Heathrow to London on 26 December advice
December 20, 2017 5:59 PM   Subscribe

We're landing in Heathrow at 5am on the 26th, and the fast train's closed. London transport says there'll be a coach into central London where I can switch to the tube (our Airbnb is near Poplar station), or I can book a taxi directly. Plan C is to take the coach to central London and stow our big bag at a luggage drop off place, get brunch and wander around for a while, then go to the Airbnb after lunch. I'm travelling with a 6 year old and a moderate budget - which option would work best?
posted by dorothyisunderwood to Travel & Transportation around London, England (21 answers total)
It's Boxing Day, which the British pay more attention to than we do. So that leg of the journey sounds like the kind of fun that's...not. Taxis from Heathrow to London are eye-wateringly expensive, but with a six-year-old off a red-eye (I'm assuming not in lovely lie-flat business class)? Cough up the money. Plan A requires multiple transfers, Plan C will have you encumbered with a small weary child for some time, and, assuming you mean Poplar DLR station, your AirBnB is well away from central London.

Note that you may be able to get a private-hire car from the airport that might be cheaper.
posted by praemunire at 6:55 PM on December 20, 2017

I've used the private car service Addison Lee and found them very reliable, convenient, and less expensive than just getting a black cab in the taxi queue. You can book ahead and pay online via credit card. They can meet you at the airport outside customs (so factor in an hour or so after you're due to land when setting the pickup time). Agree with praemunire that after an overnight flight with a 6-yr old, going the taxi route is worth it.
posted by msbubbaclees at 7:22 PM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm inclined to think minicab / private car service, booked in advance with a bit of leeway for getting out of the terminal. Boxing Day means less traffic, but the most direct route will take you through full-on tourist destination central London. That may be pretty cool for you and your little one -- Buckingham Palace! Big Ben! Tower of London! -- but may also be a bit slow once you get off the M4. And it'll be dark. (The driver may also prefer to take you round the North Circular which is considerably less scenic.)

But: the Tube starts running at 7:22am, with trains every 5 minutes after that, which means three changes (Piccadilly/Jubilee/DLR) but cuts the overall journey time down to under 90 minutes. Given that customs/passport/bags may take you an hour, if you have enough energy to wait it out a little while and haul your bag, and enough confidence that 6-y-o won't be fazed by the trip, that might be an option.

I wouldn't do the coach.
posted by holgate at 7:47 PM on December 20, 2017

I was in London last week and the Heathrow Express was temporarily down. Don’t take the coach. It’s awful. Takes forever to show up, slow, uncomfortable. Take the tube to the city and then transfer to get to where you need to be. It will still be longer than the Heathrow Express but I think faster than surface streets.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:23 PM on December 20, 2017

Yes, I would second the tube or the cab. Last time I took a cab from Heathrow to Central London it was about £60, maybe a year ago? I wasn't going as far east as you, and I imagine it might be a bit more on Boxing Day but reasonable-ish for three people. As holgate notes above, the tube starts running later on the 26th and the DLR is running regular service for Poplar access, so that is also a much cheaper option, depending on how long it takes you to get through immigration.
posted by stillmoving at 11:14 PM on December 20, 2017

I can highly recommend BA Transfer- I think I learned about them in an old Ask, and this summer my family relied upon them for transportation from Heathrow to Kensington, then to Dover, and then back again- 4 rides in all. The drivers were on time, professional, and the cars were nice. They were also pretty reasonable on price- we needed to get from our hotel in Kensington to the cruise ship terminal in Dover, and a private car service was actually cheaper than less luxurious options.

I was particularly appreciative of our first driver, who helped a badly jet-lagged and quietly panicking me locate my cellphone after I was certain I'd been pickpocketed. (It fell out of my pocket and between the seats. Duh.)
posted by EKStickland at 11:15 PM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend the tube. It only takes 20 minutes longer to get to East London than taking the Heathrow Express. It should also be fairly quiet on Boxing Day.
posted by teststrip at 12:59 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Boxing Day on the tube will be a bit busier than Christmas Day on the tube, but not by much. Especially at 7:00 in the morning - and anyone around will be other tourists, not us hardened London types. It's a Bank Holiday in the UK, so no one will be at work.

