It's no secret that London has become one of the most expensive cities in the world, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to have a lot of money to visit the English capital.
As a matter of fact, there are a ton of hacks and tricks you can try in order to save a few pounds (or more!) when visiting London on a budget. From how to save every last pence when shopping for food at Tesco, or even how to take advantage of free upgrades so you can get a free boat tour up and down the River Thames, here are some of the many ways you can save money during your next trip to London:
Take advantage of pre-arrival discounts
If you're truly serious about saving money during your trip to London, then there are certain steps you should take before you even step foot in the city centre. Normally the rule of thumb is "the earlier, the better" when it comes to booking transportation or tickets online before any upcoming trip, and that is especially the case when it comes to planning your London trip.
The London Pass may come at a pretty steep price (£62 for one day), but if you're willing to spend the money you could save as much as £75 on entrance fees into many popular London attractions, or well over £120 by visiting just three attractions a day (if you purchase a multi-day pass). However, if you don't have the funds to spend on a London Pass, here are some pre-arrival discounts every visitor to London should take advantage of:
- Pre-loaded Visitor Oyster Cards: Oyster cards are the most cost-effective way of getting around London, as you can use them on the London Underground as well as on local buses, the DLR and many, many more. Visitors can pre-purchase a Visitor Oyster Card online and add credit to it before arriving in London, and it only costs £3 to get it posted to your address.
- Pre-book airport transportation: Companies like EasyBus, National Express, Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect offer huge discounts if you purchase tickets in advance, and some companies have a "Flexible Add-On" option so you can board the next available coach, regardless of when you land in London.
- Book tickets for attractions online beforehand: Some famous landmarks and attractions in London (like the London Eye, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds) offer massive online discounts on tickets if you book them weeks, or even months in advance.
Budget hacks for transportation to and from London
Because all of London's airports are located quite a distance out of central London, it can sometimes cost an arm and a leg just to get into the city centre. Not only that, if time is of the essence and you want to get into London as quickly as possible, purchasing a train ticket to London from an airport could cost as much as £50 one way (or even more!)
As with most methods of transportation, the quicker the service, the more you will have to pay; so if you're desperate to get in and out of London as quickly as possible, be prepared to spend a fair chunk of change in order to do so. (Heathrow Express, Stansted Express and Heathrow Connect, however, offer massive discounts on tickets if you purchase them well in advance).
But if you're more flexible with time, you could easily save a ton of money on transportation costs by booking a coach to get to and from London. The companies known to offer the most dirt-cheap prices on transportation in and out of London are:
- Megabus: With trips from Edinburgh to London costing as low as £1 pound if you book months in advance, you can't really go wrong.
- easyBus: This company offers cheap coach transportation to and from Stansted Airport, Gatwick Airport, Luton Airport and countless cities and towns in the UK.
- Terravision: Ideal for visitors arriving or departing out of Stansted Airport, Gatwick Airport, and Luton Airport; (a one-way ticket from Stansted Airport to London, for example, can cost as little as £9).
- National Express: Offering connections to and from Stansted Airport, Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, Luton Airport and countless cities and towns around the UK. Book months in advance to get the lowest cost possible.
- Public bus: Ideal for anyone arriving and/or departing late at night out of Heathrow Airport (N9) or Gatwick Airport (Metrobus, Fastway 10, and Routes 200, 460, 22, and 400).
Budget hacks for accommodation in London
There's no way to sugar coat this one: Accommodation in London can put a huge dent in your savings, so be prepared to spend at least 50% of your travel budget on accommodation alone.
Of course if you're lucky enough to know someone who lives in London, you could always ask them if you could crash at their place for free; if not, here are some other ways you could save money on accommodation in London:
- Hostel dorm beds: Depending on what time of the year you're visiting, you could easily find a hostel in central London which offers dorm beds for as little as £10 a night; (be prepared to spend a lot more during the weekends or in the summer, though)
- Couchsurfing: It may take a lot of pre-planning and a lot of back-and-forth messaging with home owners, but Couchsurfing is one of the best ways to get free accommodation in London.
- Pet/house sitting: Check out sites like TrustedHouseSitters.com or HouseCarers.com to see if any London home/pet owners are offering free accommodation in return for you taking cares of their pets, homes and gardens. (Some websites like TrustedHouseSitters have a £100 annual fee, however).
