9 Ways to travel to London on a budget
How to travel to London on a budget
When travelling to London on a budget, make sure you visit areas that are next to each other. If you get lost in London, there’s always something to admire, be it the upper-class multi coloured Victorian houses in Notting Hill and Primrose Hill or the many free hidden gems situated between major attractions.
Read further to find out more on 9 ways to travel to London on a budget.
How can I see London on a budget?
1. Save on eating out
Food budgeting in London can be quite tricky but not impossible. There are many options you can take.
Fast food restaurants
To save money per person, spend no more than £6 – £8 for a meal in small fast-food restaurants and cafes. Good fast-food restaurants include Byron, Leon, Pizza chains, Wagamama and Giraffe. You usually spend on average £6 – £8 on starters in restaurants, but that’s how much McDonald’s, and KFC cost. Gastropubs and restaurant prices range between £12 – £30 per person, so if you want to experience traditional British food, don’t eat there every day.
Cook in your hotel
If you can cook in your accommodation, go to the supermarkets. (If you want to save on food shopping, Aldi and Lidl tend to be cheaper than Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s). The small Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco’s Local can be found anywhere around Central London, however, the larger Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, Aldi, and Lidl can only be found in the suburbs.
You can also find Poundland in the suburbs but not in Central London. Poundland isn’t a supermarket, but if you want to buy snacks like biscuits, crispy potato chips, sweets, and drinks, then this is the place to go.
You can also buy meal deals from Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s for under £5. This will give you a 330ml bottle of drinks of your choice, a sandwich, a packet of crisps (potato chips as the Americans call it), or a chocolate bar. They are all ideal for lunch on the go.
Cafes, bakeries, pastry shops
Find bakeries, pastry shops, and coffee shops around Central London. You can buy sausage rolls, bacon baps, bagels, and porridge for around £2 – £5. Great for snacks. Café Nero, Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Greggs, (they sell two pies for under £2, cakes & doughnuts for 80p and paninis for £3 – £4) are all great cafes and snack shops to visit. If you visit street food markets, they usually sell cakes, biscuits, chocolates, and other savouries you can take on the go too.
Traditional English cafes
Historically, the real English cafes have been around for the working and lower classes of England. Traditionally, it’s called “the working men café” or “transport café” because typically, working men don’t usually have the time to eat and relax. English cafes are like their quick fix before going back to work again. They don’t serve alcohol, but their specialty is their English breakfast teas bought in the local supermarkets with a splash of milk at the top. It’s a contrast to the high-end teas you’d experience in Afternoon Teas.
If you really want to experience the REAL English cafes, experience the real full English breakfast with baked beans, scrambled eggs, pork sausages and bacon, black pudding, two pieces of buttered toasts, and mushrooms, find a hotel in the suburbs. There’s a likely chance you’d find English cafes in every corner of the high streets.
If you want to experience fish and chips and traditional English pies in pubs and restaurants, prices range from £12 – £15, however, in the suburbs, you usually find many fish and chips take away shops in every corner. These places are where locals go to get their portion, and the price range can be between £6 – £8. You’ll be crazy not to try fish and chips if you’re in London. They’re just as filling and tasty as the ones in the restaurants and pubs.
Alternatively, if you stay in the suburbs, you can try the Turkish kebab shops found in every corner of the high streets. The Brits do love their Turkish kebabs, and this is alternative comfort food for the Brits. Fish and chips and kebabs tend to be oily and greasy, so if you don’t like greasy food, stay away from them.
2. Save on transportation.
The first thing you should do when you land at the airport is to get an Oyster Card. I cannot stress enough about getting an Oyster card. You can get one in ticket machines at major airports, ticket machines on major train stations like Victoria, King’s Cross, London Bridge, Liverpool Street, and local corner shops. Just make sure you see the blue Oyster Card stickers on the shop windows. Alternatively, if you have a Contactless debit card and Google or Apple Pay on your phone, you can tap on the barriers with that.