I mention this because if you did choose to take the tube, you won't at least have to deal with 1) hundreds of people commuting to work; or 2) natives in a rush with little patience for you + baby + luggage.

You could get the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow to Green Park easily and stash your luggage there (I can't visualise the nearest left luggage place, but there will be one - it's a very tourist-oriented station). Then, if you indeed can't get into your AirBNB until 1pm, Green Park is the station for Buckingham Palace, the Mall, Trafalgar Square etc etc. Once you're done exploring these, you could hop in an uber to Poplar.

Note that these central London landmarks are all outside and much, much less fun if it's raining.

But - if you can get into your AirBNB as soon as you land - I 100% recommend Addison Lee. They are very reliable and would be exactly what I would want after a transatlantic flight.
posted by citands at 2:03 AM on December 21, 2017

My Addison Lee app quotes £75 for a car from Heathrow to Poplar today, to give you a ballpark idea of price. Boxing Day will be more, but not sure how much (I tried to ask the app about the 26th but it wanted me to put in flight details)
posted by corvine at 2:09 AM on December 21, 2017

In this position I’d take the first Tube, which wont be much of a wait after Customs etc- I collected my parents in an Addison Lee cab earlier this year due to their mobility issues and it didn’t save any time and cost so, so much more. But if you get a cab then Addison Lee are great and you should be able to find a voucher/discount for your first fare, saving £10.
posted by ozgirlabroad at 3:25 AM on December 21, 2017

I came in to recommend the Tube, but the TFL website does seem to indicate that it won't run until after 7am. Personally I would probably end up waiting at Heathrow for the first Piccadilly line train, and then changing at e.g. Holborn and Bank to get to Poplar, but that is a bit of a wait.
posted by katrielalex at 3:37 AM on December 21, 2017

I would definitely wait the short amount of time for the first tube. Take your time through customs, go and get a coffee, and then the tube will be cheaper and relatively easy, even with changes to make once you get closer to your destination.
posted by churlishmeg at 4:18 AM on December 21, 2017

I would also wait for the Piccadilly line Tube -- it's a ton cheaper, and you will get a seat with lots to see before you get into London.

This is what I do when I'm staying with pals in Stratford: Change at Hammersmith to get on the District Line -- it's a much easier interchange there, because you only have to cross the platform rather than going up and down stairs and lugging your bags.

Do you mean Poplar DLR? If so, change at Bow Church/Bow Road (short walk, elevators) and get on the DLR there.
posted by vickyverky at 11:21 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Last Boxing Day I picked up a friend at Heathrow and it took us hours to get across London (via the N.Circular). Boxing Day is the first day of the sales (think Black Friday, but on narrow London roads) and the traffic was insane.

Get the Tube.

Do as vickyverky said and get the Piccadilly Line to Hammersmith, walk across the platform and take the District Line to Bow Road, and walk the short distance from there to Bow Church DLR station (it's signposted) for the DLR to Poplar.

Buy your Oyster cards at Heathrow station (staff will be there to help) and you'll be good to go.
posted by essexjan at 11:37 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you go the tube route, you'll definitely be able to get a seat on the first leg out of Heathrow as it's the end of the line. After the transfers, it will depend on boxing day traffic, but it seems that people are optimistic about that. It's a surprisingly long walk from the terminal to the tube stop and some of the tube stations have quarter and half flights of stairs with no escalators, so keep that in mind - it's annoying but very doable with heavy carry on-sized bags.

Last time I flew into LHR (a few months ago), it took me about 30 minutes to get off the plane and clear customs traveling solo with no checked baggage. If you have checked bags and a little one in tow on a high travel day, you'll probably be through customs a bit after 6 AM.

