This is a guide for tourists and visitors who want to travel London on a budget. Follow my suggestions and I promise you will save a lot of money during your stay in the British capital. This blog post includes money saving tips and tricks about public transport, cheap accommodations, cheap eats, low budget alternatives to expensive tourist attractions, free activities and spots as well as cheap nights out in London.
Tips on Traveling London on a Budget
Table of Content
- Travelling to London
- Public transport in London
- Cheap accommodations in London
- Cheap eats in London
- Low budget alternatives to expensive tourist attractions
- Free tourist attractions in London (museums, viewpoints, parks, markets, squares)
- Cheap nights out in London
--> More than 40 tips on how to travel London on a budget!
Tips on how to travel to London on budget
Tip 1: Flexibility
Don´t plan to visit London on a fixed date. Be flexible! To search flights I can recommend the website Skyscanner.com. Enter your departure airport and click on "Add nearby airports". Enter "London (Any)" as arrival airport because there are 5 different airports in London. Under "depart" and "return" choose "Whole month" and then your desired month. Then the flight fares of all flights within the selected month are shown and you can book the cheapest combination of flights.
Tip 2: Airport bus and tube instead of express trains
When arriving at the airport in London go to the city center by tube (from Heathrow / travelling time 50 minutes or London City / travelling time 30 minutes) or by airport bus (from Stansted, Gatwick or Luton / travelling time ~1.5 hours / costs ~£10). The bus tickets can be bought online in advance. It is likely to get a discount online. When taking the tube, use an Oyster Card.
Money saving tips - public transport in London
Tip 1: Buy an Oyster Card
When travelling to London, it is great to have an Oyster Card. It is a smart travel card, which can hold pay as you go credit. You can use it for public transport (tube, overground, busses, National Rail trains, DLR, Emirates cable car). There are two types of Oyster Cards; a Visitor Oyster Card and a "normal" Oyster Card. The main difference between these two Oyster Cards is that the Visitor Oyster Card offers some discounts for tourist attractions, restaurants and shops.
A Visitor Oyster Card can only be bought in advance online. A standard delivery (£2.25) takes 3 - 4 working days, an express delivery (£9.75) 2 - 3 working days (UK). Costs: £15 including £10 credit plus delivery costs.
When time is short or you don´t want to pay the delivery costs, you can buy a "normal" Oyster Card in London, e.g. in the tube stations (also at the airport) or in many shops. Costs: £5 plus credit.
But why is the Oyster Card a money saving tip for London? Because it is cheaper than buying a paper single ticket and the daily amount you pay for your travel is limited.
- The costs of travelling from Heathrow to the centre are £6.00. With an Oyster Card you pay only £5.10 during Peak Time (Monday to Friday between 06:30-9:30 am. and between 4-7 pm.) or £3.10 Off Peak.
- The costs for a single journey in zone 1 are £4.90 without an Oyster Card and £2.40 with it.
- The maximum daily budget in zones 1 and 2, where most tourist attractions are, is £6.80. A Day Travel Card costs £12.70.
All benefits of the (Visitor) Oyster Card at a glance:
- Don´t care about zones! The Oyster Card is valid in all zones
- Save money! It offers up to 50% discount on single journeys
- Save time! You don´t have to queue at ticket machines
- Plan your budget! The daily limit of £6.80 (Zone 1-2) cannot be exceeded
- Save more money! The Visitor Oyster Card offers discounts for tourist attractions, restaurants and shops
- Get a refund! At the end of your stay you can get a refund on your leftover credit (Visitor Oyster Card)
Interesting discounts Visitor Oyster Card:
- Café / Bakery PAUL - One free croissant with the purchase of a hot drink until 11am
- Restaurant "Where the pancakes are" - 10% off whole bill
- Thames Clippers River Bus - Save up to 19% on single journeys
- The London Bridge Experience - 2-for-1 on tickets
- M&Ms World - 15% off your entire purchase in-store
- Beatles Store - Free Beatles goodie bag with a minimum spend of £5
- London Designer Outlet - Get an additional 10% off from the already discounted prices
Overview travel cards London
Tip 2: Take the city bus instead of the Hop On Hop Off bus
A Hop On Hop Off ticket in London costs approx. £30. But London has an excellent extended bus network and as described above you only pay £6.80 for driving around by bus a whole day. Bus 24 or bus 15 in combination with bus 9 is great for a small sightseeing tour.
