People always assume you need a lot of money to travel to London, and yes it is a pretty expensive city, but visiting London on a tight budget is totally possible – I did it!
I arrived in the UK in September 2015 and did a lot of research on how to explore London cheaply whilst still enjoying the experiences the city has to offer. Here are my budget travel tips for London…
First of all catch a National Express bus from the airport (or anywhere in England) to London. This is the cheapest option for transport and these buses generally drop off at Victoria Station, which is a very central spot to start exploring the city. If you catch the train, get off at the famous St. Pancras Station, it’s nice enough to photograph.
For travel within the city, the tubes (underground trains) are the quickest way to get around if you’re on a time limit. But it’s also hot, uncomfortable, and there’s an un-written rule that no-one inside is allowed to talk and must have headphones in at all times. To travel on the tube you have to buy an Oyster card and load £12 onto it for a day trip (approximately $30AUD at the time I travelled).
So as always, I recommend walking everywhere to save money on transport, and it’s my favourite thing to do when in a city for the first time. Or you can hire a bike for just £2 and drop it off at any of the bike stations scattered around the city.We hired our bikes from Hyde Park and cycled around…the scenery there is so pretty.
Maps in tourist shops are expensive so you can always use your smartphone if you have one. But if you’re like me and want to have a physical map, just ask your hostel (or any hostel) for a free map. Most busy places have big public maps that show you exactly where you are. However if you get lost, lose your own map and your phone dies, just ask someone for directions…most people will be happy to help you.
For short-term budget accommodation I always compare AirBnB (which can work out really cheap when travelling with a partner or friend) or hostels. I was literally just looking for a bed for the night so I stayed at Dover Castle Hostel both times, which wasn’t the best accommodation but only £10 per night which included breakfast!
Tip: Make sure to research in advance if there are any big events happening in London on the dates you’re planning to visit. That was a mistake we made when Will and I came to London for my birthday without booking anything beforehand. Turned out that that night there was an important Rugby game on and every single hostel in all of London was completely booked out and we couldn’t find any last minute AirBnB accommodation. So we ended up having to stay in a crap hotel a few stops outside of the city for £90 per night! It was still a special trip though.
To save money on food, shop at a supermarket and cook your own food…it’s as simple as that. Restaurants and cafes aren’t the best for budget travellers heading to London, but most (if not all) hostels have a kitchen that you can use to prepare your meals. Or if you really want to eat like a local, go to any traditional English Pub.
Yep unlike in Australia, toilets usually aren’t free in most European countries, in London you usually pay around 50p ($1AUD). But my tip for you is that Starbucks toilets are free! They’re obviously just for customers but a lot of the time the staff won’t notice if you casually walk through 😉
Things To Do In London For Free
Do A Free Walking Tour
I’ve said it in many of my blog posts and I’ll say it again. Sandman’s Free Walking tours are an awesome way to get your bearings in a new city and learn about it’s culture. The walking tours are completely free, however the tour guides do ask for tips at the end.
Take A Selfie With Big Ben
Did you know that Big Ben is just a nickname of the bell within the Elizabeth Tower of the Parliament House? Big Ben’s official name is actually ‘The Great Bell.’
Here you’ll find storms of tourists with selfie sticks trying to find Big Ben.
Find a Red Phone Booth
Watch People Queue For Hours To Get On The London Eye
If you want to go on the London Eye I recommend booking tickets online and if you’re planning on seeing other popular London attractions then getting a package deal will work out a lot cheaper. Or you can just go see it for free without going for a ride.
Trafalgar Square is a popular meeting spot in the city and nice to sit down, take a break and people watch.
Play With Squirrels at Hyde Park
This park is HUGE. There are many different paths to take and each being as picturesque as the other with cute squirrels running around everywhere. The locals are used to it but seeing squirrels is such a cool attraction, especially for Aussies who likely haven’t seen squirrels before.
Tip: Squirrels are afraid of humans and will only approach you if they believe you have nuts for them. And as strange as it sounds I happened to have a tub of Nutella in my bag when I was walking around Hyde Park and they absolutely loved it!
St Jame’s, Regent’s or Greenwich Parks are also nice to wander through to get away from the city chaos.
Changing Of The Guard In Buckingham Palace
This is so funny to watch, well for me anyway, as you get to see the serious Buckingham Palace Guards march around to live music. The Changing of the Guard is on every second morning so if you’re only visiting for a short time double check the dates so you don’t miss out.
Tower Bridge & Tower Of London
I love bridges and I think this is one of the coolest ones I’ve had the opportunity to see. Admiring architecture is obviously free but if it’s in your budget you can also do a paid expedition inside the Tower Bridge.
Tower Of London
Next to Tower Bridge you’ll also find the 1000+ year old Tower of London. You need to pay for a ticket to get in (which I definitely recommend) or you can see it from the outside.
St Paul’s Cathedral & The Barbican
If you love architecture, head over to St. Paul’s Cathedral to admire it’s beauty.
Not far from there you’ll find The Barbican with some cool fountains inside and has a relaxed vibe to the place.
Be On The East & West Part Of The Globe At The Same Time
If you visit Greenwich park you’ll have the chance to step onto the Prime Meridian, which is the line that divides Earth into two hemispheres on a map of the world. Not exactly sure why it was decided that the line would go straight through a huge city, but it’s pretty cool anyway.
Museums & Galleries
Most museums in London are meant to be free but they will usually ask for a £5 donation at the entrance, which isn’t compulsory. I don’t generally get excited about visiting a museum but from what I’ve heard, some good ones in London are: The National History Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, The Museum of London and The National Galley.
Piccadilly Circus, Regent St & Oxford St
These streets are the shopping hub of London, which get especially hectic during Christmas time! You’ll find pretty much every popular international brand sold here.
You’ll also find a giant Toy Store called Hamley’s which is every kid’s dream, as well as M&M’s World which is 3 storeys full of chocolate!
The Borough Market
This famous market IS as good as it’s made to seem, and it’s open every day. You can buy some really awesome stuff here or even just window shop. There are many food stalls to choose from as well.
Watch The Sunset Over The River Thames
Watching sunsets are one of my favourite things to do, and you can do it from anywhere in the world, for free! London does have some beautiful sunsets too.
So if you really want to visit London but are worried that it will break your budget, don’t worry, you can still enjoy all the free stuff!
I really love the city of London so I’m sure there will be many more times that I visit. There is so much more to do in London that isn’t free, so hopefully next time I’ll have a bigger budget and will be able to share more with you. But for now I hope you enjoyed this Budget Traveller’s Guide, and of course if you do have a bigger budget and would prefer a more comfortable experience you can book a local guide to take you on a private tour of London here.
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