London is on the minds of many travellers and there are good reasons why. It oozes class, sophistication and history. This city is the perfect blend of modernity and rich history with delightful traditions carrying on amongst new additions. I must admit that London is my favourite city in Europe (and probably the world) and I could happily live there. As a travel destination there is plenty to see and do and there truly is enough to occupy you for weeks.
“Budget London holiday” may not be a sentence you hear very often. It is infrequent because it is difficult to achieve. Yep, London is expensive but most of these expenses can be avoided with some clever planning. Honestly. After just concluding my tenth visit to London, I have picked up some budget London tips which can help. Unlike countries like Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark, I find that bargains can be more easily found in the United Kingdom — and here’s how.
Visit in the off-season
I have noticed that prices differ quite drastically depending on the season in London. Like most major European cities, booking in the off season or shoulder seasons will save you many pounds.
My visits to hostels in London cost around $26AUD a night for an 8-bed dorm with breakfast in February/March and December, but skyrocketed to around $60-$70AUD for a lower-standard room in July. London is a good city to visit in any weather because many of the attractions are indoors, so visiting here in the shoulder/off season really does not affect your experience too much.
Book in advance
Not only will choosing the right time to visit save you many pounds, but deciding early will save you cash too. Booking your hostel and hotel with at least a month to spare makes it considerably cheaper.
This also applies for transport to and from London itself. Trains from other areas of the U.K. are well-priced at about 6 weeks in advance, and buses are also much cheaper when booked with time to spare. Buses to and from London airports into the city are best booked online prior to arriving at the airport (this will save a couple of pounds and queuing time).
Stay at good quality hostels
It is worth spending a little bit extra to get hostels in London that come with all the bells and whistles. Try to stay at hostels with breakfast included because buying breakfast from the supermarket every day is an unnecessary expense, plus if you stock up on breakfast then you won’t eat such a bit (a.k.a. expensive) lunch.
Look for hostels which have baggage storage included. Baggage storage in London is hard to come by and when you find it, it is ludicrously expensive. Hostels which will store bags for you are worth paying a little extra for because it really can come in handy!
I highly recommend Astor Hostels. I have stayed in two of their different hostels on three separate occasions and have always been impressed. Astor Hyde Park is in a lovely building and allows great access to the park, and Astor Victoria is supremely located near to Victoria Station and a short walk from all major attractions. These hostels include baggage storage, WiFi, kitchen facilities and breakfast (either free or for a £1 charity donation).
See the free attractions
When you have to pay for attractions in London it can cost you a pretty penny (the London Eye, the Tower of London, etc.) but there are also bucket loads of free attractions. I honestly cannot believe how much there is to do in London without spending anything. On my last 4-day trip to the capital, I visited several things every day and did not pay for entry once. Most art galleries and museums in London are free of charge, not to mention all the monuments, markets, bridges and boroughs.
- British Museum
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Gallery
- Borough Market
- Portobello Market
- Houses of Parliament/Big Ben
- National Maritime Museum
- National Science Museum
- Tate Modern
- Tate Britain
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- National History Museum
- Hyde Park
- Regents Park
- Changing of the guards
- Admire Buckingham Palace
Read more at: Top 10 Free Things To Do In London
£3 meal deals at Tesco
At lunch time many establishments put on ‘meal deals’ and I have found Tesco to be the best. Tesco shops are dotted generously throughout London and this £3 meal deal is a surprisingly good feed. For this price you get a main (salad, wraps, sandwiches, pasta, etc.), a snack (chocolate, crisps, fruit) and a drink (water, juices, soft drink or coffee). It is great to grab one of these on the go and then eat it in a cool park or by the Thames.
Other companies like Sainsbury’s, M&S and Boots also do a similar thing.
Discount hours on food
If you don’t mind holding out for ‘off-peak’ food times then you might score a good deal. If you go for your lunch after 2pm then many supermarkets drastically reduce the prices of their sandwiches and salads in an attempt to quick sell. You can get couscous and chicken salads for as little as 49p! This is also a great option for dinner because prices are further slashed. Many supermarkets provide places to heat up food and eat it, including cutlery etc.
