It occurred to me that whenever we book a flight, I always find myself searching the internet for information on the Airport so that I can start planning and get excited for the trip. I decided that I would write some Airport Guides to share our own experience at airports, share any tips and give you an idea of what restaurants, cafes, bars and shops to expect. So what better airport to start with than an Airport Guide to London Gatwick Airport!
I was brought up here and my parents still live approximately 7 minutes from this Airport. I spent my summers working as a check-in and gates lady, working ridiculous hours to save up for our Asia trip – which reminds me, don’t forget your long flight essential packing list before you head to the airport and make sure you pack the perfect airplane snacks.
Located 30 minutes outside of London, London Gatwick is a hub of international flights jetting around the World. Predominantly serving Europe, Gatwick has increased it’s flights to America and Asia over the past few years and can often be a cheaper alternative to flying into Heathrow.
With a direct train into London taking between 30 – 45 minutes, Gatwick is arguably the most convenient and quickest way to get to London. London Heathrow is it’s contender but with the train taking around an hour or more to get into the centre of London, I would recommend Gatwick.
If you are flying with children, don’t forget to read these top tips for flying with kids!
Getting to and from
Getting to Gatwick is relatively simple from most areas in London and the South of England. Gatwick has direct trains to London Victoria, Farringdon Station, St Pancras International and Luton Airport. It also serves direct trains to seaside destinations like Brighton and Eastbourne as well as popular tourist spots Chichester and Portsmouth. If you are staying in London, you catch a train to London Victoria then take the underground to the station that is nearest to your hotel. I use the Transport for London website to get the fastest and cheapest routes from one place to another. Easy Bus also offer coach rides to and from London, costing as little as £2.
If you are heading to Edinburgh, you may choose to take the Caledonian Sleeper train for the experience!
From Gatwick you can catch the Gatwick Express that will whizz you into London within 30 minutes. However, these tickets cost £17.80 if booked in advance. Instead, get a normal ticket from the machines, I would suggest you get yourself a travel card then jump on the Southern Rail trains towards London (any train that doesn’t have Gatwick Express on it) – if you’re unsure then just ask somebody who works there or somebody dressed smartly (they will likely work at the airport and can help). The travel card will cost you less and also enable you to use the underground and buses in London without paying anything extra. Or you can opt for a standard Gatwick to London Victoria train ticket then pick up an Oyster card for underground journeys (perhaps the best option if you plan on staying in London for more than 3-4 days).
Gatwick is made up of two Terminals (North and South) with airlines flying from either/and making it a bit confusing! Luckily, there is a short overground rail link that can take you from one terminal to the other in a few minutes but check your ticket to find your terminal.
There are various parking options for those wanting to park their car at Gatwick airport. Located next to the airport is a short stay car park for those picking up family and friends or further away is a long stay car park for those wanting to leave their car nearby. From the Gatwick long stay car park, there are shuttle buses available but this can take some time so arrive extra early.
You may wish to take out the hassle of parking up and getting the bus to the terminal by choosing a meet and greet service. Premier Parking Gatwick allows you to drive to the closest point of the terminal, unload luggage and then a member of staff parks your car for you at a nearby secure car park for the duration of your trip.
Located on-site, you can stay at Yotel Air located in the South Terminal, an unusual hotel with cabins with private bathrooms, workstations, Monsoon showers free wifi and free tea and coffee 24/7. You can book a night or just a few hours – perfect for a stopover!
Just a short walk from the North Terminal is the Hampton By Hilton hotel (a place I found myself attending meetings and meet & greets whilst working for Swissport). These rooms offer more spacious and luxurious options.
For just £59 a night, the BLOC hotel is located in the South Terminal and offers views of the runway. This is the ideal place to stay when you have an early flight the next day and prides itself on its state-of-the-art technology with its customisable lighting, remote powered blinds and check-in/check-out amchines. You can also save money at the airports bars and restaurants using the BLOC guest offers.
Within a 10 minute drive you can also find a Travelodge, Premier Inn, Ibis (another former job of mine) and Holiday Inn that can get you to the airport via taxi for under £10 – this is a better choice for those travelling as a family.
Airlines and Terminals
There is a vast collection of airlines that use Gatwick but below are the main airlines and which terminals you can find them in. You can check the airports “which terminal?” page on their website to double check.
Air Transat – South Terminal
British Airways – North Terminal
EasyJet – Predominately North Terminal with some flights from South.
Emirates – North Terminal
Monarch – South Terminal
Ryanair – North Terminal
Thomas Cook – South Terminal
Thomson Airways – North Terminal
Virgin Atlantic – South Terminal
Check in and Security
On arrival in each terminal, you will find check-in areas labelled alphabetically with clear signs around the terminal. Look for your flight information on the screens and this will tell yu what check-in area you need to head too. Generally speaking the bigger companies are clearly labeled with the companies logo so if in doubt, just head towards the name of your company that you are flying with.
When to arrive
Long Haul flights: Check-in opens 4 hours before your flight.
European flights: Check-in opens 3 hours before your flight.
UK and Ireland flights: Check-in opens 2 hours before your flight.
