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I want to address visiting London on a budget for those of you who are trying to pinch your pennies (or…pences?) to make the most of your trip.
You’ll find tips in other posts on how to find cheap flights to London, things to do in London with kids and the best London tours, so I want to jump into other ways to save money in London while you’re here.
Hey! Sidenote! Planning on visiting the UK or moving to the UK?
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Always Ask for Tap Water
Your waiter or waitress might not always double check, so when you order water at a restaurant, make sure to specify tap water.
If not, they may bring you a bottle of “still” water (“still” versus “sparkling” which you will have to pay for.)
Even if they ask “still or sparkling,” politely request tap water as this is free.
Make Use of the Grocery Store Meal Deals
The UK’s grocery stores, particularly in London filled with workers, have cheap “meal deals” where you can usually get a hearty sandwich, chips and a drink or some other combination.
These usually are only about £3 to £4 per trio, and are an excellent way to get lunches and even dinners cheaply.
Don’t be afraid to make your own atmosphere by bringing some sandwiches to the park and enjoying London.
You don’t have to be in expensive restaurants to have a good time.
Know Where to Shop on a Budget
As with any country or city, there are plenty of places to buy things, but knowing where to buy them on a budget is half the battle.
For grocery shopping, look for stores like Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, ASDA, and Sainsbury’s.
Avoid Waitrose due to its expense, and if you can, find the “bigger” version of the previously mentioned stores rather than the smaller “Local” versions.
For toiletries, you can also look at the stores mentioned, but also Boots.
See if the London Pass Works for You
The London Pass, if not used properly, can cost you money, but if you plan your trip to accommodate its timings, you can save quite a bit of money on attraction entrances.
Rent an Apartment to Cook Your Own Food
If you’re trying to do London on a budget, this is a great way to save money.
Rent an apartment through AirBnb or another rental company to save money on the cost of eating out all the time, which can feel like the only solution when staying in a hotel room.
If you’re really on a budget, you even check out how to save money when traveling by being a housesitter, which means you’re looking after someone else’s home and/or pets in exchange for staying there.
Be mindful of your souvenirs when heading to London on a budget.
Yes, you can come home with 80 Queen bobbleheads, but do you really want one or are you just getting one because that’s what everyone else does?
Either keep your take-homes to some beautiful postcards, a small item like a magnet, or just use your ticket stubs and receipts and pictures to create a scrapbook filled with awesome memories for a fraction of the price of bringing home lots of Oxford Street shopping.
See Where You Can Combine Purposes
Sometimes, you can kill two birds with one stone, as it were.
For instance, if you wanted some great views of London from the Shard, London’s tallest building, and you also wanted to experience afternoon tea while in London, did you know that you can book afternoon tea at one of the restaurants with excellent views rather than having to pay for tickets to go up the Shard AND afternoon tea somewhere else in the city?
Walk Where Possible
London is not walkable in the sense that you can spend the entire time here exploring the whole city and always walk (well, you could, but it would take hours upon hours and may not be the best use of your time).
But many times, it is even more time efficient to walk between certain tube stations or stroll through a general area rather than hopping off and on public transportation.
If you are able, bring your best walking shoes and get used to seeing the city on your own two feet to save a bit of cash.
Opt for the Tube or Buses over the Cabs
Hopping in a black cab to get everywhere is a terrible waste of money if you’re on a budget in London.
If you absolutely have to take a cab, Uber is cheaper, and otherwise you should stick to the tube or buses.
Public transportation is huge in London and can get you almost anywhere, and sometimes faster than taxis due to not having to make their way through traffic!
Set Yourself a Spending Limit per Day and Plan within That
When people ask, “how much money do I need for London?” it can be hard to answer because I could help you spend $100 a day or $500 easily.
Some things will come with a cost that you have no choice but to pay – ie, even if you find a cheap room in someone’s apartment, you’ll need to spend money on a place to say.
But otherwise, set yourself a daily spending limit that feels comfortable for you and plan your days around that.
Otherwise, you’ll end up giving in to every temptation and spend way more than necessary.
Use it as a challenge – London is a mecca for all kinds of workers, families, kids, teenagers, and students – many of them manage to enjoy London without spending insane amounts each day, and you can too!
If You Want to Go to the Theatre, Line Up for Cheap Tickets
There are some shows in the West End (London’s theatre scene) that offer extremely cheap tickets if you’re a certain age and willing to get there super early on the day of the show.
For instance, if you’re between the ages of 16 and 25, you can get £5 tickets to Matilda if you get to the box office super early on the day of the show (it opens at 10am, and it’s first come first served).
Travel in Off Peak Hours
If you’re using London’s tube network on Pay as You Go Oyster credit, you should know that the cost of travel between 6:30am and 9:30am on weekdays is more expensive than the rest of the time.
Avoid travel between those times and you’ve already saved yourself some cash!
Use an Oyster Card
Whatever you do, do not buy single paper tickets to use the tube. Stick to using an Oyster card and you’ll save about half on the fare each trip.
Eat at Street Food Markets
A step in between getting meal deals at grocery stores and eating in a restaurant is eating street food in a food market!
For instance, Borough Market has some amazing food, and you’ll pay less than you would at a restaurant because you’re not also paying the vendor for somewhere to sit and a waiter or waitress.
Embrace the London food market scene and indulge!
Ask about Student or Concession Price
London is filled with discount for students, “young people” (usually between 16 and 25), concessions, and families.
No matter who you are, get used to using the line “do you offer any XYZ discounts” (fill in the blank with student, young person, family, etc) and see what they have to say.
The worst they can say is no.
If you want to get National Rail trains, get a Railcard
If you plan to make use of lots of trains around the UK and London isn’t your only stop, consider investing in one of these rail cards which will get you discounts (usually about a 1/3 off) your train fares.
This works amazingly if you have a couple of expensive trips planned, ie a train from London to Scotland.
It costs £30 for the card, so you will want to calculate that you will use it enough to make the discounts enough to pay that back and make it worth it, but, again, if you’re on a lot of trains outside of London during your trip, it will likely be worth it.
Free Events Usually On
London is the mecca for free events.
Whether it’s something going on in Trafalgar Square or Notting Hill Carnival or the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race or a local event, it’s so easy to find free workshops, events, and things to do.
2 for 1 if You Take a Train
If you do end up taking a train during your time in London (including some of the ones from various airports), you can take advantage of the National Rail 2 for 1 scheme which gives you discounts (up to buy one-get one free) entry into various attractions in London and outside of it.
Check out the full list and qualifying trains here
Royal Oak Foundation
This won’t necessarily apply if you’re just staying in London, but if you have a more UK – wide trip planned, consider signing up for membership to the Royal Oak Foundation, the American branch of “National Trust,” a UK foundation that runs loads of different stately homes and wonderful destinations across the UK.
Once you have membership to Royal Oak Foundation, you can get into all National Trust properties for free, which can really add up if you are planning a UK road trip or other massive sightseeing trip outside of London.
The money you will make back on it just staying in London is minimal, as London is not full of National Trust owned properties to the point where it would be worth it to get this for just a London visit.