London: Money-Saving tips in the Most Expensive City
Here are pro tips to Save Pounds and Still Make the Most of London on a Budget
By Maddie Lynch
London–It’s definitely a destination on most people’s bucket lists, with just shy of 40 million people visiting London in 2017–that’s almost five times the population of London.
So clearly, I don’t need to go into too much depth in explaining why London might be a popular place to visit, especially with the Royal family drawing in most of the attention, with the weddings of the century and whatnot.
Not to mention the famous monuments, culture, and history dating back 2000 years, the shopping, theaters, and shows, with over 40 venues in the West End and a wide variety of museums. It’s definitely safe to say if there’s one place you won’t ever get bored, its London.
However, the downside to such a booming city is the fact that EVERYTHING is SO overpriced. I’m talking the food, drinks, accommodation, house prices, activities and day trips.
Even inter-city travel ain’t cheap, with London’s public transport being the most expensive in the whole wide world (even more expensive than New York City and Tokyo).
But don’t fret, because there are definitely a few travel hacks, which can allow you to make the most of this big, beautiful city for a quarter of the price tag. And so, I share with you, my tips and tricks for exploring London without having to dig too deep into your pockets:
Getting to London on the Cheap
If you’re already in the UK, then it’s good news for you as you’ll already have access to cheap coach travel. Trains are inevitably always going to be quicker, but they may end up being almost 10X the price, with British trains costing 5X more than other trains across Europe!
Lucky for us there are a couple of cheap coach companies which can get you to London for under a tenner (£10).
My favorite go-to bus company is the Megabus, who offer wifi, plug outlets and have a toilet onboard. Another option is the National Express, whose prices are slightly higher (£15 minimum), but still far cheaper than the trains.
If you are traveling from outside of the UK, I would recommend finding the cheapest flight to a major city in the UK. Next, you can coach from that city to London for a good price using the Megabus, operating all over England and in some European countries.
After all, the UK isn’t exactly huge, so it’s not like you’ll need an all-day bus to reach London. From some European countries, you can fly to places in the UK like Bristol, for under £20, with budget airlines like Ryanair.
If you’re not flying from Europe, then check out search engine websites like Sky Scanner, showing you the cheapest available flights online.
When searching for flights, open up an incognito search tab. As search engines tend to bump up their prices if you constantly look at the same flights from the same device.
Bring Your Own Snacks
Now that you’ve got your travel all sorted, you want to make sure that you’re ready and prepared for the journey ahead.
For me, this means bringing as much food as possible, to save as much money as possible (like I mentioned, London ain’t cheap).
My favorite bus snacks have to be some nice crunchy apples and ripe bananas, which aren’t too messy and they’re definitely satisfying.
Fun fact: Apples contain pectin, which slows down the digestive process, allowing you to feel more satisfied for longer.
Bringing as much food as possible is a great idea, as even the supermarkets are much more expensive than average. If you have some time the night before you leave, I would recommend preparing lunch to take with you for the next day then that’s one less meal you have to buy out.
Cheap and Cheerful Accommodation
Who knew that ‘cheap‘ and ‘accommodation’ could come in the same sentence when referring to London. Well, it can be if you’re willing to give up the idea of a luxury trip. Say hello to hostels! They can offer equally as good accommodation, for a fraction of the price of regular hotels.
Sometimes you may have to share a room with 12+ people, but it’s definitely a must-have experience. My go-to hostel site definitely has to be: Hostelworld where you can find hostels all over the globe. We stayed in a hostel called ‘Palmer’s Lodge’ in Swiss Cottage, for only £15 a night, which had private curtains for each bed and even had a bit of a Harry Potter vibe to it.
Some other options to consider are Booking.com, which shows you the cheapest hotel deals in the area. There is also AirBnb, which allows you to pay for a room/apartment in someone’s house. However, to stay in central London with AirBnb, can still be pretty pricey (£60 per night minimum). If you’re the adventurous type, then you may also want to consider CouchSurfing.
This platform allows you to stay with hosts in the local area for free, and they may even like to show you around the city.The hosts and guests are reviewed, which gives you a rough idea of who is safe to stay with.
Getting Around: Oyster Card
With a new tube arriving every couple of minutes, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to make the most of the fast and efficient underground. A great way of saving a bit of dosh is to invest in an ‘Oyster card’.
The card will cost you £5 (which is worth it if you plan on visiting at least two locations and there is A LOT to see), and it means that you get to save money on trains, buses, and tubes –the subway.
Without an Oyster card, an average off-peak single can cost up to £4.90, however, if you have a card, then you’ll pay just £2.30, making pretty great savings. What is also really great about Oyster cards, is that they are capped at £6.60 a day in zones 1&2.
