The Essential Guide to UK Airports in 2023

The Essential Guide to UK Airports in 2023

Welcome to our comprehensive UK airport transfer guide to the major airports across the United Kingdom. Whether you're looking for transportation options, things to do during layovers, or just need a quick comparison, we've got you covered.

The Essential Guide to UK Airports in 2023

Overview of the Main UK Airports

The United Kingdom has a vast network of airports, from massive international hubs to small regional fields. With new routes opening up and airports expanding, 2023 is set to be an exciting year for UK air travel. This guide will provide an overview of the major airports, new developments, and tips for navigating the UK's airport system. The UK has over 40 airports handling commercial flights, but these are the major hubs and gateways you'll most likely be using:

London Airports

London is served by 6 major international airports, offering extensive global connections as well as European and domestic UK routes.

  • Heathrow Airport - The busiest UK airport and one of the world's major aviation hubs. Located 20 miles west of central London, It has 4 terminals and handles over 80 airlines flying to 185 destinations worldwide. Heathrow offers extensive flight connections across the UK and worldwide.
  • Gatwick Airport - London's second busiest airport serving short-haul and long-haul flights. It serves short-haul and long-haul points in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, North America, and Africa. It has 2 terminals and hosts around 50 airlines. A major base for carriers like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
  • Stansted Airport - Stansted is one of London's major airports focused on budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet.Stansted is located in Essex, around 30 miles northeast of central London. Its single terminal handles flights around the UK, Europe, and some long-haul routes to Asia and North America. Stansted has approval to grow capacity up to 43 million passengers per year. 
  • Luton Airport - Luton mainly caters to low-cost carrier flights serving Europe and parts of Asia. It's the closest alternative London airport northeast of the city. A major redevelopment of Luton Airport started in 2013, increasing services and facilities.
  • London City Airport - A smaller but very central London airport close to Canary Wharf and the finance district. London City Airport is geared towards business travelers with its connections to Canary Wharf and the City of London. It only offers short-haul flights across the UK and Europe.
  • Southend Airport - It handles short-haul flights, primarily catering to leisure travelers looking for cheap fares. Located 40 miles from London, it's linked directly to Liverpool Street Station by rail.

Regional Airports

In addition to the London airports, other major hubs around Britain handle extensive regional, domestic, and European air traffic:

  • Manchester Airport - The third busiest UK airport, Manchester is a key northern travel hub. With 3 terminals, it offers flights across the UK, Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia. It offers an array of European and intercontinental routes through carriers like Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. Major airlines include British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, and Emirates.
  • Birmingham Airport - Located in central England, Birmingham provides connections across the UK and Europe as well as some long-haul routes to the Middle East and South Asia. Birmingham Airport serves England's Midlands region with flights to over 100 global destinations. Its location makes it very convenient for travelers to and from the Midlands urban centers.
  • Edinburgh Airport -  As Scotland's busiest airport, Edinburgh offers direct links across the UK and Europe, as well as some long-haul routes to North America and the Middle East. A new expansion project aims to increase capacity to 20 million passengers per year by 2030.
  • Bristol Airport -Bristol Airport serves the southwest of England region with flights by easyJet, Ryanair, and others. It is undergoing expansions to serve 10 million passengers annually by the mid-2020s. Bristol in southwest England has flights to around 90 destinations, primarily within Europe but also routes to the Middle East and North America.

Scottish Airports

Scotland's busy airports provide vital air links across the UK and Europe:

  • Edinburgh Airport - Edinburgh is the busiest airport in Scotland, with its single terminal handling around 40 airlines flying to 150 destinations internationally. It offers extensive connections, particularly across Europe, the Middle East, North America, and the Caribbean. It is the main hub for airlines like Ryanair, easyJet, British Airways, KLM, and Jet2.
  • Aberdeen Airport - Aberdeen International Airport serves the northeast of Scotland, including the important oil industry center. It is the main hub for British Airways, KLM, Aer Lingus, Scandinavian Airlines, and Eastern Airways. It offers domestic UK flights as well as routes to several dozen European and international destinations.
  • Inverness Airport - This smaller airport provides a gateway to the Scottish Highlands region. Inverness has flights to around 20 domestic and European destinations with airlines like British Airways, easyJet, and Loganair. it routes to London, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Amsterdam.
  • Glasgow Airport - Serving central Scotland, Glasgow provides connections to London and other UK cities, popular European destinations, and some transatlantic routes through major carriers. Facility upgrades are ongoing through 2025. Scotland's second busiest airport offers global connections through carriers like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Delta, and KLM. Its convenient location makes it very accessible from Glasgow city center.

