Ways to Save Money in London

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Seek out just about any list naming the “most expensive cities in the world,” and chances are that London, England, will be on it.

London is a pricey city to live in. There's no arguing that fact. But this also means that London is a pricey city to visit, too — especially if you're coming from overseas and getting hit by tough exchange rates.

So, as someone who both loves London and also loves saving money when in expensive cities, I've come up with some tried and true ways to save money in London.

Tips for visiting London on a budget

London budget accommodation

Hotel prices in London are sky-high, and the city's hotels as a whole have been named some of the worst in the world. Ideally you would have friends or family in London to stay with (really the best way to experience any city), but, if you don't, there are still options beyond mediocre hotels.

Hostels in London

London has some really great hostels in various neighborhoods, and most of them do NOT offer the stereotypical sterile dorm rooms so many people associate hostels with. In fact, many of them are just as good if not better than hotels — but with more on offer at a fraction of the price.

The best London hostels tend to have character. They are located in historic buildings, cottages, and even former courthouses. They are usually ideally located, clean, and way more fun than a hotel. These days, most of them offer private rooms along with dorm beds, too.

Check out the city's YHA properties, Palmer's Lodge, and Safestay for some affordable yet surprisingly luxurious options.

London

Renting an apartment

If potentially sharing your space with others isn't an idea you're into, consider another hotel alternative — renting out an apartment for your holiday.

Sites like VRBO and Airbnb list whole apartments (as well as private rooms) that can be rented out for anywhere from a few days to a few months. Renting an apartment is usually around the same price as booking a hotel room (though some can actually be quite a bit cheaper!), but you get the added bonus of having all the amenities of a home — including a kitchen.

If you are traveling as a family or larger group, renting an apartment could potentially save you a ton of money over booking multiple hotel rooms.

(If you want a free credit for Airbnb, go here to get it!)

London transportation budget tips

London has a pretty great public transportation system. But traveling on it sure doesn't come cheap. Here are some tips on how to get around London as cheaply as possible:

Buy an Oyster card

The standard price for a single ride on the Tube (AKA the Underground, AKA the Subway) runs about £4.50 (equivalent to more than $7 USD!!!) within Zones 1 and 2. That's A LOT of money to ride a train.

To cut down on costs, purchase an Oyster card. These little blue cards shave off over 50% of the price of a Tube ride — a single fare with an Oyster card costs £2.10 (about $3.30 USD). You can top up your Oyster card at just about any Tube station, making it a great pay-as-you-go option.

London
Photo by amandabhslater, on Flickr

And the best part? There are now daily price caps on fares if you pay with an Oyster card. During peak hours on the Tube, the price cap is £8.40, while it's £7 during off-peak hours. This means if you're doing a lot of sightseeing, you won't pay a bajillion dollars in transport fares.

Taking buses instead of the Tube

Although taking the underground is so very British, it is by far one of the most expensive ways to get around London. When possible, take the bus instead. This is still very British (I mean, can you GET more British than a big red double-decker bus??), but not nearly as expensive.

A single ride on a London bus costs £2.40 if you pay cash, or £1.40 if you pay using your Oyster card. (And here, too, there's a daily price cap if you use an Oyster card — £4.40).

Take the Tube from Heathrow

Want to know a secret? If you fly into Heathrow (likely if you're coming from overseas, but not necessarily a given since there are 4 airports that serve London), you don't have to catch a cab or book a seat on the expensive Heathrow Express train into the city (a one-way ticket is £20!).

You can actually just take the Tube! The Piccadilly Line connects all of the terminals at Heathrow, and can have you in central London in an hour or so. And it will cost you as little as £3 with an Oyster card if you're traveling during off-peak hours.

London

London entertainment tips

We've established that London is expensive. But the good news is that, when it comes to entertainment, there's actually a lot to do in the city that won't cost you anything at all.

Go to museums

London's museums (like most museums in the UK) are FREE to visit. Check out the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Imperial War Museum, the Museum of London, and many more for absolutely nothing.

These are perfect if you're met with one of London's infamous bad-weather days.

London

Free walking tours

Want to get to know London on foot? There are tours for that — FREE tours, no less. The most popular and well-known free walking tour of London is Sandeman's New London tour, which runs twice daily (at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) from Hyde Park Corner. Alternatively, Discover Walks also offers 3 different themed free walking tours of London each day.

For these, you're expected to tip your guide afterwards (usually £5-10 per person is a good amount, depending on the length of tour).

