London is notoriously expensive, and I’m sad to admit that since I moved away whenever I go back I’ve turned into one of those ‘How Much?!’ people. I’m pretty sure I won’t be living there again in the future. I’ll definitely be visiting though, possibly monthly (when I’m in the country).
So from 7 years of living in the Big Smoke, and a lifetime of popping in, here are my top 7 tips to save money exploring London.
1. Contactless debit and credit cards are Oyster cards
Don’t bother spending money on Oyster cards or tourist price tube journeys, you can simply swipe your debit or credit card at the gates to get in, and use the same one to get out. Remember that if it’s a foreign card you might get charged more by your card issuer though, bringing up the price, but for anyone with a UK bank account, go ahead. It works on the buses too.
2. Walk overground, rather than tubing underground
If you’re travelling around the centre of London keep in mind that some of the stations are not actually that far apart. You could definitely save some money by exploring the city on foot, rather than underground. For example, Covent Garden and Leicester Square are less than half a mile apart, and Charing Cross and Embankment are pretty much next to each other. Check out this map of ‘minutes walk’ between stations before you decide to spend money on expensive transport. Having a better understanding of how the city fits together will save you money and time in the future too.
3. Eat in parks
If you’re on a real budget buy from supermarket chains like Tesco etc, although keep in mind that long term they’re ruining the economy for small businesses right now. A better suggestion is to grab some lunch from a chain free lunch place you happen to see and enjoying the great outdoors in one of London’s many parks and outdoor spaces. If you do eat inside remember that you will be charged more, thanks to David Cameron’s ‘Pasty Tax’.
4. Book attractions before you arrive
Attraction companies like the London Pass mean you can pay upfront for your activities and so you know exactly how much you’ll spend – you can see my breakdown of whether I thought the London Pass was worth it here. Websites like lastminute.com offer cheaper West End Shows and similar entertainment, and if you book in advance you’ll get it even cheaper. Booking on the day is pretty much the most expensive way to do it.
5. Avoid tourist central
You can save yourself a few pennies on food by getting out of the centre. You can also save money by looking on discount sites but that will usually mean you going to some sort of chain restaurant, rather than just seeing what takes your fancy. It can be worth it, but I’d suggest going for a curry on Brick Lane, it’s the cheapest, most delicious way to eat in the capital, and you can bring your own booze, which saves even more.
6. Go to Sam Smith pubs
– Not actually a Sam Smith pub, it’s the only pub photo I have
If you’re looking for a pint in the Big Smoke find yourself a Sam Smith pub – nothing to do with the pop star – it’s a local brewery that serves the beer for a lot less than the big chains. You’ll also have a more interesting experience as many of them are in olde style pubs that have retained their pubby character rather than selling out to the hipsters and bankers.
If you’re footloose and fancy free – I like that phrase even though I sound like an old dear – then London has some excellent hostels. I’d recommend either the SoHostel in Soho, Wombats in Limehouse, or YHA just off Oxford Street.
If you’re not a hostel kind of person then I’d recommend you get your hotel reservation in asap, if you want to save money on your accommodation. London hotels are notoriously expensive, and if you want somewhere a bit decent near the centre then I’d say you were looking at at least £100 per night. You could also try sites like AirBnB too.
I hope all that helps to make your London holiday dreams a bit more achievable.