- Airbnb: Although you may luck out and find a cheap private room or even flat to stay in near London's many attractions and landmarks, if you really want to save money on accommodation, you may have to stay far out of the city centre.
Budget guide on eating, drinking and nightlife in London
When it comes down to it, the best way to save money on food and alcohol in London would be avoid dining out altogether, and stick to buying your food and drinks in supermarkets. But if you're a foodie and/or party type who wants to experience London's cuisine and nightlife in all its glory, here are some ways you could save money during your next trip to London:
- Shop at Tesco: Take advantage of Tesco's Meal Deals (where you can get a sandwich/wrap, a small bag of fruit and a drink for as little as £3), and some stores even put items on discount a couple of hours before closing as well.
- Buy food at a London street market: Sampling delicious street food at a popular London market like Borough Market is one of the many ways you could save money on a meal in London.
- Buy a Visitor Oyster Card: Not only is the Oyster Card 50% cheaper than one-day Travelcards around London, Visitor Oyster Card holders can also get a ton of discounts and special offers at various different restaurants and bars around London.
- Dine in Chinatown: Soho's Chinatown is packed full of many Asian restaurants and cafes, many of which offer daily and dirt-cheap "Chef's Specials" (which are normally posted outside the restaurant)
- Check out coupon/discount websites: Sites like London-Eating, Money Saving Expert, SquareMeal, VoucherCodes, and Toptable offer 50% discounts at different restaurants around London. Groupon also has a massive list of deals on their "Restaurant Vouchers" page, some of which include 2-for-1 deals or even free starter/dessert coupons.
- Head to bars and nightclubs extra early: Many of London's most popular bars and clubs have a pretty hefty admission fee, but some venues offer free entry if you arrive before 10 p.m.
- Take advantage of Happy Hours: Sometimes pubs and bars offer cheap jugs of cocktails or two-for-one drinks during their Happy Hours (normally between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.)
Free or pay-what-you-want attractions and museums
Luckily many of London's museums are free for members of the public, so you can easily visit a handful during your trip to London without even having to pay a pence. (And let's not forget that visitors can walk across Millennium Bridge and the Tower Bridge for free - both of which are famous London landmarks in their own right).
Some websites like TravelZoo, Discount London, Wowcher and Groupon also offer great deals and discounts to many popular attractions in London as well; but if you're desperate to pass through the doors of a famous London landmark and don't feel like paying the admission price to do so, here are some of the many places in London which offer free and/or pay-what-you-wish entry to visitors:
Free museums in London:
- British Museum
- Museum of London
- Natural History Museum
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Royal Museums Greenwich
- Science Museum
- Sir John Soane's Museum
- Bank of England Museum
- Horniman Museum
- Geffrye Museum
- Hunterian Museum
- Bank of England Museum
- Kenwood House
- Royal Air Force Museum
- Museum of London Docklands
- London Silver Vaults
- Foundling Museum
- Museum of Childhood
- Foundling Museum
- National Maritime Museum
- Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
- Grant Museum of Zoology
Free art galleries in London:
- National Gallery
- Tate Modern
- National Portrait Gallery
- Wallace Collection
- Barbican Centre
- British Library
- Guildhall Art Gallery
- Saatchi Gallery
- Serpentine Galleries
- Wallace Collection
- Whitechapel Gallery
- The Photographers' Gallery
- Tate Britain
Free landmarks in London:
- St. Paul's Cathedral (Visitors wanting to pray in the cathedral can do so for free, however you will not be allowed to visit the tombs, memorials or domes).
- St. Paul's Church
- Temple Church (Visiting during a church service is free)
- Somerset House (Although some exhibitions may have a small fee, the building also offers free guided tours for visitors as well)
- All Hallows-By-The-Tower (Free guided tours are available between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. between April and October).
