So as an alternative to having transfer by Underground between Euston and Victoria or Waterloo stations (where those trains calling at Clapham Junction commence and finish their journeys), an easier option is to travel between Watford Junction and Clapham Junction by train instead.
Both of these stations have elevators/lifts connections to all platforms, so the transfer by this route is step-free.

The end-to-end journey time will likely be around an hour longer, but it can be a good option if you have heavy luggage etc, so would rather avoid taking the Underground across the city centre.

2: Stevenage ↔London Bridge

A Thameslink train at London Bridge station A Thameslink train at London Bridge station

At Stevenage station, which is to the north of London, trains operated by LNER and Thameslink share the same sets of platforms/tracks, so when connecting between trains there, all that’s required is to wait on the same platform for the next train you will be taking to depart.

LNER trains provide fairly frequent services between Stevenage and the likes of Leeds, Newcastle and York, while four Thameslink trains per hour usually call at Stevenage.
All four of these trains link Stevenage with London Bridge and Gatwick Airport, and two of them also serve Brighton.

Other destinations with frequent trains from London Bridge station include Ashford, Greenwich, Canterbury and Dover, and all platforms at London Bridge have elevator/lift access.
So taking the train between Stevenage and London Bridge avoids both;

  • taking the Northern line of the Underground, or
  • making a more complicated transfer between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations; the LNER trains will arrive at and depart from King's Cross, but the Thameslink trains use St Pancras station, which is across the street.
    Also the end-to-end journeys are typically less than 30 mins longer when making a connection at Stevenage.

Station to Station transfers

Taking the train from Waterloo (East) to London Bride is easier than the Underground Taking the train from Waterloo (East) to London Bride is easier than the Underground

Note the advice for travel to a station can vary from that on how to travel from a station, due to variations in the optimum route in each direction. For example, the suggestions below whenever possible, don't include any transfers which involve crossing a street from a station.

Also the included transfers are those which facilitate long-distance journeys by train that involve cross-London connections, so the stations which primarily serve shorter-distance and commuter routes such as Cannon Street, Fenchurch Street and Marylebone have been excluded.

At weekends the Underground lines and both the Elizabeth line and Thameslink trains can be impacted by construction work, those affecting the Underground and Elizabeth line trains can be looked up here, while those impacting the Thameslink trains, can be found here.

Click these buttons for the guides to making the transfers from and to each station:

By train to and from London airports

Significant improvements have been made to the rail links at London's airports in recent years;

  • the number of rail connections between Gatwick and central London stations has more than doubled, thanks to the expansion of the Thameslink network;
  • there has been the opening of the Elizabeth line and its new connection to Heathrow;
  • plus there's the new DART people mover which now links Luton Airport's passenger terminal with its station.

City

City Airport is directly served by a people mover system named the DLR which calls at the airport station every 5 to 15 minutes.
The DLR route to/from the airport doesn't serve central London, but step-free connections by escalator and lifts are available with the Jubilee line of the Underground at Canning Town station and with the Central and Elizabeth lines at Stratford.

Access to and from any London station can be looked up on the TfL journey planner.

Stratford station also has direct trains to and from a swathe of more distant destinations in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, including Southend-on-Sea, Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich.

Gatwick

A Gatwick Express train heads to the airport A Gatwick Express train heads to the airport
Boarding the Gatwick Express at Victoria Boarding the Gatwick Express at Victoria
Taking Thameslink trains to Gatwick Airport Taking Thameslink trains to Gatwick Airport
Connect at Reading for Bath, Bristol, Oxford, South Wales and The Cotswolds Connect at Reading for Bath, Bristol, Oxford, South Wales and The Cotswolds

Gatwick Airport station is directly linked to the South Terminal and is connected to the North Terminal by a free people mover.

If you will be taking the train to central London it's a good idea to look up the location of your ultimate end destination in the city centre to get an idea of whether heading to Victoria station, or a station served by the Thameslink trains, will be the best option.
Don't assume that taking the Gatwick Express and then a taxi or Underground will be the quickest or easiest route.

The ticket gates at Gatwick are equipped with Oyster Card readers, so you can use these cards to travel to and from the airport, though the amount of money deducted from the card will match the ticket costs, so you won't save money by using Oyster.

taking the Gatwick Express
Gatwick Express trains share the route to and from London Victoria station with Southern trains, but they are more expensive and therefore require specific tickets.
Two factors set them apart from the Southern trains:

  1. They have additional luggage storage.
  2. They are faster because they are non-stop.
    The journey time is scheduled to be 31 minutes, but because they share the same busy tracks as the Southern trains, they are typically only two minutes faster in comparison.