- Stops bus 24: Westminster Cathedral (600 meters to Buckingham Palace), Westminster Abbey, (500 meters to Big Ben, Westminster Palace, Westminster Bridge, Thames), Trafalga Square, Leicester Square (500 meters to Piccadilly Circus), Percy Street (600 meters to British Museum), Camden Town (500 meters to Camden Market), Mansfield Road (Hampstead Heath)
- Stops bus 15: Algate East (500 meters to Brick Lane Market), Tower of London, Monument, St. Pauls Cathedral, Charing Cross (change to bus 9)
- Stops bus 9: Charing Cross, Trafalga Square (500 meters to Piccadilly Circus), Green Park (Buckingham Palace), Hyde Park Corner, Harrods, Exhibition Road (Natural History Museum, V&A Museum), Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Palace
Tip 3: Divide London in parts and explore it on foot
You want to visit the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Portobello Road Market and Camden Market in one day? Then you need to take the bus or tube! My suggestion for saving money on public transport is to divide London in neighborhoods and explore them on foot. A nice walk is from Tower of London via Tower Bridge along the Thames to London Bridge. Close to that bridge is the Borough Market. After visiting the market, keep walking along the river until you reach Tate Modern. Cross the Millennium Bridge and walk straight to St. Pauls Cathedral (approx. 3.5 km).
The next day walk from Piccadilly Circus via Trafalgar Square to Westminster Palace (Big Ben). Close to it is Westminster Abbey. Then walk via St. James Park and Green Park (Buckingham Palace) to Hyde Park. Leave this park and enter the famous shopping street Oxford Street (approx. 5.5 km).
Find more information on how to see all famous sightseeing spots in 3 days without spending a lot of money for public transport here.
Cheap accommodations in London
Tip 1: Book cheap hotel chains in advance
Hotels can be very expensive when booking last minute. Try to book as much in advance as possible. Cheap and well located hotels are Point A Hotel (from £59) Shoreditch, Liverpool Street or Kings Cross, Easy Hotel Old Street, Victoria or South Kensington (from £22) as well as Ibis Budget Whitechapel (from £50).
Tip 2: AirBnB
A great alternative to hotels to save money is AirBnB. During our last stay in London we booked a room via AirBnB in Shoreditch for approx. 50€ per night. Our host Amelia has a beautiful, clean and large apartment with 2 bedrooms. Close to her apartment is the famous Brick Lane Market, the Old Spitalfields Market and many restaurants and pubs. The tube station Liverpool Street can be reached within a few minutes.
Cheap eats in London
Tip 1: Street food instead of restaurants
In London there are many great street markets. Most of them offer delicious street food and the prices are lower than in restaurant. Particular delicious street food can be found on Brick Lane Market and Borough Market. But also Camden Market, Portobello Road Market, Old Spitalfields Market and Greenwich Market have amazing street food stalls. Another tip: Some stalls offer small bits to try. In this way you can satisfy the first small hunger.
Tip 2: Cheap restaurant chains
In London there are many restaurant chains. Some of them offer delicious food at affordable prices. I would like to recommend the following chains:
- The Diner:
The restaurant The Diner is designed like an American diner. They offer delicious and cheap burgers from £5.95; plus fries and coke £11.25. The chain has restaurants in Shoreditch, Camden, Soho and Covent Garden.
- Pret A Manger
Pret is everywhere in London. They offer a great selection of food like sandwiches (£2.99), wraps (£3.75) or salads (£3.99) but also soups, sushi, croissants, muffins and a lot more. And the coffee is cheaper than Starbuck coffee but at least as delicious.
- Franco Manca
At Franco Manca you get delicious pizza. The cheapest one costs £4.95. The restaurant can be found close to Covent Garden, Liverpool Street or in Soho.
- Hummus Bros
The Hummus brothers offer a bowl of hummus with pita bread and one topping; e.g. chicken with guacamole. One bowl starts from £6. Moreover, you can order salads or wraps. The restaurant can be found in Soho, close to the British Museums, St. Pauls or Monument.
