I’ve been traveling to London regularly for the past ten years, and I’ve not only fallen in love with the city, but I’ve also discovered something new with every visit. London, the capital of England and a global city as diverse in its people as its food and neighborhoods, is must for every traveler.
As a budget traveler, I’m always looking to save money, which can be tough in an expensive city like London, but I’ve amassed some helpful, budget-friendly tips as well as recommendations for free attractions to offset the must-have, high ticket ones.
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Getting to & Around London
London is the central hub of travel from west to east and onwards with tons of flights arriving in London every day. Some first-time budget travelers choose to fly into Gatwick, as flights are cheaper but make sure to factor in travel time and budget to get you to central London. If you do fly through Gatwick, be sure to purchase your transport in advance, whether through National Express or other services, which is cheaper than purchasing on arrival.
The easiest airport to fly into London is Heathrow, a mini-city in and of itself. Don’t be overwhelmed, it may be big, but it’s easy to navigate and it’s in a great location right at the end of the Tube line. Having access to the Tube (London’s underground metro system) makes getting anywhere in the city a breeze, and it’s affordable.
If you’re planning an epic vacation with several stops in Europe, we have guides on how to make the most of two weeks in Europe, using budget airlines to get around, and the best time to buy a Eurail Pass.
Tips for Tourists in London
1. Get an Oyster Card
If you’re going to be in London for more than a few days and plan on using public transit, I suggest purchasing an Oyster Card for £5 and load it with money for use on buses and the Tube. Not only will you save money on your fares, but you can also return the card for your initial deposit back. The Oyster Card pairs well with a London Pass, which can be pre-ordered before your trip.
2. Learn the cheapest times for transit (off-peak)
When traveling via bus or Tube, it is easier and cheaper to travel during non-peak times. Try and plan your days to travel between 9:30 am and either before 4 pm or after 7 pm. This way you won’t be stuck standing amongst the masses at rush hours, and you’ll save yourself a few pounds.
3. Save on attractions
If you plan on hitting up a bunch of London’s main attractions, like the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Tour and more, get the Whym app. Available for London and Paris, the app allows you to book tickets at discounted rates, right from your phone, even last minute, which is great if you aren’t sure what you’re going to want to see. The Whym app is available on both the App Store and Google Play.
4. Bring comfortable shoes
Like any great city, the best (and cheapest) way to explore it and experience all it has to offer is to get your walking shoes on and hit the streets.
Ladies wondering what kind of shoes you should bring? We suggest these three types of shoes for any trip.
5. Take a side street to save
No matter where you travel, this one is a rule of thumb. Expect to pay more for food, drinks, souvenirs and more when you’re close to attractions and on main streets. If you simply go down side streets, away from the main attractions, you can often save money.
For instance, in Covent Garden, the postcards are over a pound each, but if you take a little stroll through Bloomsbury, you can find them as cheap as 30 pence each.
Before you go, read our tips on how to prepare for a trip to London.
10 Things to do in London
1. London’s Parks
London has a plethora of green spaces and parks, some huge, others small and quaint. For any nature lover and those looking to break up the hustle and bustle of the city, time in London’s parks is time well spent. Explore London’s many green spaces from St. James’s Park to Hyde Park and up to Regent Park and Holland Park. These are home to massive old trees, picturesque ponds, splendid gardens, and eye-catching statues. Take a picnic or just take a stroll, but don’t miss out on them.
2. Westminster Abbey
Rich with over 1,000 years of history, full of beautiful stain glass, dim lighting, and hushed voices, Westminster Abbey is a must for any visitor. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Abbey has seen every monarch crowned here since William the Conqueror and has over 3,000 people buried or commemorated within its walls, from kings to poets and warriors to scientists.
3. Experience High Tea
A classic and very English experience is to go for high tea at one of the many places that offer it. High tea usually includes an assortment of delicious treats on a tiered serving tray and a selection of teas served in the classic china teacup and saucer, poured from a traditional English teapot.
Check around for pricing, as high tea can go from £40 to over £100, depending on the location and offerings.
4. Explore London’s Markets
London is home to many eclectic and diverse markets, with something for everyone. Whether you enjoy browsing for souvenirs, unique finds, delicious foods, or antiques, London has a market for you.
Some of my favourite markets include; the funky Camden Market, home to delicious food stalls with tastes from around the world and tons of unique items from local artists, the classic Covent Garden, home to specialty shops and cafes as well as live entertainment, and Portobello Road with various markets throughout the week, but home to a wide array of amazing antiques. Other notables include; Old Spitalfields Market, Greenwich Market, Broadway Market, BrickLane Market, and Borough Market.
Related: 6 Budget Market Eats in London
5. British Museum
Founded in 1753, the British Museum in London was the first national public museum in the world and is home to over 250 years of history. It is one of the best free attractions in London. Within its walls you’ll find the iconic Rosetta Stone, the Moai ancestor figure from Easter Island, and over 13 million other items. One day might not be enough!
6. Tower of London
With over 1000 years of history and as one of London’s UNESCO sites, the Tower of London is a must for visitors and locals alike. Home to the crown jewels, the White Tower and a wealth of history you can throw yourself into, a visit to the Tower of London will shed light on England’s vast and tumultuous past from its royals and prisoners to its menagerie and ravens. Tickets are steep but if you’d like to save some pounds and time in line, consider purchasing tickets online for a discount.
7. Kew Gardens
Set on 300 acres, Kew Gardens is the world’s largest collection of living plants and one of London’s UNESCO sites. Home to over 14,000 trees and over 30,000 different kinds of plants, Kew Gardens is an awe-inspiring place for adults and kids alike to be immersed in the wonders of nature and history. You can easily spend the entire day there and still not see and do everything, but be sure to take in the best attractions which include Kew Palace, the Temperate House & Palm House, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory.
8. Natural History Museum
Another fabulous free attraction in London is the Natural History Museum and is a must for history, nature, and architecture buffs. This stunning building opened in 1881, and its collection of 70 million objects includes a vast array of dinosaurs, mammals, and stunning gemstones, and you can even watch scientists at work in the Darwin Centre.
9. Little Venice
Located in the heart of the city where London’s two waterways unite (the Regent’s Canal and Grand Union Canal), you’ll find a little slice of exotic European flare. Little Venice is home to green algae-covered waterways, sweeping old trees, and charming narrow boats.
If you’re looking for a different mode of transportation, consider taking a boat ride through Little Venice aboard a classic, long, narrow boat, and you can either depart at the London Zoo or continue to Camden Locks and explore Camden Market.
10. Visit Notting Hill
Whether you’re a fan of the movie or simply want to explore a great neighborhood, strolling through Notting Hill is a great way to spend a few hours. Home to colorful buildings, beautiful Holland Park, awesome antique shops, and Portobello Road Market, the Notting Hill neighborhood of London is a must.
Bonus: Get out of the city with these 4 Budget-Friendly Day Trips from London.
Where to stay in London
Budget – Clink78 Hostel
Stay in one of London’s historic buildings. Clink78 Hostel is a popular place for the young and young at heart who love to have fun and be social, especially in its downstairs ClashBar. With 200 years of history as a courthouse, Clink78 offers former cell rooms to sleep in from £50/night, or you can opt for a dorm room starting at £13/night.
Budget – Mid-Range – Tune Hotels
Looking for comfort, a great location and affordable prices? Consider a stay at one of London’s Tune Hotels. All are centrally located and offer 24-hour security, clean and minimalistic rooms with 5-star beds for budget-friendly prices of £35/night.