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

Helen x

22 thoughts

  1. I’m not good at high end either, though I did do tea at the Savoy with a few ladies for our joint 60ths. Ooh, a few years ago now! I love the city. Quite happy to have squirrels frolic around my feet in St. James Park, walk the Thames Trail, ferry to Greenwich… Happy days!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      See I love the idea of high end and can while away time looking at fancy hotels and high end fashion and things in that vein… but then I’m just happiest with simpler things. It’s a nice way to be though, isn’t it?

      1. It is! Spending money doesn’t make you happy. Just poorer! But it’s nice to look, just in case…

  2. Well, I still think London – especially the entrance fees – WAS expensive . But worth it.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It can be very expensive if you want to do all the things. Especially compared to other European cities. But like you say, worth it!

  3. Being on a budget forces you to be more creative

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      It does and it’s not a bad thing. I’ve definitely seen a different side of places than I would have if I could just throw money at the plan.

  4. Really good budget tips here. Back in the day when the Virtual Tourist site was alive and well, one of the most often asked questions in the forum was about affordable visits to London and I always tried to help out with ideas. You have some of my favourites here – free museums, Greenwich Market, the pleasures of simply walking. My own favourite museums are the Museum of London and the V&A, btw.

    I would add considering a picnic in the park when the weather is good enough, instead of a restaurant or cafe. Buy from a supermarket, M&S if you’re not on a tight budget or one of the cheaper ones – they all have lots of choice, aimed at all the office workers, and cheaper than, say, a Pret a Manger.

    Also, if you’re into modern art or simply curious about it, the private galleries are all free. We often spend an hour or so on Mayfair’s Cork Street, popping into the galleries and admiring or criticising what’s on display!

    You could also have mentioned the half-price theatre ticket booth in Leicester Square perhaps, although the tickets still aren’t exactly cheap!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thanks Sarah, I ‘ve not heard about the half price tickets. I ‘ll definitely have to look at that. I don’t think London is ever a cheap date, but you don’t have to throw money round like confetti to have a great time either.

      1. Do check them out but avoid the unofficial ones elsewhere in the area – people have occasionally been caught out when the tickets sold aren’t actually valid!

      2. ThingsHelenLoves says:

        That’s awful. I guess anywhere there’s potential for a scam, there’s someone willing to do it. Is it TKTS London that is the official outlet?

  5. Whenever we’re in London we hardly spend any time in hotel rooms so I’m with you on where to stay.

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      That’s it exactly! On other breaks where time spent in the accommodation is part of the experience, I’d be willing to spend a bit more. But for London something clean, welcoming and well located is perfect.

  6. Alejandra says:

    Great read!

  7. I really liked walking in the parks when I visited London ( it was a few years ago) and seeing the pelicans and parakeet. Did go up the Walkie Talkie Tower ( sky garden) which was free to go up, hopefully still is. Great views of The Shard, Gherkin etc. And stopped at The Civil Service Club, I suppose it’s like your Union Jack club, but for civil servants and their families. Did spend money too though. Difficult not to. Went for afternoon tea at Claridges and watched The Lion King. 🙂

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      That sounds like a lovely way to spend some money though! I don’t think London will ever be a place where you can really do it ‘on the cheap’, but it’s good to mix things up to stretch the budget a bit. I’m yet to go to the Sky Garden, but it’s on the (ever growing) list.

  8. What a lovely and comprehensive post. I myself wonder when I’ll ever be able to afford visiting the Western continent, and it’s posts like this that would help. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to creating such an informative post!

    1. ThingsHelenLoves says:

      Thank you for your lovely feed back , that means a lot to me. I hope you make it to London one day, it’s a city everyone should experience at least once!

  9. yes, London has a lot of free options for the traveller. Sky garden was my latest free find in London. but I’d love to do luxury London once too:)))

  10. Yup, went there on a budget and it is quite doable. So many sights to enjoy!

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