The Mexican restaurant Chipotle offers delicious burritos, burrito bowls or salads for approx. £7. For only £3 you get a small taco. The restaurant can be found close to Liverpool Street, Covent Garden or Baker Street.
Tip 3: Cheap restaurants
You are not a big fan of restaurant chains? Here are some great and cheap restaurants.
- Meraz Café (Shoreditch)
The Indian restaurant Meraz Café is located at Hanbury Street close to Brick Lane in Shoreditch. It is well-known for delicious curry at an unbeatable price. But they also offer other dishes for less than £5.
- Fifty Five Bar (Camden)
During Happy Hour (Monday to Saturday 5 - 8 pm.) the Fifty Five Bar offers two pizzas for £10.
- Hook (Camden)
When visiting London you have to try fish and chips. The restaurant Hook in Camden Town offers delicous fish and chips from £10.
- Kerbisher & Malt (Hammersmith)
Also Kerbisher & Malt offers great fish and chips from £7.
- The Drunken Oyster (Close to Buckingham Palace)
During Happy Hour (daily between 3-6 pm.) The Drunken Oyster offers Pizza Margherita including a drink for £9.
- Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar (Chinatown)
The Asian restaurant Lanzhou Lamian Noodle Bar offers great Asian food e.g. soups from £4.25 or main dishes for approx. £8.
- Stone Cave (Dalston)
The restaurant Stone Cave offers cheap brunch or lunch: Turkish breakfast from £5.95, wraps from £4.95, paninis from £3.95 or pasta and healthy lunch from £6.95.
Tip 4: Choose the right neighbourhood
Apart from the restaurant chains, that have the same prices in all neighbourhoods, you should not search for cheap restaurants close to the famous tourist attractions. If you like Chinese food go to Chinatown. If you like Indian food or Oriental cuisine go to Shoreditch.
Tip 5: How to tip the waiters
Sometimes the service charge is included on the invoice. Then it is not common to tip again. If it is not included leave 10-15% of the bill. In bars or pubs tipping is not common and also for fast food, takeaway or self-service tipping is not common.
Tip 6: To-Go meals from supermarkets
To eat in a restaurant every day can be very expensive. Good for you that London has a lot of supermarkets offering great to-go meals.
Cheap alternatives to expensive tourist attractions in London
Tip 1: Sky Garden instead of The Shard
Instead of paying £22.95 (online) or £30.95 (on-site) for a great view from The Shard, book some free tickets for Sky Garden, which also offers a great view. Tickets for the following week are released every Monday.
Tip 2: St Thomas Hospital instead of London Eye
Instead of paying £22.95 (online) for the London Eye to enjoy a great view at Westminster Palace go to St Thomas Hospital. The restaurant offers a great view free of charge.
Tip 3: Self-guided Harry Potter tour instead of Harry Potter studios
The Harry Potter studios in London are great but also expensive (from £39 + journey to Watford). If you are short of money but you love Harry Potter, go on a self-guided tour to famous filming locations in London. A map and more information can be found here. If you like guided tours, go on a Free Walking Tour.
Tip 4: Attend the Ceremony of the Keys instead of visiting Tower of London
Admission for the Tower of London is £22.70. Very expensive in my opinion. My money saving tip: Be part of the Ceremony of the Keys inside Tower of London instead. Admission is only £1. The bad news: Tickets are limited, and are usually sold out at least 12 months in advance.
Tip 5: Attend services at Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls instead of a normal visit
Do you want to see Westminster Abby or St. Pauls Cathedral from the inside but £20 admission is too much for you? Then attend evening services. There is no charge and you do not need to reserve a seat in advance. Times St Pauls: Monday-Saturday 5 pm.; Sunday 3.15 pm. / Westminster Abbey: Monday-Friday 5 pm.; Saturday and Sunday 3 pm.
Tip 6: Celebraties in Hampstead instead of wax figures at Madame Tussauds
Many celebrities live in London. The best chance to meet an actor, model or musician is in Hampstead or at Leicester Square during a movie premiere. Of course you can also stare at wax figures for £29 (online ticket).
