London could never tire me. I love the hustle in the streets, the astounding architecture, and profound history. But London can be expensive. Travel in this epic city can really add up. Transportation, accommodation, food, tours … it all comes at a price. It's true, places like London can break the budget. But you can make it work if you only spend the big bucks where it counts. I love devising a budget to spend money on the things I love doing while saving in other areas.
I've put together my ultimate guide to touring London on a budget, breaking down tips on ways to save and splurge in London.
A note about my history in London: I've been A LOT. In fact, I'll be rounding to 10 trips when I go again this July. So I have a fairly good handle on what to see and do in the city, as well as spending and saving money in London. I hope this guide can help you navigate this often expensive city.
Save or Splurge London: Your Ultimate London Budget and Guide
Where to stay
Save: Hostel in the heart of the city
Besides flights, the biggest expense is accommodation. But what if you could find an awesome place, not far from the Tower Bridge, with nice, clean rooms, a good breakfast, and a great place to meet fellow travelers? Consider Wombat's London Hostel — hands down the best-kept secret and best bang for your buck in London.
I've stayed in everything from Luxury, 5-star resorts to crummy 1-star places. Wombat's combines what you love about hotels and somehow slashes the price to accommodate budget travelers. My pretty-in-pink room featured clean and spare decor, posters of Amy Winehouse, a great view of the London skyline, and an especially great shower. What I often find difficult about budget travel is finding a good place to clean up. Wombat's has thought of everything.
We spent enjoyed visiting the pub at night, chatting with other travelers over a pint. Because most other travelers are interested in experiencing London, it's easy to strike up a conversation. I loved learning about why or what encouraged people to visit London. Despite having a bar on the property, my room was extremely quiet.
One great advantage was the hostel's proximity to the Underground as well as to some of London's top sights, like Tower Bridge. The place was impeccably clean, safe, and above all, the price is unbeatable.
I was so pleased with Wombat's London location, I sought out another location for my upcoming trip to Budapest since they have one there as well. Wombat's CITY HOSTELS offer multiple locations in Vienna (I stayed here next on my trip!), Munich, and Berlin.
Save: Use the Underground
There is no faster way to get around London than the Tube. The cheery voice telling you to “Mind the gap” will forever echo in your head as you stop off at memorable places such as Piccadilly Circus and King's Cross. I love riding the escalators, people-watching, reviewing various newspapers, and reading posters advertising upcoming London plays. I've even become adept at putting on makeup in the glare of the windows. This is by far the best budget-friendly way to maneuver around London.
I suggest getting the Oyster Card that lets you top it off with credit to travel all around London. The reduced fares can add up to big savings in the long run. You will have to pay a £5 (refundable) deposit for the card but it is well worth it.
Save: Free walking tour
To really feel like a Londoner, take your sightseeing to the streets. We joined the Wombat's free walking tour with Strawberry Tours. We focused on the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the new skyscrapers, St. Paul's, and the Royal Courts of Justice.
What I love about tours like this are the tidbits of information you pick up to enhance your experience. For example, I learned that at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street, where Charles Dickens wrote, the parrot was known to listen in on stories and pass them along to hungry journalists. Or how once bus #78 jumped over the gap just as the Tower Bridge was opening up to let a boat pass!
Splurge: London Theater
I insist on going to a play (or three) every time I'm in London. Nothing beats the theater in London, especially in the West End — the pinnacle of live productions. I'm always astounded, no matter what show I see. Some of my favorites include Mamma Mia, Lion King, Chicago, and The King & I. The stage productions and professional performances held in classic, often historic theaters are incredible. You don't have to be a theater buff to appreciate the exceptional talent that goes into putting on these productions.
Pro tip: Matinees are always cheaper than evening shows. Find tickets at Today Tix or My Box Office. Or ask your hostel for tickets! We secured ours through Wombat's at a discount. Also, head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square to get a discounted ticket.
Save: Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
If you're willing to stand, you can catch one of Shakespeare's plays in his very own Globe Theatre for just £5! Shockingly, this is also a great place to watch the show, no nosebleed seats here.
Save: Visit the Museums
Many museums in the UK are free. This is an incredible plus for visitors. Some of my favorites include the British Museum (providing the history of its people), the Tate Modern (for some really out-there modern works … err art), the Victoria and Albert Museum (for traditional art and costumes), and the Natural History Museum (featuring the wonders of nature). The Natural History Museum building is itself exceptional and worth the trip.
Splurge: Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey's gothic design makes it one of the most outstanding churches in the world. Some 1,000 years of history are encased in this grand structure, where more than 3,000 significant people are buried, such as King Henry V, Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens. Countless monumental events have taken place here, including royal weddings and every coronation since 1066, making the famous abbey part of the heart of London. Ticket prices start at £20, but I believe it's worth it.
