Visiting London on a budget can be a challenge.
Not impossible … but certainly a challenge.
As someone who lives and works here, I know full well that things like transport, accommodation, sites & tours can soon stack up.
That’s why I wanted to pull together this guide on all the top tips I’ve picked up on to help save money when visiting London.
Let’s get started …
If you are visiting London from outside of Europe you actually might find that it is pretty pricey to fly straight into London.
That way you can spend a couple of days enjoying more sights before taking a budget airline flight into London.
Not only will you save some money on flights but you will also get to spend some time in a different city before arriving in London.
All of the airports, apart from London City Airport, are actually located OUTSIDE of the city centre.
But luckily you can get directly into the city via public transport.
Trains are the quickest and easiest way to get into London from the airport. When you factor in the time saved compared to driving, they can be great value; but are more expensive than in most of Europe’s cheaper places to visit.
If you are visiting London on a budget and have a bit more time to spend, I would recommend either looking at buses or the National Express coach service.
This operates Gatwick, Heathrow, Stanstead and Southend airports.
You will need to book National Express tickets in advance, but you will find they are a lot cheaper than other methods of transport into the city from London airports.
However, if you are flying into Heathrow airport, you can easily get the tube into the city centre for a similar price.
WHEN you choose to visit London will likely have a huge impact on how much it will cost you.
The weather in the UK is not the best so tourists tend to flock in summer. Unfortunately, this hikes up the prices of accommodation so finding a cheap hotel can be more difficult.
As well as any tours, so not visiting in the high season will allow your budget to go that bit further.
Christmas in London is beautiful and it's a fabulous time to visit but similarly to summer, it is a very popular time so prices are inflated.
Ideally, the cheapest time to visit London is between September and November or January and April.
This is when flights, hotels and tour prices will be at their lowest. Visiting during these two periods might mean you will be visiting when the weather is either cold or wet but there are still plenty of great things to do in London in winter!
It is also worth noting that school holidays and bank holidays are also more expensive times to visit London so you might want to double-check when these are before you book.
If it's your first time visiting London then the best place to stay is as central as you can afford.
This will make it easier (and cheaper) for you to see all the city’s highlights without spending all your time on public transport. Luckily most of the main attractions in London are close together and in Zones 1 and 2!
However, staying in central London is more expensive than staying slightly further out but there are some areas in the city centre that can be more affordable.
For example, I recommend that first-time visitors on a budget should look to stay in the Waterloo/Southwark area.
Waterloo is located just south of the river Thames and nearby to major attractions like the London Eye and Southbank.
Waterloo is also a huge over and underground train station which makes it easily accessible to other areas in London you might like to explore.
I have a whole guide on the best places to stay in London, including a lot of budget options so you might want to check that out if you are unsure!
Hotels in London can be really expensive and will eat at your budget if you are not too careful. London actually has more luxury hotels than any other city in the world. But if you are visiting London on a budget, you're going to want to stay away from these ones.
Luckily the UK has a good amount of budget hotel chains that are perfectly nice enough for you to enjoy your stay here.
A budget hotel chain that I personally recommend and have stayed in a few times now is Z Hotels. They have a few scattered around the city all in great locations. The rooms are pretty basic, I once even stayed in one without a window!
But they are all in the city centre, are clean and modern, and have everything you could need to have an enjoyable stay in London!
The quickest and easiest way to see what’s on offer is to use Booking.com.
They are by far the biggest hotel provider & will be able to quickly show you what’s available for both your dates and budget.
You can find some really nice hostels in London and if you are solo travelling to and around London, this might be a great option for you.
They are certainly not as affordable as hostels in other typical backpacking destinations. But they certainly cost less than a hotel room.
You can find them scattered all around the city, ranging in styles and prices and some with private rooms as well as dorms.
Staying in hostels can be a great way to save money on a London visit as, not only are they (usually) cheaper than staying in a hotel, but they often have great facilities like laundry and kitchen space where you can cook your own food.
