You know. London is not a cheap city. We are Londoners and as we really love London, we want to give you some insider tips to visit this city like a local. In this post we talk about how to save money like a local in London. Because you can visit this city and do a lot of things, on a budget. Let’s see how.
Let’s start with the most important expenditure item, which is probably that of the overnight stay. In London there are hotels and solutions for every pocket. We’ll see it soon in a dedicated post. However, for my blog’ readers, here some discounts:
HOW TO SAVE MONEY LIKE A LOCAL IN LONDON: TRANSPORT TIPS
Depending on the length of your stay, you can choose between the Oyster card and the Travel Card. With the Oyster card, you pay a deposit of 5£ to have a card on which you can upload a credit. If you are in London less than 5 days, you may want to make the Oyster card.
It is better to make the London visitor Oyster card if you stay in London more than 5 days, you can buy it directly here from the UK tourism website.
However, you can also use a contactless card, instead of oyster, with a daily cup of 7 euros for zones 1 and 2 and spare 5£ too.
Please remember that children under the age of 11 can travel free of charge if accompanied by a paying adult. Children between the ages of 11 and 15 will have a paper Travelcard, not an Oyster Card. If you want to delve into the topic, I dedicated a post to just this: how to get around in London: Oyster card, Travel card or Contactless?
Besides, I suggest to plan carefully your daily itinerary because you might even avoid moving by transport. Often the distances seem larger than they really are, besides the fact that a city is much better discovered on foot.
NIGHT TUBE DURING WEEKEND
You should also consider that you can avoid to spend money paying a taxi if you go out during the weekend and going back home late. On weekends (Friday and Saturday), some tube lines run all night: Victoria, Jubilee, Central, Northern and Piccadilly. The rates are the same as the daily rates.
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY THE LONDON PASS
In London there are so many things to see and to do that it might be difficult to plan and do everything. A good solution to see as many attractions as possible, is to buy the London Pass. This includes 80 attractions, including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the scenic open bus ride. The savings are net plus the days purchased. The London pass also gives fast track tickets for the most popular sites: this means skipping the queue and not wasting time.
TIP: I suggest you buy the online pass and you will have the tickets comfortably on your phone. It means also to avoid printing and wasting paper.
LONDON PASS 3 – DAY ITINERARY SIMULATION
The 3-day London pass costs 140 euros: I have entered the attractions of London by grouping the nearby ones, also considering the time to visit them.
Tower of London – 30th standard ticket for an adult
Shard – 36th standard ticket for an adult
Tower Bridge – 9.30th standard ticket for an adult
Westminster – 23rd standard ticket for an adult
Churchill War rooms – 25th standard ticket for an adult
St.Paul Cathedral – 22nd standard ticket for an adult
Hop on hop off bus – 38th standard ticket for an adult
Kensington Palace – 22nd standard ticket for an adult
Royal Albert Hall – 17th standard ticket for an adult
Kew Gardens – 18th standard ticket for an adult
Tot. for 3 days , 240 euros, so with the London Pass, over 100 euros saved!
HOW TO SAVE MONEY IN LONDON WITH OFFERS 2 X 1
Another way to save money is to take advantage of the 2X1 discount that you can get with the London Visitor Oyster Card, that we have seen above. You can buy it directly from here, from the British tourism website.
The advantage is to save money, however with this card you can’t have fast track tickets. This is up to you, but be aware that only tickets purchased online or with the London pass have the fast track option and you can skip the queue. If you plan to go to Madame Tussaud for example, the queue is always long and you could run the risk of spending even more than an hour waiting. And I’d say on vacation it’s really not worth it.
2X1 vouchers for London can be downloaded from this site: daysoutguide.co.uk
You can also take advantage of the 2X1 discount with Tickets from the Stansted Express. All the info here.
BUY ONLINE TO HAVE FAST TRACK TICKETS
By purchasing many attractions online, you can jump the queue. In addition, a discount on the full rate is often applied to those who buy online. Check if it is possible to have an electronic voucher or if you will need to bring the paper one.
Here below some examples of fast track entry tickets with online purchase:
- London Eye fast track ticket
- Madame Tussauds fast track
- London Zoo fast track tickets
- St Paul’s Cathedral Fast Track
- Visit Buckingham Palace with the chance to visit the royal rooms during summer: tickets do not have fast track but you will have a precise time to visit (the visit is not timed anyway). This will make the entrance faster.
- For the Tower of London, the purchase of tickets online allows you to take advantage of the family discount (with 25% discount on individual tickets).
