Nipping to Europe to hit the slopes? Or jetting off somewhere hot and sunny? Wherever in the world you need to go, chances are you can get there from Heathrow. There are over 185 destinations on offer at the world’s second busiest airport (after Dubai International). But while it’s big and buzzing, Heathrow can also be totally baffling. With four terminals (Terminal 1 closed in 2015 leaving Terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5), not only is its sheer size and scale intimidating, there’s just so many people – the airport handles 75 million passengers a year. But finding your way around Heathrow needn’t be stressful. Whichever terminal you’re flying from, our guide can tell you how to get there – plus we’ll let you know all the best places to eat, drink and shop once you’re there.
Get your trip to Heathrow off to the most relaxing start by booking into one of the Heathrow Airport Premier Inn hotels. They all have fantastic Sleep Park Fly deals, where you get free parking on the night of your stay and then a great parking deal at one of Heathrow’s long-stay car parks. No matter which one you choose, you’ll also be able to get a bus – Heathrow’s Hotel Hoppa – straight to the terminal.
Heathrow’s well connected to London and beyond, whether that’s by train, bus or car. In terms of navigation, Terminals 2 and 3 are close together in the centre, while Terminal 4 is on the southern part of the site. The newest of the airport buildings, Terminal 5, is towards the west and has its own entrance on the Western Perimeter Road.
Driving and parking
Heathrow is easily accessible by either the M4 or M25 and you’ll find the official car parks closest to the terminals, with the short stay being just a walk away. There’s also valet, business and long-stay parking options (but you’ll need a bus to take you to the terminal from the long-stay. A great option if you’ve got a morning flight is to stay at one of the three Premier Inn hotels near Heathrow. Each one offers a great Sleep Park Fly package including one night’s stay with free parking, then a long-stay parking package for the duration of your trip.
Bus and Coach
National Express coaches stop at all the airport terminals from hundreds of locations UK-wide. Several local buses also stop at Heathrow. Most drop off at the bus station between Terminals 2 and 3 so you’ll have to catch the free shuttle train to Terminal 4 from here, or get on the Heathrow Express for Terminal 5 (there’s no charge for this part of the journey).
There’s also a Hotel Hoppa that will pick you up from any of the three Premier Inn hotels near Heathrow.
Although not as quick as the Heathrow Express, the Tube is certainly the cheapest way to get to Heathrow, with a single fare costing around £6. Jump on a Piccadilly Line train. It takes under an hour to get to the airport from central London, and trains run at least every ten minutes even at off-peak times. Terminals 4 and 5 have their own basement underground stations, while 2 and 3 share an underground station between them, with a short walk via a pedestrian subway to each of the terminal buildings.
The quickest way to Heathrow from central London has to be the Heathrow Express. It takes 15 minutes from London Paddington, and trains depart the station for the airport every 15 minutes, too.
You can also get a stopping service from London Paddington. Called the Heathrow Connect, it is cheaper, but you will call at several west London stations on the way.
Heathrow Connect trains take between 31 and 49 minutes and there’s a train every 30 minutes.
While each of Heathrow’s terminals has its own unique flavour, there are some fantastic services and facilities that all four have in common. There’s free WiFi available for all the time you spend here, as well as free Power Pole charging stations both land and airside (very useful considering you won’t get your device through security if the battery is dead). And if you’re looking for something to eat on the flight, all of Heathrow airport’s 118 restaurants will provide you with specially prepared picnic hampers, even the posh ones like Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food and Heston Blumenthal’s The Perfectionist’s Café. Just think of the jealous glances you’ll get on the plane!
Credit cards at the ready, because Terminal 2 feels more like a luxury mall than an airport. Snazzy and opulent, it reopened after a major refurbishment in 2014 and it’s now packed with designer brands. Gucci, Burberry, Kurt Geiger, Paul Smith, Michael Kors and more have retail outlets here, plus there’s a Harrods and a John Lewis. If it’s gifts you’re after, you could always call at Cath Kidston for something pretty that won’t totally break the bank, while the kids will be happy with pretty much anything that’s sold at Hamley’s.
Eating and drinking
There’s a YO! Sushi and a Leon, but for breakfast with a real Milanese flavour (and by that we mean great coffee served with delicious stuffed pastries) try Ca'ppuccino. For a pre-flight treat, try The Gorgeous Kitchen, which wins rave reviews both for its food – which is healthy and delicious – and its service. Or try something a bit different by heading to Terminal 2’s Heston Blumenthal restaurant. The Perfectionist’s Café is home to Heathrow’s first wood burning oven so expect delicious pizza and, as an added bonus, kids eat free.
Time to kill
If shopping (or window shopping) doesn’t float your boat, plug into one of the Power Pole charging stations and browse the web to your heart’s content.
For little ones, there’s a Stay & Play in the main departure lounge once you get airside, near Gate 16. With slides, soft play areas and separate baby and junior zones, they’ll be able to burn off some energy before the flight.
