The ultimate London budget travel guide: everything you need to know for exploring London on a budget!
London is a world-famous, multicultural, fast-paced city that many travelers venture to at some point in their lives.
Hopefully, this travel guide will show others that London doesn’t have to be expensive!
I’ll list many different ways to save money while visiting London, including affordable transport, the best cheap places to eat in London, and other free or cheap things to do in London.
Keep in mind, this is a LONDON BUDGET TRAVEL GUIDE, so everything I list is catered towards budget travelers.
There are some classic London tourist attractions that cost money, so I won’t be discussing those much.
I’ll focus more on transport, food, and free or cheap activities that make exploring London fun and affordable.
This London budget travel guide will not include accommodation. I always stay with friends or family while visiting London so I don’t have much experience with hostels there.
London on a Budget: Transport
It’s easy to get around London on a budget if you know the ins and outs of the transport system.
Here is how to save money on London transport, based on my own experience.
Walking is Always the Cheapest!
When you visit London, WALK EVERYWHERE IF YOU CAN!
The city center is massive, but walking helps you catch all of London’s history and little expressions of beauty, such as street art, historical buildings, and other cultural insights.
If you hope to see different parts of the city in a short time, public transport is necessary.
Just make sure to follow these tips while visiting London. I promise they’ll help you avoid spending a fortune on expensive transport.
Cheap Transport To and From London Airports
Choosing the right public transport to and from the airports will help you save money in London.
All bus and train tickets can be bought on the day of travel at the station.
When traveling from London to Stansted or Luton Airport for a departing flight, I recommend buying your ticket at least one day in advance.
Coach buses can sometimes fill up and you don’t want to risk missing the bus you need and waiting for the next one.
Now I’ll list the cheapest method of transport to and from central London and each of the major airports.
When I refer to a “tube journey”, I’m talking about the London underground (the metro, subway, whatever you’d like to call it. Locals call it the tube!)
Heathrow Airport: Tube
A tube journey on the Piccadilly Tube Line takes about 50 minutes from Heathrow Airport right into the city center. It only costs around six pounds.
The Heathrow Express is a little quicker for reaching Central London. But it is so much more expensive than the easy tube ride.
Gatwick Airport: Train
Southern Train Lines head from Gatwick Airport to London Bridge Station frequently. The journey takes one hour and costs around 12 pounds.
This is easily the most straightforward and affordable method of transport into the city.
Stansted Airport: Coach Bus
Take the National Express Coach Bus from the airport to either Liverpool Street Station (East/Central London) or Victoria Coach Station (West/Central London).
This journey costs around 12 pounds, depending on the time of day. It takes between 1 and 1.5 hours depending on traffic.
Luton Airport: Coach Bus
National Express Coach Buses are also cheap and easy ways to travel between Luton Airport and city.
But there are many other coach bus companies that work here as well.
EasyBus, owned by EasyJet Airlines which often flies out of Luton, can be another cheap option.
Cheap Transport for Visiting London
The most important step to exploring London is buying an Oyster Card.
You can buy one in almost any convenience store and they cost only five pounds.
Then you can add money to your card at tube stations or in convenience stores so you can use the public buses and the underground.
When leaving the city, you can return your oyster card at the airport and get any leftover money back in cash.
London Bus Travel
Any bus journey costs 1.50 pounds, which is significantly cheaper than the tube.
Every bus stop has a small map that outlines various bus routes around London, and every stop is announced inside the bus so you always know where you are.
Bonus Budget Tips: After using your Oyster Card for a bus journey, any other bus journeys you take within 1 hour of touching your card the first time will be free.
London Tube Travel
In comparison to the bus, the tube is faster and easier for traveling long distances in the city.
Always check your journey on tfl.com to compare prices and travel times.
Every tube station has a city tube map, so you can easily plan your route when you visit London.
Bonus Budget Tips: The price of a tube journey increases as you leave Zone 1 (here a tube journey costs 2.50 pounds). So try to stay within this area when traveling and then walk to your destination if it lies in Zone 2.
London Budget Travel Guide: Best Cheap Things To Do
With endless things to do in London, here are some of my favorite London attractions that cost little to no money.
From free museums and parks to cheap viewpoints, this amazing city is actually great for saving money. If you want to visit London on a budget, put these activities on your itinerary!
Relax in Regent’s Park
Walking, napping, or having a picnic in a park is a necessity during nice weather in London.
Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, St. James’s Park, and Regent’s Park are some of my favorites.
All London parks are free to enter.
Though Hyde Park gets all the attention, Regent’s Park is just as beautiful and easier to navigate.
In spring and summer, there is a stunning rose garden in Regent’s Park.
- Location: Northwest of London center, has its own tube station.
- London Budget Travel Tip: At the very north end of the park, walk across the road and you’ll find Primrose Hill. This is a great picnic spot and has a nice view of the London skyscrapers (and it’s free!).
Visit the Free Museums
All of London’s museums are completely free, and all are definitely worth visiting.
The British Museum is maybe the most famous London museum, along with the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Tate Modern Art Museum, and the National Gallery which houses the National Portrait Gallery.
Take advantage of these free attractions and learn about London’s history, art, and culture.
But the Victoria and Albert Museum is my favorite. The design of the building is gorgeous, and it has a wide variety of art and history displays from other cultures.
- Location: Short walk from Kensington Tube Station.
- London Budget Travel Tip: Visit the cafe just to admire the beautifully decorated room, you don’t have to buy anything.
Explore Covent Garden
This little area of street markets, food stalls, unique shops, and wonderful restaurants is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
The Covent Garden Piazza is an indoor market hall that usually has music performers and is full of quirky stores.
Visit both Twinings and East India Tea Company shops for free tea samples.
- Location: London center, has its own tube station.
- London Travel Tip: Just off of the street called Shorts Gardens is Neal’s Yard, a tiny square where the brightly colored buildings and flowers rival something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Attend the Theater
The variety, availability, and quality of shows in London are unbelievable.
Whether it be a huge professional theater in the West End or a small local comedy show, never turn down an opportunity to dive into London’s entertainment scene.
Crowded areas like Leicester Square and its surrounding streets are full of box offices where you can purchase cheap tickets in the morning for a show that same night.
- Location: Theaters are all over London, but most of the best ones are concentrated in the West End.
- London Budget Travel Tip: If you are visiting London for a longer period of time, it’s worth signing up for the National Theater email list. On this website, you can find cheap discounted tickets for some of London’s most popular shows.
Explore Brick Lane
Full of crazy street art, vintage shops, and curry houses, Brick Lane showcases the artistic side and thriving immigrant culture of east London.
A whole afternoon can be spent browsing through bookstores, record stores, art stores, or whatever your heart desires.
Also on Sunday mornings, take a short walk northeast from Brick Lane to visit the beautiful Columbia Lane Flower Market.
Definitely stop by here when you visit London!
- Location: East London
- London Travel Tip: On Sundays, Brick Lane fills with outdoor food vendors and carts selling antiques and vintage apparel.
Famous London Tourist Attractions
Of course, when you visit London you have to see all the famous stuff. Many London attractions are world-famous and absolutely worth a visit.
Here are the most popular tourist attractions you need to see in London:
- Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
- Westminster Abbey
- Tower of London
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Trafalgar Square
- Buckingham Palace
- London Eye
- Tower Bridge
All of these places are famous for a reason, so definitely check them out!
London Budget Travel Tip: If you are on a tight budget, you can just admire these masterpieces from the outside without paying for a guided tour or entry fee.
If you do plan on paying to enter any of these London attractions, I recommend booking your ticket in advance on Get Your Guide. You can often skip the long lines if you book in advance, which gives you more free time to explore London!
Also, the one thing I’ve always wanted to do in London, but still haven’t had the chance to, is a Harry Potter Studios Tour.
Many fellow Harry Potter fanatics have said it is an amazing experience! You can book your tour here.
London Budget Travel Guide: Cheap or Free Viewpoints
In my opinion, every budget travel guide needs a section on viewpoints. Who doesn’t love great lookouts over a city??
Luckily, there are some cheap and even free viewpoints so you can admire London on a budget!
Rather than pay for a ride on the expensive London Eye, visit one of these unique spots when you visit London.
Top Floor of the Tate Modern Art Museum
- Location: On the South Bank right in front of the River Thames. Viewpoint is on the top floor!
Cost: The entire Tate Modern Museum and the top floor cafe/lookout point is free. So you might as well check out some of the art in addition to enjoying the view.
- Location: Top Floor of the Walkie Talkie Skyscraper (Also known as 20 Fenchurch Street)
- Cost: Free to enter, but you have to book your time slot online in advance.
