London is beautiful, intriguing, historic, fun and many other things but it’s not cheap. In fact, it’s the 10th most expensive city to live in the world and 23% more expensive than Paris! If you’re traveling to London on a budget, knowing a few London hacks will help you to enjoy the city without it being a financial burden. If you’re only in London on a short visit, you won’t have the time to make too many mistakes. You don’t need to ‘spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need’. These London travel tips will help you get what you really need from London, without spending so much money and time!
London Money & Time-Saving Hacks
The easiest way to get around London is by taxi (or a private, chauffeur-driven limousine, I suppose) but it’s certainly not the cheapest way. While you’ll find a London ‘black cab’
on every street corner, 10 minutes in a taxi is about £10. In the countryside, 10 minutes might get you quite far but, in London, it will probably only get you 1 - 2 miles. In heavy traffic (which is often), it can be even less! If you do want to use a London taxi, book an Uber (mini hack!), it’ll save you 40 - 50%. The other options are bus
(and bus tours
(also nicknamed ‘The Tube’, that’s London-speak for ‘metro’) or walking
. These three should be your go-to means of transport when you visit London!
Hack #1 - Get an Oyster Card
London is extremely well connected by bus and underground. It’s often quicker to get the underground than take a taxi: there’s no traffic on the train tracks! In the days of old, you would have to buy a ticket but most Londoners have switched to using ‘Oyster Cards’. These cards save you up to 30% on your fare. You just need to pay a £5 deposit for the card and then simply ‘top-up’, however much you need. Oyster cards also work on London buses which run 24 hours a day. Currently, five London Underground lines are open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you ask a local for a London travel tip, an Oyster Card will be top of the list! Just remember to ‘swipe out’ when you leave or you’ll be charged for riding to the end of the line. Also, avoid London Underground peak times, if you can. Traveling during this time is busier and more expensive. On a hot summer’s day, a busy tube ride can be quite an unpleasant (and sweaty) experience!
Here are two great tech hacks to help you get around:
- The TFL Oyster app - View your Oyster Card balance and top-up
- Citymapper app - Find your quickest route across London with up-to-date transport times and information
London Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour 24-Hour Ticket + Walking and Boat Tour
Hack #2 - Public spaces are free spaces!
Big Ben, River Thames
You don’t need to buy tickets to enjoy some of the greatest places and sights in London. Why not take a walk down the River Thames? Start at Tower Bridge, which is easily accessible from either Tower Hill or London Bridge underground, and walk along the south side of the river to Vauxhall Bridge. You’ll pass the Tower of London, HMS Belfast, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the London Eye (a must visit!), Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and finally the Mi6 building (where James Bond works!).
Another great way to spend a few hours is in a park. London’s Hyde Park is an oasis in the heart of central London. Walk, run or enjoy a picnic by the lake (the Serpentine). It’s also a great launchpad to big attractions: Selfridges on Oxford Street, the Duke of Wellington museum and former residence, Paddington, Knightsbridge, Mayfair are all a short walk away. Richmond Park, the largest of London’s eight royal parks, is another great park to consider if you’re in west London. It has a lake, gardens and even deer!
Same Day - The Coca-Cola London Eye Tickets: Fast Track Access
Hack #3 - Find Free Museums & Art Galleries
If you’re hoping to see some excellent modern, ancient, scientific or historic museums, you’re in luck! All of London's major museums
are free although some specific exhibitions will have a fee. The Museum of London
is an excellent option. You’ll be taken on a journey from Roman London (or “Londinium” as it was called then) to the modern day financial centre of the world it has become! Other notable museums include the Natural History Museum
, the Victoria and Albert Museum
, the British Museum
and the Science Museum
. To avoid the crowds, head somewhere less well known but equally interesting, such as the Wallace Collection
, the London Transport Museum
or the Churchill War Rooms
National Portrait Gallery
Art galleries are a similar story: all the ones you’ve heard of are probably free but you may need to pay to enter temporary exhibitions. The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery (in Trafalgar Square) are the perfect starting point: they’re easy to get to and the buildings themselves are just as impressive as the artwork found inside. The Tate and Tate Modern in Southwark (near Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre) are two more popular choices. From Edvard Munch to Pop Art, they have diverse and exclusive exhibitions!
Hack #4 - Eat Out Earlier: The Full English
Eating out gets exponentially more expensive as the day goes on. By supper time, you’ll be hard pushed to find a meal for less than £10. Breakfast time is the cheapest time of day, giving you the best value for your money. A great option is to find a greasy spoon (a cafe meets breakfast bar) and order a “Full English Breakfast”. A ‘full English’ consists of sausages, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs, toast and black pudding (you’ll often get hash browns too). All that for around £5 is a bargain! Plus you won’t need to eat such a big lunch. This is one of the most simple London hacks but it’s a real money-saver and it tastes great!
If you do want to eat out later, then consider dining in a London pub
. They’re generally cheaper than restaurants and the quality of food has increased substantially over the years, especially with the huge demand for top quality ‘gastro pubs’ in London
. Street food is another tasty money-saver. Farringdon Market, Camden Market, Brixton Market
and Borough Market
are just a few popular options. Alternatively, if you’re prepared to have an early or late supper, some theatres have discounted pre and post-show menus
Hack #5 - Eating in: Choose your supermarket wisely
If you’re planning on eating in then there are some big “ Dos” on “Do nots” to remember.
- Do not buy your food from corner shops! They’re expensive and poor quality.
- Do not buy your food from Waitrose or Marks & Spencer! They’re high quality but expensive. They sometimes have discounted food prices in the evening but, otherwise, steer clear!
- Do buy your food from Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Morrisons! They’re very good quality and reasonably priced.
- Do buy your food from Aldi and Lidl! They have good quality products that are inexpensive.
Additional Helpful London Hacks
Hack #6 - Free Entertainment
There is lots of free entertainment to keep you smiling on your London trip! The BBC and ITV are two of the biggest television networks in the UK and they are often looking for people to fill up its audience for live recordings. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to sit through the 500th showing of Mary Poppins! There are often some really hilarious comedies. If you’re staying anywhere near White City (where the BBC films) or the South Bank (where ITV’s headquarters are based) then this might be one of the best London hacks for you. You’ll need to book tickets via the BBC or ITV website in advance!