London is the greatest city in the world (well if you ask me, which is why I (and a couple of million other people) chose to live here. But London is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. And for many that is enough to scare them off. Money aside, London has so much to offer, it would be a shame to miss out on that … and not everything comes with a hefty price tag. So here are some handy tips on how to make the most of visiting London on a budget.
How to enjoy visiting London on a budget
We all know the famous landmarks that spring to mind when thinking of London:
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (I don’t have to tell you that Big Ben is actually only the name of the bell inside that famous tower you picture in your mind… you knew that, right? Exactly, the tower itself is of course called Elizabeth Tower)
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
St Paul’s Cathedral
… to name just a few.
And whilst all of those can be visited, they usually come at a price. And a rather hefty one that is. Rule of thumb, you can calculate around £20 – £25 per head per sight. So not ideal if you are visiting London on a budget.
If you are really keen on seeing everything and are really quick and have plenty of stamina, you can buy a London pass, which gives you access to a lot of those sites at a flat fee (the price of that pass).
Personally I have never tried that to be honest. I had looked at it in the past, but never deemed it worth it. After all, there is only so many sites you can (or want) to see in a day.
So how can you experience all that London has to offer, without breaking the bank?
Visiting London on a budget: Walk the sights
The good thing about London is that most sights are in Zone 1 (so in the centre) and therefore in walking distance from each other. Rather than rushing from one to the other, take your time, enjoy the walk and see more of London than you would on the tube (not the least because you are actually above ground). I would particularly recommend walking along the south bank of the Thames between Tower Bridge and Houses of Parliament (or half it and start or end at the Millennium Bridge).
Want to see it all in little time? You can see the best of London in just three hours and all on foot.
Visiting London on a budget: Save the hop-on/hop-off bus
Quickest way to save £20? Don’t go on one of those hop-on/hop-off busses. Absolutely not worth it (in my humble opinion). Yes ok, you get a running commentary in your language, but at the end of the day you will just sit in exactly the same traffic jam as all the regular London busses. Just at a much higher price.
I used to recommend bus route 23 from Liverpool Street to Marble Arch (or vice versa), which took you through the City, past the Bank of England, St. Paul’s, Royal Court of Justice, down the Strand with the Savoy Hotel, past Trafalgars Square (look to the left and catch a glimpse of Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament, look straight and see the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace), up to Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, along Oxford Street, past Selfridges (one of the big old department stores) and to Marble Arch and Hyde Park. All of that for as little as £1.50 (the cost of a single bus fare).
Unfortunately Transport for London has meanwhile changed their schedule and route 23 now goes a different way But don’t despair, there are still enough other busses you could take. Route 11 still takes you the first bit from London Liverpool Street down to Trafalgar’s Square. Route 139 then takes you up the other half from Trafalgar’s Square all the way to Oxford Street. And since you can change busses for free within one hour it is still only £1.50.
Alternatively you could take bus route 15 from Trafalgars Square to the Tower of London or bus route 9 from Trafalgars Square to Royal Albert Hall. Sadly, neither of those are served by the iconic Routemaster busses any more. Route 9 was already seized a couple of years ago and Transport for London has now announced that in 2021, the heritage busses on Route 15 will also be stopped. Meaning, the only way to ride an old Routemaster bus would be hiring one (and that probably doesn’t sit too well with the idea of visiting London on a budget).
Have a look at the Transport of London bus map for more exciting routes through London.
Visiting London on a budget: Enjoy the views for free
London is lacking the high skyscrapers that for example New York has to offer. For a very long time in London’s history no building was allowed to stand higher than St. Paul’s. In recent years however there have been loads of new additions to London’s skyline, so it is well worth getting high up to appreciate them.
With the Shard being the tallest building in London at present, going up there will probably give you the best view (I can’t really say, I have yet to try it), however this is the one with the hefty price again…
Instead plan your trip a few weeks ahead and try to get tickets to the Sky Garden. Tickets are usually released around 2-3 weeks in advance and they cost absolutely nothing. How’s that for London on a budget? So be quick, it is well worth it.
You are rewarded with a 360 view of the City (unfortunately I’ve taken my photos when the weather was far from amazing, so apologies for that).
If you fail to get tickets, you can still gain access to the Sky Garden by booking a table at one of the restaurants.
Remain in the City and go towards St. Paul’s. But instead of going in and up the dome (which gives you an amazing view but comes with an entrance fee), head for the One New Change shopping center next door (well you can do a spot of shopping whilst you are there, but this is not why I ask you to go there, at least not this time).
Head for the lifts and go up to the roof top. You will find a cocktail bar up there (great location for a drink if the weather allows), where you are at eye-level with the dome of St. Paul’s. Enjoy the view, it looks spectacular.
And as you can access the roof top without having to buy a drink, this view comes for free.
Another great view over London is from Hampstead Heath. Venture out of Zone 1 and take the Northern Line to Archway. From there take a bus to Kenwood House at the top of Hampstead Heath (alternatively you can obviously walk through the Heath).
Next to Kenwood House is a viewing spot that offers spectacular views over London, albeit from a bit further away. Especially when dusk sets in, this is a view worth millions.
There are just some of the great viewing spots of London absolutely for free.
Visiting London on a budget: Enjoy culture for free
Whilst the major sights cost money, there are a lot of things that are absolutely free. Such as a lot of the museums. Yes, you will have to pay for private museums (the Transport Museum in Covent Garden for example) or for special exhibitions, but the majority of state museums have free admission (they do usually ask for some donations to support them but it is up to you if / how much you give).
For anyone interested in history, the British Museum is an absolute must. Go and see the mummies and the Rosetta Stone.
If you visit London with kids, explore the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.
I’d recommend the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Tate Modern (read all about my recent trip to the V&A here) for those into art and fashion.
Obviously, there are a lot more to visit, but I reckon you get the idea.
Visiting London on a budget: Look out for special deals for London
A very effective way of saving money is to look out for special offers and deals.
Sign up for discount website such as Time Out offers in advance to give you access to special deals from food (set menus at reasonable prices in some of the pricier restaurants) to tickets for concerts or West End shows.
One of the regular offers (and always well worth it in my opinion) is the Celebrity Organ Recital in St Paul’s. This is on once a month over summer and Time Out offers half price tickets (£6), enabling you to see the inside of St Paul’s for much less than a normal viewing ticket would cost, whilst also experiencing the acoustics and organ this church has to offer.
When going to a supermarket, check the packaging of your favourite breakfast cereal. On a regular basis Kellogg’s offers a 2for1 voucher for some of the London sights, such as the London Eye or the London Aquarium.
I could go on forever (and might add to this at some point), but for now it’s time to come to an end, I think.
But what about you? Any top tips on saving money in London? How do you make the most of visiting London on a budget?