The following is my exact breakdown of how much I spent in one week of travelling in London, England back in 2010. Although pricing may have increased slightly, you can travel around London on a low budget. Here’s how:
Food – £27.80 (average cost for a meal = 3 pounds
Coffee/Tea – £5.90 (average cost for a coffee/tea = 1.25 pounds)
Accommodation – £0
Site Seeing – £18.50
Alcohol – £18 (average cost for a drink = 4 pounds)
Transportation – £35 (1 week Oyster Card plus additional 5 euros to get to the airport)
Souvenirs/Gifts – £15.50
Other – £0
Total = £115.70
The only time I actually had a sit down meal was at a pub. Tipping in London pubs is not required so the total cost of my meal was £4.85 which was a jammer (baked potato) with cheese, beans, salad, and a glass of water (typical pub food in London minus the water). A couple of pubs I recommend are Gordon’s Wine Bar andYe Olde Cheshire Cheese. All the other times I ate out was at food stands which can be found in the markets and sell healthy food such as falafel, vegetarian dishes, Chinese food, Moroccan wraps and with guilt, McDonalds. The average cost for a meal at food stands is £3. Not too shabby.
I didn’t go for the lattes or other fancy drinks. I stuck with simple coffee or regular tea. The average cost for a coffee and tea was is about £1.25.
Luckily, I have a few friends who I met from my past travels who live in London. I spent the week crashing on their couches or spare bedrooms. There are other options for cheap accommodations if you look on hostelworld.com or free accommodations at couchsurfing.com. A hostel in London will average out to about £12 per night. Some of the most highly recommended hostels by other travellers I met are: St Christopher’s Village (dorms from £11 a night), Piccadilly Backpackers Hostel London (dorms from £12 a night), St. Christopher’s Oasis (dorms from £15 a night) and Generator Hostel London (dorms from £15 a night).
There is so much you can do in London for free. From walking in parks (Hyde Park, Regents Park, Kensington Gardens, Battersea Park, Richmond Park, Hampstead Heath, Ruislip Lido) to visiting the “typical” city sites (South Bank, London Eye, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace), to just walking around town (Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden), watching street performers or watching everyday people. There are also many free museums and festivals which I didn’t get around to this visit. I do recommend picking up a Time Out Magazine which is a weekly magazine that tells you everything that’s happening in London for free or a small price.
One thing I highly recommend doing is seeing a broadway play. There are many well-known broadways performances happening every night in the many theatres of London. For half-price theatre tickets, check out Leicester Square. There are many booths along the street who sell half-price theatre tickets to shows like The Lion King, Wicked, Dirty Dancing, We Will Rock You, etc. Tip: Buying tickets for a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night performance will be the cheapest option. I got a ticket to see Wicked on a Tuesday night and it cost me £18. Although my seat was in the second last row, the view was great and I was able to move close to the front during intermission.
There is no way around this one. When you buy a drink at a restaurant, pub or club, it’s going to cost you. However, mention to anyone that you are a foreigner backpacking for a year, and you’ll get drinks left, right and centre. Londoners are very generous this way.
London transport isn’t cheap. The cheapest way to get around the city is on an Oyster Card. If you are going to be in London for a week, I highly suggest purchasing a 7 day Oyster Card for Zone 1 and 2 which will get you to all the main attractions and city centre. This will give you unlimited transportation for a week from the day you purchase the card on buses and underground transit. The card costs about £25 plus £3 deposit which you get back if you return your card. You can also purchase a pre-payed card that will charge you up to the maximum for daily zone charges (Zone 1 & 2 is capped at £5.60 per day).
If you don’t have much planned and aren’t in too much of a rush, then I also recommend tossing the oyster card and just walking everywhere. As crazy as that may sound, London really isn’t that big.
For Souvenirs, be sure to check out my video above to learn how to shop in London on a budget.