The biggest plus point of taking the Gatwick Express over the Southern trains, used to be that the only stations served by the Gatwick Express trains were Gatwick and Victoria.
When that was the case, they were quieter than the Southern services, so seats could be guaranteed on any departure.
However, the Gatwick Express is now typically a London Victoria <> Brighton service, which happens to call at the airport.

So when heading to London, on arrival at the airport station, the Gatwick Express trains can be busy with travellers who have already boarded in Brighton.
Also because the Gatwick Express trains typically no longer commence their journeys at the airport, the train will only spend a minute at the platform, so there's typically no early boarding available of a near empty train with guaranteed space on the luggage racks.

At Victoria, the Gatwick Express trains share the station with the Southern services, though they have a dedicated pair of platforms /tracks.

These platforms also have a dedicated taxi rank, so when taking a taxi to Victoria station, tell the driver if you want to take the Gatwick Express.

taking the Southern trains

Southern Railway offers a more frequent and typically cheaper alternative for journeys between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria station than the Gatwick Express.

Southern also provides the train service between the airport and the major interchange station of Clapham Junction where connections are available to a swathe of locations in west and north London including Hampstead, Putney, Richmond, Shepherd's Bush and Wimbledon.

taking the Thameslink trains

Up to 8 Thameslink trains per hour connect Gatwick Airport to multiple stations in central London:

All Thameslink trains from Gatwick call at all of these stations before heading on to destinations to the north of London.
One or two trains per hour link the airport to Cambridge and Peterborough.
Up to four trains per hour go to Bedford and these trains all call at the station which serves Luton Airport.
So when heading to central London by Thameslink trains board trains heading to Bedford, Cambridge and Peterborough.

Heathrow

The Elizabeth line at Paddington The Elizabeth line at Paddington
To the Heathrow Express by stairs from the part of the Underground at the far end of the station To the Heathrow Express by stairs from the part of the Underground at the far end of the station
The type of tube trains used on the Piccadilly line The type of tube trains used on the Piccadilly line
On the concourse at Paddington the Heathrow Express is directly ahead, but the Elizabeth Line is out of sight to the left On the concourse at Paddington the Heathrow Express is directly ahead, but the Elizabeth Line is out of sight to the left

Britain's busiest international airport has three stations at:

  • Terminals 2 and 3
  • Terminal 4
  • Terminal 5
    which are all used by the three different train services which connect Heathrow to central London by train
  1. the Elizabeth line
  2. the Heathrow Express
  3. the Piccadilly line of the London Underground.

All of the trains to and from Heathrow call at the station linked to Terminals 2 and 3; though if you'll be taking the Piccadilly line to Terminals 2 and 3, it's quicker to take a train heading on to Terminal 5.
However, all trains call at either the station at Terminal 4 OR at the station at Terminal 5, so particularly when heading to the airport, take care to board the correct train.

Heathrow is in the Transport For London zone 6, so Oyster cards are valid on the Elizabeth line and Piccadilly line trains, but they can't be used on the Heathrow Express.

Taking the Elizabeth line:

There are typically trains every 15 minutes to and from the station at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3, with trains every 30 mins at both Terminals 4 and 5.
In the central London area the Elizabeth line has stations at:

  • Paddington journey time = 34mins, connect for Bakerloo, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines.
  • Bond Street journey time = 39mins, connect for Central and Jubilee lines.
  • Tottenham Court Road journey time = 41mins, connect for the Northern line.
  • Farringdon journey time = 44mins, connect for the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, plus Thameslink trains to Brighton, Cambridge, Gatwick Airport and Luton Airport
  • Liverpool Street station.
    All Elizabeth line trains to/from Heathrow also call at Canary Wharf in the Docklands business district.

The first train to the airport from the central London stations arrives at around 06:30; and the final train of the day from those stations arrives at around 23:45.
From the airport the first train of the day to the central London stations typically departs at around 05:20 and the final train departs at around 23:05.

Taking the Heathrow Express:

There are typically trains every 15 minutes which travel non stop in both directions between the station at Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 and Paddington station, with trains every 30 mins from and to both Terminals 4 and 5.
The journey time between Terminals 2 & 3 and Paddington is only 16 mins, so around half of the time taken by the Elizabeth line trains, but outside peak hours, taking the Heathrow Express is more expensive.

A single ticket booked in Advance of the day of travel for the Heathrow Express is £5.50, the same rate as peak rate journey using an Oyster Card to travel to zone 6, which is where Heathrow is located.
But the off peak journey with an Oyster Card, which can be used on the Elizabeth and Piccadilly lines only costs £3.50.
Book last minute at the station for the Heathrow Express and the price will be £25!

