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What’s the best train to Heathrow Airport?

Jetting off on holiday? Here's our guide to the best train for you.
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Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest in the world. Whether you’re heading on the trip of a lifetime or popping into London during a layover, you want to make sure you’re travelling comfortably and getting the best value. So, on a rainy Friday afternoon, I took a trip to find out the best train to Heathrow Airport.

What’s the best train to Heathrow Airport?

In this comparison, I’ll be taking a look at the two ‘rail’ options for getting to Heathrow. If you want to take the ‘super-budget’ option, then of course you can also use the London Underground Piccadilly Line.

However, it’s widely known that this is slow, uncomfortable and not the best for luggage! While I didn’t take a trip on it, you can find out more on the TfL website if you’d prefer that option.

I’ll be looking at the premium Heathrow Express and the slightly slower Elizabeth Line.

How do we work out the best way to Heathrow Airport?

With it only being a short hop to Heathrow, we’re most concerned about speed and luggage space. WiFi and a place to charge your phone would be good, too.

We don’t expect any luxuries like a three-course meal, of course. Instead, if First Class is offered, we just want to know if it offers anything ‘different’.

Heathrow Express

I was starting with Heathrow Express today. It hadn’t been the best start, as I’d ended up walking from Lancaster Gate tube station in the pouring rain, so I was a little bit soaked! But, there wasn’t long to wait for a train.

Heathrow Express runs four trains every hour between Paddington and Heathrow Terminal 5, stopping at Terminals 2 and 3 on the way.

The journey time is typically around 15 minutes to Terminals 2 and 3, and 20 minutes to Terminal 5. On speed alone, this is undoubtedly the best train to Heathrow. It’s quick!

The cost

If you’re buying on the day, it’s £25 for a single journey on the Heathrow Express or £37 for a return. The return is valid for a month, so it’s ideal if you’re making a longer trip. You can also use Railcards on Heathrow Express fares.

While this is definitely a steep fare, you can bag yourself a bargain if you book in advance. Single fares start at £5.50 if you book up to six months beforehand, so the Heathrow Express cost doesn’t have to be as high if you sort it out when you book your flight. They’re only restricted to a particular day, too. This means that you don’t have to worry about flight delays, as you can use any train you like.

While it might seem a bit crazy to book a short Airport train trip so far in advance, you might as well do it if you already have your flights sorted.

The train itself

Class 387 ‘Electrostar‘ trains make up the entire Heathrow Express fleet. They normally run in pairs, with two four-coach trains coupled together.

They joined the Heathrow Express service in December 2020 but were originally new to Great Western Railway.

Storing your luggage

So far, my experiences with airport trains have been underwhelming when it comes to luggage storage. Usually, you’ll find the ‘normal’ amount of space you’d expect on any other train, at best.

I was impressed when I found that the Heathrow Express has lots of room for luggage. No matter the size, there are lots of dedicated racks for you to use:

It’s good that they’re in view, as well. There’s always somewhere to sit where you can keep an eye on luggage, or keep it close by.

This is definitely the best train to Heathrow for luggage. In fact, it’s likely to be the best for luggage, full stop. If you’re connecting in from a long-distance train, we also have a dedicated page about the best train for luggage.

The seat experience

All seats in Standard Class are in a 2+2 layout. Compared to other trains of this type, the seats have had some extra padding added, too.

There aren’t any full-size tables around bays of 4, but you’ll find cup holders and a small ledge to place drinks and other smaller items. Airline-style seats have a small seat-back table.

Plug sockets are at every window seat. At each socket, there’s a three-pin one plus two USB ports. You’ll also find reading lights above every seat, though I doubt they’d do much to illuminate whatever you’re looking at.

Overall, it’s a pleasant interior. The seats are comfortable enough for a 15 to 20-minute trip and there’s no shortage of legroom.

Fancy an upgrade?

It’s possible to buy a ticket for ‘Business First’ which gives you a bigger seat in a 2+1 layout. These seats also have a bigger table, so it might be better if you need to get some work done.

It’s £32 single or £55 return for First Class. Alternatively, you can pay the difference between the Standard and First Class single fares as an ‘upgrade’ on board, which is £7.

Is it worth it? For the average leisure traveller, probably not. I found that these compartments actually got quite busy, and you had more chance of some peace and quiet in Standard.

If you need to work on the move though, then the extra space might be a bonus. If you’re an employer, for example, it might be worth paying the extra for someone on a business trip.

I’ve done plenty of rating First Class products in the past, too. We’ve even got a dedicated page for the best First Class train in the UK, if you’re measuring up a few different trains.

Onboard service

There definitely isn’t any shortage of on-board staff. If you have a question or need some assistance, this is definitely the best train to Heathrow.

Regular on-board announcements keep you informed, too. They’re not too intrusive either, as I’ve travelled on this service before and almost lost my mind at what was quite literally a never-ending monologue. Heathrow Express have clearly listened, on this front!

A nice perk is the ability to keep an eye on your flight. Screens throughout the train tell you where to check in and whether your flight is on time:

Staying connected

Free WiFi is available on the Heathrow Express. I found it easy to connect to and the speed was pretty good. Google thought it was ‘fine’:

So if you really have to catch up on your favourite series on that 20-minute trip, you can technically use the WiFi to do it.

Final thoughts

I found Heathrow Express to be a fairly impressive product. It’s the most expensive option, but it is a genuine express train. 

Rather than fitting in between slower trains, it shares the tracks that long-distance trains use towards the South West of England. This means that you can feel yourself actually travelling ‘fast’ and watching the landscape rush by.

