Heathrow Airport is one of the world's busiest airports. Think about it: 75 million passengers a year on 500,000 flights from 185 destinations riding 80 airlines, like some kind of global maypole dance.
Heathrow's terminals are numbered T-1 through T-5. Though T-1 is now closed for arrivals and departures, it still supports other terminals with baggage, and the newly renovated T-2 ("Queen's Terminal") will likely expand into the old T-1 digs eventually. Each terminal is served by different airlines and alliances; for example, T-5 is exclusively for British Air and Iberia Air flights, while T-2 serves mostly Star Alliance flights, such as United and Lufthansa. Screens posted throughout the airport identify which terminal each airline uses; this information should also be printed on your ticket or boarding pass.
You can walk between T-2 and T-3. From this central hub (called "Heathrow Central"), T-4 and T-5 split off in opposite directions (and are not walkable). The easiest way to travel between the T-2/T-3 cluster and either T-4 or T-5 is by Heathrow Express train (free to transfer between terminals, departs every 15–20 minutes). You can also take a shuttle bus (free, serves all terminals), or the Tube (requires a ticket, serves all terminals).
If you're flying out of Heathrow, it's critical to confirm which terminal your flight will use (look at your ticket/boarding pass, check online, or call your airline in advance) — if it's T-4 or T-5, allow extra time. Taxi drivers generally know which terminal you'll need based on the airline, but bus drivers may not.
Each terminal has an airport information desk (long hours daily), exchange bureaus, ATMs, a pharmacy, a VAT refund desk (you must present the VAT claim form from the retailer here to get your tax rebate on items purchased in the EU), and baggage storage (£6/item up to 2 hours, £11/item for 2–24 hours, not open overnight). Heathrow offers both free Wi-Fi and pay Internet access points (in each terminal, check map for locations). You'll find a post office on the first floor of T-3 (departures area). Each terminal also has cheap eateries.
Heathrow's small "Tourist Information Office" (tourist info shop), even though it's a for-profit business, is worth a visit if you're nearby and want to pick up free information, including the London Planner visitors guide (long hours daily, 5-minute walk from T-3 in Tube station, follow signs to Underground; bypass queue for transit info to reach window for London questions).
Getting into the City Center
You have several options for traveling the 14 miles between Heathrow Airport and downtown London:
- Tube: about £12 round-trip, 6/hour, about 2 hours round-trip
- National Express bus to Victoria Coach Station (5-minute walk from Victoria Tube/train station): £16–20 round-trip plus about £5 for connecting Tube fare, 1–2/hour (less frequent from Victoria Station to Heathrow), 1.5–2.5 hours round-trip depending on time of day plus about 10 minutes round-trip for every stop between Tube stations out from Victoria
- Heathrow Express express train to Paddington Station: £37 round-trip (£5 more if you buy your ticket on board) plus about £5 for connecting Tube fare, 4/hour, daily 5:00–24:00, 30 minutes round-trip to downtown from Heathrow Central Station serving T-2/T-3, for T-4 take free transfer to Heathrow Central, add 15 minutes from T-5 and about 10 minutes round-trip for every stop between Tube stations out from Paddington
- Just Airports offers a private car service between Heathrow (and other London airports) and the city center; see website for price quote
- Taxi: About £70/group each way, roughly 2 hours round trip — but beware traffic delays
More and more flights land at Gatwick Airport, which is halfway between London and the south coast. Gatwick has two terminals, North and South, which are easily connected by a free monorail (two-minute trip, runs 24 hours daily). Note that boarding passes say "Gatwick N" or "Gatwick S" to indicate your terminal. British Airways flights generally use Gatwick South. The Gatwick Express trains stop only at Gatwick South. Schedules in each terminal show only arrivals and departures from that terminal.
Getting into the City Center
Gatwick Express trains are the best way into London from this airport. They shuttle conveniently between Gatwick South and London's Victoria Station, which is a reasonable walk, or easy Tube ride, from many of London's iconic sights (£35 round-trip, at least 10 percent cheaper if purchased online, Oyster cards accepted but no discount offered, 4/hour, 30 minutes, runs 5:00–24:00 daily).
