London on a Budget: How to Get The Most Out of Your Trip
It may seem a difficult task to visit the capital of England without spending a fortune.
To help you save money and explore London on a budget, Daniela created this low-cost guide of the city.
According to a top site for travel agents, London generates more tourism revenue than any other city in Europe. That’s about 18.9 billion Euros the city earns from travelers.
The average daily cost per person is about 184 dollars. That’s almost 1300 dollars for one week just for one person, not counting airfare. Middle tier hotels in London can run as high as 208 dollars per night.
While it’s certainly not the most expensive city in Europe, it does land in the top five.
Many people would be quick to assume that a London vacation is simply out of budget. Fortunately, that’s just not true.
There are absolutely ways to enjoy a vacation to London on a budget. It simply takes some strategizing and a bit of compromise.
Disclaimer: this post includes affiliate links, which means that at no cost for you I get a small commission if you buy or book something using these links. Recommendations of the guest blogger are unbiased and only reflect the true opinion and recommendations to enjoy your trip the most.
Laying The Foundation: General Budget Tips For London Travel
In the next paragraphs, we’ll take a deep dive into some very specific advice on traveling to London at budget prices. First, let’s look at some general budget trips that are useful to anyone who wishes to see London without breaking the bank.
Keep these helpful tips in mind:
- Book your travel in advance.
- Avoid the express trains from the airport.
- Get a SIM card.
- Fly to another airport then take a budget flight into London.
If you have a credit card that offers great rewards for travel, it may be a good idea to use it for your London vacation. Even if you pay it off immediately, you may qualify for points towards future perks.
Find out ways to get from Heathrow Airport to London
London is a popular destination for college students, backpackers, and gap year trekkers. Because of this, there are plenty of low-cost accommodations. You are sure to find something within your budget. These include:
- Traditional Hotels: These are generally your most expensive option. Still, you can save a bit of money by joining the hotels’ loyalty program to begin. Next, contact the hotel directly to ask for a discount. You can also book a midweek stay. Choose the smallest room you can manage as well. Finally, rethink any entertainment or dining add-ons they rarely save you money. The website I recommend for finding the best hotel deals is Booking.com.
- Airbnb: You may be able to get an entire home or apartment to yourself for your stay. The price per night is often cheaper. Even if it isn’t, you can save money by cooking and doing laundry on site. You can also split the cost among more people. HomeAway and VRBO are two similar alternatives. Use this link to get a 32 euro discount off your first stay with Airbnb.
- Hostels: These aren’t just for college students anymore. People of all ages and income levels choose hostels to save money. If you don’t mind communal living, this is an exceptionally inexpensive option. In London, you can find prices as low as 10 pound per bed in a hostel. However, you should take into account that the cheapest options are rather far away from the city center or located in 30+ bed bedrooms. Booking.com is also a good website to look for hostels (I use it a lot).
- CouchSurfing: Just like it sounds, CouchSurfing matches travelers with people who are willing to lend a couch or spare bed for a night or two. If you can do this without feeling too awkward about it, this is a free option. However, you are expected to do something for your host such as showing up with a small gift or preparing a meal. The good news is that many people who participate in CouchSurfing are enthusiastic about their city and eager to help you enjoy your stay. A tip for staying using CouchSurfing: read the descriptions of potential hosts carefully as they may be very weird or unpleasant people to stay with.
Saving Money on Transportation in London
Once you arrive, you’ll need to figure out how to get around. You can rent a car, but that’s generally going to be your most expensive option. Fortunately, in London, there are plenty of money-saving alternatives.
- Public Transit: London offers several public transportation options for tourists and citizens. Bus fare is 1.50 pounds with a max of 4.50 per day. You can also use the Tube to get around (underground transit). There, the rates depend on your route (it cost me mostly 3-3,5 pounds per ride). One-day bus and tram passes will cost 5 pounds per day. Just know that London public transportation is cash free. You’ll need to buy an Oyster card if you don’t have a contactless debit card.
- Taxis: Fares can vary, but Transport for London has published typical taxi fares and times. The site also lists extra fees you might incur and provides advice on how the process of securing a taxi ride works. As you might expect this is an expensive option. However, if you only use it once or twice during your stay, it could be significantly less than renting a car. Here you can find affordable options for getting from the airport to the city center or vice versa.
- Uber: This is a great option for securing an on-demand ride for less than it would cost you to hail a cab or rent a car. As with other cities, Uber rates depend on demand, the size of the vehicle you need, and other factors. You can use Uber’s website to get a price estimate before you secure a ride. It’s also fairly easy to find Uber discount codes and coupons, especially if you are a first time customer.
- City Bikes: One of the cheapest city transportation options I found were London city bikes. You just pay once a fee of 2 pounds for 24 hours and have access to bikes all over London. First 30 minutes of every ride are free, after that you will be charged 2 pounds for each extra 30 minutes. It is a great option if you don’t stay too far from the city center. Learn more on the official website of Santander Cycles.
- Walkability Factor: According to Reuters, London is making efforts to become the most walkable city in the world. That’s good news because this option is absolutely free. Even better, you can download free self-guided walking tours of London.
If you’re flying to London, check this flight packing list not to forget the essentials.
Eating Well in London For Less
London offers some amazing options for foodies. The key is balancing your desire to eat great food with maintaining your budget. Fortunately, you have tons of option.
First, if shopping and sightseeing are more important to you than dining you can really save money. Jefferson Myers of Rated by Students is a true veteran when it comes to visiting London on a budget.
