Getting from Gatwick Airport to London Via St. Pancras Station
This is part 1 of our larger travel series “Traveling to Seaham for Sea Glass”. This portion explains the best way to get from Gatwick Airport to London.
Gatwick Airport Layout
I love flying into Gatwick Airport, because being smaller than Heathrow, it is easier to navigate. It is also generally less expensive to fly into Gatwick. There are two terminals “North Terminal” and “South Terminal” (Thanks to gatwickairport.com for the fabulous maps). I always fly on Virgin Atlantic from the Orlando, Florida, so I land in the North Terminal and have to high-tail it through immigration and customs to get to the train station in the South Terminal.
How long does it take to get through immigration and customs at Gatwick Airport?
Getting through immigration if you’re not from the EU is hit and miss. During the summer, it can take well over an hour of waiting through the cattle stalls. I was hoping in October, that it would be faster. Landing on a 747 from Orlando, it took me about 35 minutes to get through, which isn’t bad. I had given myself one and a half hours from the time that the plane landed to the time the train left. That was WAY to tight, because my flight was late leaving, then we circled above Gatwick for 45 minutes. Also plan for the time it takes to get off such a large airplane.
If you are catching a train for which you have pre-purchased a ticket, give yourself at least 2 hours in the off-season and maybe up to 3 hours in the summer. Customs and immigration is just too unpredictable. We generally pre-purchase tickets because some trains tend to fill up and that is one less thing you’ll have to do when leaving immigration and customs.
Once you get through immigration and customs (I never check baggage…that’s a wild card I don’t need), then you follow the signs to the South Terminal Shuttle. It’s a monorail train that runs back and forth between the two terminals. There will be both escalators and lifts in numerous place on the way, but the signs are good.
If you are traveling in reverse, to Gatwick from London, then sip to the bottom where I have tips on where to eat and sty at Gatwick Airport.
Once you hop the shuttle to the south terminal, you will be put out into a rather narrow walkway area where you will see a GIANT sign ahead of you at the very end, to the Gatwick Express. The National Rail trains will be to the left with turnstiles.
What is the Gatwick Express?
What is the difference between Gatwick Express and the National Rail trains into London? Well, the Gatwick Express is a name brand with a price tag to match, but it only runs between Gatwick Airport and Victoria Station AND from Gatwick to St. Pancras. It does not stop anywhere else. So this is convenient if you only want to go to Victoria Station or St. Pancras, and you want to get there quickly. The tickets (at the time of this blog) were about £18 each way.
Make sure you check for train systems on strike. This is not terribly uncommon. They sometimes plan them for weekends and leave the weekdays alone. But one never knows, so look it up just before you leave for your trip. The National Rail is the regular train station that is attached to the airport.
Look up and follow the signs to the Gatwick Express. The signs are large and red, the National Rail have a different logo and there will be a large board on the left displaying all the trains coming and going. If you can’t find your train on the board, or are unsure where to go, you can go to the ticket office (follow the signs), or if you have your ticket, there are always people standing at the turnstiles who will help. Make sure you know the destination of your train and that you check that it’s on the front of the train as it approaches. There are many trains using the same track within minutes of each other.
Which train station to go to from Gatwick to London
Choosing your destination is going to depend on what you want to do when you get to London. We used the Gatwick Express to Victoria when we wanted to go sightseeing in the city. Then you can pick up a number of underground (tube) lines from Victoria Station. This is a handy map of the London Underground. For this trip, I planned to go to St. Pancras where I could easily walk to Kings Cross station to board the train to Newcastle.
Best way to get from St. Pancras to Kings Cross
I opted for the fastest way to St. Pancras International Station because I wanted to avoid taking the underground and wanted the easiest way to catch a train to the north of England. So I took the Gatwick Express to St. Pancras. This is also the station where you can catch the TGV through the Chunnel to France. That is quite an experience, I highly recommend it.
It is across the street from Kings Cross Station where you can pick up a number of National Rail trains to other parts of the country. Taking a train directly from Gatwick to St. Pancras avoids all the mess and crowds of the city, and usually ends up being one fewer change of trains.
St. Pancras is huge! So look at the signs when you get off your train. Kings Cross will be in teeny tiny letters underneath “WAY OUT”. I have included a picture of what the signs look like. They are easy to overlook. St. Pancras is full of nice restaurants, shops and bathrooms. So if you have time between trains, take a break and look around. As train stations go, this one is hard to beat.
Kings Cross Station is across the street, so follow the signs (there are a number of ways out of St. Pancras and into Kings Cross). Just make sure you DON’T go to the Kings Cross underground station (subway). That is different from the Kings Cross Railway Station (trains). Look for the National Rail logo next to the name.
Inside King’s Cross Train Station
Once in Kings Cross, there are information and ticket booths in the main gallery as well as an enormous sign with all the trains. They sometimes don’t list the track until the last minute, so stay on your toes.
I was booked on a train from Kings Cross to Newcastle (the train continued on to Inverness). I would highly recommend the “Quiet Car” if you are not traveling with children or planning to talk to anyone, but you have to reserve this ahead of time. It was glorious…it’s really, really quiet. There was also an outlet at my seat for charging my phone, and the Pudding Trolley for snacks along the way. This was a really wonderful 3.5 hour train ride to Newcastle station.
Pick up the next article that takes you from Newcastle to Seaham Station.
If you are traveling in reverse from London to Gatwick, here are some tips on where to stay and eat at Gatwick Airport.
If you are arriving at the airport a day early for your flight, I highly recommend the Hampton Inn on level one in the North Terminal. They are reasonably priced, have an excellent hot breakfast (included in the price of your room), free wifi AND the best part, they’re attached to the airport! You can find the entrance on the lower level of the North Terminal to the right of the Easy Jet check in area. It’s in the corner and can be hard to find. Look at the Gatwick Airport North Terminal Map to be sure.
The other most excellent thing about the North Terminal is Nicholas Culpeper Pub & Dining, on the upper level. This pub has it’s very own gin distillery…in the airport! They also brew some of their own beer. The menu is varied, quite delicious and reasonably priced. They have plenty of beer, ales and cider on tap… there is something for everyone. The downstairs does not have table service, you have to go upstairs for that.
Gatwick Airport South Terminal Level 2
There is a wonderful little supermarket on level 2 of the South Terminal called M&S Simply Food. So if you are staying at the airport, make sure you stop there first, before you hop the shuttle to the North Terminal so you can stock up on snacks, wine, ready to eat meals and any other convenience items.
I hope you found this travel guide helpful. Look out for our other guides for traveling for sea glass to Seaham, England.