London may have a reputation of being an expensive place to visit, but you don’t have to break the bank while you’re there.
From discounted attractions, simple transport ticket hacks and tonnes of free museums to explore, with a careful bit of planning and preparation, you can still get the most out of your weekend without going over-budget.
Sightseeing and Attractions
London is great for sightseeing and is home to some of the world’s best museums. The British Library, British Museum, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum and the Museum of London are all free for you to visit.
However, aside from visiting these popular cultural hubs, there are still a number of ways you can explore some of the city’s landmark tourist attractions on a budget. The London Pass allows you to significantly cut the cost on entry fees for over 32 venues including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Shakespeare’s Globe. The pass is valid for up to 6 days, costs but costs £71 for two days and is well worth the money if you’re planning on cramming in all that London has to offer.
Depending on what time of year you visit, there are always events taking place across the capital. If you head to the South Bank from April to July, you will see a large purple cow, known affectionately as the Udderbelly Festival, offering a selection of outlandish cabaret, comedy and musical entertainment. Tickets are often reasonably priced and entry to the festival’s array of food stalls and Pimms tent is free.
There are also plenty of free events and festivals which take place throughout the summer months in a variety of locations. Every June, the city opens its historic and traditional gardens for visitors to explore as part of a 3 day event known as ‘Open Garden Squares Weekend’.
From contemporary roof terraces to traditional private squares, there are a real range of gardens on offer across 27 of London’s boroughs. In August, Notting Hill Carnival, which is free to enter, takes over the bank holiday weekend (the final weekend of the month) and as Europe’s biggest street party, involves its trademark mixture of eclectic floats, sequinned dancers, DJs, steel bands and fantastic Caribbean cuisine.
London also has an abundance of affordable walking tours often organised by enthusiastic and knowledgeable locals. The tours provide interesting and entertaining commentary and combined with a lovely stroll around the heart of London’s most historic neighbourhoods, this is possibly one of the best ways to experience the city. Most of these tours can be booked in advance with generous discounts if you sign up to YPlan, a mobile event discovery app tailored to London events and attractions.
The cheapest and most affordable way to stay in the city is one of the fine London hostels. Prices do rise during the busy summer months, so it is worth considering a weekend break outside peak time. Finding cheap hostels in London doesn’t need to be a trial, if you’re clever with your planning. The YHA has seven hostels in London at varying locations including Earls Court, Oxford Street and St Pauls, so you should be able to find somewhere in the right location for you.
Many of London’s centrally located universities also open up their accommodation during the summer offering great value, with some even including breakfast and other perks.
If you want to stay in a hotel, avoid staying near Oxford Street, Knightsbridge or Convent Garden and look at the areas of Bayswater, Camden or Hammersmith instead. You will find the rooms are cheaper here, but also the neighbourhoods are busy with local pubs, restaurants and take-away shops that are not only cheaper but also have a great close-knit and authentic London atmosphere.
An Oyster Card reduces the price of travelling in and around London and caps the daily total at £6.60 if you start after 9.30am or £8 if you want to get an earlier start, providing you stay in the central zones in London.
Before your first journey, you can pay a deposit for the Oyster Card itself and charge it at the same time with a selection of set daily or weekly rates. The card also automatically caps itself so you get the benefits of a cheap, unlimited all-day pass (including buses) without having to stand in line to buy one each day.
Food and Drink
Traditional ‘non-touristy’ areas are likely to offer you the best priced food and drink. The Bayswater area, which is just north of Hyde Park, has authentic pubs, small cafes and some fast-food places where locals go. You will also be walking distance from Edgware Road, which has affordable restaurants open until late.
It may be surprising to hear, but you can also get quick gourmet food to go in many of London’s trendy and youthful in London for under £10. It might be a sour dough pizza at Franco Manca, a tasty rib meat roll from The Rib Man or maybe a lobster roll from Smacked Deli.
Night markets are becoming increasingly popular around the city and, as long as you don’t mind sharing a table with strangers or eating while standing, these spots are often teeming with stalls offering cuisine from all corners of the globe. Camden Lock plays host to a great Night Market during the summer months as well as Shoreditch’s rather alternative ‘Dinerama’ experience which involves a disused car park featuring 15 exotic food vendors, 6 bars and space for up to 1000 people.
London has a reputation for being expensive but with a little research, planning and organisation you’ll be surprised how affordable it can be.