Climb The Monument
- Location: Short walk from Monument Tube Station
- Cost: 4.50 pounds, or 3 pounds with a student card
Iconic Public Squares
London has lots of famous public squares that are free to visit. They are lined with shops and cafes that do cost money, but you can observe the hustle and bustle of the squares and take photos for no money at all.
Be sure to visit:
- Trafalgar Square
- Piccadilly Circus
- Leicester Sqaure
London Budget Travel Tip: My favorite view in all of London is crossing the Waterloo Bridge at night.
On one side you can see Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye, and the Jubilee Bridge.
The other side shows St. Paul’s Cathedral, The South Bank, Blackfriars Bridge, Tower Bridge, and the distant skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.
Everything in sight is lit up in different colors and it is absolutely magical. I always stop by here when I visit London. ALSO, IT IS FREE! 🙂
London Budget Travel Guide: Best Cheap Food and Drinks
Here are some affordable places to eat and drink when you visit London on a budget.
My favorite places to eat in London are hands down, the street markets. With a diverse array of artisan food stalls and prices that are much cheaper than restaurants, you really can’t go wrong!
Sticking to street food is the cheapest way to eat in London on a budget!
Borough Market is my absolute favorite, located near the Shard on the south bank of the River Thames.
Portobello Road Market and Maltby Street Market are also amazing. But there are so many more amazing London food markets to check out for cheap eats.
Other than street markets, here are my other favorite cheap places to eat in London!
Gordon’s Wine and Cheese Bar
- Location: Short walk from Embankment Tube Station
- Cost: For 6.50 pounds, you can choose one decent sized block of cheese with bread and various jams and chutneys. Wine costs vary, but most are decently cheap for downtown London.
- London Travel Tip: Try to visit on a weekday afternoon, as the building is tiny and fills up quickly. You most likely won’t find anywhere to sit at all on a weekend or in the evening.
Sourdough Pizza from Franco Manca
- Location: various locations throughout London
- Cost: A basic sourdough pizza with tomato, garlic, and oregano is about 5 pounds. Adding any toppings are worth the extra cost (wild mushrooms are the best).
- Location: Various locations in central London
- Cost: Some items in the grocery section are expensive. But the hot food counter offers decent sized salad bowls for 5 pounds.
- London Budget Travel Tip: If you take the time to really browse through the grocery section, you can find some amazing health foods for cheap prices. You can find everything from vegan desserts, to green juices, to sprouted breads, to interesting cereals.
Pret A Manger
- Location: ALL OVER THE PLACE
- Cost: Very affordable and convenient food for eat out or take away. A good-sized salad bowl costs between 4-5 pounds. Healthy sandwiches cost between 2-4 pounds. This is my go-to for eating in London on a budget.
- London Budget Travel Tip: There is a Pret A Manger in most London airports, so buy your travel meals here for something cheap, healthy, and delicious. Also, sometimes the eat-in prices are more expensive than take-away prices, so keep that in mind.
As an important aspect of English culture, many travelers like to experience a traditional teatime.
London is full of places to indulge in this mid-afternoon treat.
Every place offers basically the same supply of tea, finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and desserts.
Visit A Classic London Pub
The pub culture in London, and all of the UK is very important to the daily lives of locals. It’s where people come to eat, drink, watch football, catch up with mates, and relax.
To eat a traditional English meal, sip on a pint of local beer, and soak in the English atmosphere, you have to visit a pub.
I won’t recommend any specific ones because there are great pubs on almost every single street in London.
Wander into any one of them and you’ll have a great time.
Thanks for reading about ways to visit London on a budget!
From Hyde Park and Regent’s Park to the British Museum, V&A Museum, and other free attractions, London actually has lots of affordable things to do.
And if you stick to the cheap eats like Borough Market and follow these money saving tips, you can easily visit London cheaply.
You can also see London icons like Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and more on a budget!
Cheap Travel Insurance for London
Before traveling to the UK, consider getting travel insurance. The UK is a very safe place to travel, so you probably won’t need to worry about many dangerous or crazy travel issues.
But for those who always buy travel insurance and feel more comfortable with it, definitely go for it.
I recommend Squaremouth Insurance! They have affordable travel insurance plans and a helpful live chat for asking questions.
More Budget Travel Guides for Europe
If London is wedged into your grand European travel adventure, check out Travel Hacks For Europe to help you plan and budget the rest of your trip.
For some more inspiration about where to travel in Europe on a budget, check out these articles:
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