It’s free to enter, but an adult must stay with them (so no sloping off to the bar).
If you’re coming via the Terminal 2 and 3 Underground stations, you’ll find help buttons on either side of the up escalators.
Press them to call station staff who will take you to a lift to the ticket office level, where you can find lifts to ground level and the central bus station.
Once inside the terminal, all gates have reserved seating for passengers with special needs.
These seats are located as close as possible to the entrance to the airbridge.
With Harrods, Mulberry, Hermes, Missoni and more, there’s more designer brands than you can shake your gold card at. Best of the high-street names include Jack Wills, Jo Malone and Zara. Head to MAC for a makeover or send some last-minute postcards at Terminal 3’s post office. Or just grab a croissant and browse in the Tiffany & Co window, to feel like you’re in an Audrey Hepburn film.
Eating and drinking
Grab and go at Costa or Leon, head to Strada for some tasty Italian fare or spoil yourself with some caviar and Champagne at the Seafood Bar. The Three Bells does great pub grub, has plenty of comfy sofas and shows Sky Sports. For something more special, Oriel French Restaurant and Bar is winning rave reviews among travellers for its excellent service and French-inspired menu.
Time to kill
For the ultimate in pre-flight relaxation, why not check into the Number 1 Traveller lounge? It has its own spa where you can enjoy a range of indulgent treatments. Those with little ones should head to Terminal 3’s dedicated Family Lounge. Free to enter, there are play areas for toddlers, a children's quiet room and even a Game Zone for kids aged 10 to 15. The lounge is in departures - just follow the signs for Lounge A.
You can get assistance by using the phones at Help Points – you’ll find them in the Underground, the long and short stay car parks, the central bus station and the terminal forecourts. Once in the airport you’ll find ramps, wider access pathways, telephones at an accessible height, disabled toilets and dedicated seating areas. Look out for the special assistance area in Terminal 3 after security. You’ll find it behind World Duty Free.
From Boss to Versace, the retail outlets on offer here read like an A to Z (well, B to V) of designer brands. It could encourage you to shop beyond the limits of what you can squeeze into your hand luggage, but if you’re travelling within the EU, you can have items delivered to any UK mainland address for free. You’ll also get Heathrow Reward Points on anything you buy at the terminal, entitling you to vouchers or Air Miles.
Eating and drinking
With a Carluccio’s, a Comptoir Libanais and a Café Rouge, there’s plenty of restaurants to ensure you jet off feeling fully satisfied. For something more relaxed, try The Commission. With British produce and seasonal specials, it’s the perfect place for a business breakfast, a relaxing lunch or afternoon tea.
They also do a great range of cocktails if you really wanted to start your trip in style.
Time to kill
If you’re travelling with little ones, you’ll find the Stay & Play area in the departure lounge on the way to Gates 1-6. If you know you’ll have lots of time before your flight, you could book into the Plaza Premium Lounge. Prices start from around £35, but it’s beautiful inside, plus there are showers, snacks, meals and access to a free bar included in the price. There’s even private resting suites if you fancied a quick snooze.
If you’re being dropped off, be aware that the drop-off point is 50 metres from the entrance. Luckily, there are help phones at the drop-off area so assistance won’t be far away. Inside the terminal you’ll find it easy to navigate, with wide corridors and an ever-expanding fleet of buggies. Once through security, head to the Serenity Lounge, left of Costa Coffee. It’s a quieter area than most (with great views) and is equipped for disabled passengers.
From high street to high end, T5 has it covered. Designer shops like Stella McCartney and Prada rub fashionable shoulders with Reiss and Accessorize, and there’s even a stand-alone Fortnum & Mason store that’s great for thoughtful (and edible) London gifts.
For something different, head to the Harry Potter Shop, selling all things wizardy from souvenir wands to collectible figures.
Eating and drinking
Head to Costa, there are so many options here if you fancy a hot drink. But for something extra special, Fortnum & Mason has its own Champagne Bar selling delicacies like caviar on hot buttered toast with a glass of fizz to wash it down. The Gordon Ramsay restaurant Plane Food is also a great place to try – and it’s not as expensive as you might expect. Plus, kids can eat there for free during the UK school holidays.
Time to kill
Turn up for your flight feeling relaxed and beautified after a massage and manicure at the Be-Relax spa in Terminal 5b. Get your shoes professionally shined (or repaired) at Shoeshine, on both the north and south side of the terminal. Wander through the Gallery to get a cultural fix. It’s one of the world’s few fine art galleries to be found in an airport and regularly showcases established and up-and-coming artists.
Opposite Gates 20 and 21 is the new Lichfield Suite. This special assistance waiting area is always manned by at least one fully trained member of staff and is in a quieter part of the terminal. It features two accessible toilets, TVs and a Costa Coffee service point. It also features a special suite designed in conjunction with the UK charity Changing Places, with extra facilities aimed at those who have more severe disabilities.