London is expensive! It would be folly to try to pretend otherwise. But a visit shouldn’t have to destroy your bank account at home.
In early 2023, there are two cross-cutting factors at play. Let’s start with the good news for visitors. The pound is historically pretty weak at the moment, which means that, at the moment at least, day to day costs in the city are roughly comparable to costs in big American cities and most western European cities of note.
The bad news is that inflation is worse in the U.K. than just about anywhere else right now, so prices — especially prices for food and other consumer goods that arrive from the European Economic Area — keep inching up.
10 budget tips for visiting London
It goes without saying that it pays to have some budget weapons in your arsenal. Here are 10 ways to save on your trip.
1. Purchase a Visitor Oyster card
The Visitor Oyster card, a contactless smartcard that can only be purchased before you arrive in London, is a great way to save money. It determines the cheapest fare for any given public transportation journey and can be topped up along the way. It also caps fares at a maximum amount per day; for example, if you travel exclusively by bus, a £20 Visitor Oyster card will cap charges at £4.65 per day.
The Visitor Oyster card can be used on all Transport for London (TfL) services: The Tube, bus, tramlines, the Docklands Light Railway, Thames Clipper ferry services, and most National Rail train services within London as well as the Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains. Customers can obtain a refund for partially unused cards. The Visitor Oyster card is a cheapo traveler’s dream, but we’re not going to mislead: there is a good deal of fine print attached to its use.
2. Take a bus
If you decided to go the journey by journey route, choose the bus over the Tube. Buses may be slower than the Tube, but they are cheaper. About 95% of London residents live within 400 meters of a bus line: buses really are London’s transit capillaries, penetrating — in particular south of the Thames — in a way that the Tube does not. Bus fares now include an entire hour of unlimited travel.
If you do decide to take the Tube instead, make sure to ride like a local with these tips.
3. Take advantage of the Boots lunch deal
Boots is a chemists (drugstore) chain found across the U.K. The Boots meal deal is now £4.99 for a main entrée, snack and drink — admittedly more than the £3.99 it was in London at the start of 2022 — but it remains a great deal.
4. Shop for food at supermarkets
If you want to find food for even cheaper, you can always assemble meals on the go from supermarkets. Chains like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Lidl are good for ad hoc meals; even rather posher Waitrose offers up bargains here and there.
London, mostly a very flat city, is an ideal place for walking. (How flat? Check your stair counter on your phone: it’s not difficult to walk 20,000 steps in a day in London and find that you’ve only climbed two or three flights!) Use Google Maps or another customizable map to estimate travel times — don’t forget that London is huge.
6. Camp in the city
Yes, remarkably, you can pitch a tent in London! Crystal Palace Club Campsite in south London and Abbey Wood Club Campsite in far southeast London are safe and secure places to camp. There are also tent sites just barely beyond the borders of Greater London in Aldenham Country Park in Elstree, Hertfordshire.
7. Dine locally
Eat at local cafes and canteens to get the most bang for your buck. Most inexpensive restaurants are outside of central London, though even in the center, there are bargains to be had. For example, at Pimlico’s Regency Café (17-19 Regency Street SW1P 4BY), the weekly curry is £6.20, the breakfast set is £5.50 and a veggie burger is £2.60.
8. Explore free museums
The best-known London museums are mostly free. Yes, you read that correctly. Permanent collections are always free at the Design Museum, the Museum of London, the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Tate Modern and the Victoria & Albert, among other museums. The London Transport Museum is free to everyone under 17.
9. Score free and discounted theatre tickets
How to do theatre on a budget? I asked my friend Derek Craig, an avid theatre-goer, to weigh in. He suggested Seat Fillers, which offers free tickets — or tickets for the cost of booking fees only — to everyone. Another route to free (or hugely discounted) theatre tickets is The Audience Club.
10. Book budget hotels in London
Ready to book your trip? Search for thousands of hotels in London.
Source: Euro Cheapo