Save: Tour St. Paul's
Touring St. Paul's Cathedral can run £18.00, which includes entry to the cathedral floor, crypt, and the three galleries in the dome. However, if you come for a mass (or Evensong) you can see the incredible 1673 Christopher Wren masterpiece for free.
Save: Notting Hill
Notting Hill is one of the most picturesque and expensive areas in London. You'll recognize the setting from films like “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually,” among others filmed here. Budget-minded travelers can simply hop on the Tube and pretend to be wealthy as you stroll the streets and gawk at all the grand homes and cool cars. I certainly did.
Hyde Park, Regent Park, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben … the list of must-see sights goes on and on. One of the best ways take in a lot in a short amount of time is the Hop on Hop Off bus tour. I've done many in my time, and the Big Red Bus Tour is truly the best. Of course, if you'd rather, you can just walk to each of these or take the tube. But if you're in a hurry, I suggest taking the double-decker bus.
*At the time of this writing (June 2018) Big Ben is currently under construction.
Splurge: Food Tour
I sort of had the impression that British food was unremarkable. I'm thrilled to say I was wrong. This food tour changed my mind!
The three-hour food tour starts in Borough Market where we tried a breakfast sandwich. Then we ramped things up with the best fish and chips I've ever had. Next, we went where world renown chef Jamie Oliver gets his meat and had the sausage roll (I'll be back just for this). Then we drank West Country Mead with honey flavor. Next, we headed to an underground pub for English cheese. We capped things off with a doughnut and sticky toffee pudding, eaten with a view of Tower Bridge. To say I was full is an understatement. It's not cheap, but it's so worth it.
Check out the exact food tour I took here.
Save: Take Away
You'll find you can save money simply by ordering food to-go, or “take away.” This can save you 10-20% every time. Another option is to go to the street food market. Camden market is a great place to find a variety of cuisines — pizza, falafel, and more for half the price you'll pay at a restaurant.
Of course, you can also cook your own meals. At Wombat's London, the full kitchen is free for guests to use. London grocery stores range from pricey to practical, so ask your hotel or hostel for advice.
Splurge: Afternoon tea
Can you get more London than sipping afternoon tea? I like taking my tea near Covent Garden at One Aldwych. Try the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed tea and the divine scones paired with bacon marmalade, delicate sandwiches, golden chocolate eggs filled with cheesecake, cakes, cotton candy, and more. Forget about eating the rest of the day, this decadent tea WILL fill you up. As it should, it's not cheap. Prices start at £45 per person. It's well worth it for the experience and makes for a memorable afternoon.
Save: Eat at a Pub
You can't visit London without snuggling up at a pub with a pint. A favorite pub food is hearty Shepard's pie, especially tasty after a long day of roaming the streets. This is the place to let loose, reminisce on the day, share stories, and make friends. Here are some of the best pubs in London.
It's overpriced, but Sketch is gorgeous inside. In order to get into the “pink room” you'll need to have afternoon tea. Or, you can have breakfast at the ultra swanky dining room. The food was surprisingly delicious (I had the Tijuana eggs) and the decor was awesome. Don't forget to go to the bathroom. It's worth it. I promise.
Save: Brick Lane and Portobello Road
Just steps from Wombat's Hostel is vintage shopping on Brick Lane — the best place to get your favorite clothes at a discounted price. Portobello Road market is the world's largest antiques market with some of the coolest trinkets around. You'll find hip and eclectic shops that offer everything from Tommy Hilfiger to Dolce and Gabbana – all at reasonable prices.
Splurge: Bond Street, Regent Street, Savile Row, and Harrods
The high-end shopping is on display on these lovely streets. If you're going to spend money you might as well do it in style on these iconic streets. Or, you can be like me and just walk around and pop into these beautiful stores or gawk at the displays. While all these streets are fabulous, I'd be remiss to not mention the most famous department store possibly int he world: Harrods. It's worth it just to stop by this store.
Save: Sky Garden
People might tell you to head to the Shard to get a view, but pay them no mind. Instead, head to the Sky Garden on top of the “walkie-talkie” skyscraper to get the best view. You will need to book a slot in advance and you can do that right here.
Splurge: London Eye
The giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London is one of the best ways to see the city's landmarks from the air. It starts at £26.00 per ticket for adults. You'll be hoisted into the air on a large pod with ample window space to make it easy for you to take a selfie. Make sure to go in the morning to avoid the queue.
Bottom line: you can definitely see London on a budget and do it in style. The best bet is to know where you want to spend your money and where to save.
This post was brought to you as a result of the #wombatsTraveller blog trip, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with wombat’s CITY HOSTELS.
Helene in Between maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.