Travel to London’s Airports At Christmas

Our guide to travelling to and from London’s airports over the Christmas and New Year period.

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Embankment Gardens, London
Embankment Gardens, London (Image Credit: London Air Travel)

As thoughts turn to planning for Christmas, here’s our guide to travelling to and from London’s airports over the Christmas and New Year period.

This is based on known information at the time of publication. Due to timetable planning issues in the rail industry, some further changes may be announced in the coming weeks.

General Guidance

For the benefit of visitors, public transport in the UK on Christmas Day is extremely limited. Taxis and coaches are your only option.

Tube, suburban and long-distance rail services close down earlier on Christmas Eve – most by around 20:00. Retail outlets at stations will close earlier.

Most Tube lines operate on Boxing Day. However, the Waterloo & City Line and London Overground and TfL Rail services will not operate. Suburban and long distance rail services do not operate on Boxing Day.

The Christmas and New Year period is used for extensive engineering work on the UK’s rail network. There are closures on many lines serving both Gatwick and Heathrow.

Engineering work can overrun and encounter unforeseen problems, so there is risk of additional closures at short notice.

The big unknown is of course the weather. Gatwick and Heathrow have markedly improved their winter resilience planning in recent years. However, it is inevitable that any severe weather will cause delays and cancellations.

Gatwick Airport

There will be significant disruption to rail services to London Gatwick over Christmas and New Year.

Due to engineering work closing lines between London Victoria and Clapham Junction, there will be no Gatwick Express services between London Victoria and Gatwick airport from Saturday 22 December 2018 to 04:00 Wednesday 2 January 2019.

Trains will continue to run from London Bridge and Blackfriars stations to Gatwick. Buses will replace trains between London Victoria and Clapham Junction. These, and Clapham Junction station, are expected to be very busy.

Heathrow Airport

There will be significant disruption to overland rail services to London Heathrow over Christmas.

Due to engineering work closing lines between London Paddington and Slough, there will be disruption to rail services between Paddington and Heathrow from Sunday 23 December 2018 to Monday 31 December 2018.

The Heathrow Express from London Paddington to Heathrow Terminal 5 will not run from Sunday 23 December 2018 to Wednesday 26 December 2018 and on Sunday 30 December 2018. Trains will run at 30 minute intervals from Thursday 27 December 2018 to Saturday 29 December 2018 and on Monday 31 December 2018.

TfL Rail’s stopping service (formerly Heathrow Connect) will not run from London Paddington to Heathrow Terminal 4 from Sunday 23 December 2018 to Wednesday 26 December 2018 and on Sunday 30 December 2018.

As is standard practice, there are no Piccadilly Line services to Heathrow on Christmas Day due to the closure of the Tube. It resumes on Boxing Day.

In the run up to Christmas Heathrow will have a number of events in the terminals including carol singers and craft workshops.

London City Airport

No flights operate from London City on Christmas Day.

As is standard practice, the Docklands Light Railway to London City airport does not operate on Christmas Day. It resumes on Boxing Day.

London At Christmas

The run up is of course exceptionally busy. Christmas itself is relatively quiet as most locals leave to visit family before returning for New Year. Some top picks include:

– The ice rinks at Somerset House and The Natural History Museum. Both are best experienced at night.

– “A Christmas Carol” at The Old Vic.

– Christmas window displays at Fortnum and Mason, Liberty and Selfridges.

– Nordic inspired Christmas gifts from Skandium.

– The Christmas Tree at the Victoria & Albert Museum..

– Claridges Christmas Tree. In previous years this has been designed by Karl Lagerfeld, Sir Jony Ive and Marc Newson and Christoper Bailey. There are of course many others around London such as Trafalgar Square (a traditional gift from Norway) and Berkeley Square.

– Christmas wreaths from Pulbrook and Gould (very handsomely priced!)

– Monocle magazine’s Christmas market (with a reindeer!) on Saturday 1 and Sunday 2 December 2018.

Flying Before Christmas

In terms of general advice on Christmas gifts, crackers and party poppers

– It is advised to take Christmas gifts through security unwrapped as security staff may need to inspect them.

– Rules on Christmas crackers vary by airline, but should be accepted as checked luggage provided they are commercially manufactured.

– Party poppers are generally not allowed as either checked or carry on luggage.

Flying On Christmas Day

Most long-haul flights operate as normal from Gatwick and Heathrow on Christmas Day. However, short-haul schedules are significantly reduced.

From Heathrow, there are typically just a small number of short-haul flights to key destinations such as Geneva and Paris Charles de Gaulle. Certainly, if you are flying on BA or Virgin Atlantic from London shortly before, or on, Christmas Day you can expect to receive a traditional Christmas Dinner from crews keen to make the most of it.

Suburban and long distance rail services

Engineering work at London Euston will result in reduced rail services on London Northwestern Railway and Virgin Trains from Monday 24 December 2018 to Sunday 30 December 2018.

Engineering work at London Paddington will close all lines from Sunday 23 December 2018 to Wednesday 26 December 2018 and on Sunday 30 December 2018. There will also be significantly reduced capacity from Thursday 27 December 2018 to Saturday 29 December 2018 and on Monday 31 December 2018.

Engineering work between London St Pancras and Luton will result in reduced rail services on East Midlands Trains from Sunday 23 December 2018 to Tuesday 1 January 2018.

New Year’s Eve

The Tube runs all night on New Year’s Eve. There are extensive road closures across Central London from the early evening on New Year’s Eve. The fireworks on the South Bank is a ticketed event and frankly best watched on television.

We welcome any thoughts and comments below: