Having spent just 4 days in London (it’s definitely not enough time by the way) I was able to get a pretty good idea of how expensive London really was and whether or not it’s possible to visit on a budget.
There were quite a few people asking me after I left:
Is London expensive? And can it be visited on a budget?
There’s no doubting that the lovely English capital city is one of the most expensive places to visit in Europe but thankfully there are quite a few ways you can get by without spending all that much.
Ultimately it’s up to you how much you’re able, and willing, to spend during your time visiting London and the spectrum is wide when it comes to what your daily costs are going to be.
Some people are able to get away with spending less than £40 to £50 per day while others might have trouble keeping costs below £150 to £200.
It really depends on what your interests are, the different sights and attractions you want to check out, where you’re interested in eating, where you’re staying, and how you’re getting around the city.
Each of this different factors can be broken down in a way to help keep costs low or you could really blow the budget without much difficulty.
Is London as Expensive as They Say?
Anyone traveling is going to have to deal with four major areas of expenses.
These areas include:
- Entertainment (museums, tours, souvenirs, etc)
Accommodation in London
Hotels in London, especially right in the city center, can easily run more than £500 per night with some of the more reasonably priced hotels in great locations costing around £100 or so.
Split between two people £100 isn’t that much and if you’re interested in staying at hostels to save even more money it’s possible to find dorm rooms starting at around £20.
Obviously, right in the city center the cost for a hotel is going to be a lot higher and although I stayed at the Nadler Victoria, just steps away from Buckingham Palace, I more preferred the neighborhood in Hackney when I stayed at the Kip Hotel.
Central London is nice and all but it’s very expensive and the size of the city means you’re going to want to consider getting an Oyster Visitor Card to get around so you’re better off finding a more reasonably priced hotel outside of the city center.
In under 30-minutes you can reach many of the surrounding neighborhoods in London and if you’re staying in these areas you’ll definitely enjoy much better prices not only for accommodation but for food and other travel expenses as well.
I had the best time staying in Hackney, located in East London, and if you’re looking to save on accommodation I suggest looking outside of the city centre.
In Hackney I was very close to Brick Lane, the Spitalfields Market, and Camden so I was able to better explore the city rather than just staying in the central area with the rest of the tourists.
The London transportation system makes it really easy to get around the city and even from Hackney I could be at Big Ben in less than 25 minutes depending on the train timing.
Like I mentioned, I stayed at the Kip Hotel and I booked a few months in advance so I only spent £30 for a fully private room at the hotel.
You could easily spend 3-4x this if wait to book your room and you want to stay somewhere right in the city center.
There are also plenty of more reasonably priced hotels, hostels, and AirBnbs outside of the city center so if you’re looking to visit London on a budget I recommend considering staying outside of the city center for better prices.
Now that I’ve covered accommodation, let’s take a look at transportation options.
Getting Around in London: Is the Oyster Card Worth it?
With 4 days in London I knew I really wanted to make the most of my visit so I pre-ordered one of the Oyster Visitor Cards so that I could use it as soon as I arrived.
I found the transportation system to be pretty intense, especially if you’re going to be using a combination of buses, tube (subway trains), and overland trains.
There are also public ferries that you can use but I didn’t get a chance to try any of those out.
Once you get the hang of using it, or if you just have a smartphone with a data plan that you can refer to, the transportation system is pretty easy to figure out and it makes getting around the city so much easier.
The way that the Oyster Visitor Card works is simple – you preload it with a set amount of money and any time that you use the bus, overland train, or tube you just tap it onto the contactless card reader that you’ll see.
The good thing about is that the daily limit is capped at £6.50 so once you reach that amount in spending you won’t be charged any more money for the rest of the day of travel.
Considering that a single ticket for one journey will cost a cash fare of £4.90 and you only will pay £2.90 with the Oyster Visitor Card for any travel within Zone 1 and 2 you already come out on top after just a few rides.
With the cap you can enjoy essentially unlimited rides each day for a reasonable amount and you can make it all over the city without having to spend a significant amount of time walking.
Having the Oyster Visitor Card also means you don’t have to worry about dealing with tickets or having to wait in line to pay your fare – you just tap your card and off you go!
I definitely believe that having an Oyster Visitor Card, or even the Travelcard depending on where you’re looking to go, is definitely worth it and something you should order online so that you can have it ready to use by the time you arrive in London.
Alternatively, there are plenty of taxis (black cabs) driving around in the city and you can also use Uber, though because of traffic it could take more time and is bound to be more costly than using public transportation.
Eating out in London can definitely be expensive – but it doesn’t have to be.