If you have children under 11, they travel free accompanied by an adult on tubes, buses, trams, and trains using a Visitor Travel Card or a Travel Card ticket. Click here for more information on Oyster Cards and Travel Cards for children,
Although getting to places from A to B can be exhausting, stressful and long with traffic, take the bus because you’ll be spending £1.50 with an Oyster Card per journey.
Travelling to London, I spend up to £12 on tubes and trains on interconnecting journeys using my Contactless Debit Card. Although it’s quicker to get to places, it can be more expensive.
If most attractions are next to each other, you can just walk, but if you’re not used to walking, it can be tiring. Londoners are experts at walking, and they walk from A to B. They rarely use their own cars to travel to Central London because you’ll be charged a Congestion Charge. You’ll be given a warning before you enter the congestion charge zones marked with a “C”.
Whether you’re at the park or shopping in the biggest high street stores and vintage markets, 90% of the time, people are walking. The only time we’re using public transport is when we’re going further afield.
I enjoy giving myself self-guided walks wherever I am. There are private walking tours around London, but personally, I like to tailor make my own walks because I can control with what I want to see. Check out Strawberry Tours for free walking tours around London. On the downside you can spend hours in just one attraction or shop plus walking around London can be tiring.
The West End
Your first point of interest should be the West End, as it covers the famous attractions, and many areas are free. Even though people spend no more than 30 minutes in Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, and Piccadilly Circus, they can spend hours in the nearby attractions like the National Gallery, the Lego Store, the M&Ms store, Hamleys, and the Odeon Cinema. You can also spend hours shopping in Liberty’s Department Store in Regent Street, Selfridges in Oxford Street, and Harrods in Knightsbridge. Shopping can be a pain in the West End, so I suggest choosing stores that are worth your time. Once COVID is over, I’ll create a post on shopping in London.
St. Paul’s Cathedral. The London Eye. Tate Modern. The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Sky Garden. Shakespeare’s The Globe Theatre and Museum. The Southbank Centre. London Dungeon. Sea Life London Aquarium. Shrek Adventures. The many pubs, bars, clubs, intimate parks, and carousel. The pop-up Underbelly Festival. The Shard. Coppa Club Tower Bridge Restaurant. These are all the attractions you can see by the Southbank. You won’t be able to use public transport though because it’s a walkway. There’s so many things to do for everyone at any age. The Southbank is always busy with people. It’s the buzz and the atmosphere that makes it good to spend time in. Unlike Oxford Street and Regent Street which can be overcrowded, the Southbank by the River Thames make socialising meaningful.
If you want to go inside the attractions, you’d have to spend two days there, and if you look at Google Maps, you’d think to yourself, “I can cover this in half a day, no problem.” Nope, you’re wrong. Walking up and down the strip can take up to one hour, and this doesn’t include entering the attractions. Most attractions here take one hour to visit each, the Tower of London takes three hours, and you can spend a whole day in Tate Modern. Use your time wisely.
The Greenwich area has so many free attractions worth the visit. Overlooking the River Thames, Canary Wharf (the business district and skyscraper of London), and the O2 Arena, people spend at least one hour in the free Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House, (note that historically, this isn’t the Queen’s house but home to one of the minor members of the royal family not known to the world). Visit Greenwich Market, where people are happy to browse.
People usually spend half an hour in Greenwich Market because it’s not that big. As for Greenwich Park, people can spend a whole day there. You will see a hill at the top of the park, a statue of General Wolfe can be found. Here is the highest point of the park, and you can see the view of the O2 Arena, Canary Wharf and Bank.
If you want to experience the Emirates Air Line Cable Car, it takes half an hour towards Bank and get off at Emirates Royal Docks from Cutty Sark at Greenwich DLR. You’ll see an industrial view of London, the Canary Wharf skyscraper and many more, just remember, London can be industrial, so don’t expect a view like Dubai. It’s only £3.50 for 10 minutes, and it’s a cheaper version of the London Eye and an alternative to the Shard and Sky Garden.
Although most attractions are free, the Cutty Sark Ship, the Planetarium, and the Meridien Line costs a lot, and this can take three hours of your time.