This means that no matter how much you travel throughout these zones, you will never be charged more than £6.60 per day After this amount has been reached, your travel will be free for the rest of the day-win win!
Avoid using buses and taxis in London if you want to get anywhere quickly, as the city can be known for its heavy stop-start traffic.
Jump onto Groupon
If you haven’t heard of Groupon, prepare for your life to be changed. It’s the ultimate online bargain hunters haven, as you can find anything from luxurious holidays, restaurant deals, things to do and much, much more.
Whenever I’m in a new city I always scope out Groupon to see what’s on offer, as most of the time they give up to 70% off the original price.
I managed to find a super cool dining experience, which was on a bus/converted vegan restaurant, which included a beer/cider, a vegan burger with fries and a dessert for ONLY £8 with Groupon. We also found two cinema tickets on Groupon for only £5 each which made a great after dinner activity.
As you can see, Groupon can be an extremely valuable tool, to adding more into your day for less. It is certainly worth scrolling through the copious amount of deals.
All you have to do is type in which city you want to explore, and the offers are at your fingertips.
Experience the West End at half the price
Just as New York is famous for their Broadway shows, their older cousin London is famous for their spectacular West End shows. Unfortunately to have the privilege to go and see one of those shows, is not exactly as cheap as chips. But do not fear as there is always a glitch in the Matrix.
Central London is dotted with ticket booths advertising and selling seats for the shows, however buying from here will end up costing you double the price than from purchasing your tickets online.
We managed to find two tickets online (from ‘Time Out) for Wicked costing only £24.50 each compared to the ticket booth price of £48 per ticket.
If you book a show at the West End, be sure to DOUBLE CHECK the address of the show, as some of the theaters have the same name, but are in several different locations.
Let Google do the Talking
As I mentioned, London is absolutely filled to the brim with culture, interesting buildings, art galleries, monuments and much, much more. To experience such things often requires a knowledgeable tour guide, to explain every last detail and unknown fact. As you can imagine, these tour guides come with a price, which isn’t exactly too friendly to your wallet.
Instead of opting for a day tour(which can cost up to £90), you can use your old pal, Google. All you have to do is know the name of what you’re looking at, which is often clearly stated on a nearby sign, and Google will have all of the answers to all of your questions. And you won’t have to worry about Google not talking loudly enough or expecting a tip at the end–win-win.
Street food over five-star Service
If you want to eat delicious and mouthwatering food, whilst still saving your money, I would recommend checking out the street food in Camden Market.
Camden market has a huge range of 280 stalls and 54 shops, with food as diverse as the London population; with food stalls ranging from Caribbean, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Turkish, Danish, American, Spanish, Greek, Colombian, African, Venezuelan, traditional British and a whole lot more not to mention the copious amounts of vegan options and stalls.
I even managed to try ‘the best vegan pancakes in London‘ at Camden market, which definitely lived up to their reputation.
Apart from the taste and convenience of this food, it is also so much cheaper than spending money on food in a restaurant–and is also just as filling.
Let’s face it, it’s not really a trip to London if you haven’t been to Camden, so you better make sure you get down to the market at least and join the other 100,000 weekend visitors.
Get Happy o’clock
In case you haven’t already guessed, yes, I am referring to the wonderful creation of ‘Happy Hour‘. Fun fact: the term ‘happy hour’ originated during first world war in America, where navy slang referred to their scheduled evening entertainment as ‘happy hour’, which of course included drinking.
So what better way to save money than going on the booze at happy hour. You won’t have to search too far to come across bars that promote this cheap and cheerful offer. We managed to stumble across a great cocktail bar called ‘Be At One‘, before going to see Wicked.
Just intending on having one cocktail each, with the buy one get one free offer, turned into three cocktails each. But for £3.50-£4 per delicious cocktail, it’s hard to stop at just one.
Make the most of Museums
A little-known fact is that most of the museums in London are completely free, with the option to donate some cash if you really, really want to.
There is a huge variety of museums to explore, ranging from art galleries, natural history, imperial war, royal air force, science, childhood and much more to suit your fancy.
There is even a museum of happiness, but unfortunately, that one is not for free (which ironically does not make me very happy). Despite this, there were plenty others to explore, including a museum of curiosity, filled with creepy and unusual artifacts relating to murders, mysteries, witchcraft, voodoo and much more.
Entry is only £2.50 on Thursday evenings. So now you have no excuses other than to make the most of these mainly free attractions and you’ll even learn something while you’re at it–what’s not to love?
Maddie Lynch is originally from Wales in the UK, having lived in Australia and now currently living in Germany. She has been traveling consistently for the past two years, including backpacking through Europe, yoga trips in Asia, solo traveling in India and living out of a van in Australia. She is presently an international yoga teacher, traveling and blogging about her experiences along the way. Find her personal blog here.