These days it feels like your budget needs to be positively elastic to stretch to any overseas holiday, let alone a visit to London — renowned as one of the world’s most expensive travel destinations.
However, there are plenty of creative ways to explore this amazing city without having to take out a second mortgage.
Here are some tips for how to experience London on a budget.
Save with a London Pass
When it comes to saving money in London, the London Pass is a traveller’s best friend. It gets you discount entry and skip-the-line access to a host of attractions, with flexible 1,2,3 and 6-day passes. Although the initial outlay may sting a little, the savings will add up to a pretty attractive consolation.
Grab an Oyster
As soon as you touch down at Heathrow, get an Oyster card and you’ve already saved on your transport into central London (just jump straight on a Piccadilly Line tube). You can top up with any amount at ticket machines, stations or shops all over the city and use your card on the entire transport network (trains, buses and the Underground). Your Oyster will always get you the cheapest possible fare.
You can also save a few dollars by collecting any unused credit on the way out, along with the card deposit (note: if you purchase a ‘Visitor Oyster Card’ online before arriving in London, the deposit is non-refundable).
There are a few cheap and not-so-nasty ways to sleep for less in London. Generator Hostels are revolutionising the concept of hostelling with their brand of hip, contemporary accommodation, while Airbnb has hundred of host properties on offer across the city. If you’ve got friends in cold places, you can always fall back on the great Aussie tradition of couch surfing (or ‘dossing’ as it’s fondly known).
Double your fun on a double decker bus
You can fork out for one of the ubiquitous open double-decker bus tours, or you can create your own for a fraction of the price! Swipe your Oyster Card and climb aboard the bus route of your choosing (Route 9 between Hammersmith and Aldwych will give you a great taste of city sights). Alternatively, just wing it and go on a mystery tour on the first double decker that comes along.
Get arty for free
For a city that can eat up your daily budget in one breakfast, it’s hard to believe it serves up so much of its art and culture for free. Excluding major exhibitions, the Tate Britain, Tate Modern, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Saatchi Gallery, Serpentine and many others will cost you absolutely nix — allowing you to truly appreciate art for art’s sake.
Phone home on a local sim
Basically, not switching off data roaming on your Aussie mobile phone is a red-carpet invitation to travel bankruptcy. Instead, go in to one of the mobile phone shops on any high street in the UK capital and purchase a pre-paid sim from O2, Vodafone or 3UK. You’ll be instantly connected to the Internet and friends and family back home at a reasonable price. Free Wi-Fi is also widely available in London. Check out Timeout’s handy guide to where you can surf the net for nix.
Go ‘off’ West End
You can see some top West End shows at discounted prices by lining up at the official TKTS booth in Leicester Square, but you should also check out the independent theatres — where you can pick up a ticket for as little as $10. Cheap doesn’t mean low quality though, and you can enjoy gems like La Boheme and Fawlty Towers in quirky, out-of-the-way theatres with plenty of character.
Walk the walk
The best way to explore central London is on foot. If you’re old-school, grab a free tourist map and head off in whatever direction takes your fancy. For app lovers, options like Citymapper will see you swaggering about the place like a local in no time.
Snap up a free tour
Undiscovered London offers a free walking tour of ‘Royal London’, which provides a great introduction to the lie of the land around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Westminster. The tour leaves from Green Park twice daily, and there really is no catch. Do spread the love though, and tip your guide to show your appreciation.
Enjoy cheap eats
Let’s get one thing straight: if you want to eat ‘out’ in London you’re going to have to pay dearly. So get creative! Try places like Brick Lane for an authentic curry with attitude; Chinatown for a delightfully confusing array of cheap Asian food; and Borough Markets for, well, pretty much anything that your taste buds desire!
Do you have any tips for how to experience London on a budget? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying 10 years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.