Winter is well and truly setting in Australia and I’ve been dreaming of heading to Europe to defrost! While there’s a certain appeal to sailing around the Meditteranean, my journey to Europe always starts and ends in London.
London is one of those cities that is best visited during the warmer weather but unfortunately, with a weak Aussie dollar, the conversion to Great British Pounds seriously hurts our wallet. Never fear, help is here.
After living in London for the best part of five years, I’ve found just a few ways to save money in what can be a pretty expensive city.
Here are my top tips to save money in London.
Consider Apartment Rentals or Luxury Hostels
Want to stay somewhere that offers a little bit of luxury on a budget, consider staying at a luxury hostel (or ‘poshtel’ as the Brits call it) or an apartment rental.
If you like the social aspect of hostels but want something a little more comfortable than a luxury hostel might be perfect for you.
My top picks of luxury hostels in London include the Generator London, Safestay (they have two hostels in Holland Park and Elephant & Castle), Palmers Lodge, and Meininger (hotel/hostel).
I’m a big fan of staying in apartment or vacation rentals, like airbnb, when travelling because for the same price or less than a hotel you can have access to a whole apartment, which really helps you get into the cities groove.
Best of all, if you have access to a kitchen you can save even more money by making your own breakfast or dinner which means more money for exploring the city!
The first thing you should do…
Buy an Oyster Card! These blue contactless smart card which you can top up and use on all public transport in London.
Paying in cash, single rides on the Tube (aka: Underground) cost around £4.50 (AU$8.80) within zones 1 and 2. By purchasing an Oyster card you can save over 50% of the price with a single ride costing £2.10 (AU$4.10).
When purchasing an Oyster card for the first time you will pay a £3 fee which is refundable if you want to return it before leaving London.
To top up, simply visit an Oyster top-up machine or cashier and pay by card or cash. Simple!
If you are visiting for a day or seven days and staying within the city (zone 1), a paper Travelcard (valid for a single day or seven days journeys) may be a better option for you so be sure to ask a ticket officer.
Two ways to save money using Public Transport;
- Travel off-peak (after 9:30 am on weekdays).
- Take the bus (the Tube is the fastest but also most expensive way to get around the city)
For great value, consider buying an Oyster Card and London City Pass (more details below!) and save on transport and entrance to London’s best sights!
How to save money when flying into London
When flying into London, consider which airport you are flying into as some have cheaper taxes than other and some are easier to get to (and cheaper!) than others.
London is served by five airports – Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), Luton (LTN), Stansted (STN) and City (LCY). I’ve marked the location on the Google map above so you can get a better idea of where they are.
Tip: By booking your train or coach tickets in advance you can get fares as low as £2.00!
If you’re flying into Heathrow, consider taking the Underground!
The airport is located in zone 6 and connected by the Piccadilly line which runs through Central London and takes around 45-50 minutes.
People will try to get you to buy tickets for the Heathrow Express (a one-way ticket is from £21.50!) and while a lovely mode of transport, it is the most expensive train journey in the world for cost vs. distance.
If you’re flying into Gatwick, take the Gatwick Express!
Running every 15 minutes, the fastest way to get to Central London from Gatwick is by taking the Gatwick Express. The Gatwick Express runs to London Victoria non-stop and takes around 30 minutes.
The Thameslink runs to London Bridge, St Pancras International (where the Eurostar departs/next to Kings Cross Station) and Luton Airport. Southern runs to London Victoria via. Clapham Junction.
You can’t use an Oyster card to get to Gatwick airport.
If you’re flying into Luton, take a bus.
Luton airport has some crazy cheap airfares but it is a bit of a pain to get into the city. My top tip is to take a bus or coach.
With regular services, National Express coaches take 35 minutes to take you from Luton to a variety of stops all over London, including Baker Street, Victoria Rail Station and Victoria Coach Station. Best of all, they have free WiFi onboard!
Another option I’ve used in the past is travelling onboard easyBus (affiliated with EasyJet) which runs services between Luton airport and London VictoriaCoasch Station or London Liverpool Street rail station. If you book early enough, you can score a £2 one-way ticket which is a bargain!
You can also take a train. A shuttle bus connects passengers to Luton Airport Parkway Station, just a 10-minute ride away from the terminal. You need to have cash because shuttle tickets cost £1.60 single, £2.70 Standard Open Return (children pay half price) and there are no credit/debit card facilities.
From the station, Thameslink or East Midlands Trains will connect you to London St Pancras Station.
If you’re flying into London City airport, take the DLR.
While it’s the closest airport to the city centre, London City Airport can be a real pain to get to if you don’t plan in advance. The DLR is an overground system connecting East London to the Underground network. If you are staying on the District (green) line or near Bank station, the DLR will be easy for you to use to access City Airport.
The airport is located in Zone 3 and Oyster cards can be used to access the airport.
Alternatively, being so close to the city centre, consider taking a chauffeur car or Uber.
If you’re flying into London Stansted Airport, take the Stansted Express!
In just 47 minutes, the Stansted Express easily gets passengers from Liverpool Street in Central London to Stansted Airport.
Coach transfers through National Express are also available and run 24 hours a day.