At Paddington the taxi rank is closer to the part of the station used by the Heathrow Express than the Elizabeth line; When arriving at Paddington the step free route is by exiting on to the main concourse and turning to the left.

The first and last trains arrive at depart and from the airport at around 05:05; and the final trains of the day arrive at, and depart from Paddington at around 00:10.

Taking the Piccadilly line:

The Piccadilly line provides a direct link between Heathrow and many locations in central London not served by the Elizabeth line.
So despite its relative lack of speed, the journey between Heathrow and Piccadilly Circus station is scheduled to take 48m mins, it can be the best option when travelling from and to the likes of Earls Court, the museums district, Knightsbridge and Covent Garden.
The first train of the day towards central London departs at around 05:10 and the final train of the day is at around 23:45.
When travelling from central London, the first train of the day arrives in the airport at around 06:35.

Between the main London stations and Heathrow:

To Euston station for trains to Birmingham; Glasgow; Liverpool and Manchester.
Take the Elizabeth line to Tottenham Court Road and connect there for a northbound Northern line train.

To King's Cross station for trains to Edinburgh; Leeds; Newcastle and York.
AND
To St Pancras International station for trains to Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Canterbury, the Kent coast, Derby. Leicester, Sheffield and Nottingham.
Take the Elizabeth line to Farringdon and connect for a northbound Thameslink train to St Pancras Thameslink station, or when that isn't an option, go direct on the Piccadilly line.

To Liverpool Street station for trains to Ipswich and Norwich.
Take the Elizabeth line direct to Liverpool Street.

To London Bridge station for trains to Canterbury, Hastings and the Kent coast.
Take the Elizabeth line to Farringdon and connect for a southbound Thameslink train; though not all trains from Farringdon go to London Bridge.

Luton

A Luton Airport Express train at St Pancras International station A Luton Airport Express train at St Pancras International station

The DART people mover has commenced service between the Luton airport terminal and Luton Airport Parkway station.

Two train services are available between central London and Luton Airport Parkway:

  1. Trains operated by Thameslink
  2. Trains branded 'Luton Airport Express' which are operated by EMR

Travelling between Luton Airport and St Pancras by train

Both the Luton Airport Express trains and the Thameslink trains connect Luton Airport with St Pancras International station which is located on the northern edge of central London.
In St Pancrcas International both train services use the north end of the main terminal, with the Luton Airport Express trains on the level above, and the Thameslink trains on the level below, the main concourse.
So it doesn't matter which train service you take regarding how easy it is to transfer to and from taxis, the Underground. or the adjacent King's Cross station.
Though the Luton Airport Express services are non-stop, so have a journey time of only 23 minutes; typically 9 minutes quicker than the fastest Thameslink trains.

The other plus of taking the 'Luton Airport Express trains is that EMR offers discounted Advance tickets, but Thameslink doesn't.
So if you book ahead, the tickets for a journey from and to St Pancras can be over 75% less than taking the Thameslink trains.
For this reason if you book a ticket for travel with EMR you can't then opt to travel on a Thameslink train instead; and vice versa, tickets marked Thameslink stations can't be used to travel by the Luton Airport Express.

These Advance tickets are a particularly good option when heading to the airport by the Luton Airport Express, as they can only be used on the specific departure you select when booking.
So if you book an Advance ticket from the airport and then experience a flight delay, you will have to buy another ticket at the airport.

When booking last minute at the station, the same price is charged on the Airport Express and the Thameslink trains, so if you will be buying tickets at St Pancras International or at Luton Airport Parkway stations just prior to boarding, check which service will be the next to depart and book accordingly.
Oyster Cards can't be used to travel between Luton Airport Parkway and central London.

Though the other two key differences between taking a Luton Airport Express train or a Thameslink service are

  1. the frequency, and
  2. the the timings of the first and last trains:
  • the Luton Airport Express typically departs every 30mins until 21:00 and hourly afterwards.
  • Four fast Thameslink trains per hour are usually available; so when heading to London from the airport these fast Thameslink services are the trains heading to Brighton and Three Bridges - avoid the trains heading to Rainham as they call at all intermediate stations.
  • the final Airport Express train to St Pancras typically departs Luton Airport Parkway before 23:30 on Monday to Friday and before 22:30 on Sat/Sun, but Thameslink trains are typically available 24 hrs; though the service is only hourly overnight.

Travelling between Luton Airport and central London by train

A plus of taking the Thameslink trains to and from Luton Airport is that they cross central London, so call at multiple stations in addition to St Pancras International.
They are:

When the usual service is operating target the faster trains:

  • to the airport, they are the trains typically heading to Bedford,
  • from the airport, they are the trains typically heading to Brighton or Three Bridges or East Grinstead.