There are also some restaurant chains which do discount hours on food. The Japanese chain Itsu (which does absolutely delicious food) is not really backpacker-budget-friendly during the day, but half an hour before closing all the remaining food is 50% off. This makes it a super healthy and affordable option.
Look out for happy hours at many of the pubs because this also allows you to have the full English pub experience without hurting your wallet (as much).
Avoid transport costs
London is an amazing city to walk around, so if you can avoid using transport, it isn’t too much of a problem! With lovely gardens and walkways all around, there are plenty of pedestrian-friendly areas in the city. The streets of London are full of splendid buildings with history and I really feel as though if you have the time, walking is a great idea.
The underground is a fast way to get around airport (as well as to and from Heathrow) and it is best to purchase an Oyster Card. Depending on how frequently you will use it, you can either get a pay-as-you-go card or a weekly pass. With single tickets costing an eye-watering £4.90 each, it is definitely worth investigating options for larger passes if you are going to use public transport frequently. Having an Oyster Card will halve the fare. All the details on fares can be found on the Transport For London website.
All around London are bike stations for the Santander bikes. If you are confident riding then you can hire these bikes for £2 for 24 hours – a real bargain! Cycling is allowed in most major parks so even just using them to cut through Hyde Park can save you a lot of time.
Find the free views
You don’t have to spend £22 on a London Eye ticket to see the skyline of London – there are loads of other options. For some great free views you can head to Sky Garden (on the “Walkie Talkie” building), New Change or the café at the Tate Modern. These places offer some wonderful vistas over this thriving metropolis.
Many attractions that you may be visiting already have some great views included. Some of the great places you can enjoy views of London are from the Westminster Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Tower Bridge.
Enjoy the less crowded views
Although these are free regardless, it can be nice to enjoy views that have less people around.
For Big Ben
Cross Westminster Bridge and from the other side of the River Thames there is a spectacular view back over the Houses of Parliament. When you get to the end of the bridge go the right-hand side rather than the left and there are decidedly fewer people.
For the London Eye
My favourite place to see the London Eye is from the gardens of Whitehall. I am not sure why nobody goes here but it is absolutely marvellous. As you head towards Westminster Bridge just turn left and keep walking past New Scotland Yard. There is a stretch of garden which directly overlooks the London Eye and it never seems to have any people in it! With many benches available, this is a great place to bring your take-away coffee and soak up the view.
For Trafalgar Square
Head to the Waterstone’s bookstore in Trafalgar Square and on the second floor there is a Costa coffeeshop. If you can get a table by the window this is a fantastic place to enjoy views over Trafalgar Square and have a caffeine hit.
For St Paul’s Cathedral
As mentioned before, for great views of St Paul’s Cathedral then going to the Tate Modern café is a fantastic option. Walking along Millennium Bridge is also brilliant and not so full of people compared to around the cathedral itself.
For Tower Bridge and the Tower of London
It is tempting to stick to the side of the Thames with the Tower of London but I would recommend walking across Tower Bridge and getting a view from the other side. There are way fewer people and the views are spectacular!
Cheap theatre tickets
There are bucket loads of small shops selling last minute cheap theatre tickets. The seats may not be great but these are an affordable way to see some great shows. There are lots of these vendors around the Piccadilly and Leicester area so keep a look out. From memory a good vendor is called TKTS. Another good place to get cheap last minute theatre tickets is at lastminute.com.
Sign up to O2 and The Cloud
Most of the free WiFi in coffee shops is run by either O2 or The Cloud. Sign up for this (you don’t even need a British mobile number) and you will have WiFi basically throughout London. The WiFi works outside of the coffeeshops as well so if you’re in desperate need then you can just stand outside and it should automatically connect.
Offline maps such as maps.me are a godsend in London. Just download the London map (for free) before arriving and it will work as a GPS for you. This is handy for planning journeys and finding the quickest way to get around London. It is much cheaper than purchasing a map and a lot less annoying than having to constantly seek WiFi and locate yourself.
Free walking tours
Take advantage of the free walking tours available in London because this can give you a good sample of the history, culture and geography of the city. I love free walking tours because they really help to orientate you in a new city. Companies like Sandemans are throughout Europe and work on a tip-based system so you pay however much you want for the tour. Sandemans is a great company and I have used them throughout Europe, however there are also plenty of others!