Tip 7: Changing the Guards instead of Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is open for visitors from the end of July to the end of September; admission £24. But it is also great to look at the palace from the outside, especially when the change of guards takes place. Times: April - July daily at 11 am and August - March every second day at 11 am. Another alternative is to visit the Queens Gallery, an art gallery at Buckingham Palace (£11) or the Royal Mews (£11).
Tip 8: Kinky Boots instead of Lion King
I love musicals and in London are many of them. Some of them are expensive like Lion King (from £50); others cheap like Kinky Boots from £15. Because there are so many shows in London, the less known are rarely sold out. Therefore you can ask at the box office if there are some cheap seats left. This is how we saw the Beatles Musical for £10.
Tip 9: Free shows instead of expensive tickets
There are also some shows in London which are free of charge like the comedy show at the Angel Comedy Club in Islington. More information under the last point "Cheap nights out in London".
Tip 10: Street artists instead of shows and concerts
On every corner in London you can find street artist who want to entertain you. Popular places for that are Covent Garden, Camden High Street, crowded tube stations, the southern bank of the Thames (from the Tower Bridge to Tate Modern) or Piccadilly Circus.
Tip 11: Live musis in pubs instead of concerts
In London there are some pubs, where concerts take place for free or for a little money. Check out some pubs in Camden or Shoreditch for it. A nice pub, which offers free concerts from time to time, is the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch. Cheap concerts take place for example at The Dublin Castle in Camden.
Tip 12: Watch a second league football game instead of premier league
First, it is not easy to buy tickets for Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham. Second it can be very expensive. I would suggest watching a game of FC Fulham. The old charming stadium Craven Cottage is unique in the football world. You can sit on the oldest stand in the professional English football sector and during half time break you can enjoy a pint with a great view at the Thames.
Tip 13: Permanent exhibition of public museums instead of private museums
In London there are many museums and the permanent exhibitions of the public ones are for free. Which free museums should not be missed out when visiting London, can be found under point 6 "Free museums in London".
Tip 14: Street art in Shoreditch instead of art galleries
Of course you don´t have to go to a museum. You can also explore art in the streets of London. Great places for it are Shoreditch or Camden.
Tip 15: Online tickets instead of tickets on-site
If you want to visit one of the famous and expensive tourist attractions, you should buy a ticket in advance. Normally it is cheaper than buying a ticket on-site. Only for less known shows, I would try to buy a ticket at the box office (see tip 7).
Free tourist attractions in London
It is no problem to spend a sightseeing weekend in London without spending any money for tourist attractions because there are a lot of great spots free of charge.
Tip 1: Free museums in London
In London there are many museums and the public once are all free of charge; at least the permanent exhibitions. The following museums are well worth visiting and have no admission fee:
- British Museum- one of the biggest and most visited museums worldwide
- Natural History Museum - a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history
- Victoria & Albert Museum - the biggest collection of applied arts, crafts and design worldwide
- Tate Modern - one of the most popular museums for modern art worldwide
- National Gallery - one of the largest collection of paintings from the 13th - 20th Century
- Science Museum - revolutionary invention from the fields of science, medicine, industry, etc.
- Museum of London - museum about the history of London
Tip 2: Free viewpoints in London
I love viewpoints and sky bars which offer a great view offer a city. In London the following locations offer a great view completely free of charge:
Tip 3: Free parks in London
London has many parks, where you can have a picnic or just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. In these parks you can discover small lakes, statues, dinosaurs or deer. Particular beautiful parks are:
- Hyde Park - the most famous park in London (zone 1)
- St James Park - the oldest royal park in London (zone 1)
- Green Park - here is the Buckingham Palace (zone 1)
- Kensington Gardens - here is the Kensington Palace (zone 1)
- Regents Park - here is the zoo (zone 1-2)
- Holland Park - inside this park is a Japanese garden "Kyoto Garden" (zone 2)
- Hampstead Heath - one of the highest parks in London with a great view (zone 2-3)
- Greenwich Park - here is the zero meridian (zone 2-3)
- Crystal Palace Park - here are some life-size dinosaurs statues (zone 3-4)
- Richmond Park - observe some deer here (zone 4)
Tip 4: Markets in London
In London there are many great street markets offering everything you can imagine like art, fashion, antiques or delicious street food. But don´t shop too much, otherwise my money saving tip is gone ;) More information about the most beautiful markets in London, can be found here.