He says, “If you’re using Airbnb or have a room with a fridge, and some way to cook, you can simply prep foods there, and eat in. This also gives you the option to brown bag it when you go out. Chain restaurants are also a possibility. They aren’t very adventurous, but they are predictable in terms of pricing and flavor.”
What can you do to save money if you see eating as part of the traveling experience? Again, you have options. Here are a few:
- Seek out coupons and discounts before you go.
- Visit a farmers market or grocery store. Assemble a picnic from the items you find. Make the experience even more enjoyable by choosing items you couldn’t get back home. Check this guide to cheap supermarkets in London.
- Visit restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. Read this TimeOut guide to London budget restaurants.
- Look for a soft opening. These are newly opening restaurants that offer discounts when they first open to help their staff get oriented and test out their menus. Here you will find newest soft openings with great discounts.
- Order appetizers to share for a less expensive, lighter meal.
- Find restaurants in the theatre district and order from the pre-theatre menu.
- Have some curry or fish and chips in a pub. It’s less expensive than a restaurant meal, and experience as well. Check London pubs guide here
- London is full of ethnic restaurants. Many of these are a less expensive alternative to other restaurants.
- Eat on the street. London is full of great street food markets. It’s a great way to experience food from several cultures and socialize as well. Check this Shoreditch street food tour.
- Order food to go. Shop bought food is a great alternative to sitting down and eating in a restaurant. It’s less expensive as well.
- Take a food tour. Food tours are great ways to experience a wide variety of local and international dishes at a price of one tour. Check this great Soho international foods tour and this street food taxi tour.
For many people, the key to dining on a budget in London is a compromise. For example, if you want to experience a meal in a Michelin Star restaurant, you may want to balance that by sticking to pastries in your hotel room for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch.
Visiting The Main Attractions on a Budget
There are so many things to see and do in London. There are museums, galleries, and parks. There’s both Buckingham and Winchester palace. You can visit Big Ben, The London Eye, The Tower of London, and The London Bridge.
The list of possibilities is nearly endless. If you saw even a fraction of these at full price you would quickly burn through even the most generous budgets. To avoid this, check out these money-saving tips:
- Buy a London City Pass: This allows you to pay one set price, and get admission to all of the major attractions in the city. You can buy a single day pass, or purchase one that is good for several days. To get your money’s worth, you’ll need to plan well, and hit as many attractions as possible. You can buy the London City Pass here.
- Consider The Explorer Pass as an Alternative: With this version of the City Pass, you pick a limited number of attractions to visit. You’ll pay less money, and won’t feel the pressure to squeeze in so many places in a short amount of time. You must choose your options ahead of time though. Get your Explorer Pass here.
- iVenture Pass is similar to the explorer pass. However, instead of choosing the attractions you want to visit ahead of time, you can make your selections as you go.
- The TurboPass is ideal for people who may be spending an extended amount of time in the city. This gets you into many attractions for free. You’ll also qualify for discounts at other attractions. You can also use fast-track entry at many places. This allows you to skip the line and save time.
You can also save money by purchasing tickets to attractions in advance. Also, connect with the attractions that interest you on social media. That’s a great way to find out about special discounts and other great offers.
Check my London Itinerary to learn about the city attractions and where to buy entry tickets cheaper in advance!
Finally, many people consider their time in London incomplete without going to the theatre. To save money here, start by visiting a TKTS booth. You’ll find half-price tickets and other discounts.
You can also inquire at the box office directly for standby tickets. If you don’t mind standing, you can be a groundling at Shakespeare’s Globe. Try a matinee as well.
Finally, consider an alternative theater. These fringe theatres are smaller and off the beaten path, and are a great way to see some talented performers at budget prices.
You can find tickets to all London theaters here.
Entertainment And Activities on a Budget
If you’d rather avoid the crowds of the most popular tourist hotspots in the city, you have some great alternatives. To start, check out some of the free tourist options in London:
- Window Shopping: London is full of amazing shops. Check out the iconic Harrods. London has several shopping areas. Each is great for exploring stores and boutiques. Enjoy people watching and window shopping in Carnaby, Regent Street, Savile Row, Piccadilly, and more. Check this London shopping guide.
- Free Tourist Attractions: Some of London’s best attractions are absolutely free. You can visit the Houses of Parliament, British Museum, London Museum, Kensington Gardens, Science Museum, Sky Garden, and many other places at absolutely no cost to you.
- Free Activities: You can watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace for free. There are several garden tours that are offered at no cost as well. The Royal College of Music offers free concerts at rush hour. There are also free festivals throughout the year. Just check your calendar before you go.
- Enjoying the water: London itself is landlocked, but it’s a simple day trip to beaches such as Ruislip Lido to spend the day on the lake. If you want a true seaside experience, it’s only a two-hour trek to Brighton in Sussex.
- Parks and Playgrounds: London is full of parks that charge absolutely nothing for entry. These are a great option for picnicking, getting a bit of exercise, and letting kids burn off some steam.
- Unique tours. Even if you visit London on a budget, you need to use the most of your time. You can’t just walk around the city trying to do free stuff. I highly recommend attending some unique tours you can only do in London: Shoreditch street art walking tour, Camden Market tour, Historic pubs tour, Jack the Ripper tour, Harry Porter tour, sSherlock Holmes tour and some others.
If you can commit to doing some research and planning, it is entirely possible to experience London on a budget. Even better, you don’t have to sacrifice a good time to do this.
This is a walkable, multicultural city, with so much to offer. Enjoy the free attractions, save money on the attractions that aren’t free, and choose your transportation options carefully.
Finally, keep an open mind when it comes to accommodations. By doing these things, you can do the things you want during your visit, and save money.
Don’t forget to bookmark this page so you can reference it while you plan your trip!