Here are some of my top picks …
This hostel is conveniently located right next to Kings Cross Station which has great transport links to just about anywhere you could want to go in London. It is pretty affordable as far as hostels in London go and is a trusted company that always has great cleanliness standards.
St Christopher's Village has several locations around London but the one near London Bridge is by far the best! Not only is it close to a load of attractions you’re going to want to explore but it's right next to Borough Market where you can pick up some really affordable street food. This hostel also has capsule-style bunks giving that extra bit of privacy.
If you want to stretch your budget a bit further in exchange for a more luxurious hostel, Selina in Camden has private rooms as well as dorms and a really fresh modern interior. They also have their own bar which is great for making friends and is conveniently located in the trendy area of Camden.
The quickest way to find what hostels are available in London for your budget and dates is through Hostelworld.
Back when Airbnb was the new vacation rental site on the block, you could find some really affordable accommodation options in London!
However, since growing in popularity you will likely find that Airbnb will actually cost you the same amount as staying in a hotel, especially in central London.
The only times I would really recommend opting for Airbnb as an option is if you are travelling as a family as you can often get a larger apartment for a cheaper price than in a hotel.
That being said, if you are travelling out of season and you book far in advance, you can sometimes get an excellent deal so it is always worth checking!
I won’t give any exact recommendations here as listings frequently get edited and change names.
But what I do recommend doing is using the price filter toggle to most quickly see exactly what is available within your budget.
There are three main options that are best for saving your coins, all involve public transport!
It is possible to rent a car in London, but that's only worthwhile for exploring outside the city.
But for those staying within, follow the options below.
My biggest piece of advice for getting around London is not to buy individual tickets for your journeys.
London transport is all contactless nowadays so if you have a contactless credit or debit card or Apple Pay, you can easily tap on and off all modes of transport and you will automatically be charged.
If you do not have a contactless card you can purchase an Oyster card from the train station or a corner shop and load money onto it to spend on transport.
Below I will talk in a little more detail about the 3 main options available to you. For a more in-depth answer, check out my full guide on how to get around London.
The cheapest way of getting around London is obviously, walking!
London is a big city though so it is impossible to see all the main sights completely on foot. That being said, London is an extremely walkable city and you will get a real vibe for the city this way.
Better still, there are tons of free walking tours on offer and if you pick an accommodation option in the city centre you will be able to explore a lot on foot.
The bus is the cheapest mode of transport in London, bar walking. Every bus journey will cost you £1.65 and no more than £4.95 for a whole day of bus travel!
You can find bus stops on nearly every street in London but they can be a little confusing if you don't know what you are doing. You will find that all of the buses on different routes are numbered so if you know what bus number you need, and what direction you should be heading in, you can't go wrong!
The bus stops in the area will be lettered which helps you find the correct stop.
The photo below is a screenshot from City Mapper, showing the route from Victoria Station to Hyde Park. From Victoria station, I would need to find bus stop C and wait for the 390 bus which will stay on the front in big writing “360 ARCHWAY STATION”.
To get on the bus, you just hop on the front near the driver and tap either your contactless card or your Oyster Card and as all the buses are a set price, you don't need to say where you are heading to.
The bus drivers are usually super friendly and know the routes well so if you are confused, there's no harm in double-checking you are on the right bus!
All of the buses are pretty modern nowadays so they have a screen that announces which stops coming up next, so when you hear the stop you need to get off at, you just press the button and the bus will stop at your destination!
Buses can sometimes take a long time as London traffic is horrendous.
Oftentimes, the London Underground can be your best bet.
The tube is still a really affordable way of getting around the city and is by far the quickest, especially for longer journeys.
Tube fares vary depending on which zones you are travelling in and at what time of day you ride. To keep costs down I recommend only travelling during off-peak hours. Peak hours are between 6:30am and 9:30am and 4pm until 7pm.
The tubes are very easy to navigate ... if you know what you are doing!
On the London Underground Map, every tube line is highlighted in a different colour and where the lines overlap is where you can get off and change to a different line. After a few goes, you should be able to figure it out easily but I would always recommend using an app like City Mapper to find your way around.
Knowing exactly how much a day of riding the underground is going to cost you depends on so many factors so it is worth looking at the Tube Fares website for a full breakdown.
The only times I would recommend purchasing a full day railcard, is when travelling as a family or when you know you are going to be using the tubes a lot in one day, and travelling across a few zones.
But for day to day use, using a contactless credit card or a preloaded Oyster Card is more cost effective.
London is a foodie's paradise.
It has incredible food options and restaurants, but eating out for three meals a day will really eat at your budget!
As standard, I do recommend trying a traditional full English breakfast and a Sunday roast dinner during your visit; but there are some other options to save you some money during your trip.
There are some great food markets in London, so many that you will struggle to visit them all during your stay!
Food markets are a great way to save money while still getting some delicious food. You can find cuisines from all over the world at most of the food markets in London, most of which will cost you less than a tenner a serving.
There are heaps of food markets to choose from but some of the best, and my personal favourites are…
Getting food on the go will not only save you time which you could be spending visiting attractions but will also save you money.
While we don't have a big tipping culture like you might find in somewhere like the US, eating a sit down meal in the UK will still require a tip and sometimes a service charge, whereas a take-out meal won’t.
You will find bakeries scattered around the city that are great places to pick up some pastries for a quick breakfast as well as food trucks serving a classic bacon roll.
You can also find all your usual fast food chains like McDonalds, Pret a Manger, Starbucks, Joe & Juice, which is a great affordable lunchtime option if you are trying to save money. However, I do always recommend opting for and supporting a local business where you can.
Here are a few of my favourite small bakeries in London where you can pick up a breakfast pastry or a quick to-go snack when you are out and about!
One thing I think is very underrated and something I always miss when I'm away travelling is a classic meal deal!
Most supermarkets in the UK, like Tesco, Sainsbury's and Co-op, offer a meal deal where you can buy a main, usually a sandwich, salad or pasta, a snack, like crisps or a chocolate bar and a drink for just £3 to £4!
Supermarkets are also a great place to pick up some ingredients if you want to make yourself some breakfast or dinner in your hostel or Airbnb.
You can't visit London without visiting one of the many classic pubs in the city!
However, if you are looking for a pint in central London, it is likely to set you back at least £6 these days (shocking I know!).
I would recommend opting for a pub slightly out of the city centre or at least away from major attractions if you are hoping to save some money.
If you are planning on experiencing some of the nightlife in London, I do consider myself somewhat of a pro on a cheap night out!
There are bars and clubs in London that offer free entry or discounted entry before 11pm but most of the larger clubs are around £5 to £20 just for entry!
Here are a few of the bars I recommend visiting if you are hoping to experience some of the city’s nightlife on a budget!
You can find Simmons bars all around the city and there are 25 in central London alone! It's a late-night cocktail bar with great music and even better drinks deals! During their happy hours, you can get yourself a glass of wine or beer for only £3 and 2 cocktails for as little as £10. A lot of the venues even turn into a club so you can dance the night away on a budget!
If you are looking for a bit more of a stylish option than Simmons, All Bar One has great drinks deals on weekdays including 2 cocktails for £15 and bottomless brunch options if you want to start the party early. You can find All Bar One’s scattered all over the city but I recommend the one in Covent Gardens if you want to drink in style without breaking the bank.
If you are looking for an affordable pint in a classic British pub, you can't go wrong with a trusty Spoons! For pints starting at £2.50 and 2-for-1 pitchers for only £12, Wetherspoons is the perfect pre-drinks spot on a budget! They are scattered all around the city, but the one slap bang in the middle of Leicester Square is the most expensive. The Wetherspoons on the canal in Camden is a personal favourite of mine and is the perfect start to a Camden night out!