- Camden Market - maybe the most popular market in London
- Portobello Road Market - one of the largest antique markets worldwide
- Covent Garden Market - a popular tourist area
- Borough Market - the oldest farmers market in London
- Old Spitalfields Market - my favourite market
- Brick Lane Market - best street food in London
- Leadenhall Market - beautiful Harry Potter film location
- Greenwich Market - an UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Columbia Road Flower Market - popular flower market (only on Sunday)
Tip 5: Other free popular locations (squares, streets, shops) in London
- Piccadilly Circus - well known for huge digital advertising banners
- Trafalgar Square - here is the National Gallery, the Nelson Column and 4 huge lion statues
- Leicester Square - often movie premiers take place here (China Town and M&Ms World are close)
- Covent Garden - popular neighbourhood / many street artists
- Thames - walk along the Thames to see many popular tourist attractions
- Kings Cross - Harry Potter fans can visit Platform 9 3/4 and a HP fan shop
- Abbey Road - the famous crosswalk covers a Beatles record
- Little Venice - the neighbourhood looks a little bit like Venice
- M&Ms World - a huge shop full of chocolate and great M&Ms statues
Cheap nights out in London
Going out at night in London can be super expensive. Therefore, I listed some money saving tips for a great night out in London. A word in advance: Although in November 2005 the closing hour in England and Wales was abolished officially, some pubs still close their door at 11 pm and some clubs at 2 am. Thus, don´t go out too late!
Tip 1: Cheap musicals in London
World famous shows like Lion King are pretty expensive but there are also other great shows in London which are a lot cheaper like Young Frankenstein at Garrick Theater, Kinky Boots at Adelphi Theater or Wicked at Apollo Victoria Theater. Tickets start from £15 (Kinky Boots) or £20. Don´t be afraid to book the cheapest tickets. Most venues are not very large and you have a great view at the stage from all seats.
Tip 2: Free comedy night at Angel Comedy Club
Like described above there are free shows in London like the comedy night at Angel Comedy Club in Islington. "Always free! Always fun!" Every night at 8 pm. Arrive early (latest 7:30 pm) to get a free ticket. Next tube station is Angel (Northern Line). From the station it´s a 3 minute walk to the pub "Camden Head", where the show takes place.
Tip 3: Free walking tours at night
Tip 4: Discover London at night
In particular during summer it can be great exploring London by night. Walk along the Thames and enjoy the illuminated Palace of Westminster or the illuminated Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Also Piccadilly Circus is well worth seeing at night.
Tip 5: Use the Happy Hour
Some bars in London offer a great Happy Hour and you should take advantage of it.
- My favourite Happy-Hour or Amigo Hour is at Barrio Shoreditch. Daily until 8 pm (Sunday and Monday the whole night) you get cocktails for £5.50 or a bottle of beer from £3.50. Order at the bar, otherwise you have to pay 12.5% service charge.
- Locking for a bar close to King´s Cross or in Camden? Then Simmons Bar is a good choice. On Saturday you get two cocktails for £10. Any other day (4-9 pm) there are also other great offers like a bottle of beer or a glass of wine for £2.50.
- In Soho (close to Piccadilly Circus) Rum Kitchen has cheap drinks during Happy Hour (daily 5-7 pm.) like special cocktails for £5.
Tip 6: Choose the right neighbourhood
You like to go out at night without spending a fortune? Then don´t go out in Soho or Chelsea. Go to Shoreditch, Camden or Dalston. That´s a lot cheaper. Some nice not too expensive pubs and bars in these neighbourhoods are listed below.
- The Pride of Spitalfields - an authentic pub close to Brick Lane
- Queen of Hoxton - great roof top bar (roof is open between 4-10 pm.)
- The Old Blue Last - sometimes free concerts
- Barrio Shoreditch - colourful theme rooms
- Simmons Bar - great offers during Happy Hour (different locations)
- Fifty Five Bar - delicious cocktails with an unpretentious, buzzing atmosphere
- The Dublin Castle - cheap concerts
- The Hawley Arms - it used to be one of Amy Winehouse´s local pubs
Finally, a general money saving tip for London: The website Time Out London publishes post about free things regularly. Check it out before going to London. I hope my tips will help you to enjoy London on a budget.
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