With the British pound at its lowest in decades, now’s a good time for budget travellers to visit London. Plan carefully using these tips and tricks to squeeze even more out of your travel budget
Where to find budget-friendly accommodation
Finding a budget-friendly place to stay in one of the most expensive cities in the world is at the top of the list. In the main tourist zones, such as the West End, hotel prices obviously skyrocket. Neighbourhoods such as Bayswater, Kensington and Hampstead offer a mix of budget hotels with better-value prices and are located close to local eateries.
Especially for large families, an affordable option is to book an apartment online from websites such as Airbnb. Many apartments are located close to attractions and public transport links. They're often self-contained, which means you have the choice to cook instead of eating out every day.
For the most inexpensive option, check out the city's huge range of hostels. YHA has hostels in numerous central locations that come with private family rooms. These hostels often have their own meal plans that include breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as cafes and bars where you can meet fellow travellers. Some hostels also allow you to get adventurous in their kitchens and make some new friends while cooking your own meals.
How to get around town
The iconic London Bus
Based on your budget, duration of visit and how many people accompany you, there are a few options for cheap transport.
It's fun to jump on the Tube, but just a few trips a day can add up. Get the Visitor Oyster card to access the public transport system. It’s cheaper than buying the Day Travelcard or paying for single-ticket fares, as there is a daily cap on how much you’ll be charged. Best of all, you can also use the card to receive other discounts on restaurants and attractions.
Be sure to make use of buses and trams, as children under 11 travel free. This is also a great way to check out London as you travel from place to place, see how the locals live and get to know your way around town. To ensure you always know where you’re headed, use the Citymapper app to locate bus stops and plan your journeys in detail. And if you’re travelling solo or in a small group, buses are definitely a better option than the Tube.
To ensure you don't miss all the famous sights, such as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus is the way to go. Audio guides give you an in-depth history lesson and photo opportunities abound.
These bus tours help you save time and money by bringing you to all the attractions with a single ticket. To scrimp even more, try purchasing the tickets online in advance, as they could be cheaper and offered at exclusive promotional prices.
If you're feeling active, a free walking tour is an excellent way to learn about the city and stroll through the eclectic neighbourhoods, without getting lost. Most companies and guides work on tips, though you're not obliged.
Check out the free attractions
London is literally bursting with free places to visit, so you needn't spend a thing on staying entertained. Outdoor spaces are a favourite with the kids, so head to Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath for a run on the grass, people-watching, relaxing and picnic lunches. The Kensington Memorial Park also boasts a water play area, playground, sand pit and rocket climbing frame.
If you’re at Buckingham Palace, the Changing the Guard is a free spectacle and a quintessential London experience. Or learn something new at world-class museums, such as the British Museum, Museum of London, National Gallery, Science Museum and Tate Modern, which offer free general admission. For lovers of the weird and wonderful, the Grant Museum of Zoology is also open to the public to view quirky curiosities such as extinct species. And for those passionate about relics and preserved animal fossils, the National History Museum is the place to visit.
Guardsmen parade outside Buckingham Palace
Located in South Bank, the Southbank Centre is at the forefront of London's cultural scene, and often holds free concerts, exhibitions and workshops. If you're travelling with teenagers, the nearby skateboard park beneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall is worth a look.
London is literally bursting with free places to visit, so you needn't spend a thing on staying entertained.
Shopping for bargain buys
London's high streets are famous for incredible shopping opportunities, however they're not so friendly on the wallet. When you're looking for souvenirs, food, clothes, antiques and quirky keepsakes, head to one of the city's colourful markets.
The bustling Borough Market
Borough Market in the South Bank is the home of cakes, pastries, cheeses, confectionery, pies, meats and fresh produce. The Camden Market is as much of a social occasion as it is a place to buy alternative clothing, accessories, books, jewellery and food. On Sundays, Brick Lane Market turns into a haven for treasure hunters, with antiques, bric-a-brac, vintage clothes, food trucks and live street entertainment.
Eating and drinking on the cheap
The key to dining on a budget in London is to avoid restaurants in main tourist areas. Street food is a popular option, especially at Street Food Union and Broadway Market. Multi-culturalism thrives in the city, and you'll find some of the cheapest prices at Korean, Malaysian, Turkish, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants. Also hit Chinatown for an array of delicious cuisine at budget prices.
When you want to dine at a nice restaurant, take advantage of special pre-theatre deals offered in the West End, if you eat early. While you're there, seeing a West End theatre show may be at the top of your wish list. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be too expensive. Buy your tickets in advance for big discounts or visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for last-minute deals. You can also try lining up at your chosen theatre to snap up standby tickets.
When you take advantage of great-value options the city has to offer, you can enjoy your London adventure without hurting your wallet for the holiday of a lifetime.