London. For all the things that are fabulous about it, people do like to knock it for not being a budget friendly destination, don’t they? I think it is possible to enjoy London on limited funds. For anyone shaking their head at me, hear me out. I’m writing this from my own experiences. Without further ado…
First Of All…
Don’t panic about needing a fortune to enjoy London. Don’t believe everything you hear. People like to grouse about the expense of the city and the South East in general. Some might disagree, but I’ll stick my neck out and say; I don’t think it’s that bad. Not for the visitor anyway. Granted, if you live and work in London with all the non-negotiable living costs to contend with… then, yeah. You’ll likely need a few quid. Visiting for a few days? You’ll be alright.
Getting There and Getting Around.
If you can, start out from one of the outer London zones. Why? because you can then buy a travelcard that will get you far and wide on the underground, over ground and Docklands railway. For example, last visit to London we drove from Wiltshire to Richmond, paid for station parking and then picked up travel cards from Richmond (Zone 4). This worked out the most economic and convenient option; definitely better than driving to a local station, paying parking there and still having the cost of getting to and around London.
If you have a National Rail card, that discounts rail fares and travel card prices significantly. There’s a whole range of rail cards and if you train it more than a couple of times a year, worth looking into one.
Travelling as a family, we’ve tried a few different ways to get round London. Walking, Hop on- Hop off, Uberboat. All fun in their own way, but pricey and restrictive. Travel card for the win!
A Place to Stay
This is actually where I could blow the budget, quite easily. London is thick with desirable hotels. Luxury ones, historic ones, ones with knock out views and plenty with interiors that would dissuade you from setting foot out the door. But if you’ve come to London to explore- and surely you have, in a city packed with history and stories?- this is the place to go budget.
Budget chains. I know people like to knock them. There can be a bit of snobbery. But if you want a basic room with a warm welcome in a decent London location, look at Travelodge. We’ve stayed twice recently with them, at London Central Tower Bridge and London Central Marylebone. Other budget chains available, but I can personally recommend this one.
I know I have some readers with military connections and if that’s true for you, it’s always worth checking out the Union Jack Club. Opened in 1907, the UJC is available to serving and veteran members of the armed forces offering a range of lodgings and dining options. With rooms from £45 and the bar serving up pints at just £2.90, it does book up very quickly. A fantastic option if you’re eligible for membership.
Things to Do
You could be many things in London- caught out by the weather, tired, hungry, in need of a stiff drink. Something you’ll never be is bored. There are a ton of experiences and places that cost money, and they definitely have a place on any travellers itinerary. I’ve got my eye on The Gunpowder Plot Experience next time I’m in town and that’s not going to come cheap.
There is also a side to London that won’t cost a penny. Pick an area and just walk, especially if you took my advice and got that travelcard. Get lost, find your way and then get lost again. It’s not just the destination, take time to enjoy some of the stations. Look out for historical features and beautiful tiling. When you start and pay attention to these things, it’s honestly very interesting.
There are plenty of free museums in London. Google it and see what takes your fancy. The Natural History Museum is probably the best known but there are plenty others including the Imperial War Museum.
Explore the London Parks and gardens. We went down to Hyde Park on a Sunday to stretch the legs and let the teens experience Speakers Corner. They were a bit bemused. I think they preferred the company of the squirrels and the parakeets to the speakers.
You don’t go far in London without hitting a statue or memorial and many of them have an interesting story behind them. Wander, see what you find. I recently posted about discovering Three Mills with it’s clasping hands memorial. Last Summer, we were touched by the Animals in War Memorial. And my favourite-so-far find? The Raoul Wallenberg Monument. Find it in Great Cumberland Place, a memorial to an interesting man in an area that’s pleasant to wander.
London is full of pay to play attractions. But London herself is a pastime. And it doesn’t need to cost you a penny to spend time in her company. Well, maybe the cost of a coffee some place you can people watch and soak it all up. Speaking of which…
Keeping Fed & Watered
Let me go into this being totally upfront: I’m no foody. I have a handful of ‘don’t- eats’ and a long list of ‘can’t-eats’. High end or fine dining is wasted on me. All of that to say, if you’re looking for the hack that lets you dive into the London food scene and save a few quid while you do it, look elsewhere. I’m not your girl.
What I do like is to find a place I know I’ll enjoy and then find an interesting version of it. For example, last London trip the kids voted for good old Nando’s. We skipped the one nearest the hotel and travelled out to Clink St. Still just Nando’s, but housed in an old warehouse giving it a bit of atmosphere. High ceilings, lots of quirky corners and views up the river. Sparked off a conversation about London of old, life on the river and smuggling.
I’m also a fan of bakeries and coffee shops. Coffee and cake to go won’t be exactly cheap in the English capital, but it’s a nice way to have a little something and cheaper than a sit down lunch or afternoon tea. We found some great street food options and sweet treats at Greenwich Market. And being London, your never far from a park or garden to enjoy it in
So, that’s my thoughts on enjoying London on a budget. But what if money was no object? Just for fun, I had a little think about a dream London weekend. Steam Line luggage, afternoon tea at The Ritz, cocktails at Cahoots and a Joyce Wang designed room at the Mandarin Oriental to retire to. Anyone care to join me?
To be honest, even if I had the funds for all of that I’d still be cutting about London with my trusty backpack and an off peak travel card. I’d still do Nando’s for tea. I’m a happy budget traveller. I actually enjoy finding the low key, creative ways to explore. Guess I’m just not fancy, hey?
Tell me what you prefer. High end? Low key? Bit of both?
If you liked this post, you might also like Family Travel on A Budget- Part 1