London's Other Airports
There's a small chance you might use Stansted (STN) or the far-to-the-north Luton (LTN) airports, and an even slimmer chance you're connecting via the tiny-but-central City Airport (LCY) or the far-to-the-east Southend Airport (SEN). Each of these is connected to the city center by train and/or bus.
Connecting London's Airports by Bus
A handy National Express bus runs between Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton airports — easier than having to cut through the center of London — although traffic can be bad and can increase travel times.
Buses between Heathrow Airport and…
- Gatwick Airport: £25, 1–6/hour, about 1.5 hours — but allow at least three hours between flights
- Stansted Airport: £27, 1–2/hour direct, 1.5 hours
- Luton Airport: £27, roughly hourly, 1 hour
Schiphol (SKIP-pol) Airport is located about 10 miles southwest of Amsterdam's city center. Like most of Holland, it is user-friendly and below sea level. With an appealing array of shops, eateries, and other time-killing opportunities, Schiphol is a fine place to arrive, depart, or change planes. A truly international airport, Schiphol has done away with Dutch — signs are in English only.
Though Schiphol officially has four terminals, it's really just one big building. You could walk it end to end in about 20 minutes (but allow some time to pass through security checkpoints between certain terminals). All terminals have ATMs, banks, shops, bars, and free Wi-Fi. An inviting shopping and eating zone called Holland Boulevard runs between Terminals 2 and 3.
The ABN/AMRO banks around the airport offer fair exchange rates (avoid the Travelex ATMs that charge a much higher exchange rate). Service Point, in Schiphol Plaza (also signed as "Arrivals Hall") at the end of the shopping mall near Terminal 4, is a useful all-purpose service counter that sells SIM cards, prints tickets, and ships packages (daily 7:00–22:00).
Convenient luggage lockers are at various points around the airport — allowing you to leave your bag here on a lengthy layover (both short- and long-term lockers, cash and cards accepted; biggest bank of lockers near the train station at Schiphol Plaza).
If you have extra time at Schiphol, check out the Rijksmuseum Schiphol, a little art gallery and museum store on Holland Boulevard, the lively shopping/eating zone between Lounges 2 and 3. The Rijksmuseum loans a dozen or so of its minor masterpieces from the Dutch Golden Age to this unique airport museum, including actual Dutch Masters (free, always open, gift stop good for last-minute gifts).
Or, to escape the airport crowds, follow signs for the Panorama Terrace to the third floor of Terminal 2, where you'll find a quieter, full-of-locals cafeteria, a kids' play area, and a view terrace where you can watch planes come and go while you nurse a coffee. If you plan to visit the terrace on arrival, stop there before you pass through customs.
Getting into the City Center
Direct, frequent trains to Amsterdam's Centraal Station, the fastest and cheapest option into town, make a quick visit to the city center worth considering (4–6/hour, 20 minutes each way, €5.30 each way, shortest lines at ticket machines near baggage claim). Ticket machines accept coins and chip-and-PIN credit cards (start the no-brainer transaction by pressing "I want to go to Amsterdam Centraal"). When traveling from Amsterdam Central to Schiphol, trains generally leave every 15 minutes from track 14a.
Taxis cost about €50 one-way to downtown Amsterdam; Uber serves the airport for about €30. The pickup spot is just outside the car-rental offices in Schiphol Plaza.
Frankfurt's airport (Flughafen), just a few stops by S-Bahn from the city center, has its own long-distance train station, which makes it a snap to connect from a flight to other German cities.
There are two separate terminals (know your terminal — check your ticket or the airport website). Terminal 1, a multi-level maze of check-in counters and shops, is linked to the train station. Terminal 2 is small and quiet, with few services. The SkyLine people mover connects the two terminals in less than five minutes. Several staffed info desks are sprinkled around the airport; keep an eye out for one of the freestanding kiosks that immediately connect you to a free video call with an airport-info staffer.
