London is one of the world’s busiest transport hubs. Stiff competition among airlines around the world on routings into the British capital ensures good deals on international travel. Most long-haul flights come into London Heathrow or London Gatwick, although it’s also worth exploring options into less crowded hubs outside London – notably Manchester, Birmingham or Newcastle. European short-haul flights also arrive at all these airports, and at a host of others including London Stansted, London Luton, London City, Bristol, Liverpool, East Midlands Airport near Nottingham, Leeds-Bradford, and many more around the country. Since routes and carriers can change at short notice, to get the latest up-to-date information the best advice is to check the website of your preferred arrival airport for details of who flies there, and from where.
Overland routes from neighbouring countries include high-speed trains into London through the Channel Tunnel – passenger-only services as well as special car-carrying trains for those on a self-drive tour – as well as a range of ferry routes.
Package tours of England, where all flights, accommodation and ground transport are arranged for you, can sometimes be cheaper than organizing things yourself. All-inclusive city breaks from North America can provide a good introduction to England, though many cover limited ground outside London. Many companies at home and in the UK offer tours of England’s historic highlights by coach (bus), or help you explore some aspect of the country’s heritage, such as art and architecture, or gardens and stately homes. Some companies offer budget versions of their holidays, staying in hostels or B&Bs.
Flights from the US and Canada
Many airlines fly nonstop to London and other English hubs. Flight time from the east coast is around seven hours, nearer ten hours from the west.
From the US take your pick of dozens of scheduled and charter flights out of New York, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among other cities. The route between New York JFK and London Heathrow, for example, is the busiest air corridor in the world, with somewhere between twenty and thirty flights a day in each direction. This level of competition pushes prices down: low-season return fares from New York start around US$400, from Los Angeles US$500–600.
From Canada, look for nonstop scheduled and charter routings to London and other English cities, mainly from Toronto, Montréal, Calgary and Vancouver, with return fares roughly covering the range Can$500–900.
As well as checking for deals on all the usual airlines, look out for low fares on unusual carriers. Air India, for instance, flies nonstop Toronto–London at bargain rates, as does Kuwait Airways out of JFK.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
Routes from Australia and New Zealand to London are highly competitive, with return fares out of Sydney, Melbourne or Perth usually Aus$1500–2500, or NZ$2000–3000 out of Auckland. Check out the obvious carriers first, such as Qantas, British Airways and Air New Zealand – but then explore options on, for instance, Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways via the Gulf, Air Asia via Kuala Lumpur, or even taking a low-cost hop on a budget airline to, say, Bangkok or Singapore from where you can pick up super-cheap deals on scheduled carriers to London. Travel time is over twenty hours, even with the best connections; most airlines will let you stop over for no extra charge, and many of the cheaper flights involve a change of planes in any case.
Flights from South Africa
From South Africa direct flights – mostly from Johannesburg – cost roughly ZAR6000 –8000 return, though you might find lower rates on, for instance, Emirates via Dubai. Flight time is eleven hours nonstop. Cape Town has fewer direct flights; they take slightly longer and cost a bit more.
Stiff competition on flights between Ireland and England keeps fares low. It’s easy to find a seat for €30–50 on routes out of Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Knock or Shannon to any of a dozen English airports, on airlines such as Ryanair, bmibaby, Flybe, Aer Lingus and others.
If you’re driving, your best bet is a ferry from Dublin to Liverpool. Other routes, such as to Holyhead, Fishguard or Pembroke, leave you a long drive from the English border.
You can buy a train ticket from almost any station in Ireland to any station in England for €36–40 one way, including the ferry crossing. Dublin–London takes under seven hours. The bus/ferry options offered by Bus Éireann/Eurolines cost about the same but take roughly twice as long.
From mainland Europe
Numerous airlines fly from cities across Europe to airports all over England. The best advice when researching routes and options is to check the website of your preferred arrival airport, to find out who flies there from your country.
Trains to London St Pancras run roughly hourly from Lille (1hr 20min), Paris (2hr 15min) and Brussels (2hr), with connections coming into those cities from all around Europe. Some trains include a stop before London at Ashford or Ebbsfleet – handy if you’re planning to tour Kent. Fares vary widely depending on your starting point: Eurostar (wwww.eurostar.com) sells tickets online for journeys from certain stations in western Europe (see website for list) to any arrival point in the UK; otherwise consult a rail agent in your home country. A great resource for rail travel is wwww.seat61.com – it’s designed to be used by UK travellers heading abroad, but has plenty to offer travellers seeking to avoid flights as a way to reach (and tour) England.
Drivers have a choice of ferry routes. The cheapest services are on the shortest cross-Channel hops from the French ports of Calais, Boulogne and Dunkerque to Dover. Other routes abound, from elsewhere in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Sweden into ports spread around the southern and eastern coasts of England. Consult wwww.directferries.com, www.ferrybooker.com or www.seaview.co.uk for up-to-date information on who sails where. Fares vary between operators according to the date, time and type of crossing.
Often quicker and more convenient are the drive-on/drive-off shuttle trains operated by Eurotunnel (wwww.eurotunnel.com) through the Channel Tunnel from Calais to Folkestone. Book well ahead for the lowest prices, which start from under €70 for a car with all passengers.
Eurolines (wwww.eurolines.com) coordinates international bus services from dozens of cities to London, though the small savings over equivalent airfares are outweighed by the marathon journey times.