If you are planning a night out in East London, Barrio in Shoreditch is an awesome Latina bar with even better drinks deals! Get there before 8pm on a Friday night and you can enjoy tequilas for £3 and 2 for 1 cocktails! Even if you miss the happy hours, the drinks are really affordable and the whole venue has great vibes!
While I do love a bargain and a free activity (more on that below), there are some things to do in London that do cost but I think are 100% worth the price!
Catching a theatre show is one of my favourite things to do in London and I really recommend everyone tries to watch one during their visit!
London has some of the world’s best theatre shows and while many of them can get expensive, there are definitely ways to get some affordable tickets!
Going on a weekday will undoubtedly save you some money as well as booking either far in advance, or last minute.
I regularly check TodayTix as it shows last minute theatre tickets for a much cheaper price! You can get tickets to shows like Wicked, Hamilton, Mamma Mia, and Hamilton for as little as £20.
The UK is home to some of the best zoos in the world and London Zoo is amongst that list. What's even better is that it is located right in the city centre. The Zoo itself is huge and houses around 750 different species, you could easily spend a whole day exploring.
The reptile house is often a favourite for tourists as it is where the original scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was filmed but I personally love the walk-through exhibit at Monkey Valley!
Tickets to the zoo can be quite expensive but I think it is well worth the visit! It is also another one that is included in The London Pass which can really help you save some money if you plan on visiting a few attractions on this list.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour is one of the best day trips from London you can do. I have been a couple of times myself and absolutely love it!
They have original sets, costumes and props from all the movies and spending a day walking around truly is magical!
It's a bit outside of central London so if you want to save yourself the hassle, I would recommend booking this tour here as it includes transport there and back and will be a lot cheaper than getting a taxi.
If you are open to an adventure you can get there yourself by taking the train from London Euston to Watford Junction and then hopping on the shuttle bus which runs every 30 minutes to the studios. Luckily the shuttle is included in your ticket price and is easy to spot!
If you are only visiting London for a short period of time, I would highly recommend taking an open bus tour.
It allows you to hop on and hop off where you please and will take you to all the main sites across the city without having to worry about different modes of transport.
The audio guide will tell you about all the sites on your route and you have the option of jumping off and exploring if you find a landmark that takes your interest, then you can just hop back on and continue your tour.
While unfortunately not the original, Shakespeare’s The Globe Theatre is a replica located right next to where the original Globe theatre stood and still shows an assortment of Shakespeare plays!
If you book on the day you can get some really affordable tickets and if you don't mind standing for the show, you can save even more money.
Being one of the tallest buildings in Europe, I would obviously recommend going up The Shard!
The viewing platforms on the higher floors are well worth it but they are expensive, starting at around £30 per person. One of the viewing platforms is included in the London CityPass so this might be worth looking into.
If you want to visit the Shard for (a bit) cheaper, you can go for a drink or an afternoon tea at the bar at Aqua Shard, it's not as high up but still has incredible 360 views from their floor-to-ceiling windows.
A walking tour is an ideal way to see the city and it's something I try to do whenever I visit a new place. If you are only staying in London for a short amount of time it's an ideal way to see some of the highlights.
You can find some free self-guided tours online but if you want to meet some more people or would rather have an in-person guide, here are a few that I think include the best spots for an affordable price.
A great way to see incredible views over London without the hefty price tag is to take the cable car over the Thames.
You can catch it from either the Greenwich side or the Royal Victoria side and for 10 minutes see 360 views over the city.
If you pre-book your tickets online you can take a 1-way trip for only £5pp or £2.50 for children.
Football (or soccer) is a huge sport in England and a lot of the teams have clubs and stadiums in the capital.
Whether you are a huge football fan or not, I would recommend taking a tour of one of the legendary stadiums in London. A lot of the larger ones like Wembley and Emirates stadium are included in the London Pass.
It wouldn't really be a trip to London without getting a photo of Buckingham Palace. You are unlikely to catch a glimpse of the royal family, you can watch the famous Changing of The Guard.