Stansted

The Stansted Express is the rail link between the airport and central London, two trains per hour travel to and from Liverpool Street station in a journey time of around 45 - 50 minutes; the airport is some distance from the city.

The trains also call at Tottenham Hale station where a step-free transfer with the Victoria line of the Underground is available; Liverpool Street is located towards the eastern edge of the city centre, but the Victoria line serves the West End.
Though a new, easier route is available when travelling between Stansted and the Oxford Circus area, as Elizabeth line trains provide a connection with Liverpool Street.

The first Stansted Express train of the day arrives in the airport at around 05:40 and the final departure of the day is typically at 00:30.

To Bath from Paddington

To Bicester from Marylebone; take trains heading to Oxford

To Brighton from St Pancras; Blackfriars and London Bridge by Thameslink trains; and from Victoria by Southern trains

To Cambridge from Kings Cross (fastest) and also from Blackfriars, London Bridge and Liverpool Street

To Canterbury from St Pancras (by hi-speed trains), other trains also depart from Charing Cross, London Bridge and Victoria

To Leeds Castle by taking trains to Bearsted from Victoria

To Oxford from Paddington and from Marylebone

To Salisbury; for Stonehenge from Waterloo

To Windsor from Paddington (faster but change of train at Slough required); from Waterloo (slower, but direct)

To Warwick from Marylebone

To Winchester from Waterloo

Using rail tickets to obtain 2-for-1 entry to visitor attractions:

National Rail, which has overall responsibility for how the trains are managed in Britain, has teamed up with a swathe of tourist attractions for a promotion which allows two entry tickets for the price of one when travelling to and from them by train.
How it typically works is:

  1. You can look for which attractions and guided tours are members of the scheme on the National Rail website.
  2. Having chosen an attraction you can then see how to book the special promotional tickets or voucher; when needed you can find promo codes on the dedicated page for each attraction on the National Rail Website.
  3. On the online booking page of the attraction you should see an option which corresponds to 'National Rail - Two for One offer'.
  4. Book your attraction tickets or voucher.
  5. On arrival at the attraction you present your attraction tickets and rail tickets to gain entry.

The offers are available to visitors to the UK as well as residents, so they can be a great way to save money when on a holiday.

Though what's good to know is:

  • You need to present either the outward or return part of a national rail ticket to gain entry, along with your attraction tickets, so Oyster Cards and other Travelcards aren't valid.
  • The ticket machines at stations will retain one-way tickets, hence return tickets are a must - and if possible avoid putting your outward tickets through the machine, by asking the staff to open the gates/barriers.
  • The two people entering the attraction on the 2-for-1 offer will both need separate rail tickets.
  • The type of rail ticket, how much you paid for it and the distance travelled all don't matter, any pair of return rail tickets will suffice.
  • If you have one, you can use Railcards to book the rail tickets.
  • Rail tickets are available as an alternative to Oyster cards when travelling between any two National Rail stations in the Greater London area; a National Rail station is any station not solely served by the Underground or DLR, so it includes stations solely served by the Overground or Elizabeth Line trains.
    Therefore you can buy return rail tickets to a central London station, or to a station located by an attraction, from another station in the London area.

However before booking the 2-for-1 offers on the attraction websites, carefully check how much you will be saving by only paying one entrance fee, compared to the costs of booking two rail tickets.
If you look up the journey on the National Rail website you'll get a good idea of the train ticket costs.
It's likely you won't be able to claim a refund on the attraction tickets, if you then decide not to go ahead, because the rail tickets + the 2-for-1 offer won't save you money.
Though it's highly likely you will make a substantial overall saving.

But if you have already booked two return rail tickets and then find an attraction(s) that you want to visit, go ahead and book the 2-for-1 offer, as you'll then be certain of saving money!

Where can you go and what can you see

The full list of tourist attractions participating in the scheme can be found on the National Rail website.

Popular attractions in central London include:

Attractions in the wider London area, with easy access from local rail stations, include:

Attractions which are an easy day trip from London include:

Please support ShowMeTheJourney

This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.
We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.

Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.

So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please go here to say thank you.

Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

ShowMeTheJourney

This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.

hand-money

Please support ShowMeTheJourney

Help keep us advertising and paywall free!

Donate

This second version of ShowMeTheJourney is exciting and new, so we are genuinely thrilled that you are here and reading this, but we also need your help.

We’re striving not to let anything get in the way of providing the most useful service possible, hence a facility has been set up with DonorBox which can be used to support the running costs and make improvements.

Instead of advertising or paywalls, your financial support will make a positive difference to delivering an enhanced service, as there’s a lot of ideas which we want to make happen.

So if you have found the info provided here to be useful, please consider saying thank you.