Northern Ireland Airports

Northern Ireland's two primary airports handle most flights to this region of the UK:

  • Belfast International Airport - Northern Ireland's busiest airport, serving over 6 million passengers per year. Belfast International is Northern Ireland's main airport, located about 20 miles from Belfast itself. It offers flights to Great Britain, Europe, and North America with airlines like Aer Lingus, British Airways, easyJet, and United.
  • Belfast City Airport - Closer to Belfast itself, the city airport has domestic UK flights plus routes to popular European destinations. Its main routes are London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.. Airlines like Flybe, KLM, and Aer Lingus operate here.
  • Derry Airport - A smaller regional airport in Northern Ireland offering mostly domestic connections within the UK and Ireland. Links to Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London.

Smaller Regional Airports

In addition to the large international gateways, the UK has numerous smaller regional airports catering primarily to domestic and short-haul European flights:

  • - Southampton on England's south coast is a small but convenient airport for reaching the region and connecting cruise ports. Flights by Flybe, Ryanair, Aurigny, KLM, and Eastern Airways. It offers flights within the UK and Europe, the Channel Islands, Ireland, France, Spain, and the Netherlands.
  • Bournemouth Airport - Located in the southern coastal town of Bournemouth. similarly provides easy access to the Dorset coastline and surrounding southern England regions. Airlines like TUI, Ryanair, and Thomson serve Bournemouth.
  • Newquay Airport - Newquay handles domestic and several European flights bringing tourists to the popular Cornwall region. The main airline serving Newquay Airport is Flybe, operating flights to London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other UK cities.
  • Leeds Bradford Airport - Conveniently located between Leeds and Bradford in Yorkshire, this airport offers budget connections within the UK and Europe. The main airlines operating flights from Leeds Bradford are Ryanair, Jet2, Tui, and British Airways. Popular routes are within the UK, Ireland, and major European leisure destinations. The airport has its own train station on the Leeds-Bradford Line, allowing connectivity to Leeds, Bradford, and other West Yorkshire destinations.

Planning Your UK Airport Travel

With so many options, it can help to do some research when planning UK airport travel:
  • Consider the airport's location and transportation options to your final destination. Is it accessible by train, metro, bus, etc.?
  • Check which airlines and routes fly from each airport. Some serve more budget carriers vs. full-service legacy airlines.
  • Look at amenities like restaurants, lounges, and shopping when choosing an airport for longer layovers.
  • Be aware of any expansion projects and potential construction impacts at the time of your travel.

Getting To and From UK Airports

Once you arrive at the airport, you'll need to get into town or to your local accommodation. Fortunately, the UK's major airports offer many transportation options between the terminals and nearby cities:

  • Taxis & Private Transfers - The most comfortable and quickest option for door-to-door service. Black cabs queue outside terminals, but you can also pre-book private taxi transfers for potentially lower fares, particularly from London airports.
  • Trains - Fast direct rail links connect airports like Heathrow to central London in under 30 minutes. Other airports also offer rail connections. Check National Rail for airport routes.
  • Buses - Generally cheaper than taxis but involve a transfer and less luggage room. National Express runs direct bus services from major airports like Gatwick and Stansted into London.
  • Rideshares - Apps like Uber offer airport pickup at competitive rates. Compare across rideshares for the best price. A good option for shorter trips.
  • Car Rentals - All airports have car rental desks from companies like Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, etc. Pre-book for best availability and prices.
  • Parking - For those with cars, you can reserve airport parking ahead of time for the best deals. Compare meet & greet, on-site, and off-site parking options.