Sure, you could book an AirBnb and just cook your own food though there’s not much fun having to buy groceries and meal prep when you’re traveling or on a short vacation.
Thankfully, throughout London there are plenty of places where you can find reasonable prices for sit down meals, drinks, and if you’re on an ultra-tight budget you can even stop at grocery stores and enjoy a wide selection of sandwiches, snacks, and other food options.
For cheap eats in London at a sit down restaurant your best bet is go to out for a late lunch.
Many restos, especially in the city center, offer amazing lunch specials and deals and it’s possible to have a 2 or 3 course meal for lunch for less than £10.
There are plenty of websites where you can find places to check out if you’re looking for cheap eats and I recommend taking a look at the sites below for some ideas:
A sit down dinner is going to be a little more costly, especially if you’re ordering drinks, and personally when I’m traveling I avoid having sit down meals unless i’m in a more affordable destination such as Poland, Serbia, or Romania.
One thing I noticed is that at some of the bigger chain grocery stores, like Sainsburys and Marks and Spencer, there are entire parts of the store dedicated to quick, easy, and affordable meal options.
At these chain stores that you can find throughout London you’ll be able to find such options as sandwiches, salads, pastas, soups, and a wide range of other dishes for anywhere between £1 and £5.
During lunch hour many of the stores even have a special where you can get a sandwich, bag of chips, and a cold drink for just £4.
Depending on what time you stop in for dinner many of the food choices will already be marked down as the store is trying to sell them quickly so that they can use the fresh stuff the next day – this allows for even more savings.
For those on a tight budget you really don’t need to spend more than £10 or so to eat well in London.
Sure, you won’t be drinking beers and enjoying nice meals at sit down restaurants but you’ll be able to save some money to use for later parts in your trip.
On the opposite side of the spectrum there are plenty of mid-range and higher end restaurants to choose from so if you’re not on a budget the sky is the limit to how much you can spend when it comes to finding something to eat.
Entertainment (Museums, Tours, Souvenirs, etc)
It’s really hard to see much at all if you’re just going to be in London for one day but if you’re going to be spending two or more days in the city then I would recommend picking up the London Pass.
I’m a huge fan of tourist passes because I believe that they allow people to see a lot more than they normally would without having to worry about buying tickets and spending so much money on entry fees.
I’ve actually written a detailed London Pass review and I recommend checking that out to see everything that’s included as well as why I think it’s such a good idea for tourists.
To make the most of your trip it’s also good idea to pick up the Oyster Visitor Card so that you can get around the city easier without having to walk everywhere.
When it comes to museums and tours London is really a world class city and you have a wide range of different free museums, free tours, and other attractions to choose from.
Of course there are paid options but I recommend taking a look at the free museums in London if that’s something you’re interested in because there’s bound to be some great ones that you’re going to want to check out.
Free walking tours are also a great way to get a better look at the city and if you want something more in depth you can go with some paid tours if you have the budget for it.
Basically there are so many different things to do in London that it’s impossible for me to cover it all in this post and I recommend just doing your research beforehand to see what there is that you want to do and explore.
As for souvenirs, I don’t actually buy any but it’s a good idea to avoid picking them up right in the city centre as this is where they’re going to cost the most.
For example, souvenirs in places like Camden or the Spitalfields Market are going to be noticeably cheaper than if you were to buy them beside Big Ben or the London Eye.
Another helpful hint when it comes to finding reasonably priced souvenirs is to go into the mall and look for a tourist shop there rather than one of the ones that you find just on the street.
So there you have it, hopefully I have helped you realize that London doesn’t have to be as expensive as everyone says it is and that it’s definitely possible to explore London on a budget.
As long as you follow some of the helpful tips and tricks that I laid out up above then you should be well on your way to not spending as much money for next time you visit the beautiful English capital.
Don’t get me wrong though, it’s still an expensive place to visit compared to other cities like Krakow, Bucharest, Budapest, or Lviv, but it still possible to explore and check everything out without entirely blowing your budget.
One more thing that I want to mention is that even if you have a long layover in London, say any more than 6 hours, you can actually head into the city centre and walk around a bit before heading back to the airport.
It’s possible to leave your luggage and bags at Victoria Station for just a few pounds and you can walk around the city for a little while before heading back to the airport and catching your flight.
If you’re lucky you might have a direct connecting flight so that your bags will already be checked and you just have your daypack or small bag with you so that you don’t have to pay to leave anything in storage.
After all of this advice the most important thing is that you just take your time exploring the city and try not to rush to all of the different sights and attractions just to knock them off your bucket list.
London definitely isn’t going anywhere and even if you can’t see everything in one visit you can make plans to come back and keep exploring the beautiful city.