The airport has three pay baggage-storage desks (Gepäckaufbewahrung; the branch in Terminal 1B, level 1 is open 24 hours). Among the other services are a newsstand with postal services (Book + Press, level 0), a pharmacy (in Terminal 1B, level 2, and also in Terminal 2), a 24-hour medical clinic (outside the 1C arrivals area), public showers (one in Terminal 2 and three in Terminal 1, €6, shampoo and towel included), and free Wi-Fi. A good-sized, fairly priced Tegut supermarket is in Terminal 1C, level 0 (tricky to find: Go down the escalators from the underpass on level 1 between terminals 1B and 1C, or up the escalators from train platforms 1–3). There are customs desks in both terminals for VAT refunds (daily 7:00–21:00; after hours, ask the information desk to page a customs officer for you). Long-distance trains leave from the airport's Fernbahnhof (platforms 4–7).
Getting into the City Center
It's a 12-minute train ride on the S-Bahn into Frankfurt's main train station (Hauptbahnhof); trains depart from platforms 1–3 (4/hour, €5.20 each way, ride included in €10.50 Frankfurt Card and €10.15 individual/€18.50 group version of all-day Tageskarte Frankfurt transit pass, but not in cheaper version of Tageskarte Frankfurt). From the Hauptbahnhof you're a quick walk or U-Bahn ride to the Römerberg, Frankfurt's central market square. Figure about €30 for a taxi from the airport into town. Also consider Frankfurt on Foot's flexible "Layover Tour," which includes pickup and drop-off at the airport.
This smaller airport, misleadingly classified as a "Frankfurt" airport for marketing purposes, is an unlikely spot for a layover, and you won't be making a quick foray into downtown Frankfurt from here, as it's a nearly two-hour drive away. (Regular buses connect Frankfurt Hahn Airport to Bullay — for trains to Cochem, Trier, Mainz, Cologne, and Frankfurt.)
Paris' main airport has three terminals: T-1, T-2, and T-3. Major airlines from the US use T-1 or T-2. Connect the three terminals are connected with the free CDGVAL shuttle train (departs every 5 minutes, 24/7). Allow a full hour to travel between gates in different terminals.
Services: Terminals 1 and 2 have Paris Tourisme information desks, where you can get city maps and tickets for the RoissyBus or the RER/Train-B to Paris — a terrific time- and hassle-saver. You'll also find ATMs (distributeurs) and currency-exchange desks, free Wi-Fi, shops, cafés, and bars. If you're returning home and want a VAT refund, look for tax-refund centers in the check-in area.
Terminal 1 (T-1)
This small, circular terminal is easy to navigate. If arriving here you'll find yourself on the fifth floor; walk around the terminal clockwise after passing customs to find the RoissyBus and taxis (each well signed). The Paris Tourisme desk is to the left after passing customs. The CDGVAL shuttle train is on the first floor and check-in for departing flights and most food services are on the third floor.
Terminal 2 (T-2)
This long, horseshoe-shaped terminal is divided into six halls, A through F. Prepare for long walks and short train rides to baggage claim and exits. It's a busy place, so take a deep breath and follow the signage carefully.
Shuttle buses (navettes) circulate between T-2 halls A, C, and F on the arrivals level. To find bus stops for the RoissyBus, follow bus signs and bus icons from exit (sortie) 8.
T-2 has a train station, with RER trains into Paris and longer-distance trains to the rest of France, including high-speed TGV ("inOui") trains. It's located between T-2C/D and T-2E/F, below the Sheraton Hotel. It's here where you'll also find the poorly signed CDGVAL shuttle trains (just ask).
Post offices, pharmacies, and ATMs are all well signed. T-2E/F has several duty-free shopping arcades, and other T-2 halls have smaller duty-free shops.
Terminal 3 (T-3)
The smallest of the three terminals, T-3 serves mostly smaller, low-cost, and charter airlines. It has limited shops and food services, and no tourist office. You will find direct RER service to Paris and a stop for the CDGVAL shuttle train. The handy RER-B station and RoissyBus bus stop are a five-minute walk away at Roissypole. BlaBlaBus and FlixBus depart from here.
