London is a popular destination among city lovers. It’s easy to fall in love with this bustling, cosmopolitan city. Not only is it packed with historic sites and cultural centers, but London also boasts a dynamic food scene and a thriving nightlife. In fact, London can be pretty addictive – the more you see of it, the more you’ll want to go back. But there’s just one problem; London is one of the most expensive cities to visit in Europe.
The good news is there are many ways you can explore London on a budget if you plan your trip carefully. I asked 13 travel bloggers and London fans to share their little-known tips for visiting London on a budget, and here’s what they suggest.
1) Opt For The City’s Bike-Sharing Program
“My top tip for travelling on a budget in London would be to ditch the tube or the taxi and instead opt for something cheaper like the bus! Not only do you get to see London as you travel but you also travel super cheap. Or if you’d like to travel even cheaper then jump on one of the thousands of Santander bikes that are dotted around the city from London Bridge to Covent Garden and bike around London to see the sights! Santander Cycles is London’s self-service, bike-sharing scheme and you can hire a bike from as little as £2.”
2) Take Advantage Of The Pre-Theater Set Menus At The West End Restaurants
“Exploring London’s West End can be a pricey experience. You might be looking for a nice meal on a budget or perhaps a bite to eat before (or after) a trip to the theater. Either way, between food, service charges and theater tickets you can be looking at a really expensive night out.
Consider dining at one of many restaurants in TheatreLand (the area around the West End) and take advantage of the pre-theater set menus on offer. Most restaurants have these menus available at specific time slots and you don’t HAVE to go to the theater after. If you want to sightsee you can grab a quick two or three course meal for usually less than £20, sometimes including wine!
Some venues are popular and require a reservation to ensure you get a table, but at many you can arrive and be seated almost instantly. It really depends on the day and the time of year.”
3) Go Up To The Sky Garden
“Not many tourists know that you can climb to the top of a sky scraper in the City of London and admire the panoramic views over the English capital, for free. The City of London is usually avoided by the tourists, thinking that this is just a financial district. It is, however, the home of some of the most amazing roof top bars in town.
In order to get to the Sky Garden you have to make an online booking (at least 2 weeks before, even more in summer) and choose your desired time slot. No worries, it is free. I suggest researching when the sunset is and go then, if the sky is clear you will be in for a feast. You can spend as much time as you want once you are inside and you can even have a drink at one of the bars or enjoy a concert up there. The entire rooftop of the building is transformed into a tropical garden so expect it to be quite hot.”
4) Check Out The Free Museums
“Want to see Picasso, Van Gogh, and Monet paintings up close? For FREE?
Yes, London has over 20 FREE museums to visit. See Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, and Da Vinci’s works at the National Gallery, or stroll through Tate Modern, a former power plant, which showcases modern artists such as Picasso, Dalí, and Warhol. You can also explore world history through amazing artifacts, like the Rosetta Stone, at the British Museum.”
– John Graham from Johnny Worldwide
5) Wander The Stalls At Camden Market
“In London, you don’t need to spend anything on entertainment to enjoy yourself for days. Go to the markets, especially the Camden Market. You can wander the stalls and take in the bustle of the city. The markets make for some of the best people watching in London. Afterwards, head to one of the fantastic and free museums, like the Tate Modern or British Museum, watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and enjoy the amazing public parks like Kensington Gardens or Hyde Park.”
6) Stay In Student Dorms And Head To Covent Garden And Soho For Cheap Drinks
“It’s no secret that London is an expensive place to go for a drink but there is a way to enjoy a cocktail or two without breaking the bank. You’ll be hard pressed to beat the price of Weatherspoon pubs, which can be found all over the city, but if you’re looking for something a little fancier, a lot of great bars offer great happy hour deals. Head to the Earlham Street Clubhouse in Covent Garden between Monday and Saturday from 5-7pm to enjoy £5 cocktails, something practically unheard of in the city centre. If you’re looking to branch out into some of the more trendy boroughs then Venn Street Record in Clapham and Rum Kitchen in SoHo have similar offers to go alongside their young, laid back vibes.
