CityGirlTravels

My London Budget Hacks

London can be an expensive place to visit, particularly solo. But I say ‘can be’ because I’m a firm believer that things are only as expensive as you make them. Over the years, I’ve figured out how to #GetThrifty in England’s capital—without sacrificing quality or my budget (or my soul). It’s possible—I promise!—with these London budget hacks.
London Thames
Visiting London on my 2014 sabbatical.

While I’m very fond of London—so much so, that I’ve got this city on my mind right now—I wasn’t a super fan the first time I visited in 2010. (Also not a super fan that my photos form that trip seem to have evaporated…) I blame jet-lag and feeling rushed. But I’ve since been several times, and my relationship with the city has improved with each visit. Part of this is that I don’t fret about the exchange rate anymore. (Even when the GBP is kicking the CAD in the a**.)

So many people in my life have travelled to London in the last year, and my list has made the rounds. I really need to get my London list into a blog friendly format, but in the meantime, here are my #GetThrifty London budget hacks for experiencing this amazing city with limited funds. Even with a nutty exchange rate, it’s all very feasible. Again, things are only as expensive as you make them.

London budget hacks

1. Ask yourself the important questions

For any place, I always make a list of the things I want to do, check out how much they cost, and then figure out what works best.

Questions I ask myself:

  • What are my priorities?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What can I afford?

For me in London: I’m usually only there for three days max, and I don’t need to shop. But I do love and need to eat—and sometimes use the tube (underground) or transit. And stay somewhere that isn’t a hostel. I’ve never stayed in one, and I don’t think I ever will. Can’t/won’t do it. And, if I can swing it time-wise, see a show in the West End—hoping to convince The Brit on this one next year.

2. Be strategic about your accommodations

London has so many great little neighbourhoods. But if you want to pretend you’re on Made in Chelsea, you’re going to pay Chelsea prices. Personally, I avoid staying in the centre of the city, and I don’t mind a walk.

If you’re travelling solo, getting a room in a Superhost Airbnb is a good idea and also gives a person to check in with. I don’t feel that a hotel room is the best value (unless the rate includes a full english breakfast, which everyone needs to try at least once). I’ve stayed in the Shepherd’s Bush neighbourhood solo, and really enjoyed the Kensington/Hyde Park area that my girlfriends and I stayed in a couple years ago. (We stayed in this lovely apartment.)

London views
The view from St. Paul’s Cathedral is pretty fantastic!

3. Be choosy about the touristy things

Though touristy attractions are the bread and butter of any big city, they’re not really my cup of tea for the crowds or my budget. I’ve never seen the Crown Jewels or stepped inside Westminster Abbey, though I’ll probably get to the latter next year. But I don’t love sparkly things enough to pay money to queue up to see historic jewels.

And while I love ferris wheels, I have no desire to queue up for the London Eye. Why would I do that when I can have an even better view of the Thames from the St. Paul’s Cathedral tower or over afternoon tea at The Shard. For me, both offer better value for my time and money.

4. Museums are FREE

This is probably my favourite overall UK #GetThrifty tip. The majority of museums and galleries in London (and most of the UK) are FREE to visit. Special exhibits have a cost, but usually worth it.

My personal favourite is the Victoria & Albert Museum (a.k.a. the V&A)—and their special exhibits tend to be designer focused, and quite wonderful. The Brit loves the Museum of National History—when we are back in May, guess where I’m going for the first time?

Top Tips:
  • Go early to beat any lineups and the tour groups.
  • If you’re eyeing a special exhibit at the V&A, commit to a date and buy your ticket the day you book your flight. They usually sell out!

5. Grocery stores are your friend

At any grocery shop (Tesco—my favourite, Sainsbury’s, M&S, to name a few) and get a very decent prepared sandwich, snack (fruit or crisps—what they call our chips), and cold beverage combo for £3-5. This makes for a cheap and cheerful—and moderately healthy—on-the-go or picnic in the park meal. And the selection is always good.

And for those feeling more adventurous than the grocery store or have more time to explore, I recently discovered a great site last year called London Cheap Eats. They visit and review places in London serving up food for £8 or less.

If you’re feeling a little more ‘upscale’ and want to get more greens in, hit up a Pret for a cold-pressed juice and sandwich or salad for not much more in price. This is my long way of saying, save your money for a fun girls’ night at Gordon’s Wine Bar or for a truly fab pre- or post-theatre dinner.

Waterloo Bridge London

6. Walk everywhere

London is a fabulous walking city and favourite area to get my step on is along the Southbank. Should it be chucking down with rain, the tube certainly has enough stairs along its network to make you feel less guilty for not walking.

7. Get a day pass for the tube

If you know you’ll be taking transit throughout the day, get a day pass at the start of your trip. It’s much cheaper. A pre-loaded Oyster card will automatically calculate this rate for you on your last tap of the day, but isn’t necessary—though I like not having to think about it, so I’ve held on to my card for the last ten years. (P.S. Pre-loaded amounts don’t expire.)

London budget hacks
Leicester Square ticket booth

8. Cheap theatre tickets

London’s West End is known for it’s quality productions of popular plays and musicals, but tickets can be a bit dear in price. This is where the iconic TKTS booth in Leicester—pronounced Lester—Square could be your saving grace. The TKTS booth the most well-known and official place for theatre goers to get cheap tickets for a show that same night—but it involves standing in a queue. As that’s not my jam, I’ve used the London Theatre Direct site a few times, and there are other reputable sites.

Brighton

9. Affordable day trips

Sometimes you just need to get out of the city. As the train system in the UK has excellent and frequent service, it’s easy to go for an affordable day trip from London. Highlights for me include Brighton and Hampton Court Palace, and next on my list is the Harry Potter Studios—also, wine tour, anyone?

10. Check out the free things to do list!

As mentioned earlier, the majority of museums in London are FREE. Along with those, Visit London has a fantastic, thorough list of other free activities and attractions around the city—the ultimate list of London budget hacks. (This is not sponsored, just a link that everyone needs to have!)

A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.

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London budget hacks

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