London is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world, but it is also one of the most expensive. A visit doesn’t have to break the bank, however. Try these money-saving tips to have a complete London experience without a high price tag.
Where to stay
Most hotels in London are expensive and with the Olympics coming to the city this summer, prices are set to rocket. But if you look around, there are good deals on accommodations in the city without compromising on location.
Budget hotels are the best place to start. They may be basic but if all you need is somewhere to crash out at the end of the day then they are perfect. If you are thinking of a last-minute deal then look around – usually prices are cut nearer the date as the hotels want to fill the rooms. Check out discount websites such as timeout.com and lastminute.com for choices.
The key to price is location. When you are looking at a map it is difficult to know where to stay. Most people traditionally stay in the West End but what about the east of London? Around the area known as “The City,” there are reasonably priced hotels that are just as close to central London as the West End, but aren’t traditional tourist areas, so are better value for money.
If you are staying in a large group consider renting a serviced apartment. This is usually a cheaper option, but you get all the perks of a hotel with maid service, gym facilities and other extras. This also gives you the chance to stay in one night and cook for yourselves as most serviced parartments come with well-equipped kitchens, giving you even further money-saving opportunities.
Museums & art galleries: Most of the larger museums and galleries in London have permanent exhibitions that are completely free to the public. Because of this, there are no queues and you can stay for as long as you want. Just because they are free doesn’t mean they aren’t worth it. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square houses some of the most famous paintings in the world including Monet, Van Gogh, Turner, Constable and many others. There are certain exhibitions that you do have to pay for, so check before your visits to see which ones you would like to visit.
There are also lots of smaller galleries and exhibitions going on all the time. Do some research online before you leave home and you never know what you may discover!
Main attractions: National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, Natural History Museum, The Tate Modern, The Tate Britain, The Museum of London, The Imperial War Museum.
Markets: London has many famous markets which are a real taster of life in this vibrant and multi-cultural city. A lot of these markets will have their own unique history, dating back hundreds of years and are always worth a visit.
Try: Camden Lock Market, Camden; Colombia Road Flower Market (only on Sundays); Portobello Market, Portobello Road; Borough Market, Southwalk; Spitalfields Market, Shoreditch; Covent Garden Market, Covent Garden.
Walking tours: Many of London’s most famous landmarks are close together in Westminster, including the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. Why not spend a morning or afternoon walking leisurely between each of them? These are fantastic buildings and you can really enjoy yourself walking at your own place and soaking up the history of the area.
Tip: Get down to Buckingham Palace at 11:00 a.m. to see the iconic changing of the guard. This unique and historic spectacle is completely free to watch – and if the royal standard is flying above the palace it means the Queen is at home!
Street performers: This can be a chance to see a novelty act for no cost at all. Covent Garden is the traditional place for performers such as jugglers, contortionists and acrobats, but you will find the more energetic and up-and-coming performers on London’s Southbank. There is a real festival feel here, especially at weekends. Just walk past the London Eye down on the leftside of the Thames for a fun and free experience. There is also a street market here selling old second-hand books and maps, which is not to be missed.
London comes to life at night with a diverse range of shows, performances and acts.
If you fancy a show, check out discount websites such as timeout.com/tickets and lastminute.com for good deals on tickets. Theatres also offer cheap ticket nights such as “£10 Mondays” at the Royal Court. With a bit of online research you can really cut down your costs but still see a good-quality show.
There are live music nights going on all over the city and you can see complete unknowns or even established stars for a few pounds, or even for free. If you stay away from the larger venues you can enjoy good music in an intimate and unique setting. Again, the best place to find these things are online. Timeout.com gives an easy-to-use guide of what is happening in the city every night and can recommend things to suit your own taste.
Eating & drinking
Restaurants are always a worry in big cities but London has something for everyone at all different price ranges. For the most varied and reasonably priced food hit Soho just below Oxford Street. The independent restaurants here can be really good value for money. Avoid chain restaurants at places such as Leicester Square as they are always incredibly busy, over-priced and usually poor-quality food.
If you want a real taste of London you may have to leave the tourist areas. Head to Clerkenwell for really good gastro pubs; Brick Lane in Shoreditch for curry; and for Caribbean food try Notting Hill. These communities have their own identities and feel, giving you a more diverse taste of London.
Drinking in London is incredibly expensive but if you plan ahead or are willing to leave the tourist areas you can discover some really interesting bars that don’t break the bank. A lot of places now do early evening deals in the week, such as two-for-one cocktails or half price until a certain time. Check online for any deals before you arrive or just ask if they have any deals on before you order. If you want to try somewhere a bit different, head for Shoreditch High Street or Brick Lane for some quirky and unique bars. For a fun and reasonably priced cocktail try B @1 in Covent Garden. This lively and funky bar has deals running all week on cocktails and the cheesy music and dancing bar staff are worth the price alone!