The train was punctual, clean and well-staffed. Another plus is that there’s usually always a train waiting for you at Paddington, so you can get on board straight away. So, the Heathrow Express can cost more than other alternatives, but this could be money well spent. 

Elizabeth Line

This particular service has gone by a couple of different names in recent years. It originally started off as “Heathrow Connect” and basically ran as a local service between Paddington and Heathrow.

It then became “TfL Rail” once TfL took over the running of the service. Finally, it became the “Elizabeth Line” as new trains were introduced and the new section of railway through Central London opened.

Four trains per hour run between Paddington and Heathrow on this route. Two of them run to Terminal 4, and two run to Terminal 5. All of them serve Terminals 2 and 3. It takes around 30 to 35 minutes to travel from Paddington to Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3, and about 35 to 40 minutes to reach Terminal 4 or 5. All trains typically stop at all stations on the way.

Of course, it’s now also possible to travel directly to Heathrow from Central London (Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street), Canary Wharf and beyond.

The cost

A paper single ticket for the Elizabeth Line will cost £12.30 or £24.60 for a return. In a nutshell, there’s no advantage to buying a return!

A London Zones 1-6 Travelcard is £15.90 and is also valid on Elizabeth Line trains to Heathrow, so you might find this to be best if your origin isn’t Paddington. It’s valid on most public transport in London Zones 1-6.

The train itself

All services on the Elizabeth Line are run by nine-carriage Class 345 “Aventra” trains, which were gradually introduced from 2017 onwards.

Storing your luggage

To be honest, I couldn’t see any dedicated luggage racks. These trains were designed to transport lots of people rather than lots of luggage.

However, the aisles are pretty wide and there’s plenty of space. I couldn’t imagine there being an issue unless you tried to get on an especially full train.

The seat experience

You’ll find the seats in two different layouts. They’ll either be in bays of four or longitudinal, facing the inside of the train.

To be honest, they’re pretty firm. The Elizabeth Line won’t be winning any awards for comfort, but the seats are fine for short journeys.

You won’t find any power sockets, tables or anything like that. But there are hand straps throughout the train in case you need to stand.

Another perk is that you can walk through the entire train without needing to go through any separate doors. This makes it a lot easier to find yourself some space.

Fancy an upgrade?

You’ll struggle, in that case! First Class isn’t available on any Elizabeth Line train.

Onboard service

There are no on-board staff other than the driver. There are automated announcements on the train which will tell you where it’s going and what the stops are, though.

Staying connected

WiFi is available on the train but only in sections where it’s above ground. If you’re travelling past Paddington and going into Central London, be aware that there is no mobile reception or WiFi available.

Final thoughts

The Elizabeth Line offers a reasonable, more budget-friendly option for travelling to Heathrow. It’s likely to be the best train to Heathrow if you’re coming from East or Central London, as it avoids the need to change at Paddington. It’s also the cheapest option if you need to travel at the last-minute.

However, the on-board facilities aren’t great and it’s very much a railway designed to transport lots of people. It just so happens that some of those trains terminate at Heathrow Airport.

What’s the best train between Heathrow Terminals?

I feel like it’s also worth touching on this. There’s no cost for travelling between the Heathrow terminals. You can tap in/out with a contactless card or device or get a free transfer ticket from a machine.

If you need to get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 (or vice-versa) you’ll need to change at Terminals 2 and 3. It’s a simple interchange straight across to the other platform.

It’s also possible to do this on the tube, but you might need to change at Hatton Cross to get between terminals. Most buses between terminals are not free.

The journeys between terminals only take a few minutes, so your best bet is to take the first train that’s due to leave. This map will tell you more about transfers at Heathrow Airport.

The verdict – what’s the best train to Heathrow?

The Stations

Before I get into this, I think it’s important to discuss my thoughts on actually using the Heathrow Stations. Namely, Terminals 2 and 3.

There are lots of announcements, and they’re all very wordy. When announcing a train, it’ll tack what you should do if you’re going somewhere else toward the end, which might confuse matters even more. It’s naturally aimed at tourists and those who don’t speak great English, but it felt like a complete overload.

When I was travelling between Terminals 2 and 3, and Terminal 4, I found that the staff kept herding everyone right to the front of the platform. This seemed to be so we’d be near the exit when we got off, which is fair enough. The only issue was that it caused boarding to take a very long time due to so many people trying to get on with large luggage. If you’re changing for Terminal 4, don’t go too far forward as it’ll be an uncomfortable trip.

The final verdict

It’s difficult to say that one train will suit everyone better. However, I’d say that Heathrow Express is the best train to Heathrow.

If you’re travelling from Heathrow, you’re probably travelling a fair distance. Even if you’re not, the airlines that fly out of there generally give the best fares when you plan ahead. So, if you plan ahead with your rail fare as well, you’ll get the best value on Heathrow Express. You can get yourself straight onto a waiting train at Paddington, store your luggage and relax.

If you happen to be coming from somewhere like Canary Wharf, Liverpool Street or Tottenham Court Road, then the Elizabeth Line will probably suit you better. I’d not recommend getting off the Elizabeth Line just to ride the Heathrow Express as the transfer time between the two isn’t great, especially with luggage.

Whatever you choose to take though, you can book in confidence with Railsmartr. We don’t charge any fees if you need to get a refund or change your ticket, so you can rest assured that changing your plans won’t cost you anything more than it should.

Is there anything else I should know?

Looking for more information about London? Our expert tips will give you everything you need to know, including how to understand your ticket, and your best options for reaching other London airports

Author Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I've been working for Railsmartr since 2022. I make sure that everything we communicate with customers is top-notch and write exciting and informative content for the website. When I'm not at work, you'll still find me on the rails - though often in the far corners of Europe!