Read my West End Walk, the Southbank Walk and things to do in the Southbank for ideas. There are more than 10 attractions situated by the River Thames, and the view is beautiful at night. Read my guest post for Food Wine and Sunshine on things to do in Greenwich here.
4. Organise, plan, and find out how long you’d like to spend in an attraction.
Most attractions take one to three hours to visit. Not only it’s expensive, but if you want to spend more time in other attractions, then I suggest visiting the free museums for an hour each, stroll through one or two 8 royal parks for another hour, the West End areas for a day, the hidden gems for twenty minutes each, browse the Borough Market for an hour, Portobello, and Camden Market for three hours, and the London neighbourhoods for half a day. Check out my itinerary guides to plan a smooth holiday (or vacation as the Americans call it). There, you’ll find how long to take in each attraction, the price, opening times, tips, and recommendations.
When you’re looking for free museums and galleries in London, I recommend visiting the British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square first, since they’re situated in the West End. They’re the first thing on everyone’s list. Several others include Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Science Museum, which are next to each other. They’re not located near the British Museum, but it shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes from the Piccadilly Line from the British Museum.
If you have time, make sure to spend some time in other small and intimate galleries and museums. It’s less crowded and more peaceful. Check out the Saatchi Gallery, The Queen’s House and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. In these galleries and museums, you can just give yourself twenty to thirty minutes of your time.
5. Save on accommodation.
The average cost for a hotel is £40 – £50 per night in the suburbs. In Central London, it can be relatively expensive, and if you really want to save, find a hostel outside Central London. On average, hostels cost around £10 – £15 per night. Central London is accessible from anywhere in the north, east, west, and south, so check out my travel guide for tips and recommendations on the surrounding areas, then find accommodation in that area.
6. Visit my itinerary guide and free attractions in London.
In the itinerary guide, you’ll find lots of inspiration and recommendations on things to do. It will give you information on how long to take in each attraction, whether the London Pass and the London Explorer Pass are worth it, and so much more. If you’re on a budget, my 4 days in London has many things to do for free.
7. Find Instagram worthy photos.
Aside from taking photos of major attractions, there are millions of photos that are Instagram worthy. I haven’t had a chance to take any Instagram photos because of COVID, but once it’s safe to do so, I’ll add them to the post.
From the storefront to the hidden gems to Instagram photos, in every season, there’s always something different to snap. Beautiful colourful flowers during spring and summer in the 8 royal parks. Vintage and antique shops in Portobello Market and Camden Town. Colourful buildings in Notting Hill. Beautiful upper-class neighbourhoods in South Kensington and Chelsea. Christmas lights in every corner of London. Beautiful 18th – 19th Century shop fronts from boutique stores to famous chained stores in Oxford Street. Cobbled streets in alleyways like Carnaby Street. The list can go on. I’ve been living here for 30 years, even London surprises me sometimes.
Visit the London markets and neighbourhoods in London.
You can visit any London markets here for free unless you want to buy something from the stalls, no harm in buying one thing for a souvenir. The experience of being in the market is enough to tell all your friends and family back home.
London is famous for its markets and people usually go there just for the vibrant atmosphere and for the experience. Whether you’re looking for antiques, vintage, or street food from around the world, you’re sure to find something for you. There are many shops that keep the 18th Century character and vintage shops that have been opened for more than 100 years.
The most popular markets are Portobello Market, Borough Market, Greenwich Market, Old Spitalfields Market, Camden Lock, Brick Lane, and Covent Garden. I still enjoy the busy atmosphere when I visit markets because there’s always something to do nearby. Once you’re done visiting the markets, make sure to visit the neighbourhoods around the market. Here are some recommendations:
Portobello Market and the Notting Hill neighbourhood
Portobello Market is situated in Notting Hill, and you can find colourful 19th Century houses, trendy coffee shops, restaurants and pubs, and London mews. Take photos of the blue house and St. Luke’s Mews’ pink house with a bicycle. They used these places in the Notting Hill movie. At times, there are usually around 20 people taking photos in front of the blue door, but at times, there’ll be no one there. The crowd seems to be random; you just must be lucky. As for St. Luke’s Mews, it’s always quiet. You’d usually see one or two people here, but be respectful still, because it’s someone’s house, and they don’t usually like people taking photos of their house to put on the internet. Click for my guide to Portobello Market.
