How to Hire a Car at London Heathrow
London Heathrow is Europe’s busiest airport and as a result it is also one of the biggest car hire hubs in the world. Whichever of its 4 terminals you fly into, you will find yourself spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a vehicle.
How do I find a hire car?
Not every company has a desk in each terminal, so if you’ve reserved a car in advance you may need to use the free shuttle bus to get to the one you need. Companies that only have a desk in one terminal or have an office outside of the main terminal area tend to have cheaper hire rates compared with the larger companies, so it’s worth checking these out if you don’t mind travelling a little to pick up your car. Check online which companies have desks in which terminals beforehand.
What will I need?
It is important to make sure you have all the necessary documents. You will need your passport, a credit card, and your driver’s license in all cases. Depending on the company, you may also need to show an International Driving Permit and other forms of identification. Make sure to check what the company requires before you arrive.
Should I drive in London?
Once you’ve received your car and you’re ready to start your trip, you may feel a little apprehensive about driving into the big city. This is only natural; many locals share the same anxiety when it comes to driving in the British capital, and it is not without good reason. As well as being one of Europe’s largest and busiest cities, it’s also notorious for its confusing one way street systems and convoluted signposting. Consider hiring a Sat Nav to help guide you around, some rental companies even include them in their car hire packages.
Another important thing to note is that London operates a Congestion Charge for driving in the city, which is currently set at £11.50 per day. If you plan to drive in the charging zone between the hours of 7 am and 6 pm, Monday to Friday, you will need to pay the fee. You can find out more here.
With all this taken into consideration, it’s worth asking yourself if driving in the city is really necessary. London has fantastic public transport system, and depending on your situation, perhaps taking the tube would work out cheaper and less stressful.
Driving on the Left
Depending on where you’re from, you may be faced with the daunting task of driving on the other side of the road for the first time. Don’t worry, although it may be a little nerve-racking at first, your intuition will kick in and it’ll begin to feel natural after some practice. As the steering wheel is on the right hand side in the UK, you may find your right hand smacking the driver door regularly at first as you instinctively reach for a gear stick that isn’t there. Spend some time before each journey familiarising yourself with the inside of the vehicle and get to know where the controls are before you start to drive. One important thing to remember is to check for pedestrians entering your path from the left side rather than the right. Also be sure to allow yourself a little extra room on the left hand side, as many first time ‘other-side-of-the-road’ drivers tend to veer too close to the curb while getting used to the layout of the roads. Take your time and exercise extra caution and you’ll be feeling more confident in no time.
Can I drive into Scotland and Ireland?
You may want to escape the chaos of the city and travel further afield. The UK has such a rich variety of places to explore that we recommend getting out of London and seeing what the rest of the country has to offer. As Scotland is a part of the UK and there are no border controls to worry about, you can take your car up north and visit the home of haggis and single malts without any issue.
The Republic of Ireland however is a separate nation and most car hire companies will require you to purchase an extra insurance package to drive the car abroad. You may be able to take the car to Northern Ireland, which is a part of the UK, although it’s worth noting that some companies do not allow their vehicles to be taken onto a ferry, so it’s important to check at the office to find out what their policies are. In any case, ferry crossings from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can be pricey. It’s often cheaper to fly with a budget airline and rent a separate vehicle on the other side.
Hiring a car from Heathrow for your trip will allow you to see many parts of the country that are off the tourist trail and give you the freedom to roam and explore. With a little preparation and some careful driving, it’s a great way to get the most out of your time in the UK.