London Travel Guide
London is one of my favorite cities in the world to visit. Between the art, theater, social events and more, London is sure to never leave you feeling bored. That being said, it’s also one of the more expensive cities you are likely to visit. Now is a great to check it out, however, as the recent Brexit decision has made the exchange rate much more favorable to those coming from outside the UK.
What to Budget
£10-50 per night Accommodations in London are not cheap. To be honest, you’ll probably be hard pressed to find anything under £20 per night. That’s not to say you can’t find some hostels for less than that, but if you do, be prepared to be relatively far away from the sites and to sleep in a room with 12 or more beds. That’s not to say I haven’t done the same thing many times for the sake of pushing my budget further. On my last visit to London, I stayed at the Dictionary Hostel in Shoreditch, which is a very hipster neighborhood of London that’s about a half hour walk from the city center. The room had 16 beds in it, but it was a good mix of price and location.
Going out to Eat
£8-20 per meal London is undoubtedly home to some of the most incredible restaurants in the world. But if I had to decide between eating at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants or traveling for an extra week, I know which I would choose. Skip the sit down restaurants and opt for less expensive takeaway shops or pubs. Many places will offer discounted fixed priced menus during the less busy lunch hours, so if you want to get the best value for your money while out to eat, shoot for those hours.
£2.40+ per trip Depending on where you’re staying in the city, many attractions are easily within walking distance. But if you don’t feel like walking many miles each day, London has a great public transportation system. Just about anywhere you would want to go is accessible by underground train (called the tube) or bus.
If you pick up an Oyster Card (essentially a tap to-pay-card that you can reload with funds) at the tube stations or certain shops around the city, you’ll save almost half the cost of paying for your fare in cash with each ride. Currently, a one way trip using an Oyster Card will start at £2.40 depending on how far you want to go.
£20-25 To put it simply, attractions in London aren’t cheap. Most of the popular ones such as The Tower of London, The London Eye and Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum will cost you at least £20; even more if you don’t book in advance. Sure, there are many things you can do in the city for little or even no money at all, but in general, expect to pay about this much.
How to Save
Skip the fancy restaurants and instead, buy groceries that you can prepare at your hostel. You can find Lidl and Aldi stores throughout the city, so stock up on the basics like bread, peanut butter, veggies, pasta and chicken. For the same cost of one or two meals out, you can pick up a week’s worth of groceries.
Eat During the Off-Peak Hours
If you are going to eat at a restaurant while out exploring London, try to do so during the less popular hours; typically between 12 and 4. Many restaurants and pubs will offer heavily discounted fixed price menus during these hours. It’s a great way to try some fantastic local food at an even better price.
Free Walking Tour
If you’d like to learn about London’s history and hot spots while saving a little money, check out Sandemans New Europe walking tours. The tours are run by highly knowledgeable locals and are completely free of charge. While the tour itself won’t cost you anything, the guides are paid entirely in tips, so it is customary to leave at least a few pounds if you enjoyed the experience. Make sure to book your spot in advance online, as the tours are offered on a first come first serve basis and do tend to fill up quickly.
Get an Oyster Card
As I mentioned above, an Oyster Card is a tap-to-pay card that can be used on both the subway and the city buses. In addition to the convenience factor, fares cost half as much with the card as opposed to using cash. As an additional perk, using an Oyster Card allows you to benefit from fare capping. What this means is that if you travel enough in a 24 hour period to rack up a set amount in fares (varies based on which zone you are traveling to), the rest of your rides for the day will be free.
You can pick up an Oyster Card at any underground tube station or at certain shops around the city. There is a £5 deposit for each card, but when you no longer need it, you can return it to a tube station and get your deposit back.
Get The London Pass
If you plan on checking out a few of the major attractions while in London, you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing The London Pass. This card can be purchased for a varying number of days and offers massive discounts and line hopper perks for many of London’s most popular attractions. For instance, you can buy a one day pass for £59 that grants you entry to as many sights as you can visit in a day, up to £115 in total admissions.
Visit the Free Museums
Not every activity in London has to cost a small fortune. All of the national museums in the city are free to visit, including the Natural History Museum, Museum of London, and the British Museum. It’s a great way to spend a few afternoons without dipping into the travel budget!
Walk The Queen’s Walk
When the weather is right, my favorite walk in the city is a promenade which begins at the Tower Bridge and stretches along the River Thames; known as The Queen’s Walk. Along the route, you’ll pass iconic sights such as The Tower of London, The Globe Theater, The London Eye, and ultimately end up alongside Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. From there, you’re just a short walk to Buckingham Palace. Not bad for a self-guided sightseeing tour.
Shop the Borough Market
One of the best spots in the city for fresh and delicious food is the Borough Market. Open from Monday to Saturday, this outdoor covered market houses vendors selling meats, cheeses, produce, pastries and more. While I usually don’t go out to eat in London, if I am going to get lunch while out, it’s almost always here.
With the many stalls selling prepared foods, it’s a great way to sample a lot of different dishes, and I find it so much more enjoyable than eating in a traditional restaurant. The best days to visit the market to get the full experience are Wednesday to Saturday.
Take a Jack the Ripper Tour
As beautiful as London is, it does have a few bits of ugly history. One such skeleton in the closet is the infamous Jack the Ripper; a serial killer who roamed the streets of London in 1888. There are many different tours available that will walk you through the locations of the grisly crimes, all while sharing evidence and theories on who the killer may have been. I recommend Free Tours By Foot; a free walking tour that lets you pay whatever you feel the tour was worth at the end.
Watch a Performance at The Globe
The Globe is the legendary open air theater where Shakespeare’s theater company performed his many famous works. Unfortunately, the original was destroyed by a fire in the early 1600’s, but a faithful recreation now stands in its place. If you don’t mind standing, tickets on the ground floor, known as “the yard”, can be bought for as little as £5.
I recommend stopping by the box office at least a day or two early, as shows tend to sell out quickly. It is an amazing experience, and one of my favorite things to do in the city. Don’t miss this!
Explore the Parks
For as large and modern as London is, they’ve still managed to squeeze in an impressive amount of green space. Known as the Royal Parks, these eight parks stretch throughout the city and offer a relaxing escape from London’s nonstop pace. My favorite of the eight is St. James Park, which is just a short walk from Big Ben. Meander through here for a while and you’ll eventually find yourself at the entrance to Buckingham Palace. If you’re looking for a place to unwind, you can’t do much better than here.
Even if you’re not looking to buy anything, Leadenhall Market is an amazing place to walk around if for nothing else than the visual stimulus. The curving alley ways and ornate ceiling look like something straight out of a Harry Potter movie. In fact, some exterior scenes from the movies were filmed here. And if you are looking to shop, you’ll find no shortage of that as well; with plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants to choose from.