What the BAA call London's third "international gateway" - airport to the rest of us - London Stansted was opened in 1991 to relieve pressure from overcrowded Heathrow and Gatwick. It is sited in Essex, more specifically 30 miles north-east of London right on the M11 between London and Cambridge, and handles 13.4 million passengers a year. It was designed by the well-respected architect Sir Norman Foster, and largely handles internal and European flights on budget carriers such as Go and RyanAir.
It began life as a military airbase, construction of which began in 1942. Gradually more and more small domestic flights began to leave from the airport as air travel grew in popularity during the 60s and 70s. However, the British authorities stumbled over establishing Stansted as a major airport. Nevertheless, when it became necessary to build a third London airport Stansted was the obvious site, and in April 1986 work commenced.
Stansted is by far the most appealing of the London airports (please realise this is a relative thing), largely by virtue of it being the best planned and designed. The contrast with the vast concrete monstrosity that is London Gatwick is huge. The terminal building is large and open-plan with surprising amounts of space and good lighting, and check-in is on the whole efficient and painless, especially on the ticketless airlines (Go etc).
Plans are currently afoot to build a second "emergency" runway at the airport, something the local residents are understandably wary of. Although the BAA insist it would be only used in bad weather when the main runway was out of action, the locals suspect something fishy is going on. At the moment work is progressing on the already massive long-stay car park, the bizarrely named Pink Elephant, as part of a £200 million development project that began this year. So extensive is the concrete sprawl that a fleet of buses snake their way around, however this does nothing to stop some determined types from walking 3-4 miles to the terminal.
The place has the usual complement of homogenous retail outlets. For the lower gate numbers a monorail journey is required to get to the gate, something worth bearing in mind if you're planning on cutting things a bit fine. And whilst laughing at expensive luggage cases being destroyed by the savage conveyer belt at baggage reclaim is neither big nor clever, it is quite fun.
Sources: http://fly.to/LondonStansted/, http://www.baa.co.uk/