How to: London on a budget

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A day out in London is a pricey one for tourists and locals alike. £3.50 for a coffee? We’d be paying £1 at one of our favourite Bali cafes. For all the budgeteers or first-time visitors to London who don’t want to break the bank – we’re here to help. Here’s our list of little hacks for seeing London on a budget.

London on a budget: Free Activities

Seeing London on a budget can be easily done if you choose to do some of the many free activities that the city has to offer – and there are a fair few to choose from.

Museum

Take yourself to an exhibit at one of the many free museums and spend a couple of hours here. For modern history lovers, we’d recommend a trip to the Imperial War Museum (Lambeth North is the nearest tube station). For anyone wanting to learn a bit about British history then head to the National Portrait Gallery or British Museum (Leicester Square for National Portrait and Tottenham Court Road for the British Museum). 

This is barely scratching the surface. There are dozens of other free museums to choose from. The Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A are popular tourist pleasers.

City Walk Tours

English history is a fascinating one (yes, Ellie may be a bit biased), so why not learn as much as you can about it on a free walking tour? There’s no point spending money on a guide when these free little gems are available. We use GuruWalk for booking our free tours. Have a scroll on the official GuruWalk site to see which one is the best fit for you. 

Parks

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A weather depending one. A stroll around one of London’s parks will cost you nothing. A walk down to Green Park and you’ll see Buckingham Palace. St James’ Park is another favourite with attractions like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the Horse Guards Parade within walking distance. Then you’ve got Hyde Park which is one of London’s biggest.

Avoid all of the park’s pricey pop-up cafes. Buy yourself some nibbles from the supermarket and have yourself a picnic to save money. Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s are the cheaper chains. Waitrose is for the type of consumer who could never settle for plain old tea but always goes for the extortionate infused cuppa with extract of unicorn hair nonsense.

London on a budget: Cheaper alternatives

Some of the ‘typical English’ activities are really pricey in London. Like anything, it’s just a case of finding cheaper alternatives.

Afternoon Tea

You don’t need to spend £75 at the Savoy for afternoon tea. You’re just paying for the bragging right of saying you had a cream tea at a high-end establishment. If you’re quite happy with a couple of well baked scones with some jam and thick cream on the side, then take yourself somewhere like M&S. Again, it’s a supermarket chain and a popular one at that. In the larger London branches, there’s usually a dining area where you can buy English classics for a fraction of the price. The scones hit the spot perfectly and without some ludicrous price tag attached to it. If you want something a bit more upmarket but without breaking the bank, then take a look at RedLetter days. There are often deals here which strike a middle ground in terms of price and experience.

Theatre

A trip to the Westend is on the bucket list for lots of tourists. And then it’s quickly scratched out after taking a look at the expensive price. Save yourself some money by booking on the day or leaving it a day in advance. It’s still a splurge, but far less than the original price. It also means that you’ll need to be flexible too. If you’re booking last minute then the show you had in mind may be sold out or may not have the best seats available. When we’ve gone to the theatre, we always book with TKTS as a cheaper alternative.

Dining out: go for chains

The English aren’t famous for food (as Sara will often remind Ellie) so why spend more than necessary on food that, to be honest, doesn’t rival that of the European continental countries? Our logic – spend less on food in London, and use the money saved up to splurge a bit more in Europe’s culinary capitals like Italy and France. Agree with our thinking? Then read on. 

Some of our affordable chains are listed below. The best thing is that you can find them pretty much all over London.

Pizza Express

Nandos

Wetherspoons

Leon

Chipotle

Itsu

Want to make your time in London even cheaper? Then avoid dining out altogether and cook at your accommodation. The more affordable supermarket chains are Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury’s.

Travel

This is the real money grabber. Travelling by train in London is far from affordable, and lots of people unintentionally splash out more cash on a travel ticket that covers more of London, when they only intend to visit a small area. Some tips before you book a train ticket. 

Depending on where you’re based and what you want to see, lots of London can be explored on foot. We would buy a ticket from Ellie’s hometown to London Liverpool Street (£12.00 for return). From there, we would explore the City centre on foot. We’ve written this more detailed post about travelling by train for cheap in London, which you can read here.

Accommodation

Avoid hostels. Post-COVID and now the prices for a few nights are the same as a low-budget hotel. Pay the same amount, and get a room to yourself (and probably a better night’s sleep too). We will often use this London-centric booking site when we’re comparing low-budget hotel prices.

However, it’s worth double checking hostels via hostelworld, just in case things have gone back to their senses since the time of writing. 

Couch surfing is another option. Aside from a small up front cost, this is a free app. Simply connect with a host and they’ll put you up at their place for free. We’ve used it ourselves a few times. 

Wrap Up

Free activities, substituting expensive experiences for cheaper ones, dining out at chains and buying from the supermarkets – a few little switches and you’re already saving yourself a lot of money. We’re sure there are a few other hacks that we may have overlooked. If you can think of one (or more) then leave a comment so we can all help each other out with spending less.

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