You’ve always dreamed of spending a weekend in London, but that dream seems out of reach because of your tight budget?
Don’t worry, if you use some simple tricks, you can still enjoy an amazing weekend in London without breaking the bank.
London has the reputation of being an expensive city… but this is not entirely true. Yes, rent prices are very high for those who live there, and same goes for public transport. But if you visit the city as a tourist for a weekend or a few days, your budget will vary depending on the activities you choose. Although prices might deter you from ever setting foot in London, it is still possible to prepare an exciting city-trip at a very low cost.
London has a lot to offer, whether you enjoy strolling down the streets or you like to roam museums, and it will be a real delight for the taste buds of all the foodies.
Of course, some tourist attractions are very expensive. For example, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey or Madame Tussaud’s ticket prices range between £30 and £401. But you can save some money if you buy them on the internet. They even sell packages with entrances to 2 or more activities for a very attractive price. (More info HERE).
Remember that walking is always free and London’s famous neighbourhoods hold some amazing sights: go and explore Notting Hill and Soho, walk around Big Ben to admire it from every angle, take in the beauty of Tower Bridge and try to get a glimpse of the royals at Buckingham Palace, do some window shopping in Camden Town or Oxford (but be careful to resist to the temptation!).
While walking around, you can stumble upon street performances (notably along the Tames), witness beautiful landscapes and breathtaking sunsets, observe the cute squirrels frolicking in Hyde Park, admire the impressive old buildings without having to spend a fortune to get inside, …
You will also find that a lot of museums are actually free (we didn’t get the chance to visit them, but that will be for another time). To name only a few: the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum, etc…
London is a very green city and you will be able to enter its many parks at no cost, like Richmond Park and the famous Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Enjoy a peaceful stroll in their green surrounding or take time between two visits to have some lunch on the grass.
You can easily fill a few days if you stick to those free activities, discovering the iconic and legendary sights of the British capital. And don’t forget to snap some shots in front of the notorious Big Ben (let’s be honest, it is THE tourist picture that no one can miss!).
This is probably where you will be spending the biggest chunk of your budget. I highly recommend that you check Ryan Air’s website: you can score some good deals with return fares under €50 sometimes (for example our ticket Poitiers-London only cost us €36 per person!). Traveling by bus is another affordable option. The company Oui Bus has return tickets for around €50 from Paris (prices will vary depending on the departure city). Your third option is the Eurostar train, departing from Paris and Lille with return tickets starting from €88.
Once you have arrived at your destination, the easiest and cheapest option to navigate the city is to purchase the Visitor Oyster card. There will be a £5 deposit for the card. You can get it either upon arrival or you can pre-order it online and have it sent to your home address. You will then need to charge a certain amount (£15-£20-£30 or more) to be able to use it. The fares will vary depending on the zone you are traveling to and from, but most of the touristic attractions are located within zone 1 and 2. If you are staying just for a weekend, you probably won’t be traveling outside of these zones. You can start with a £15 credit that you will be able to top up if you need.
Note that you can get a refund of any leftover credit as well as your £5 deposit (if you return the card) at the counter of any station and Visitor Centre. For extra information, you can have a look at the website VisitBritain.
If you are a social butterfly and like to meet new people, couch surfing is the cost-free solution for you. On the website you can find a list of hosts who will welcome you in their home for free. This is a great way to save a lot of money but also to meet with the locals and get some advice on how to get around the city, where to go and what to see.
In the same vein, Airbnb gives you the opportunity to stay with locals and rent a room in their house: prices vary a lot depending on the location and neighbourhood. It is however an affordable option if you book ahead of time (2 to 3 months in advance). When I visited London, I found a shared room outside of the centre for less than €120 per night because all the good places were fully booked.
I would also recommend staying in hostels, although the prices aren’t as attractive as they used to be, especially since the arrival of couch surfing and Airbnb. It remains interesting nonetheless: for example, one night in a nice hostel, with a good location will cost you around €40 per person in a 6-bed dorm (breakfast might be included). If you are a girl traveling solo, I suggest that you stay in female only dorms or that you stay with a group of friends. Some men can have inappropriate or inconsiderate behaviours towards women (I’m talking out of experience).
If you prefer to enjoy some independence and comfort, you can choose to stay at a hotel.
King’s Cross (where I stayed) is a very nice and accessible neighbourhood, as well as Paddington and Victoria.
You should compare prices through Booking.com or another price comparison website. Booking.com is reliable and you will have access to reviews from other travellers, to avoid any bad surprise upon arrival. Try to stay away from hotels that are too far out of town or else you might spend the majority of your stay in the tube!
There are different factors to consider to get the best value for money when booking a hotel: clean rooms, good location, etc …
You will obviously not enjoy the delight of staying in a local bed and breakfast but when you travel on a budget you need to set your priorities: do you want to spend all your money on a great accommodation but not have anything left for activities? Or are you going to stay in a decent yet affordable hotel and be able to make the most of your stay?
If you are on a tight budget, a good way to save money is to pack a lunch and some snacks to eat during the day. But keep in mind that London can be pretty cold, and after walking all day to discover the city, it can be nice to sit down and have a coffee in a warm café or have a meal at a fast-food to replenish your energy.
You can also hit the supermarket where you will find a large selection of nice ready meals. There are fast-food chains around every street corner, like Burger King, but also smaller chains that provide delicious burgers, burritos, hot-dogs and sandwiches from £5.
Another option is market stalls and food courts with a nice atmosphere, were you will be able to find a whole range of take-away food.
OUR DETAILED BUDGET FOR 4 days/ 1pers:
Transport (plane, bus, tube): £75 – £42 being public transport.
Accommodation: (3 in a hostel in King’s Cross): £90
Food: £46,204 (including breakfast, lunch and dinner)
Activities and other expenses (shopping, bar…): £26
Total: £237 (approx. 270 euros) per person, for 4 days, plane tickets included.
I am aware that for some people, €270 represents a lot of money for a short stay. But it is very difficult to spend less in London unless you have free accommodation and you eat exclusively sandwiches that you prepared yourself, or if you have access to a different mean of transport that is cheaper than the traditional plane, bus or train (for example carpooling).
I hope that this article will have given you some ideas to plan your dream trip to London at a low-cost!
It is a great city for people on a budget as you will be able to find a great deal of free and/or cheap activities. With a bit of resourcefulness and some savings, you can definitely make your dream city trip come true! Let’s GO!! 😀