There is no doubt about it… London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. There’s so much to do and see in London (like these 25 places you can’t miss), and you never seem to have enough time or money. While London is expensive (to the point where you feel even breathing costs money), it is most definitely possible to do London on the cheap. Here are 14 of my best tips for making the most of your budget in London:
1. Eat Cheap
Everything is more expensive in London—and eating out is definitely one of those things. There are lots of good options at supermarkets—both Tesco and Sainsbury’s offer Meal Deals of a sandwich, chips/snack, and a drink for usually £3 (~$4.50). You can also find various meal deals at large Boots and WHS Smith stores. Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are more expensive than Tesco and Sainsbury’s, but as grocery stores also offer cheap sandwiches or meals. Pret a Manger isn’t a supermarket, but they have locations all over and also offer sandwiches/ready made food for cheap.
2. Make Breakfast Count
Staying at accommodation that offers a free breakfast is totally worth it. Stretching breakfast/brunch to last for two meals means you only need to spend money on one more meal—and you could do sandwiches or cheap food from a grocery store if you wanted. Eat a big brunch or save some food from breakfast for snacks later on. If your breakfast has stuff for sandwiches, I won’t judge you if you “appropriate” food to make sandwiches for yourself for lunch.
3. Be Savvy with Accommodation
Booking outside the center of any city for cheaper accommodation prices is the oldest trick in the book. But in order to get into central London, you’ll lose either time (if you walk) or money (if you take the Tube)—or both. Time and money are precious in London! Book someplace central so you can get to the major attractions easier. Rates and prices of accommodation vary throughout central London, so try to book a reservation in cheaper areas—I almost always stay in the Bloomsbury/St. Pancras neighborhood. Avoid pricey locations like the West End, Westminster, and Chelsea at all costs!
4. Check out London’s FREE Museums
London is home to some of the world’s best and most famous museums… and lots of them are completely FREE! These museums are all in Central London and do not charge any admission fees: British Museum, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Victora & Albert Museum, Science Museum, Museum of London, Imperial War Museum. Did I mention that they’re all FREE?!
5. See Sites from the Outside
Instead of paying pricey admission fees to get inside, you can always check out some of the major London sites from the outside for free. Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and the Tower of London are definitely London icons you can see from the outside. Other sites that are free in general: Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and Camden Town.
6. See the Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard outside of Buckingham Palace is an item on every London bucket list ever. Who doesn’t think those huge bearskin helmets aren’t hilarious?! Better yet it’s completely FREE to watch, with no steep admission fee that most London palaces charge. The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11:30am every day from April through the end of July, and on alternate days the rest of the year.
Just like the Changing of the Guard, there are always going to be tourist attractions in a city that don’t have a price tag. There are lots of street markets scattered across London that are free to go and wander, such as Portobello Road, Camden Market, Borough Market, and Spitalfields. You don’t need to pay anything to just browse!
If it’s not raining (LOL JK IT ALWAYS RAINS IN LONDON) spend some time at any of London’s many parks! Hyde Park is one of the most popular. My personal favorite is St. James’ Park, right next to Buckingham Palace. Regent’s Park is huge, and the view of the city from Primrose Hill is unbeatable. Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill also give great views of the city.
9. Discount Theater Tickets
On the day of shows, try buying half-price tickets for West End shows from the official ticket agency in Leicester Square. If you can be flexible and not have your plans set in stone prior to your trip, it’s a great way to see shows for a cheaper price.
10. Be Entertained by Street Performers
West End not your thing? No matter where you are in London, you will find street performers. It’s free to listen/watch as long as you like (unless you really enjoy it and throw some change in for them), and some of the people I’ve seen are insanely talented. Seriously, how many people can spin around on their head, then jump up and break dance for a minute straight?! Places like Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, and the South Bank are great for watching street performers.
11. Consider Investing in a London Pass
If you’re planning on doing a lot of the classic tourist sites in London (say for your first ever trip to London), look into investing in a London Pass. Valid for 1, 2, 3, 6, or even 10 days, the London Pass gives you free admission to some of London’s biggest attractions—and at some places it lets you skip the line! If you plan on visiting a lot of the popular (read: expensive) attractions, I’d recommend the London Pass. I’ve bought a 6-Day London Pass twice, and it is definitely worth it for the convenience—and I saved loads of money.
12. Get an Oyster Card
For using public transportation in London, the best way to save money is to get an Oyster Card. Eligible for all Tube and bus routes, an Oyster card is definitely convenient—add money and you’re set to go! One trip for an adult in Zone 1 is £2.30 (about $3.35), as opposed to £4.80 (~$7—literally how the fuck is London so expensive?!) with a cash single, and Oyster cards are capped at £8.50 for the day. You can buy an Oyster Card at any Tube station. (And if you buy a Railcard in England, make sure to link up your Oyster card with your National Railcard and you’ll get a 30% discount on off-peak Tube fares!)
13. Seriously, Don’t Take a Taxi
London’s black cabs are definitely a symbol of the city—but for god’s sake DON’T TAKE A TAXI unless you absolutely have to. London has an incredibly extensive public transportation system (both Tube and bus), and has lots of Night Bus routes once the Tube has closed for the evening. Taxis are so expensive and, with a bit of a planning beforehand, they can be completely avoided.
14. Walk EVERYWHERE
London is a big city, but if you have the extra time it’s absolutely doable to walk most places. Even in the rain, even in the crowds, I love walking around London—discovering new places I would never have seen if I’d been underground on the Tube the whole time. Walking is also completely FREE!
London is one of my favorite cities in the world—despite the prices, despite the crowds, I love London! And while it is one of the most expensive cities to travel to, it’s still possible to visit London on a budget!
Have you ever been to London? What tips do you have?!