These days it feels like your budget needs to be positively elastic to stretch to any overseas holiday, let alone a visit to London.
Yes, the UK capital is renowned as one of the world’s most expensive travel destinations. No, you won’t need to take out a second mortgage when you get home, because there are actually lots of ways to explore this incredible city that are easy on the hip pocket.
Here are ten practical ways to see the best of London on a budget.
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1. Invest in a London Pass
When it comes to saving money in London, the London Pass is a traveller’s best friend. It gets you discounted entry and skip-the-line access to a host of attractions, with flexible one, two, three and six-day passes available. Although the initial outlay may sting a little, the savings will add up to a pretty attractive consolation.
2. Get an Oyster
As soon as you touch down at Heathrow Airport, get an Oyster card and you’ve already saved on your transport into central London on the tube (London Underground)! Just jump straight on a Piccadilly Line train. You can top up with any amount at ticket machines, stations or shops all over the city and use your card on the entire transport network (trains, buses and the Underground). Your Oyster will always get you the cheapest possible fare. You can also save a few dollars by collecting any unused credit on your Oyster at Heathrow on the way out (note: sadly, the card deposit is no longer refundable).
3. Sleep cheap
There are a few cheap and not-so-nasty ways to sleep for less in London. Generator Hostels are revolutionising the concept of hostelling with their brand of hip, contemporary accommodation, while Airbnb has hundred of host properties on offer across the city. If you’ve got friends in cold places, you can always fall back on the great Aussie tradition of couch surfing (or ‘dossing’ as it’s fondly known).
4. Double your fun on a double decker bus
You can fork out for one of the ubiquitous open double-decker bus tours, or you can create your own for a fraction of the price! Swipe your Oyster Card and climb aboard the bus route of your choosing (Route 9 between Hammersmith and Aldwych will give you a great taste of city sights). Alternatively, just wing it and go on a mystery tour on the first double decker that comes along.
Basically, not switching off data roaming on your Aussie mobile phone is a red-carpet invitation to travel bankruptcy. Instead, go in to one of the mobile phone shops on any high street in the UK capital and purchase a pre-paid sim from O2, Vodafone, or 3UK. You’ll be instantly connected to friends and family back home at a reasonable price. Free Wi-Fi is also widely available in London, including at most tube stations.
7. Go ‘off’ West End
You can see some top West End shows at discounted prices by lining up at the official TKTS booth in Leicester Square, but you should also check out the independent theatres — where you can pick up a ticket for as little as $10. Cheap doesn’t mean low quality though, and you can enjoy gems like La Boheme and Fawlty Towers in quirky, out-of-the-way theatres with plenty of character.
8. Walk the walk
The best way to explore central London is on foot. If you’re old-school, grab a free tourist map and head off in whatever direction takes your fancy. For app lovers, options like Citymapper will see you swaggering about the place like a local in no time.
9. Snap up a free tour
Free Tours by Foot offers a free walking tour of Royal Westminster, which provides a great introduction to the lie of the land around Buckingham Palace, the Mall, the parliamentary Palace of Westminster, and Downing Street. The tour departs from Green Park tube station two or three mornings a week, and there really is no catch. Do spread the love though, and tip your guide what you think the tour was worth.
10. Find cheap eats
Let’s get one thing straight: if you want to eat ‘out’ in London you’re going to have to pay dearly. So get creative! Try Brick Lane in the East End for a curry with attitude, Chinatown for a delightfully confusing array of affordable Asian cuisine, and Borough Markets for, well, pretty much anything your taste buds desire!
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Do you have any tips for ways to see London on a budget? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
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About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel writer and author. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy, and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind, and an open-ended ticket. Her first novel — The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman — is now available in bookstores.