My Top 8 Tips for a Budget Friendly Weekend in London
By Kelly Henderson (follow Kelly on Twitter @kellythekiwi)
London is an amazing place to come for the weekend… but it can be expensive! If you work out the cost of travel, accommodation, entertainment and food and drink, you could be looking at a small fortune. Luckily, I’ve been working at a backpackers’ hostel for the past 8 years so I’ve worked out a few tricks to make visitors’ money go that little bit further.
#1 Walk… or take the bus
Most of London’s main tourist attractions are closer than they appear on the map so pack a good pair of trainers and hit the streets. If you’re going to use public transport then take the bus rather than the underground. A bus fare is £1.50 no matter how far you are travelling or what time of day it is whilst tube fares vary according to travel zones and whether you are travelling during peak time or not. If you’re carrying luggage from all the shopping done with the money saved on transport, there are luggage storage options at the biggest tourist stations in the city, so you can travel light.
#2 Buy an Oyster Card
One of the first things you should do when you arrive in London is buy an Oyster Card – this will reduce the cost of travel dramatically. A single ticket for Zone 1 and 2 is £4.80 but you’ll only pay £2.30 (off-peak) if you are using an Oyster. You’ll also benefit from daily capping so the most you’ll pay is £6.40 for a day’s travel or £4.40 if you stick to the buses. Remember, that you can get the deposit you paid for your Oyster Card (and any remaining credit) refunded when you leave London at any Tube station ticket machine.
#3 Check in to a great value hostel
Accommodation can definitely add a huge amount to your weekend budget so I recommend checking in to a hostel. Standards have definitely improved over the last few years so don’t listen to the horror stories your parents might tell! Not only are hostels value for money but you’ll also get to meet other guest who are travelling too. The Hostel Girl is a great website to have a read of if you’re a bit unsure about staying in a hostel – it’s full of reviews, city guides and other travel tips. Make sure you choose a hostel that offers free breakfast – it’s the perfect way to start the day!
#4 Rent an entire house using HouseTrip
If you’d rather not share your room with other people then how about renting an entire house? Booking your accommodation through HouseTrip is a great alternative to staying in a hotel… and a lot cheaper! The website is really easy to use – just search for your holiday home, check the availability and book. Being able to use a kitchen to prepare your own food will also help you save money during your weekend away.
#5 Visit London’s free tourist attractions
Sightseeing in London doesn’t have to be expensive as there of plenty of free sights and attractions. The British Museum, the Tate Modern and the Science Museum are just three of the many museums and galleries that are free to enter. It also doesn’t cost anything to marvel at Tower Bridge or see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Have a read of our top 20 free things to do in London for more inspiration.
#6 Explore the city on a free walking tour
A walking tour is great way to explore the city and learn some of London’s history. There are lots of companies that offer walking tours but I think the best ones are free! My personal recommendation is the SANDEMANs Royal London Tour – this 2 and a half hour tour covers sights like Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. The guides work on a tips-only basis so if you enjoyed the tour you can pay them what you think it was worth. This concept makes awesome guides!
#7 Get free (or cheap) theatre tickets
No weekend in London is complete without a trip to the theatre and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune! If you’re well-organized you can get discounted tickets online before you leave home; three of the best websites are Discount London, Theatre Tickets Direct and London Theatre Direct. Alternatively, you can try and get cheap tickets on the day from the theatre itself or from a discount ticket booth. Different theatres have different ways of selling their discounted tickets. For example, Matilda sell £5 tickets to 16-25 year olds every day, but there’s only 16 available and you have to go to the Box Office in person to buy them. If you go to Leicester Square you will see dozens of discount tickets booths, the most well-known of these is TKTs. If you’ve got time shop around a bit until you get the best deal and always have a couple of back-up shows if your first choice is not available. Here are some of the other ways to get free or cheap London theatre tickets.
#8 Take a packed lunch and join the locals for a drink
When I am away I still like to eat and drink as the locals do so I need to think of ways to stretch my budget as far as I can. Hostels that offer free breakfasts and having use of a kitchen are two ways of saving money on food and drink but there are many others. Packed lunches or picnics are a favourite of mine and London’s green spaces – Hyde Park, Regents Park and Greenwich Park for example – are perfect spots to eat lunch in the summer. The best advice I’ve probably been given is to talk to the locals – they all have their favourite places, know the best happy hours and which restaurants offer the best value for money.
Enjoy your budget weekend in London – you’ll have a blast! If you love to travel but are worried about whether you can afford it, why not have a read of my Top 50 Budget Travel Tips.