London is always a good idea. Whether you’re into pop culture, history, music, or food, London is a city that makes us dream. For me, I dreamt that I was a wizard in the world of Harry Potter, stuffing myself silly on fish and chips, while watching a musical at the West End.
Yet there’s no doubt that London can be expensive. But it’s also more affordable than most of us think. With some savvy travel tips, it’s easy to cover London without having to break the bank.
It’s my second time to London, but this time I made it a point to look for the best ways to travel on a budget. That doesn’t mean you have to sleep on the streets, have stale bread everyday, or miss out on London’s highlights though. It’s simply about planning, researching, and seeking out the best deals and tips. It’s about choosing where to spend your money on for an optimal experience.
With the British Pounds at an all time low of 1.73 to the Singapore dollar, now is probably the best time to visit London too!
Read on if you’re ready to find out all the things you can do with just £60 a day including accommodation, comfortably. While £60 (S$103) isn’t as low as it can be, I did watch a musical, visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour, and have a couple of good meals.
Here’s a consolidation on some of the best tips for our London Budget Guide.
Handy jump links (click to skip to a particular section)
Free things to do in London
The best part about London is that most of it’s attractions are free. There are tons of world-class museums, landmarks, gardens, and spots that are basically available to everyone.
1. Explore museums
While exploring museums may not be everyone’s thing, London does have a range of really good free museums. I don’t think it’s possible to visit them all, but it’ll be great to at least check a couple of them out!
Beautiful entrance to the British MuseumSphinx inside the British Museum. There are literally thousands of historical artefacts from all over the world.
History & Culture
– British Museum (recommended)
– Museum of London
– Natural History Museum (recommended)
– Science Museum
– V&A Musuem of Childhood
– British Library
Art & Design
– Tate Modern (recommended)
– National Gallery
– National Maritime Museum
– Imperial War Museum
– National Army Museum
2. Gawk at architecture marvels, landmarks, and traditions
From modern skyscrapers to century old buildings, you can time travel around London and take in the different milestones throughout the city’s history. An easy route is to simply follow the Thames river.
Pro-tip: Instead of signing up for a pricey river cruise, use your Oyster card on the River Bus service instead, hopping on and off whenever you see something interesting.
Getting close to the London Eye. If you hang around long enough, you’ll see the Tower Bridge raise it’s bridges for larger ferries.
The Millennium Bridge leading to Tate Modern.
– Tower of London
– Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower)
– Westminister Abbey
– Buckingham Palace (do check out the change of guards at 1130am daily, but arrive an hour early)
– Trafalgar Square
– London Eye
– Millennium Bridge
– The Shard
– The Gerkin
3. Stroll along the parks and gardens
After a day of sightseeing, it’s also great to take a break and relax at one of London’s many lovely parks. Here are some of my favourite.
Taking a break with Jemma at Hyde Park. Credit: @jemmawei
Hyde Park – Centrally located and probably the most famous park in the city. Personally think that it’s a great place to chill and people watch because many people come here. If you play Pokemon GO, there are also plenty of Clefairy’s here. :P
Regent’s Park – The huge 144 hectares park is famous for it’s beautiful rose gardens. Neighbouring Primose Hill also offers the best panoramic views of the city!
Richmond Park – The stand out uniqueness of this park is that it’s also home to about 650 free roaming red and fallow deers! Do note that they aren’t as friendly as the deers in Nara, Japan though.
Sky Garden – London’s highest public garden (155m) combines the best of both worlds. City life and nature. The views are spectacular but I’ll definitely suggest you book your free ticket to the Sky Garden early as space is limited.
4. Hunt for street art and hipster neighbourhoods
You’ll be able to find works of famed street artist Banksy all over London if you look hard enough. While many of his uncommissioned art have been removed, some can still be found as detailed in this link.
Shoreditch and Spitalfields are two hipster neighbourhoods you have to visit for more street art. Known as the “cool” part of London, I like how some of old industrial warehouses have been converted to art galleries, cafes, or creative shop fronts.
The old Truman brewery, now home to young creatives running cafes and galleries.
Plenty of OOTD spots too. Credit: @smashpop
5. Go on free walking tours
Free walking tours are a great way to get a taste of the city. They work through a tipping system, so instead of paying a fixed fee for a tour, you can pay as little or as much as you like depending on how well you think your guide did. I gave £10 for my Royal London Tour, but have also walked away halfway without giving anything when the guide was bad.
Activities in London worth spending on and how to save money
While free attractions are great, you wouldn’t get a full taste of London if you do not watch a musical at the West End or indulge in the fantasy world of Harry Potter. Oh yes, and definitely football. These can get quite expensive, but thankfully, there are a couple of ways to save on these too.