Borough Market and the Southbank area
The famous Borough Market glass building contains seating areas where you can enjoy lunch, admire the glass rooftops and the green plants around you. The oldest market in London, dating back to 1851, Borough Market is situated under London Bridge Station, and you could hear the thunderous sounds from the trains passing above you. There are rows of British pubs and small high-end wine bars where crowds of business and tourists drink beer and eat lunch. There’s usually a line of people waiting to get a portion of their fish and chips in one of the stalls.
Borough Market serves quirky, organic, and fresh ingredients for great recipe ideas, vegetables, fresh bread, vintage wine, and street food from around the world. It does have a reputation for being expensive, well, it’s a bit of both. I saw a few thick, large homegrown carrots costing £1.70 per kilogram, purple sprouting broccoli can cost £6.50 per kilogram, and a 13-month-old gouda cheese can cost £26.50 per kilogram. However, I’ve seen a few “any fruits for £1”, a few fresh homegrown, organic vegetables for around £1 – £2 each, and a loaf of large ciabatta bread for £2. My favourite is the Italian stall selling different coloured mini jams and different coloured homemade olive oils in simple 330ml glass bottles. I could actually use this as kitchen decor at home.
You could usually smell fresh fish in the fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish section. On the other side, you could smell the aroma, feel the heat from the street food pans and see people crowding around the stalls taking turns to buy their meals. You can also smell different types of fresh cheese and small corner shops selling different flavours of red or white wine from Italy, France, England, and Spain. If you ask them nicely, they’ll give you cheese and bread samples. The glass rooftop makes it feel modern, so no matter how famous or old it is, Borough Market is just an ordinary market that sells organic vegetables, food, and wine from around the world, nothing more.
Once you finish visiting Borough Market, take a stroll through Southbank. If you start from Southwark Cathedral, you’ll see the Golden Hinde Ship, the Winchester Cathedral ruin, and the Clink Prison Museum, the oldest 11th Century prison in London.
Other markets include Camden Market and its neighbourhood Primrose Hill, the Columbia Road Flower Market, Victoria Park Market, Brixton Village and Market Row, Herne Hill Market, Maltby Street Market, and Southbank Centre Food Market. Once COVID is over, I’ll write a post on these markets.
9. Watch 50% off theatre shows
London is famous for its West End theatre shows. From long running shows like The Lion King in the Strand between Covent Garden and Charing Cross Station to Les Misérables, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Thriller in Shaftesbury Avenue near Leicester Square, there’s always something for everyone. Right now, there’s no information on shows since it’s temporarily closed because of COVID. Once the pandemic is over, I’ll post reviews on the shows I watched.
Theatre tickets can be expensive to buy on the door and online, so the best way is to look in several ticket booths, including the large TKT theatre booth found in Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. They’ll offer 50% off from the normal ticket price on the day up to a week in advanced. You’d be surprised how much you could save for VIP seating areas. Just shop around.
There you have it, 9 ways to save money on attractions, transportations, and restaurants around London.
How much money do you need per day in London if you’re on a budget?
People can spend on average £1500 – £2000 if they’re not on a budget. That’s more than what minimum wage earners get in a month.
Assuming you’re skipping going inside all the attractions, here is an estimate breakdown on average prices on cheap accommodation, places to eat, and transportation.
Accommodation in hostels: Roughly £15 – £20 per night per person.
Accommodation in hotels: Roughly £35 – £45 per night per person.
Using the bus and trams: £1.50 per journey.
Interconnecting between tube lines and using the trains: Roughly £12 per day.
Take away fish & chip and kebab shops in the suburbs: £6 – £8 per person.
Supermarket meal deals: £3 – £5.
- I recommended you shop in Poundland, Aldi and Lidl found in the suburbs compared to Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s supermarkets if you want to save money.
Average price for restaurants and gastropubs in Central London: £12 – £15 per person.
So, if you’re particularly good with budgeting, you’ll be spending £50 – £70 per day.
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