With this guided tour you can go inside the palace, walk around some of the state rooms and watch the changing of the guards while hearing about the history of the grounds and some of the antiques you will see around Buckingham Palace.
While London is an expensive city to visit, do not be put off as there are heaps of things to do in London for free.
And here are what I think are the top choices …
Most of London’s most famous museums are completely free to enter! There are three in particular in South Kensington, The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum and the V&A Museum that are all within walking distance of each other.
These are awesome museums that I recommend to everyone visiting London and you can see all three in one day!
They do get busy in school holidays and weekends so you might want to book your free ticket in advance to ensure you get a slot!
London is home to a whopping 3000 public parks to explore and they are scattered all around the city!
They are all free to enter and are full of things to do, especially in the warmer months.
Checking out some free pop-up exhibitions is one of the best things about visiting London, you can see some beautiful art installations that are only there for a short time!
For beautiful 360 views over the city without breaking the bank, head up to The Garden at the 120 Building.
It’s a rooftop garden that is completely free to enter and walk around, offering incredible views over the surrounding skyscrapers including the Shard and the Gerkin!
If you are visiting London on a Sunday, you HAVE to take a trip to Coloumbia road flower market!
Whether you are looking to pick up a new house plant or a fresh bunch of tulips or whether you just want to get stuck into the hustle and bustle with the rest of the locals, its a great start to a day exploring east London.
The UK is home to some of the world’s best comedians, and luckily they often try out some of their new material at free comedy nights in London!
You can find them scattered around the city but by far my favourite is the Top Secret Comedy Club in Covent Gardens which hosts free comedy nights every Tuesday.
You do need to book a few days in advance to snag yourself a seat but they do sometimes allow walk-ins if they have the space.
On a sunny day there is nothing better than strolling around the canals of West London, it is a beautiful way to escape the business of the city and enjoy some quaint coffee shops and have a nose at the boats surrounding.
It’s a 15 minute walk from Paddington station or you can get the tube straight there by getting off the Bakerloo line at Warwick Avenue.
A walk I recommend to every first-time visitor of London has to be along Southbank!
Exploring Notting Hill can be a whole day activity in itself, but the highlight has to be strolling around the seemingly endless stalls at Portobello Market.
Everything from jewellery, clothing, antiques, fresh produce, flowers and food stands fill the colourful streets.
The market is open everyday but Saturdays is when the area is in full swing.
London is also home to some incredible art galleries, all of which are free to enter!
Some of the most popular include
And just remember, things like The London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and The Tower of London can all be viewed from the outside and you really won't be missing out!
If you are wanting to visit a lot of attractions during your trip, I can not recommend enough buying The London Pass for £70 for an adult and £50 for children. You can see most of London's main attractions including:
And many more, all included in your pass price. If you visit as many as you can in your pass time you can save hundreds of pounds!
A London City Pass is something I highly recommend to people that only have a short time to spend in London and want to see a lot of the main highlights! If it isn’t your first time visiting and you only want to do one or two of the activities on the list, it might work out a lot cheaper to buy your entrance tickets individually.
I would recommend, before you visit, writing a list of all the paid attractions you would like to do during your London trip and then checking their ticket prices and locations to see whether the London Pass is a good option for you.
For an example, if you were hoping to visit The Shard, The Tower of London and The Globe Theatre Tour, these are all near each other and you could easily see them all in one day.
They also add up to more than the London Pass so it would be cost-effective for you to buy a London Pass rather than individual tickets.
You also might be able to squeeze in some even more activities like a bus tour and The London Bridge experience to fully make the post of your pass!
However, if you are hoping to visit London Zoo, Kew Gardens, Wembley Stadium and Windor Castle, you are going to struggle to get between them all and will need at least two day passes to explore them all, so it might not be worthwhile for your trip.
I have a whole guide on tips for tourists visiting London, but here are some specifically for visiting on a budget!
Most public toilets in London cost between 20p and 50p to enter and whilst this won't eat too much into your budget, it does add up and it means you constantly have to have cash on you.