Getting into the City Center from Charles de Gaulle
RER trains, buses, and taxis link the airport's terminals with central Paris, and none are all that speedy — I wouldn't attempt a jaunt into the city except on the longest of layovers.
If you're trying to make the quickest possible trip into town and back, taxis and Uber are worth the extra cost, but keep in mind that they can be slow during weekday rush-hour traffic. Total round-trip travel time to the center should be around three hours by bus and Métro, two hours by train and Métro, and 1.75 hours by taxi. At the airport, buses and taxis require shorter walks than the RER train. Transfers to Métro lines often involve stairs and long corridors.
You can stash your bags at Bagages du Monde, located above the train station in T-2 (daily 6:00–21:30).
Paris' commuter RER/Train-B is the fastest public transit option for getting between the airport and the city center (€11.45, runs 5:00–24:00, 4/hour, about 35 minutes each way; you'll see "RER" or "Train" on maps and signage). There are two RER/Train-B train stations at CDG airport: a busy one at Terminal 2 and a quiet one near Terminal 3 (called Roissypole).
RER/Train-B runs directly to several central RER/Métro stations (including Gare du Nord, Châtelet–Les Halles, St. Michel, and Luxembourg); from there, you can hop on the Métro to your destination (€1.90/ride; now that paper Métro tickets have been phased out you'll need to buy either a €2 reloadable "Navigo Easy" card or a digital version on the Bonjour RATP app).
To reach RER/Train-B from any airport terminal, follow Train/RER signs. (If you land at T-1, take the CDGVAL shuttle to T-3/Roissypole.)
To return to the airport on RER/Train-B from central Paris, allow plenty of time to get to your departure gate (plan for a 15-minute Métro or bus ride to the closest RER/Train-B station, a 15-minute wait for your train, a 35-minute train ride, plus walking time through the stations and airport). When you catch your train, make sure the sign over the platform shows Aéroport Roissy-Charles de Gaulle as a stop (not every RER/Train-B serves the airport). If you're not clear, ask another rider, "Air-o-por sharl duh gaul?"
The RoissyBus drops you off at the Opéra Métro stop in central Paris (€16, runs 6:00–23:00, 3–4/hour, 50 minutes each way; buy ticket at airport Paris Tourisme desk, ticket machine, or on bus). The RoissyBus arrives on Rue Scribe; to get to the nearest Métro entrance, exit the bus to the left and walk toward the Fragonard store (across the street). There's a quiet Métro entrance just across from Fragonard, toward the Opéra. For a taxi from here, continue walking to the front of the lavish Opéra.
Taxi or Uber
Taxis charge a flat rate into Paris (€62 to the Left Bank, €55 to the Right Bank). Don't take an unauthorized taxi from cabbies greeting you on arrival. Official taxi stands are well signed.
Uber offers Paris airport pickup and drop-off for the same rates as taxis, but since they can't use the bus-only lanes (normal taxis can), expect some added time. Charles de Gaulle does not have a designated ride-sharing pickup point, making Uber a more complicated option (you'll have to work out a meeting point with your driver).
This easy-to-navigate airport feels small, but it has all the services you'd expect at a major airport: ATMs and currency exchange, cafés, shops, post offices, and more.
Orly has four terminals (1–4). At all terminals, arrivals are on the ground floor (level 0) and departures are on level 1. You can connect the terminals with the Orlyval shuttle train, which is free within the airport (well signed).
Services: Paris Tourisme information desks are in the arrivals area (a good spot to buy tickets for public transit into Paris).
Getting into the City Center from Orly
Trams, buses, shuttle trains, RER trains, and taxis connect Paris with Orly. Bus stops and taxis are centrally located at arrivals levels and are well signed.