If you need to wait in the airport, there are several cafes on the far side of security - I think a Pret and a Cafe Nero - so you can get a pastry/sandwich/coffee and have a place to sit down. There are also ATMs and some kiosks that sell SIM cards if you need to get that out of the way.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:12 PM on December 21, 2017

If steps will be a problem you can plan a tube route with this guide from TfL

Getting out at Bow Road would involve going up 2 flights of stairs for example. So Heathrow - Green Park - Canary Wharf - Poplar might be the better route despte the longer changes.
posted by doiheartwentyone at 7:56 AM on December 22, 2017

Some good advice already, as people said, the coach is likely to be pretty slow, and I wouldn't recommend if at all possible. Addison Lee is pretty expensive, but Uber is reliable from Heathrow (you have to go meet them in a parking garage, but it's a lot less than AL).

Here's an option that picks up one of your possibilities-- you could get the tube directly to King's Cross St Pancras. There is a left luggage place at the back of St Pancras station (back by Boots/Monsoon), and a lot of lovely brunch options out the back of the station at Granary Square. Dishoom, Caravan or Grain Store spring to mind. Any other day I'd say you could pop in to the British Museum, but I am pretty sure it's closed for Boxing Day.

You could then either get public transport to your Airbnb once you're fed and have seen the sky (I would say sun, but that's not hugely likely in the next few days, sorry!), or you could get a minicab or Uber from there, which will be a lot cheaper than it would be from the airport.
posted by lettezilla at 8:28 AM on December 24, 2017

Thank you all! After looking at the advice, overwhelmingly, it looks like we're doing the tube so we can get SIM cards, Oyster card, coffee and breakfast first, then take the tube to King's Cross or Piccadilly. There are several left luggage places, and then we're going shopping for the kid's winter clothes and fluffy slippers at "Primark" (the UK equivalent of a Target I've been told), then we're going after late brunch over to our Airbnb for lunch and a museum visit if we don't just nap, nap, nap.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:49 AM on December 24, 2017

What museum visit in the Poplar area did you have planned? The Museum of London in Docklands at West India Quay is well worth a visit, but it's closed on the 26th as the 26th is a public holiday, and I think most other museums will be closed then, too.
posted by kelper at 1:06 PM on December 24, 2017

Yep, every museum that I'm aware of is closed 25 and 26th. 26th is a national holiday here, banks and post office will be closed, but retail and restaurants open, generally, although potentially shorter hours. Data point-- our local grocery store is usually open 7 days a week and will be closed on the 26th. Some grocery stores will be open, but probably smaller "local" branches rather than anything big.

And definitely have some food before hitting Primark, it is always pretty crazy and I can't even imagine boxing day sales there! There are branches at both ends of Oxford St, you could do a walk from King's Cross to the branch at Tottenham Ct Road, or up from Green Park tube to the Marble Arch branch. Good luck!
posted by lettezilla at 2:58 AM on December 25, 2017

Thanks to everyone who suggested the tube, it was the answer. We ended up taking a black cab from Piccadily where the small child collapsed wailing about winter at a clothes store (the very nice Tube staff helped me carry luggage up stairs while I dragged the bundle of tears into the cold) because Uber did not recognise my credit card for an hour - if you are travelling, notify Uber in advance that you're changing countries! or stand swearing on a pavement while your child sobs piteously at your feet that their nose is frozen and where is the sun, o where is the sun, why have you taken them to a place without sun. The black cab did run into a tricycle which was very exciting and cheered up the small child with the impressive amount of British swearing involved.

Museums were all great, WHY DID NO ONE WARN ME ABOUT HAMLEYS, and I recommend LuggageHero, which we used on the first and last day to stow bags so we could run around without having to drag bags with us. Really straightforward and pretty cheap. I almost walked off with someone else's luggage because our bags were similar, but the tags were double-checked.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:52 PM on January 28, 2018

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