- At Westminster Abbey, you can skip the queue and show the barcode on your emailed ticket; you don’t have to print anything
- The View from The Shard has priority entry and if you buy online save more than 20%
HOW TO SAVE MONEY LIKE A LOCAL IN LONDON: RIDING A BIKE
Tube and bus are quite expensive and a cheap alternative is the bike. With the bike-sharing service with Santander Cycles (or Boris Bikes) you pay 2 euros for the day of the rental and the first 30 minutes are free. Then you pay 2 euros for every extra half hour.
It is better to download and book using the app, because it is simpler and intuitive. You can also check which stations are closer based on your location.
BOOK TRAINS IN ADVANCE
In the UK it works differently than in other countries and, as for flights, the rates vary based on how long before you book. Trains are not cheap and if you already plan to take a trip out of London, I recommend booking the train in advance. You can save up to 75%.
Moreover, the longer the journey the more the savings increase.
SAVE MONEY ON THE TRANSFER FROM AIRPORTS TO LONDON
Depending on the airport you fly, you will have several alternatives to reach central London. You can always choose between the train or the bus. The train is certainly the fastest choice and it is obviously also the most expensive.
In general it is cheaper to fly to Stansted because of Ryanair low cost tickets. However, you need to book the Stansted Express as soon as you have bought the plane tickets, because if booked well in advance, there is a significant saving.
Anyway, Stansted is the furthest airport and it will take you almost an hour on the Stansted Express train to reach Liverpool Street, which is located in east London.
Among the most central airports, it is generally cheaper to fly over Gatwick than to Heathrow.
If you fly to Gatwick you can choose both the fast train (Gatwick Express), and one of the trains that pass through Gatwick and arrive in London. This second option saves a lot of money, and the difference in time saved with the Gatwick Express is not all that fundamental.
The same goes for Heathrow: there is the Heathrow Express train that takes you directly to Paddington Station. However, if you haven’t booked a hotel right in that area, then you might as well take the train to Ealing Broadway and then take the tube: from Ealing Broadway you can take the Central (red) or the District (green) line.
HOW TO SAVE MONEY IN LONDON LIKE A LOCAL: BUY A LOCAL SIM CARD
If your stay is more than just a weekend, you might be interested in buying a local sim card. Giff Gaff is one of the most convenient English provider.
With Brexit approaching, you will be required of a UK address. However, I suggest to try as most of the time they just check your passport/ID and won’t match up the address.
CULTURE IS FREE TO EVERYONE IN LONDON
The Design MuseumThe list of free museums and art galleries in London is really long. Most major museums such as the British Museum, Tate Modern, National Gallery, Tate Britain, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Design Museum, Museum of London and Victoria & Albert Museum are completely free.
It is still possible to make a minimum donation at the entrance to support the museums.
TIP: Some institutions often do free open day. Look online because it’s usually required to book.
Related: First time in London with kids what to do
HOW TO SAVE MONEY IN LONDON LIKE A LOCAL: GOING TO THE THEATER
If you plan to visit London in January or February, then you may be interested to know that the Get into London Theatre event offers discounted tickets to the best West End shows. Tickets can be found starting at as low as 10 euros.
If you come to London in August, then you can’t miss the children’s week to the theatre: the Kids week. For every paying adult, one child under 16 enters for free, and the second at half price.
I also recommend to take a look at the Love Theatre website which offers last minute tickets.
Finally, I recommend you go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square where you can find last-minute discounts on the best shows.
If you’re interested in seeing one of London’s most historic musicals, The Book of Mormon Tickets runs a lottery for 20 tickets for each show. Entries must be made in person at the box office two and a half hours before the show and the names will be drawn at random.
HOW TO SAVE MONEY IN LONDON LIKE A LOCAL: FREE PANORAMIC VIEWS
You don’t have to go up to the Shard to enjoy a panoramic view of London. There are many other way to view the London skyline for free. Below are the best free panoramic views of London:
- Sky Garden is a garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie. To get to the Sky Garden you just need to book online, choose the time you want to access and admission is free. I recommend booking well in advance.
- The top floor of the Tate Modern, where the bar is located, offers one of the most beautiful views of the Thames and St Paul’s. You don’t need to sit down to see the view of the skyline along the Thames
- The top floor of the One New Change shopping centre, from which you can admire a wonderful view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Shard and even the London Eye. Go to the elevator to access the rooftop.