- Westminster Abbey's Evensong (Avoid paying the expensive Westminster Abbey entrance fee altogether by visiting the Abbey during their Evensong)
Free attractions/entertainment in London:
- Changing of the Guard ceremony
- The National Gallery (Free live music every Friday)
- Watch a free BBC show taping (BBC regularly gives away free tickets to many of its shows - check their official website for more information)
- Sky Garden (Make sure you book in advance)
- Houses of Parliament (Sit in on legal proceedings for free - it may be a good idea to reserve a spot ahead of time, though)
- Royal Festival Hall (For free workshops, exhibitions and concerts)
- The Scoop (Watch a performance, concert or film screening for free)
- Gresham College (Listen to various free lectures which are held throughout the year)
- Hyde Park's Speaker's Corner (Maybe you'll luck out and hear someone on a political rant during your stroll around London's most famous park)
- The Old Bailey: (Watch trials for free any day throughout the week - make sure you check the official website beforehand)
- Hackney City Farm (Although donations are accepted/recommended)
- Prime Meridian Line, Greenwich (Avoid admission costs altogether and head to Park Vista to get your picture taken on the metal "dots" which represent the Prime Meridian Line)
- St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Free lunchtime concerts every Monday, Tuesday and Friday at 1 p.m.)
- Royal Opera House (Free recitals every Monday at 1 p.m.)
- London School of Economics (Sit in on various lectures for free)
- St. Giles in the Fields church (Free concerts every Friday at 1:10 p.m.)
- The Scoop (A large outdoor amphitheatre which hosts countless free events and exhibitions throughout the year)
- The British Films Institute Mediatheque (Where visitors can watch films and documentaries for free)
- Angel Comedy Club (Watch a free stand-up comedian performance every Saturday at 8 p.m.)
- The Royal Opera House (Free lunchtime performances can be booked in advance)
- Central Criminal Court (Sit in on a trial for free and take a stroll around the Public Galleries)
- Leicester Square's Odeon Theatre (Where visitors can watch film premieres for free)
- St. James's Piccadilly (For free lunchtime recitals)
- Notting Hill Arts Club (For free music performances and concerts)
- The National Theatre (For free jazz, folk, reggae and dance concerts - check their official website beforehand for upcoming performances)
Budget hacks for London theatre tickets
If you've ever scanned over the cost of a London theatre performance ticket, then you may be tempted to avoid purchasing theatre tickets in London altogether. But if your idea of a perfect holiday is watching a classic theatre performance in a historic London venue, here are some of the many ways you could save money on London theatre tickets:
- Check out discount websites: Popular websites like Last-minute, GetIntoLondonTheatre and DiscountLondonTheatre offer great deals on London theatre tickets; (some websites offer discounts on tickets for as much as 40%!)
- Get standing-only tickets for the Globe Theatre: It may not be the most comfortable option, but with standing tickets costing as little as £5 per person, it's pretty hard to beat when it comes to watching a classic Shakespearean play in a world-famous theatre venue.
- Mondays at the Royal Court Theatre: If you happen to be in London on a Monday, this venue offers £10 tickets on Mondays, and standing-only tickets for as little as 10p (yes, you read that right) which go on sale about an hour before every show.
- Last-minute tickets: The TKTS booth in Leicester Square offers discounts on tickets for as much as 50% off on the day of each performance
Also, if you're hoping to enjoy a meal before heading to the theatre, many restaurants in London offer discounted meals to theatre-goers, some of which include The Cinnamon Club, Menier Chocolate Factory, Skylon, The Swan (near Shakespeare's Globe), Inamo Soho, Mash and many more. Some establishments offer various fixed pre-theatre menus which usually consist of two or three course meals, as well as a glass of wine or champagne.
Budget hacks for sightseeing tours
Given that London is a city packed full of different landmarks and attractions, it's easy to see why tour companies charge an arm and a leg for visitors wanting to see as many famous places in London as possible in the span of a few hours.
If you're itching to go on a sightseeing tour around London, our pay-what-you-want walking tours are a a great way to explore West, East and South London, or learn more about specific topics like Jack The Ripper, London street art, Harry Potter and haunted London. (Plus many of our tours walk past some of the most famous spots in London - like Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the London Eye, and many more).
But if you're hoping to pass through the doors of a famous London landmark, or even save yourself the hassle of figuring out how to get to all of London's many famous landmarks and attractions, you could always shell out the money on a 72-hour ticket with tour companies like Golden Tours (which even offer discounted tickets into the London Eye, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the London Dungeon, Shrek's Adventure, the Shard, Madame Tussauds and St. Paul's Cathedral).
The Original Tours also offers massive online discounts if customers pre-book their tickets online beforehand, plus by purchasing their 48-hour hop-on hop-off bus tour ticket, and you can also get a free river cruise upgrade to Greenwich as well.