Sightsee for free

Many of the best things to see/do in London won't cost you a penny. My favorite suggestions include:

  • Walk along the South Bank of the Thames, from Parliament to Tower Bridge (you'll see all the city's best bridges and buildings, and be entertained by plenty of buskers)
  • Stroll through Hyde Park, being sure to stop at Speaker's Corner
  • Window shop along Oxford Street
  • Visit Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square
  • Witness the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
  • Explore Camden Market
  • Re-enact the famous Beatles street crossing at Abbey Road
  • Walk along the Regent's Canal
  • Straddle the Prime Meridian in Greenwich

London

Cheap shows

Want to catch a West End show (think Broadway, but in London) while you're in town? Well, just like in New York City, you can purchase discounted tickets at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square (up to 50% off) on the day of performances. (Though, if you know what day you want to go see a show, you can often get cheaper tickets in advance online.)

If Broadway isn't your thing, perhaps Shakespeare is? You can watch a show at The Globe theater (a replica of the playhouse that staged many of The Bard's works) for as little as £5.

London food tips

There are SO MANY options when it comes to eating in London that finding something to fit your budget shouldn't be a problem. But I do have one fun option to share with you:

Eat your way through the Borough Market

Located at the southern end of London Bridge, the Borough Market is one of the largest food markets in London. Ideal days to visit are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, when this market is THE place to go if you're into food.

Not only can you experience a different side of London here, but you can sample and buy some delicious gourmet food from all over the world. Not all of it is cheap, but it's nevertheless a much better option than sitting down in another restaurant.

Getting out of London

Spending an extended amount of time in London? Then chances are you might want to see what's beyond the city, as well. There are countless day trips you can take from London, but, honestly, you can do most things cheaper on your own.

England

Use trains

The rail network in the UK is actually pretty great. Most major cities in England, Scotland, and Wales are connected by train, and if you book far enough in advance, you can get some really great rates (for example, I've gone from London to Edinburgh for less than £20 before).

You can take a train to York to visit its famous cathedral, to Brighton for some time by the sea, or to Dover to see those famous white cliffs (from there you could even hop a ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, France!).

Use Megabus

Even cheaper than trains are buses. Megabus (which also operates cheap bus services in the US) has a ton of routes in the UK, and you can sometimes score tickets for as little as £1. The only downside, of course, is that the journey takes a bit longer.

Book cheap flights

If you want to go a bit further beyond the UK, good news — Europe has quite a few options when it comes to low-cost airlines. While airlines like RyanAir, EasyJet and Jet2 may not have the best reputations when it comes to comfort and customer service, the cheap prices may help take away the sting somewhat.

I hope these London budget travel tips will help YOU save money in London the next time you visit!

What other money-saving tips do YOU have for London on a budget?

 

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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49 Comments on “Ways to Save Money in London

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  1. This is great. I split an apartment in Camden with 5 other friends and it was so fun. We had the freedom to cook and come and go as we pleased, the apartment was clean and cute, and were in a great neighborhood. We also ended up seeing Wicked for pretty cheap-30 pound for front row seats! London is expensive, but there are lots of things you can do to offset costs.

      Awesome to hear you’ve gone down the apartment route! I don’t know why more people don’t consider it when traveling. It’s WAY better than hostels and hotels, in my opinion.

    Brilliant stuff! I always tell people that although London is pricey there are so many free attractions that help keep costs down.

    And I always tube it from heathrow- such a bargain!

      Agreed – yes London is expensive, but you CAN cut down on costs quite easily if you want to.

    ANother suggestion that I often give is to stay in hotels that are outside london BUT offer fast frequent train connections. Towns like Watford and Luton north of the capital are ideal.

      Yes, great tip! London is a very well-connected city, so you don’t really have to stay downtown even if you do want to spend a lot of time there.

    Other options for cheap accommodation are couchsurfer.org and housesitting. We found that to save on transportation, we walked as much as possible and then took the bus or underground back, that way we only had the one way trip (using the oyster card) and we saw so much more this way.

    Definitely booking trains and buses at least a month in advance gives you huge savings. We booked our bus with easybus from Gatwick Airport for only £2.00 ($3.20) per person.

    We also used both EasyJet and Jet2 and had no issues with either of them, in fact we had more space in our seats with both of these airlines than we did on our chartered flight from Canada to London with Sunwing. You need to know ahead of time what all their restrictions are otherwise you will be charged more than what you expect at the gate. They are discounted airlines for a reason!

      Definitely yes to both Couchsurfing and housesitting if it’s something that works for you! And I forgot about Easybus! Also a great option.