With frequent trains, abundant taxis, and other public transport, getting to and from any major UK airport is generally fast and simple. Pre-booking transfers or parking in advance when possible helps maximize value and convenience.

Airport Lounges, Amenities & Services

Especially on long layovers or early arrivals, UK airports offer abundant amenities to keep you comfortable, productive, and entertained within the terminals.

Airport Lounges

Airport lounges allow you to relax and unwind before flights in a more refined setting than the typical airport gate. Lounges offer comfortable seating, WiFi, food/drink, newspapers, showers, and more. There are both free and paid lounge options:

  • Many airlines operate their own pay-per-use lounges open to any flight passengers, like the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse locations across UK airports.
  • Priority Pass offers paid membership providing access to 1000+ airport lounges globally, including many UK options.
  • Independent lounge networks like No1 Lounges have sites across UK airports, also available through day passes.
  • Some premium travel credit cards provide free lounge access as a cardholder perk.

To maximize comfort or productivity, airport lounges are a haven away from the crowds.

Dining & Shopping

UK airports feature abundant dining, shopping, and amenity options within their terminals.


Airport restaurants range from quick grab-and-go spots like Pret a Manger to full-service restaurants. Popular UK chains like Wetherspoons, Caviar House, and Giraffe frequently have airport locations. But you can also find more upscale dining, like Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food at Heathrow.

Many airport terminals also have branded coffee shops like Starbucks, Costa Coffee or Caffe Nero to fuel up before your flight. And no airport would be complete without pubs to enjoy a pre-flight pint, like the Wetherspoons bars found in most major airports.


Every airport has an array of retail options just in case you need some last-minute souvenirs or travel essentials. Find magazines, books, electronics, clothes, beauty supplies, gifts, alcohol, and more. High street brands like Boots, WHSmith, and Dixons have convenience shops across UK airports.

Heathrow, Manchester, and Edinburgh airports also have dedicated luxury shopping areas, along with iconic duty-free stores.

Amenities & Services

In addition to dining and shopping, UK airports provide many convenient amenities:

  • Free and paid WiFi keeps you connected. Many also have laptop workstations.
  • Showers and spas like Be Relax Spa provide a refreshing break.
  • Hotels right at major airports allow you to rest before early flights.
  • Pharmacies and currency exchange desks supply essentials.
  • Kids play areas plus movie theaters at some airports.

Modern UK airports strive to make travel as comfortable and convenient as possible for flyers.

Quick Comparison of Major UK Airports

With so many airport options across the UK, here is a quick at-a-glance reference comparing details between the major hubs:

AirportLocationDistance to CityTerminalsAirlines
HeathrowWest London15 miles to London      4 Over 80
GatwickSouth London30 miles to London      2 Over 50
ManchesterManchester10 miles to the city center      3 Over 60
EdinburghEdinburgh8 miles to the city center      1 Over 40
BirminghamBirmingham7 miles to the city center      1 Over 50
GlasgowGlasgow7 miles to the city center      1 35+
LutonLuton30 miles to London      1 Over 10
StanstedEssex40 miles to London      1 Over 100
BristolBristol8 miles to the city center      1 30+
LiverpoolLiverpool7 miles to the city center      1 60+

This covers some of the key details like location, distance to the city center, terminals, and major airlines flying from the UK's largest airports.

Maximize Your UK Airport Experience

From navigating London's bustling hubs to breezing through smaller regional gateways, we hope this guide has provided a helpful overview of the major airports across the UK.

The key airports provide extensive flight connections to destinations worldwide. Meanwhile, smaller regional airports offer more targeted links to domestic UK and European destinations.

Abundant ground transportation options make getting to/from any major UK airport generally quick and convenient. And modern terminal facilities and amenities help keep your airport time comfortable and enjoyable.

For deeper information on navigating any of these airports, check out our detailed linked articles on transportation options, amenities, lounges, and insider tips. We want to make sure your UK airport experiences are as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Whether connecting through a hub like Heathrow or flying out of a smaller airport closer to your destination, safe travels on your upcoming UK adventures!


Expert network administrator and blogger at iSolveit with 6+ years experience. Learning and earning to improve myself with confidence.

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