How to save money on Entertainment and Sightseeing
London is a fantastic place for sightseeing, with many activities free. For those that aren’t, last time I was in London I used The London Pass to save a few hundred dollars in savings.
Currently, there are more than 60 attractions for free when using The London Pass but even if you only want to see a handful of them, it can save you a significant amount of money.
To find out more about The London Pass, check their website.
Take a free walking tour
London is a great city to explore on foot, and there are a number of FREE tours which can help you do just that.
The most well-known, Sandeman’s New London, tour runs twice daily tours at 11 am and 1 pm from Hyde Park Corner.
Free Tours By Foot offer nine walking tours around London, including graffiti, Jack the Ripper and Camden tours.
NOTE: All these tours are free, but the guides are able to
continue running them by the tips given by participants.
Did you know that most of the museums in London are free?! There is a huge variety of museums in London, so why not check out the National Gallery, the V&A, or the Imperial War Museum to name but a few.
Also, some museums that usually charge admission open their doors for free one day each month, usually in the first or last week. Stop by the admin office or library and look in Time Out website or magazine for weekly updates. And talking of free culture, don’t forget to take advantage of the programme of
Free Museums in London include:
- V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum), Knightsbridge
- British Museum, Bloomsbury
- Museum of London, Barbican
- Natural History Museum, Gloucester Road
- Science Museum, Knightsbridge
- National Gallery, Leicester Square
- Tate Modern, Bankside
- Tate Britain, Millbank
- National Portrait Gallery, Charring Cross
- Imperial War Museum, Elephant & Castle
- British Library, Euston
- The Bank of England Museum, Bank
- Royal Air Force Museum, North West London
- National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
- National Army Museum, Outer London
- V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green
- Somerset House, Temple
- All Hallows By The Tower, Tower Hill
- St Bride’s Church, Temple
The Best Things in Life are Free (or Cheap!)!
Many of the best things to see and do in London won’t cost you a penny. Some of my top suggestions include:
- Want to see the view from the top of the Shard? Aqua Shard, the bar at the top, offers a beautiful view for the price of a drink. Heron Tower, near Liverpool Street, has a brilliant view from the opposite side of the Thames for the cost of a drink.
- Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.
- Take a walk through Hyde Park. Be sure to stop at Speaker’s Corner and the ornate Queen Elizabeth Gate.
- Window shop along Oxford Street.
- Enjoy the urban scene and go hunting for street art! My picks include Shoreditch, Brixton, and Camden.
- Visit Westminster Abbey for Free by visiting Evensong. St Margaret’s Church, College Gardens and the Cloisters at Westminster Abbey is always free.
- Visit the Tower of London for free by pre-booking tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys – the ceremonial locking up of the Tower.
- Spend an afternoon exploring Camden Market. Be sure to walk along the canal banks.
- Visit Abbey Road and re-enact the famous Beatles street crossing.
- Visit the best free view of London from atop the Walkie Talkie. To visit the landscaped garden is free, but if you’re looking for a special treat there is also a bar and restaurant.
- Get a cheap bird’s eye view of London from the top of the London Monument to the Great Fire of 1666. (Costs £4.00 for adults at £1.50 for those under 16)
- Want to try something new – swing dancing, silver smithery course, makeup course screen printing, or even colouring in? Drink, Shop & Do hold nightly courses, most of them costing less around £10-15, though there are some that are free!
- Save 20% or more by booking tickets online for London’s biggest attractions like the London Eye, The Shard, and the Red Double Decker Bus Tour.
It is possible to get cheap theatre tickets!
What Broadway is to New York, the West End is to London. You can purchase discounted tickets to shows (up to 50% off) at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square on the day of the performance.
Know what show you want to see? Try lining up at the theatre for return and stand-by tickets.
If you are planning in advance, keep your eye out for discounts on websites like LastMinute.com or GetIntoLondonTheatre.com
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, the Globe Theatre offers tickets to Shakespearean plays for just £5 – as long as you’re willing to stand.
The Royal Court Theatre sells £10 tickets on Mondays and 10 pence standing room tickets that go on sale an hour before every show!
A visit to the pub doesn’t need to cost a fortune
Get out of the tourist zones to find cheap beer. A pint of beer will cost between £3 and £3.50 at almost every pub in London, except those in the tourist zones, where £4 to £5 is standard.
Plenty of pubs offer happy hours so be on the lookout for these. You can also find some hearty food at the local pub at decent prices.
Beer and wine bought from the local ‘offy’ (off-license store) or supermarket are also pretty cheap, so consider having a picnic or getting friends together to share a few drinks at your accommodation.
Other places to get tasty food at a good price includes Borough Market (London Bridge), Camden Lock, Brick Lane Market, Leather Lane Market and the Real Food Market (Southbank).
Some of the best budget restaurants in London
- Mooli’s, Soho
- Yalla Yalla, Soho and Oxford Street
- Gelupo, Soho (Best gelato in London!)
- Eat Street, Kings Cross
- MEATliquor, Bond Street
Check out this post for some of my favourite budget restaurants in London.
You can save money at lunch by purchasing your meal at Tesco or Sainsbury. The supermarkets offer lunch meal deals for £3 which come with a sandwich or wrap, chips and drink (soft drink, water or juice).