This story was first published on 5 October 2016. It is now updated with the latest information on travelling to United Kingdom under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL).
With the United Kingdom under the vaccinated travel lane (VTL), now’s a good time for travellers to visit London without having to worry about getting quarantined upon arrival and return. Nor do they have to worry about breaking the bank too — 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
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. Due to Covid-19 safety measures, Hop-On Hop-Off London bus tours have limited stops. Tickets have to be pre-booked to lock in a time and date for tours too.
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 - all of which offer free entry but hold different regulations for mask-wearing and online ticket booking. 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.
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.
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.
Things to note while travelling in London
- Most Covid-19 restrictions across England have been lifted: there are no legal limits on social contact (both indoors and outdoors) and social distancing. Nonetheless, travellers should continue to consider the risks of close contact with others.
- Dining, leisure and events have resumed without any limits on capacity or social distancing requirements. Some venues, facilities and events that host crowded settings might still require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. In such cases, a vaccine certificate issued by the Ministry of Health is accepted.
- Masks are no longer mandatory everywhere, but some businesses and transport operators will still request that they be worn.
- Masks have to be worn on the Transport for London network, in stations, and for the whole of your journey. If you do not, and you are not exempt, you could be refused entry, denied travel or told to leave stations and services.
- Stay updated here on what you can and cannot do while travelling in the UK.
When you take advantage of the great-value options the city has to offer, you can enjoy your London adventure without hurting your wallet (or your health!) for the holiday of a lifetime.
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Best time to visit
The best time to visit London is March through May — temperatures are comfortably mild and it’s when the city’s parks bloom with greenery in the Spring. If crowds or warm weather aren’t your thing, avoid visiting London during summer. Drop by instead during the autumn months of September and October, when the leaves turn colour and it’s chilly enough without being freezing cold.
Getting around in London is an affordable and breezy affair, with the London Underground system and bus routes that will take you anywhere you need to go around the city. Masks have to be worn on the Transport for London network, in stations, and for the whole of your journey.
Britain’s currency is the pound sterling (£).
Changi Airport is directly connected to London via several airlines. Book your tickets here now!