For the cheapest (but slow) access to central Paris (best for the Marais area), take tram line 7 from outside Terminal 4 (direction: Villejuif–Louis Aragon) to the Villejuif station to catch Métro line 7 (4/hour, 45 minutes to Villejuif Métro station, then 15-minute Métro ride to the Marais; longer to other areas of town — unless the Marais is your destination, for a quick layover jaunt I'd pay a little more for faster transit). You'll need one fare for the tram and one for the Métro — either buy a €2 reloadable Navigo Easy card at the Paris Tourisme desk in the terminal or get the digital version through the Bonjour RATP app (tram and Métro are both €1.90/ride).
By RER train
Either the Orlybus or the Orlyval shuttle train will take you to RER/Train-B, with connections to the Luxembourg Garden area, Notre-Dame Cathedral, handy Métro line 1 at the Châtelet stop, Gare du Nord, and Charles de Gaulle Airport. You can use a Navigo Easy card with a €10.50 Orlybus add-on for the Orlybus (and RER), but not the Orlyval shuttle train.
The Orlybus goes directly to the Denfert-Rochereau Métro and RER/Train-B station (€11.50, 3/hour, 30 minutes). The pricier but more frequent — and more comfortable — Orlyval shuttle train takes you to the Antony RER/Train-B station (about €14.50, 6/hour, 40 minutes; buy ticket to Paris — not just to Antony — before boarding). Once at either RER/Train-B station, take the train in direction: Mitry-Claye or Aéroport Charles de Gaulle to reach central Paris.
For access to Left Bank neighborhoods (including Rue Cler) via RER/Train-C, take bus #183 from Terminal 4 to the Pont de Rungis station (€2, 10 minutes), then catch RER-C (€4.45) to St. Michel, Musée d'Orsay, Invalides, or Pont de l'Alma (direction: Versailles Château-Rive Gauche or Pontoise, 4/hour, 35 minutes).
After some point in 2024, Métro line 14 will connect Orly Airport with Paris, serving all stops on line 14, including Gare de Lyon, Châtelet, and Gare St-Lazare. This will simplify travel from the airport to central Paris.
Taxis wait outside baggage claim areas. Allow 30 minutes for a taxi ride into central Paris (one-way fixed fare: €32 for Left Bank, €37 for Right Bank).
Follow the signs to Ground Transportation and Baggage Claim, exit the terminal, and look for signs showing Passenger Pickups or TNC/Rideshares, then call or message your driver with your precise location.
Budget airlines such as Ryanair use this small airport with two terminals (T-1 and T-2), offering dirt-cheap airfares but leaving you 50 miles north of Paris. The airport is basic, waiting areas can be crowded, and services are sparse.
Connecting Paris' Airports
Between Charles de Gaulle and Orly
RER/Train-B connects Charles de Gaulle and Orly but requires a transfer to/from the Orlyval train. It's faster than a taxi when there's traffic (€20, 5/hour, 1.5 hours). This line splits at both ends: Heading from Charles de Gaulle to Orly, take trains that serve the Antony stop (direction: St-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse), then transfer to the Orlyval shuttle train; heading from Orly to Charles de Gaulle, take trains that end at the airport — Aéroport Charles de Gaulle-Roissy, not Mitry-Claye (use Navigo Easy card with five-zone add-on).
Taxis take about one hour and are easiest, but pricey (about €100; book online for best rates).
Between Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais
The RER/Train-B line runs between CDG and Gare du Nord in central Paris (see "Getting into the City Center from Charles de Gaulle," above), and regional trains connect Gare du Nord with the town of Beauvais (1–2/hour, 1.5 hours). To get between Beauvais' train station and its airport you can either take the Hôtel/Aéroport Navette shuttle or local buses #6 or #601 (4/hour, 25 minutes), or hop in a taxi (€20).
Taxis between Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais take one hour and cost about €120 (book online for best rates).
Between Orly and Beauvais
Getting between these smaller airports involves the same connections described above under "Between Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais," but with one extra step: As Orly doesn't have an RER station right at the airport, you'll need to catch either the Orlybus or Orlyval shuttle train (described above, under "Getting into the City Center from Orly") to get to/from the RER/Train-B line that connects to Gare du Nord.
Taxis between Orly and Beauvais take about 1.5 hours and cost about €150 (book online for best rates).