London is one of my favourite cities but it’s definitely the most expensive one I traveled to. The general cost of living is one of the highest in the world and the highest in England, making it not an ideal destination for budget travelers. But London has so much history, incredible museums, and classic architecture – it’s a must visit on any trip to Europe and it’s doable on a budget if you know how to.
I remember taking a trip there with Brooke for a weekend and setting a 40GBP budget. Our morning coffee and our oyster cards cost nearly 20GBP. Needless to say, we didn’t end up eating an extravagant dinner that day.
Some places are easy to travel cheaply – like Croatia, where I was able to travel comfortably and stay well under budget without really thinking about it. In London, spending less is more difficult and will force you to prioritize and plan.
For cheap accommodation, I had a great stay at the Astor Park Hyde Hostel. It’s right down from Hyde Park so I was able to go for a run there while the sun was rising. The hostel’s breakfast is only one dollar (goes to charity).
I stayed at another hostel on a different time but it was far away from the center. Any money I saved from staying out of the center I ended up paying in Uber trips because taking public transport would’ve taken me hours.
Before you do anything in London, you’ll need to get an Oyster Card. These can be purchased at any tube station and are fully refundable after. Load as much as you need onto it. For a day the cap is around 9GBP if you’re only travelling in the main area, Zones 1-4. I’d recommend using the Citymapper App (app store or google play)to find you’re way around, it’s super easy to use and definitely helped me out heaps.
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1- Big Ben, British Museum, and Camden or Nottinghill
Of course, I need to start the day with a coffee. It costs more to stay in (usually about 30p) and London will likely be gloomy so a hot cup to go is great. The cheapest option is Costas or Starbucks, for around 2pounds.
When you first arrive in London, you’ve got to start by going Westminister Station to check London’s main tourist sights off- the Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Westminister Abbey, and the London Eye. It will be busy with tourists so if you can go early in the morning that is always better. There’s honestly not a lot to do here, just go and take your pictures and then hop on the tube to the next place.
I’d recommend spending lots of time at the British Museum and seeing these things on their Top List here. I was honestly overwhelmed by how many exhibits and artifacts it held. There’s good reason this has been Britian’s most popular attraction in the past few years.
From here, go to one of London’s markets like Camden Market or Notting Hill’s Portobello Road Market. For more posh streets and an extremely old antique market, go to Portobello Road. Camden has more of a grungy feel, it’s a cool place to explore and has the ‘Cereal Killer’ cafe – dedicated to serving gourmet cereal dishes. Those donates pictured are from Portobello Road, they’ve got about two blocks of food vendors there if not more.
Day 2- Tower Bridge, Borough Market, National Gallery, and Piccadily
The next morning you could head to London Bridge where you can see Tower Bridge, the Shard, and Shakespeare’s Globe. This is definitely another touristy and busy area but again, you’ve just got to see it.
I’d pass up on going to the top of the Shard. Instead, if you walk about fifteen minutes, you can go up to the top of the Tate Modern for a free view of London from above.
Borough Market is London’s best food market and it’s about a block away from the London Bridge station -you’ve got to get some lunch here. Don’t make the mistake we did and walk into a restaurant near by, the real Borough Market vendors are inside of the marketplace area, serving up ethnic dishes that smell amazing as you walk by.
Then I’d head to Trafalgar Square. Here, you can go to the National Gallery and see some of the world’s most famous paintings like Van Gogh’s sunflowers. This Gallery took us a few hours to get through, it’s got the most incredible collection and the building itself is picturesque as well.
Walking down a couple blocks will take you to Piccadilly Circus and Chinatown. For dinner, grab some Chinese food in Chinatown – it’s some of the cheapest in London. A really popular restaurant is Misato, we couldn’t get in when we were there at around 7:30, the line up was still about 10 groups long. I found that busy restaurant through this video, it’s got some restaurants that have meals for under 8GBP.
If you have a few extra bucks, go to a show in Piccadily Circus like the Book of Mormon or Kinky Boots. It’s usually easy to get tickets for less than 30GBP if you’re willing to sit near the back. Seeing Kinky Boots was a highlight of my entire trip and it made me absolutely laugh out loud.
3- V and A Museum, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park
A full day can be spent at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch, Oxford Street, and Hyde Park.
Hyde Park is the best spot to dog watch in London and it’s where famous speakers like Karl Marx made their soapbox start. Kensington Palace is in Hyde Park, featuring a statue of Queen Victoria, a (not free) museum about the Royals, and gardens.
The V and A is a world class art and design museum in the same area. They rotate their exhibits, so before you go take a look at their website to see what interesting things they’ve got on at the moment (for example- right now they’ve got one on Winnie the Pooh).
Buckingham and the V and A are on one side of Hyde Park, the more expensive side. If you do go here, make sure to eat before or else you could end up super hungry and eating at McDonalds because there isn’t anywhere cheap around (speaking from experience here). On the other side of Hyde it’s more affordable and just off of Oxford streets there are quite a few restaurants.
Before you go, check out Time Out London for lists of top events in the city. While I was looking up the link for this post, I saw pop-up wine tasting and a film night at an enchanted hidden castle- London never stops being cool.
General Tips for London Travel
-bring an umbrella and five pairs of wool socks, the forecast lies
-Circle app is good if you are concerned about safety, it lets you alert your friends with where you are
-there is always something to do so not having a plan will never leave you bored
-the Tube isn’t that hard to figure out, just get an oyster card and follow the signage closely. There’s likely staff or just pleasant people nearby if it gets confusing. I helped out an Italian girl that didn’t even speak English.
-the Tube will always take longer than expected, honestly getting anywhere in London will take long so it’s best to group together what you want to by location do rather than hopping around
-food is expensive in London, and I’ve had some bad luck -do research for good places or hit up a market style place (Borough Market is best) and go where the crowd goes.
So, that’s the end of my brief guide to staying in London with just a few pounds. London has so much to offer, I fell in love with the energy of it all. If you do end up using these tips or have more of your own, let me know in a comment.