‘London’ and ‘budget’ are two words that you don’t often see put together, but if you are hoping to plan a budget weekend in London, the good news is that it can be done. London is full of cheap things to see and do, and the truth is, by doing London on a budget you will be living like a true Londoner. Let’s face it, not many of us can really afford to swig cocktails in Mayfair and buy shoes from Selfridges (at least, the people I know certainly can’t!) Most of us are trying to find discounts and cheap things to do at every opportunity we can get.
I’m going to share with you my top insider tips on how to live like a local and have a cheap weekend in London- without missing out on any of the good stuff!
Budget hotels in London
So you’ve decided you want to plan a budget weekend in London- but it’s looking like one night in a hotel is more expensive than a week’s worth of rent at home. It’s true, hotels in central London can be astronomically expensive- but there’s a way around it.
When planning where to stay in London, check out places which are a little out of the centre to find cheap hotels. Try looking for hotels in zone 2 or 3 and you will find the prices plummet. Make sure you stay near a tube station and you can be in central London in 20 minutes anyway- the journey time is worth the money that you’ll save.
Booking.com is the best kept secret when it comes to booking budget hotels in London. The beauty of booking.com is that you can make a reservation- with free cancellation. That means that if you find a better deal on the site, or even if the same hotel lowers its rate closer to your date of travel, you can cancel and rebook with the cheaper rate. It’s an absolute no-brainer and can save you so much money that can be better spent on the fun stuff!
If you do decide to head to booking.com to make your reservation, you can also make even more savings by signing up to a cashback website when you make a booking to get a percentage back on the money that you have spent. Top CashBack currently offers 3% cashback on reservations on booking.com. This is a great way to make an extra saving as it is likely that the amount you have spent on a hotel will be a fair sum of money- the money that you get back from Top CashBack is likely to be worth signing up for.
Airbnb is another option if you would prefer to truly experience London like a local. By opting for an apartment over a hotel, you can save money by making your own meals which can be a huge saving. Airbnb will also offer places to stay which are in the outer suburbs of London, giving you an opportunity to explore other boroughs which you may not have stumbled upon otherwise.
Cheap things to do in London
London is brimming with free activities for everyone to enjoy- rain or shine. Check out my list of 100 free things to do in London if you need some inspiration. From museums, to parks to galleries- you could do a free activity every day to make the most of your budget weekend in London.
There are also a ton of discounts to be had in London, from cheap West End tickets, to special rates for kids activities. A weekend in London doesn’t have to cost the earth- many of the most famous attractions are free.
Living Social is an absolute gold mine for finding cheap things to do in London. I’ve booked tickets for a Jack the Ripper walking tour at night for just £5 per person, and made huge savings on afternoon teas and spa treatment days.
I’ve also seen tickets to The Shard for £25 per person instead of the usual price of £32- Living Social is always the first place I check when booking an activity in London (or anywhere in the UK for that matter!)
Cheap food and drink in London
London is home to thousands of restaurants and eateries- the city caters to every taste. From the bagel shops of Brick Lane to the food stalls at Borough Market you don’t have to look far to find a delicious bargain for your lunch.
To save money on your evening meals during your budget weekend in London, you could sign up to Tastecard to get 2 for 1 meals in a large number of restaurants across London. On average, people save £18.88 on their meal out using their Tastecard membership. The good news is, you can trial Tastecard for £1 for 60 days which means that not only can you make some huge savings whilst visiting London, but you can make savings on meals back at home too!
We’ve all heard about the insane drinks prices in London- there’s no such thing as a cheap pub in London, right? Wrong. Head to the Wetherspoon’s in Muswell Hill- aptly named The Mossy Well and get a pint for as little as £2.29 or a double G&T for £4.50. You can also eat seriously cheaply here with a plate of nachos coming in at just £3.90.
If you’re looking for more cheap drinks options for your budget weekend in London, another idea is to seek out the best happy hour deals near you. If you’re heading to see a West End show, for example, you can walk 10 minutes out of Piccadilly Circus into Soho and you will be sure to find some fabulously cheap happy hour deals.
Speaking of Soho, the best place in London for vegan pizza is Soho Joe’s. Not only do they do the best vegan pizza in Soho- they also have a great happy hour offering. I paid £16 for a vegan pizza and aperol spritz on a Friday night recently- it’s a hidden gem!
Budget transport to London
Whether you are flying into London from afar or heading down on the train from elsewhere in the country there is one thing for certain- transport prices are expensive. Unless you know the best tips and tricks to score the best prices.
If you are coming to London from somewhere in the UK, you’ll want to book advance tickets if you have the time, and travel on an off-peak train. If you are aged 30 or under, it’s a great idea to get a railcard which will offer you 30% off train fares- and you can even add the railcard to an oyster card to make even better savings on travel in London.
You can also get a railcard if you are over 30 and regularly travel with a partner- this option is called the ‘two together’ railcard and means that you get 30% off train fares when you travel together. Even if you don’t often travel together, the price of the railcard might even be less than the saving that you would make- meaning that you will make the money back in just one journey!
Another option is to use a site such as TrainSplit which allows you to buy the same journey as you would normally, but buy several tickets stopping along the way. For example if you were heading from Manchester to London, you might be passing through Stockport and Milton Keynes- TrainSplit might give you the option to buy 3 separate tickets to make a saving.
If you are flying into London from afar, cheap flights to London are possible to come by, and you could save money by searching for flights that land in London Luton or London Stansted- it might take you an extra hour to get to your hotel, but the price saving is often worth it.
The London Underground
Getting the tube is the most efficient way to get around the city without the hassle of getting stuck in traffic. At busy periods trains will come and go every minute, so you can get to your destination quickly and easily. Download the app ‘Tube Map’ to make sure you never find yourself lost on the underground!
At the ticket machines you can get a paper ticket- but this can often cost over double the price than if you pay with an Oyster card or a contactless bank card. The upfront cost of an Oyster card is £5, and if you have a railcard as mentioned above, you can make a further 30% saving on off peak tube fares by adding your railcard to your Oyster card.
If you don’t fancy paying out the £5 for an Oyster card, don’t worry, you can return your card to the ticket office at the end of your visit to London and they will reimburse you.
Currency for your budget weekend in London
If you are heading to London from further afield and require a currency exchange, a great alternative is to use a currency card like Curve which allows you to put all of your cards into one app, and allows you to spend as you normally would, but in a different country with a 0% fee. The beauty of the Curve card is that unlike other currency cards on the market, you don’t have to top it up with funds before you start using it abroad.
With Curve you can even withdraw up to £200 in cash from a cashpoint. You can use my code THRIFTY1 to sign up and receive a £5 welcome bonus- the perfect way to start off your budget weekend in London!
Contactless payments mean that I hardly ever carry cash anymore, and so why should it be any different when you are on holiday? By using a currency card you it takes away all of that hassle of guessing how much money to convert to a different currency and trying to spend the last of the foreign change before heading home.
So there you have it, a Thrifty Londoner’s guide to a budget weekend in London- if you’ve been wanting to visit now but have been put off by the price, hopefully this gives you a reason to finally head to booking.com (my favourite site ever) and book that trip!