If you have a specific musical in mind, the cheapest way is to get day seats at the theatre itself. Most of the popular musicals sell limited day seats and you’ll see a queue forming up as early at 8am. The number of seats available vary daily, so I’ll suggest checking the website of the musical for the latest information. We happened to walk past the theatre of the highly rated Kinky Boots and managed to score £20 front row tickets! We heard there were other musicals going for only £5 each but the queues start 2-3hrs before the theatre opens.
For those who don’t want to queue, check out websites like lastminute.com. They also sell discounted tickets but with a small service fee. You can also queue at discount ticket booths all around Leicester Square.
Pro-tip: If you don’t mind queuing, Kinky Boots is fairly easy compared to the others. We joined the queue at 930am before the theatre opened at 10am and still got our tickets!
I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter and couldn’t miss out on the chance to immerse myself at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio. Film buffs will also enjoy seeing how the magic comes to life on our big screen as you get to see the original props and sets.
The effort and details for the props and sets were really quite insane.And of course you have to try Butterbeer at the studio.
There are many agencies selling studio tickets together with a tour of the filming locations around London. Those are expensive though. I found that the cost efficient way is to actually book tickets to Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio direct (£35), before doing your own DIY tour of the actual film locations (free).
Pro-tip: Take the train from London Euston station to Watford Junction station (£5 off peak, or £8.10 peak b/w Monday to Friday 0630-0930am), before hopping on the two-way Harry Potter themed shuttle bus (£2.50) from Watford Junction station. This takes slightly more than an hour.
If you’re a big Potter fan and want to do your own DIY tour, check out my Big kid’s guide to Harry Potter’s magical spots in London. Included places like King’s Cross Platform 9¾, the design studio House of Minalima that did all the concept art, as well as other lesser known spots.
Platform 9¾ inside King’s Cross station. There are even “wizarding” staff to help you take pictures with a wand and scarf.
St. Pancras International where the exterior of King’s Cross Station was shot.
Yes I brought real beer and my butterbeer souvenir mug around London.
Unless you are really lucky or have connections, tickets to English Premier League matches are going to be expensive. London is home to some of the biggest football clubs in the country, and football is in the blood of most Londoners. While we may not be able to score tickets to matches, the next best thing is to really hang out at a bar near the stadium. You still get to feel the passion of the football fans without having to overpay on the black market for tickets.
I was outside the Olympic Stadium during a friendly match for West Ham and could already feel the electric atmosphere inside the stadium. Imagine if it was an actual competitive match!
Cheap eats in London
There are plenty of fairly cheap places to eat all around London for £5 or less. That said, I wouldn’t recommend eating them for all three meals. I typically had 2 cheap eats and 1 value for money meal (see next section) in a day to mix it up.
Healthy chain restaurants like Leon are perfect to start the day. I got a salmon egg muffin and coffee for only £5. There are also porridge (oats) and poached egg pots that range from £2.50-3.75.
If you want to eat a lot, Chinatown is the place to be. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants that cater to the very-hungry. All-you-can-eat buffet style meals typically range from £7-9 for sit-ins and £4-6 for takeaways. The food is fairly typical and average, but you get plenty of variety.
A sample of the spread you’ll find at a typical Chinese buffet restaurant.
American Fast Food
For some reason, fast food restaurants like McDonalds and KFC are cheap in comparison to the general standard of living in London. A cheese burger at McDonalds cost 99p, while a Big Mac extra value meal is £4.25. KFC similarly has classic meals for under £5.
If you prefer something lighter, sandwiches and salads can also be bought from convenience stores or supermarkets like Tesco for a few pounds. Sushi rolls and pastas generally range from £1.40 to £4.
Groceries are also quite affordable in London. If you cook and pack your own lunch, you’ll be able to eat well for a fraction of the cost!
Save money on drinks unless it’s beer
Generally ask for tap water with ice. If you ask for water, they might end up giving you bottled mineral water that’s chargeable.
For more, here’s a useful list of 15 dishes under £5 in London by Timeout London.
Value for money eats in London
While eating out in London quickly adds up, I didn’t want to miss out on all the good food London is famous for. So other than showing you how to eat out on a budget, here are a couple of other value for money eats as well. They aren’t budget, but for the price you are paying, it’s super worth it!
Lobster at Big Easy
What you get: An entire lobster, chips, simple salad, and beer/proseco. I loved this as it would have been easily double the price back in Singapore. The lobster was sweet, fresh, and huge.
Location: Crossrail Place, London E14, United Kingdom
Opening hours: 7am-12am Monday to Saturday, 9am-1030pm Sunday
Steak at Flat Iron
What you get: Steak, simple salad, popcorn for starters. Probably the most value for money steak restaurant in London. Queues can be long during dinner time but I got lucky and got a spot quickly at 8pm.