For some airlines, you may be able to check-in the day before, online or use the self-service check-in kiosks.
My favourite part of airports – wandering around aimlessly looking at the shops. There are lots of different stores found in both terminals, with both terminals having an extensive duty free. These are just a few shops that can be found and the ones I like to check out before travelling.
Found in both terminals:
Accessorize, Dixons travel, Cath Kidston, Boots, FatFace, JD Sports, Sunglass hut, RayBan, M&S, WHSmith.
Restaurants and Bars
Most restaurants open for around 5am at the airport, ideal for those early flights – I hate arriving at an airport around 6am to find nothing open! Anyway, here are my top picks:
Wetherspoons – An absolute favourite of mine, no holiday is complete without a trip to Wetherspoons before a flight, no matter what time of the day it is. Wetherspoons is a chain of pubs found in the UK, with three bars being found across the two terminals. They have an extensive food and drink menu at reasonable prices.
Cafes – Both terminals have popular chain cafes such as Costa, Caffe Nero, EAT. Starbucks and Pret.
Garfunkels – An American styled restaurant serving dishes from around the world at relatively good prices. This is perfect for families as the menu offers a variety of dishes with some delicious desserts.
Nandos – Yes I said it, there is a Nandos in Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal. Apologise if you’re not British, I probably sound a bit weird now but Nandos is a popular Peri-Peri chicken restaurant chain that offers chicken wraps, burgers, salads or just chicken on a plate.
YO! Sushi – Found in the South Terminal, Yo Sushi offers a japanese experience with dishes displayed on a conveyer belt that you can help yourself from. Plates can be pricey but they do accept student discount. They also offer a Yo! to Go range if you want to pick food up for your flight.
Wagamama – Located in both terminals, Wagamama offers a range of asian food to eat in or take away.
Armadillo – Santa-Fe inspired food including Quesadillas and Burgers that are fresh and tasty. More expensive that Garfunkels and Wetherspoons but with better ingredients and more inventive menu items.
Tips for travelling
- The train station is located in the South Terminal, so if you land in the North then use the tram across to the South Terminal.
- Travelling with children – Gatwick prides itself on being the first Family Friendly accredited airport and live up to the name with kids zones, dedicated family security lanes, children menus across several restaurants, complimentary amenities such as buggies and pushchairs as well as a pre-order option for baby milk so you can feed once through security.
- Check in online – Most airlines offer this now and it beats queuing for ages; especially if you are flying in the morning. If you check-in online, you can take advantage of the short and fast-track bag drop line then head straight through security. Whilst working at Gatwick, it become a weekly habit for the computer systems to crash in the middle of the morning shift, causing ridiculously long lines!
- Traffic – The M25 and M23 can clog up with cars quickly during the summer months. Use an app such as RAC Traffic to check traffic updates and adjust your route accordingly. As someone who literally lived on the M23, any of the exits to Crawley can get you to Gatwick in just a few extra minutes and should be used if the traffic is slow.
- Boarding – As with most airports in the UK, boarding begins around 45 minutes before the time of your flight.
- Security – There are clear signs around the security area of what you can and can’t take in your hand luggage. The rules can change but generally, any liquids 100mls or under is fine to take in your hand luggage, anything over 100ml or any sharp objects need to go into your check-in luggage.
- Wifi – Gatwick Airport does offer 45 minutes of free WiFi with additional time available to purchase.
- Don’t be stupid – I shouldn’t really have to include this but I will just incase. There were far too many people that weren’t allowed to catch their flight because they had said the wrong thing or drank too much at the bar. London Gatwick, like most busy city airports, will not let people fly if they are any risk in the slightest.
- Budget food – For those on a budget, head to Marks and Spencers (available in both terminals). Sandwiches are more expensive than your typical supermarket in the UK but they are still the cheapest option for eating at the airport and the quality of food is fantastic. (Did I mention I also briefly worked at an M&S? Saving for travels = lots of jobs!)
- Lounges – Found in both terminals, the No.1 Lounge offers complimentary hot and cold food, unlimited free WiFi, guest computers, library area and an extensive bar for £28 per adult. The North terminal also offers access to My Lounge; a less formal, loft-like room costing £20 per adult but includes a games room along with a self-pour bar. For £40 per adult, you can also visit the Clubrooms in both terminals that offers complimentary champagne, dedicated table service and the sam amenities as the No.1 Lounge in just a fancier looking room.
- Staying the night? – If you have a long layover or choose to head to Gatwick the night before an early flight but can’t afford a hotel then go for it! Head to the South Terminal and take the escalator or lift to the second floor (follow the signs for security) where you’ll find a comfortable lounge area with a few reclining seats available and much more comfortable chairs than in the North Terminal. The South Terminal also have a lot of different cafes and shops that remain open throughout the night, meaning you don’t go hungry and have plenty of options.
- Backpacking London? – London on a budget can be a challenge, so make sure to read this complete guide to backpacking London to learn about where to stay, what to do and where to eat in London without breaking the bank.
Well, I hope this airport guide remotely helps you with your next travel planning. If it did (or doesn’t!) then leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you!