      I agree with you on EasyJet and Jet2, by the way – I flew both this past summer and actually had fine experiences with both (post coming next week!).

    Great tips, especially the free things to do, transit, and Oyster Card! I’m heading to London in April for the first time in nearly 10 years so I needed a refresher on the their system. Thanks!

      Most people don’t know how many free things London has on offer – you really can do a lot for very little money! And the Oyster card? A MUST!!

    Great list Amanda. I can vouch for safestay, it was pretty good during WTM. I’ll remember your list next time I’m in London. Haven’t seen that much from the city yet!

      Yeah, it seemed like the whole WTM crowd who stayed there really liked Safestay. Which is why I mentioned it!

      And I guess you’ll just have to come for a visit when I’m in London this fall so you can see more of it! We can go be cheap and do lots of free things together.

    Megabus was the best! I always used it when I came into England through Portland on my way to London. So cheap!

      If you have the time and can’t score a cheap train ticket, it’s definitely one of the most affordable options!

    What about kipping at someones house who you know lives in London…may get a feed too!

      See this part: “Ideally you would have friends or family in London to stay with (really the best way to experience any city)” 😉

      Definitely my favorite option! 😉

    Apartment swapping is also another option for London, especially for US city dwellers. I know several people who this has worked out really well for. Londoners love taking their holidays in the US.

      That’s a great tip! Someone else mentioned housesitting, which is similar – and something I plan to look into for this summer!

    Interesting Oyster fact that I just discovered – they do offer unlimited one day travel cards, but these are always more expensive than the equivalent fare cap! Weird.

    The 7-day passes, on the other hand, are a great deal if you plan on using the Tube for 4 or more days out of 7. I’d certainly recommend them to anyone who was planning on spending a week in London!

      Weird about the Oyster day travel cards… maybe they just hope people won’t read the bit about the fare cap?

      Agreed on the 7-day passes – great value if you’re going to be in town for a while and going to be using the Tube a lot!

    Great tips Amanda! Yes, unfortunately London is pretty expensive, but yes there is plenty of sightseeing and museums you can see for free! My favorites are Tate Modern and Saatchi gallery, if you happen to like modern art! And sitting in pubs is reasonably cheap, and definitely a very English experience! 🙂

      Thumbs up on sitting around a pub! Definitely an “English” experience!

    Saving this article – lots of great ideas. We’re headed to the UK (from the US) in two weeks with our two boys (9 & 10 yrs). For our London stay of 5 nights, we are using AirBnb – one boat on the Thames and an apartment. For a family, the apartment rentals are equivalent to, or slightly higher, than hostels and hotels. Plus the extra space, laundry, and kitchen are great money savers for us.

    Will surely use your tip about the Borough market – sounds like lots of fun and a culinary journey! Didn’t even think of Megabus either – thanks. We’re mainly using BritRail, but the bus may be a good option for a side trip!

      I hope these tips come in handy on your trip! Have a great time!

    Great tips! I love that the museums and some of the other attractions like the street markets are free! And I’m absolutely with you on the buses – not only because they are cheaper, but also because they are an amazing way of exploring the city when it rains or when you’re exhausted (especially when you sit up front on the upper level!) 🙂

      Free museums are the best!! Especially when there are so many to choose from.

      And YES on the upper level of London’s buses! A great (and cheap) way to see a lot of the city.

    Having returned from London earlier this month, I can second all of these tips…especially the Oyster Card. As an added bonus, the card doesn’t expire, but I think you have to use it every two years so if you are even a semi-frequent visitor to London, hang on to your card and you will save the 5 pound card purchase price and you will [ideally] have enough fare left on it so that you can use it to get into London on your next trip.

      Absolutely! I bought an Oyster card back in July, and used it again in November. And it’ll be coming back to London with me when I return later this summer, too!

    Expensive, sure, but London is still my favorite city on the planet. Two little notes – anyone who follows signs for the “subway” in London will find themselves in an underground pedestrian passageway for crossing large intersections and roundabouts. This usually does not connect with the Underground, though sometimes it does, e.g., near Charing Cross.

    The other caveat – if you’re using the rail system other than with a railpass, train fares are horrendous unless you can book ahead by a month or even two. I wanted to book round trip London to Edinburgh last October at the last minute. It would have cost almost £200. Had I known and booked a month ahead, it would have cost less than £100 and booking two months ahead, it would have dropped to less than £50. The rail passes are a fantastic bargain, but you may need to “use them up” to get the value. Depending on itinerary and maximum planning ahead, the best value might not be a rail pass. Just a thought.