Location: 17 Beak St, Soho, London W1F 9RW, United Kingdom
Opening hours: 12-11pm daily
Oysters at Borough Markets
What you get: The freshest oysters money can buy. It’s a huge market selling all sorts of fresh produce, but there’s only one oyster place.
Price: £8 for 6.
Location: 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL, United Kingdom
Opening hours: Full Market 10am-5pm Wednesday to Thursday & Saturday, 10am-6pm on Friday
Salted Beef Beigel at Beigel Bake
What you get: Chunks of salted beef, pickles, and mustard in a soft beigel. Some might find it too meaty, but I loved the balance of the beef with the pickles and mustard. They have salmon and lots of other types as well.
Location: 159 Brick Ln, London E1 6SB, United Kingdom
Opening hours: 24hrs all year round
Beers at Cittie of Yorke
What you get: A range of draught beers. It’s cheap, good, and has the decor of a medieval beer hall. Nuff said.
Price: £3 a pint
Location: 22 High Holborn, London WC1V 6BN, United Kingdom
Opening hours: 12-11pm daily, Sundays closed
Getting around cheaply in London
Get an Oyster Card
As long as you plan to take the London Underground, Overground, or trademark red busses, get an Oyster Card. Not only is it more convenient than constantly buying single tickets, it’s also significantly cheaper! The Oyster Card comes costs £5, but is completely refundable at station counters.
Plan to see attractions by clusters
I spent a total of only £40 taking public transport around London, including my journeys to the airport. One way to avoid having excessive transfers on public transport is to group the places you want to explore in clusters. That way you’ll only need to travel once and walk around. I also rather spend more time outside than travelling from place to place.
By the way there is no mobile reception in the London Underground!
Hire a set of wheels for £2
If you’re travelling around Central London and want some exercise, this is literally the best way to get around. Santander Cycles is a self-service bicycle sharing scheme for short journeys in London.
Basically pay £2 to gain 24hr access to all the Santander bicycles in the city. The only catch is that you have to return your bicycles within 30mins, otherwise there will be an additional £2 fee for every subsequent 30mins. The trick is to plan your route so that you always arrive at the docking station near your destination within 25mins after rental! It might sound troublesome, but the docking stations are literally all over the city and near all the main attractions. Also, wait 10mins after docking the bicycle before renting another one to avoid the surcharge.
Pro-tip: Use the Santander Bike app to plan your route and check for available slots at the docking station.
Travelling from London Heathrow Airport to London City Centre
Unless saving 15mins is important to you, take the Piccadilly Line on the London Underground for £3.10 instead of the £22 express trains. The entire journey takes approximately 1hr depending on where you stop.
Budget place to stay in London
Wombats City Hostel London
Price: from £20
It’s clean, it’s convenient, it’s cheap. What else can you ask for? It’s also a great place to meet people and is located on the “cool” side on London. Close to the Tower Bridge and City Hall, it’s a stone throw away from hipster neighbourhoods Shoreditch and Spitalfields.
Yes there’s free wifi, lockers, a communal kitchen, maps, and usb outlets with every bed.
Just check out the pictures of Wombats City Hostel for yourself.
Other budget tips in London
SIM cards and data plans
For the social media addicts like me, getting a data plan in London is very easy. There are many companies offering all sorts of coverage, but in my opinion, giffgaff is the cheapest and most convenient. I paid only £10, and got 2GB of data, 100minutes for UK calls (useful for checking opening hours and making reservations), and unlimited UK texts. There are numerous other plans available to suit your own needs as well.
What I liked though, is that you can pre-order your free SIM card and have it delivered to wherever you are staying. Unless you desperately need a SIM card at the airport and want to overpay, this is the best option.
London Budget Breakdown
Accommodation: £76 for 4nights
Others: £10 (2GB Data plan)
Total/Day: £59.8 on average (S$103.50)
For a full breakdown on my day to day itinerary and cost, check out London under £223: A 5-day budget itinerary (coming soon).
Flights to London from Singapore
As usual, Skyscanner is my go to site to search for flights. Singapore to London is a long flight away, so I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which is best as our thresholds to transit times are all different. The good thing is that Skyscanner has an awesome filtering system that lets you select your own parameters. Whether you prefer a direct or 1 stopover flight, early departure times, or flight durations that don’t take more than a day, it is fully customisable. You can even remove airlines you do not want to fly in!
Skyscanner has also recently updated their flights app to combine both hotel and car hire bookings into one platform. My favourite new feature though, is the “Top Deals” section. As I have a flexible work schedule, I can literally book my next city break by selecting “Top Deals” for the next weekend! It basically pulls out the best deals for your preferred dates of travel. Very very useful.
If you’re yearning to visit London, why not search for flights and start planning now!
Got any other tips on how to travel London on a budget? Share them with us in the comments section below.