- Primrose Hill is another good point to see the London City skyline. You can start from Camden, take a stroll along the scenic canal and when you reach Regent’s Park, you can walk just over ten minutes uphill. You might enjoy a tour with a Local guide from Camden to Primrose
- If you are planning to take a day out to Greenwich, south-east London, then I recommend going to the park surrounding the Greenwich Observatory. From there the view is really amazing. Ah, if you’re wondering, this is the meridian district and it’s worth a visit.
HOW TO SAVE MONEY IN LONDON LIKE A LOCAL: WHERE TO SLEEP
Where to sleep in London on a budget? When you book a hotel in London, you generally think that the further away you are from the centre, the more you save. It is certainly true that the suburbs cost less, but I would never go beyond zone 2. This is because you will pay much more to reach the centre by public transport and, if you consider the extra time spent, the savings on the overnight stay will be drastically reduced.
Besides, areas that are slightly outside the tourist zones, will have cheaper and better quality rooms. If you are a family, it’s better to look at some apartments or the newest style chains that have family rooms like Ibis and PremierInn.
When booking a hotel, use Citymapper to check how long it takes to get to any of London’s biggest attractions.
I also recommend reading the 5 best apps to download to visit London.
A good alternative to hotels, is definitely Airbnb. Especially for families and those who want to experience London like a local. Or why not experience a stay on a canal boat through Airbnb?
You might also consider:
- House Swapping – do you know Love House Swap?
- Stay at a B&B – Booking.com lists these here.
- Stay in a regular hostel –Booking.com lists hostels and cheap hotels click through and type ” London hostel
- Stay in a youth hostel- Join YHA for discounted rates
WHERE TO EAT IN LONDON
How to eat in London and on a budget? It is possible to eat well in London, spending the right price. Generally, you should avoid the most touristic areas. For lunch I recommend some chains like Pret a Manger or Wasaby, for a quick lunch, or you can head to a supermarket, where you will find salads, pastas and sandwiches. Then, head to the many parks in London to have yourself a picnic.
Many restaurants in the West End offer pre-theatre discounts and it’s often possible to eat even with only 10 euros.
There are chains where children eat for free, as Preto, a Brazilian restaurant.
Finally, for street food lovers, I also recommend markets, such as the Camden Market or the Borough Market, that are always a good value for money.
If you want to dig deeper, there is also a post Where to Eat Cheap in London.
HOW TIPS WORK IN LONDON
And now, some information about tips. You know that each country has different habits and it is always important to know about this too, not to make bad figures! Or lose money. In restaurants in London it is suggested to give 10-15% of the bill as a tip. Check the bill first to check if the percentage has not already been charged. It is not mandatory to tip for chains such as fast food or for takeaways or self-service. In pubs, you don’t have to leave a tip.
If you take a taxi, you can round upwards, although in reality there would also be a tip of 10-15%.
Finally, it is always good manners, leave a small tip to the service staff if you are staying in a hotel.
DO A FREE WALKING TOUR AND EXPLORE SURROUNDING NEIGHBORHOODS
How to save money like a local in London? There are tons of free Walking Tour in London to choose from like Dope Art Tours and FreeToursByFoot to name a few. You don’t pay for the tour when booking it, however a tip at the end of the tour is much appreciated. And some of these walking tour are very interesting and include include street art tours, Jack the Ripper tours, WWII tours, food tours, etc.
I suggest also to go beyond the usual touristic path and explore something different from Big Ben and Oxford Circus. It’s free and it’s beautiful to stroll around Shoreditch, Hampstead or Chelsea and Fulham. The Thames Path is 184 miles long, it’s free for all pedestrians to use and is a great place to see some of London’s most iconic landmarks. I suggest to start from Fulham and follow the path till Hammersmith.
There is also a warehouse in Northeast London which is one of the most unusual things to do in London: God’s Own Junkyard. Here you’ll find an impressive collection of neon signs.
Or you can even visit a farm right in the centre of London: the Spitalfields City farm in Shoreditch. Founded in 1978, there are donkeys and sustainable education programs.
I hope I’ve put everything in. But let me know if this guide should be integrated with anything else.
See you soon!
What is better between the Oyster Card and the Oyster Travel card?
There is no single answer. Depending on the length of your stay, you should choose between the Oyster card and the Travel Card.
Should I buy the London Pass?
In London there are a lot of attractions to see and things to do. The London Pass allows to save money but it is convenient only in some cases.
What is the cheaper solution for the transfer from the airport?
Depending on the airport you are flying to, you will have different alternatives to reach central London. Let's see which trains to choose for the transfer to save money.
How to save money in London?
In London there are many free things to do . Most of museums are free. And then there is no need to pay and get on the Shard to admire London from above.