Accommodation can be notoriously expensive in London, even for a bed in a shared dorm, so it can be best to think a little unconventionally. Kings College London rents out its student accommodation over the summer months (July to September usually), allowing you a lot more privacy that a dorm whilst retaining the community feel of a hostel. They have buildings all over the city so it might be worth a look.”
7) Eat At The City’s Street Food Markets
“If you’re visiting London, but don’t want to break the bank, here’s a great tip to save those pennies. After a long day of sightseeing, you’ll probably want to refuel with some delicious food, so head to one of London’s many food markets for some tasty treats that won’t make a huge dent in your wallet. There are many food markets to choose from around London, including Borough Market by London Bridge, Greenwich Market, or one of the many street food markets in Shoreditch, such as BOXPARK. The best thing about these markets is that you can take your pick from any number of cuisines from up-and-coming culinary talents at affordable prices.”
8) Wait Until The Last Minute When Booking Theater Tickets
“When I booked a month-long stay in London as part of my RTW trip, I didn’t even consider trying to see a play on the West End. That must cost an arm and a leg right? But after a couple weeks passing ads on the Underground, I decided to check show times online at Londontheatre.co.uk and lo and behold! There were seats at Wicked that night for 17.50 pounds. On arrival, I found out that price even included a glass of prosecco! And I didn’t feel I had a bad view despite being in one of the last rows. If you’re a solo traveler interested in London theater, wing it!”
9) Rent A Private Room In Canary Wharf
“Accommodation in London can be very pricey, especially during the summer time or pretty much always during the weekends. Instead of booking a hotel, try to find a private room in a shared flat, on Airbnb, for example. For as low as 40-50 pounds a night (for 2-3 people) you can live in a neat flat in the city centre (within the zones 1-2). Canary Wharf is a great district that has tons of modern flats in great condition close to various tube stations.”
10) Take The Bus Instead Of The Tube
“London is famed both for the Tube (its underground railway system) and its red double-decker buses. Given the choice, I’d go with the city buses any day! For one, the buses are a lot cheaper. A single bus fare costs £1.50 for adults, while a Tube ride costs at least £2.40 per ride. The price for a Tube ride goes up depending on how far you’re going and whether or not you are using an Oyster card. Furthermore, any bus transfers within the hour are free, and there’s a daily cap to your fare of £4.50.
The best part is, you’re actually traveling above ground unlike with the Tube, and the views are exceptionally good from the upper deck of the bus. You’re getting where you need to be for cheap and getting a free city tour out of it… a win-win!”
11) Experience ‘Alternative’ London
“You know what they say, always ask a local. Alternative London is a social enterprise created to put London’s underground art scene on display guided by those that know it best — the artists. The first “pay-as-you wish” company to offer tours, they also offer bike tours, brewery tours, food tours, and workshops for a nominal fee. Along the East End route, you’ll be introduced to works by Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Invader, and many other up-and-coming street artists. The area is a thriving hub that fosters creativity outside the confines of a traditional museum. The tours are a must-see to get acquainted with London’s cultural scene.”
12) Go On A Free Walking Tour
“The most wonderful thing about London is that a large part of it is walkable. Since there are so many travelers coming through the city every day, there are also many, many options for free walking tours that are funded on tips! The one I went on was 3 hours (pretty standard length) and covered the East side of London – including Buckingham Palace, Prince Harry’s House, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben!
You can find the best ones online, through TripAdvisor or Google, or search through the maps and brochures that your hostel provides! Many tour companies will distribute free materials like maps to get the word out about their tours.”
13) Explore The City’s Amazing Parks
“London has many beautiful parks that you can visit for free and they are all unique for different reasons. If you like bird watching I highly recommend Regent’s Park, which is home to many bird species. You can spot Mandarin ducks, herons, parrots, jays and black swans, just to mention a few. From there you can make your way to Primrose Hill which will give you a great view of the city centre and the London Zoo. Don’t forget your kite at home if you have one as you can hardly find a better place to fly it!
Hampstead Heath is great for the more adventurous type. It is wilder, has woods, which is perfect to hang a hammock. On a hot day you can even go for a swim in one of the ponds. Richmond Park and Bushy park are both great for spotting deer and climbing trees.”
What are your tips for traveling to London on a budget? Please share in the comments below!
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