If you’re planning to travel on a budget, London may not be the first city that comes to mind.
London is packed with tourist attractions like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, and it’s beautiful skyline. Sure, all of these things are free to look at but if you want to stick around and experience more than just sightseeing, there’s a few tips you should know about how to do London on a budget.
Finding affordable accommodation in London can be tricky but it’s certainly not impossible.
Couchsurfing is always an option for travellers. As soon as you make your Couchsurfing profile online, you can start searching for hosts immediately. The sooner you find a host, the better, as you then have time to get to know them, add them to Facebook, and maybe show your friends and/or family who you’ll be staying with. The idea behind Couchsurfing is that it’s all about travellers helping travellers and best of all, it’s free!
Hostels are another great option for budget travel, although I think that after a while, some of us outgrow or get tired of hostels. After my hostel days in Australia, I’d much prefer to splurge on a hotel, but if you’re on a budget, that’s not always an affordable option.
Park Villa is an adorably named boutique hostel in East London that is affordable at 23 to 35 pounds a night, depending on how many people you want to bunk with. It has a really good rating as well!
One great idea, if you’re planning on seeing a show, is to buy theatre tickets that includes a meal. I went to see (and sobbed my way through) Les Misérables and purchased a ticket that included a meal at Grace Bar. My luggage was lost somewhere between Toronto and Iceland, so I showed up to this fancy restaurant, by myself, in yoga pants and a hoodie. Needless to say, I attracted a few odd glances. Fashion aside, the tomato soup was the best I ever had!
Looking for a snack? Try Bread Ahead on Cathedral Street. You can buy hot cross buns, bagels, pretzels, and doughnuts, OH MY! There’s also a range of gluten free options. If you’re willing to splurge, you can take a half-day workshop and bake your own delicious treats. Let’s be real, if you’re going to spend money, you should ALWAYS spend it on baked goods.
One of the main struggles I’ve found with visiting a new place is the fact that I’m a vegetarian. If you’re a fellow veggie, you know my pain. If you’re a vegan, bless you.
A vegan friend of mine traveled around Ireland and the poor thing was shown no mercy: “Whattaya mean you don’t want butter on your bread? I’m just gonna put some butter on your bread…”
While there are locations around the world that aren’t necessarily veggie/vegan friendly, London isn’t one of them! Although there are many veggie friendly spots to choose from in the city, The Coach and Horses is London’s first vegetarian pub! I can’t stop adding exclamation marks! PUB! VEGETARIAN! BEER! The history of this pub alone makes the visit worthwhile. Norman Balon retired from The Coach and Horses Pub in 2006 after 62 years of being London’s self proclaimed ‘rudest landlord’.
How deliciously quaint!
He would kick people out of the pub for his own reasons, and didn’t care who didn’t like his ways. Imagine getting barred from a pub because you were too boring? In addition to veggie friendly eats, BEER!, and a fantastic history, there’s a piano sing-a-long with the hostess Magnificent Betty. Seriously. Can we all just drop what we’re doing and go now?
Planning on going to the theatre? There are some simple rules to follow to make this an affordable experience. Avoid going to the theatre on the weekend as week-day tickets are much cheaper and even more so if you opt to go to an early show. You should get your tickets at the box office or the TKTS booth in Leicester square if you’re looking for the best price.
If museums are your thing, you’re in luck! There are a ton of free museums in London you can go to. It’s easy to get lost and spend an entire day in any one of them. I went to The National Gallery, which is home to more than 2,000 pieces of art. Outside The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square was just as interesting as the museum. There was a man blowing fire out of a tuba, an illusionist, sidewalk art, and a disturbing clown whom I walked away from immediately. I’m sure he was fun too… for someone else.
If you want to make memories that you’re sure to forget, check out the Picadilly Circus nightlife. There are quite a few clubs with free entry fees if you’re willing to go out early, and cheap entry fees during the week. If you’re on vacation, every day is the weekend. Drink prices can range from free shots to £1.50 drinks to £15 jugs. It all depends on what kind of a party you’re looking for.
Still can’t decide on a club? Take the Shoreditch Gone Wild pub-crawl. Tickets are a measly £10, which gives you cheap entry to four different venues and a free shot at each stop! Calm down. You might actually want to remember this night.
Make the most of sightseeing with a walking tour or day trip. I wish I did this! I saw a lot during my short stay but I didn’t see nearly enough of what London has to offer and left feeling like I missed out!
Don’t think you need a guide to experience the sights? Easy! Use your Oyster Card and hop on a bus. You can check out the routes online but the most popular sightseeing busses are Route 24: Pimlico to Hampstead Heath, Route 11: Fulham to Liverpool Street, and Route 9: Aldwych to Hammersmith.
Even without the sightseeing tours, I managed to see quite a bit. My favorite sightseeing experience in London was when I accidentally caught the 4 o’clock parade, which led me to some giggle inducing research.
The 4 o’clock parade began in 1894 when Queen Victoria found the guards drinking and gambling on duty. As punishment, she announced that the guards would have to be inspected at 4 o’clock every day for the next 100 years. After the 100 years were up, the inspection continued as a tradition.
If you’re planning on being a little more prepared than I was and want to see these things on purpose, the changing of the guard takes place daily at 11:00 weekdays and 10:00 on Sundays. I’d recommend going to the 4 o’clock parade, though, in case one of them is drunk!
Just kidding… they probably won’t be drunk.
Whether you’re sightseeing, visiting museums, dancing the night away, or stuffing your face with pastries (me), London doesn’t have to be an expensive city to visit! Do your research, plan your activities, and see all that London has to offer!
Share your budget London Tips below!
Trish is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer from the East Coast of Canada. Travel lover. Humour finder. Story teller.