      Haha good tip on the “subway” signs! (Though the one in the picture was actually near Westminster, so I’m assuming it was there for the tourists?)

      And your caveat about the rail system is spot-on. I always book my long-distance rail tickets there far in advance (6-8 weeks at least), and have been able to get some really great deals. Though, if you’re just going short distances, you can buy tickets on the day and still not pay very much.

        I think Westminster is one of those permanently congested intersections where the entry to the Tube includes a pedestrian subway for crossing the street. Lots of Tube stations have more than one staircase to street level so I suspect that’s the meaning of the sign.

    st christopher’s inns are pretty good too, mine was £19 per night in hammersmith and i booked that two days before i stayed. if you want to stay in a hotel you can sometimes get real bargains on late rooms or travelodge/ premier inn will do £19 per night if you book a minimum of two nights.
    oyster cards are a must. mine is a life line for when i visit london. someone wrote in the comments about the train fare’s being horrendous (and they are) but even if you book a few days before on websites like rail easy, red spotted hanky or the train line you can get cheap tickets (with my railcard, i have a return ticket to london for £17 and i live nearly 3 hrs south).
    sandemans walking tour is thoroughly recommended, tho’ i’m not sure if the 1pm one is a pay for one?
    if in doubt, explore camden, covent garden, trafalgar square, piccadily circus, regent street, and oxford street (though i prefer regent street).
    cheap lunches supermarkets like tesco and sainsburys do meal deals where you can get sandwiches, a snack and a drink for £3 or in covent garden there is a stand called hola-paella, and you can get a small portion for about £4.

      Thanks for all the amazing suggestions – especially the ones about food!

    Wow some great ideas here. I don’t think I can add anymore. Afer 21 trips to London (yes I do have a bit of an addiction to London) I am the queen of doing it cheap. I like picking up sandwiches, fruit, yogurt and all the other goodies at Marks and Spencers. I find it just too expensive to eat out every day when I am over there for four weeks at a time. So about every third day I pick up a picnic to have in the room. (usually Coronation St. nights – I confess I plan my London social life around Corrie!!!) Okay sometimes I settle for Tescos or Sainsburys but really… – there is nothing better than a prawn and mayonnaise sandwich from Marks and Sparks. (I LOVE Borough Market as well!!!) I now stay at a B & B in north London for 28 pounds a night. It is in a rather ritzy residential area (Hampstead Garden Suburb) and I absolutely love it. I can pretend I am a resident until the day comes when hopefully I can live there for a few months….Also London Walks is getting a bit pricey but they are excellent and you find out about all the little nooks and crannies in London and hear some great stories!!
    Also St. Martins in the Fields has some great classical concerts – evening ones cost but noon are free. Their cafe in the crypt is excellent and not too pricey. Everything homemade….
    Oh London…seven more months until I see you again!!! (like I said I do have a problem!)

      Wow 21 trips to London! I’m impressed!! I totally understand the addiction to the city, though. 😉

      Would love to know the name of that B&B you usually stay in! Sounds like a good deal!

        The B & B is called Iolanthe. It is run by a couple who own the house, very low key. Most people inthe area dont even know it’s a B & B. They have four rooms available and I always snag the cheap little one. There is only a bed, TV, wardrobe, table (with kettle and tea and coffee) So if you want to sit down you sit on the bed!!! You share the bathroom with one other single room. Simon does the cleaning and cooking himself (excellent cooked breakfast!) and you may have to ask for a clean towel now and again but love it. He hadn’t raised his prices since 2004 so not sure if they have gone up. the website is http://www.iolanthe.co.uk

    Great list with really useful tips. Especially the things that you can do for free. I’m going to visit my brother in London in June, and I’ll definitely try this, moreover that most of time I’ll have to explore the city by my own. Thanks for sharing this.

      I’m sure your brother will be able to offer up some tips, too!

    I would have to say you have your options in London, it cant be a fantastic city if you have the money but i can always be done on the cheap as well. The prime meridian though I believe costs abou £7 to get ino the section to stand on it. I could of been mistaken meaning we were ripped off last weekend. :-/

      You could be very right about the Prime Meridian. I haven’t actually made it there myself yet!

    We are hoping to go back to London soon for a long layover. It has been a while since we went so this guide will come in very handy for planning that.

      London is a great city for a long layover – I’ve done quite a few there!

    Such nice article and some wonderful tips for budget travel. London is in our travel plans for upcoming years.

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