These public toilets tend to be pretty grim and not worth your 20p so I would recommend always visiting some kind of market, pub, or department store to use their toilets instead. Not only will you save your pennies but they are likely to be a whole lot nicer.
Like every large city, London has its fair share of tourist traps!
The main ones are things like restaurants, souvenir shops and pubs right next to major tourist attractions. I always see tourists buying t-shirts, selfie sticks and booking tours right next to the Houses of Parliament. Obviously, this is convenient but the prices are going to be inflated so if you are on a budget, stay clear of this.
A few of the major attractions in London I would also consider tourist traps…
For instance, the London Eye. While it is an iconic part of the skyline, actually paying to ride on it doesn't always live up to the hype.
You will likely have to queue for hours, and then get packed into a compartment with other tourists, only to spend ages going around. Admittedly, the view is amazing but you can see incredible views over London from other places like the London Bridge rooftop bar, The Shard or the Sky Garden for free! I do admit though that the London Eye Champagne Experience is well worth the price tag!
Madame Tussauds, The London Aquarium, Believe it or Not, The Shrek Experience, M&M World and other large attractions will eat into your budget and are honestly just not worth the money.
They are purely just there to entertain tourists when it rains but there are heaps of other things you can do. However, please don’t let me stop you from visiting as they’re definitely worth seeing if you enjoy these activities!
You might hear some locals calling an open bus tour a tourist trap and while they are only there for tourists, I actually think they are really good. If you don't have a long time in London, booking a bus tour can be a great way to see all the sights in just a day or two.
If you are really trying to save money, souvenirs are probably something to skip out on when visiting London but it is always nice to have something to remember your trip by.
I would recommend staying away from areas like Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus when purchasing souvenirs as these are full of overpriced goods.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, there are heaps of Harry Potter souvenirs around the city but it's very expensive and most of which you can get for a fraction of the price from somewhere like Primark on Tottenham Court Road.
For the cost of a mug and some jelly beans from the Kings Cross shop, you can probably take a day trip from London to the Warner Brothers Studios. Again, if you’re a massive Harry Potter fan and know it’ll be worth every second, absolutely go and do it!
Planning ahead and booking in advance is my biggest tip for visiting London on a budget!
London is a busy city meaning hotels and tours book up very quickly and if you are looking for a last-minute hotel, it will likely cost you a lot more!
If you plan your London itinerary carefully, you can explore the city neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and not only save time but also money.
London is likely bigger than you expect and the last thing you want to be doing is travelling backwards and forwards through the city on a tube when you could be out exploring.
For booking your stay the top places to begin your search would be:
London is not just a popular destination for people to visit from overseas but it is also a popular destination for people in the UK to visit too!
Because of this, you will find that bank holidays and school holidays like half-term, easter, Christmas and summer are all extremely busy times to visit London.
Not only will all the attractions be very crowded but you will also find that queues are longer and that attractions and accommodation costs will skyrocket.
School holiday dates change every year but you can see a list of the UK bank holidays here.
Only in London for a few days, by far the best thing you can do is to book a guided or bus tour!
Although it's not always the cheapest method, it is the most effective way to make sure you see as much of the city as possible and all the attractions you want to see in that time.
If you are visiting London as a student (or still have a valid student ID) you will find that heaps of attractions and restaurants have discounts available for students.
Some places will have student options if you are buying tickets online, but if not, it is always worth an ask!
Hopefully, this guide has put your mind at ease and made you realise that it is possible to visit London, without breaking the bank!
It certainly won’t be as cheap as other big cities in Europe. If that’s more of a concern, check out our guide on the best cheap countries to visit in Europe.
But the above tips should put you in the best position to plan an epic trip & not waste money unnecessarily.
Now, over to you …
Do you have any questions about anything above?
Or perhaps you have some additional money-saving tips?
Just drop a comment below!
For more trips on planning your visit to London, check out my other guides: