London is known for many things. Unfortunately, one of the most well-known things about the city is how expensive it is. Well, in my opinion – that’s not ok. I am an avid traveler with a desire to see the world regardless of the colour of the people, the religion of citizens, or how much it costs to get to that country. I don’t care – I will go there. But there is a way to see one of the most expensive cities in the world on a tight budget. I traveled to London during my Junior year of college for three weeks. Here are some of the best tips I collected.
- Hotels: The quickest ways to blow money in London in on a hotel. Even hostels in London can be pricey due to industry standards. One of the best hidden secrets especially in London is finding an apartment that you can rent on a weekly basis. Especially if you’re traveling with friends, it’ll give you the space you need to spread out and it’ll feel much more homey and comfortable after a long day of sight-seeing.
- Sight-seeing: One of the best things about London is how many free attractions there are. Almost all the museums are free of charge including Tate Museum of Modern Art, The British Museum, the queens gardens, Buckingham Palace, skateboard park beneath Queen Elizabeth Hall (see photo), changing of the guards, Trafalgar Square, street performers and some of the best street markets in the world!
- Shopping: If you’re looking to get some shopping done, be careful, this could cost you. Especially since you have to pay London tax or VAT, which ranges up to 15% on top of the any exchange fee your bank may charge you. The best thing to do is hit up the markets as mentioned earlier, there are literally hundreds, all with different specialties. These markets are mostly cash only and therefore, you don’t have to pay tax. Also, at most stands you can haggle price.
- Food: Unfortunately, London is poor cuisine. I’ve found the solution to this is to try the ethnic food. Indian and Spanish foods are naturally made with more spices which will more likely appeal to your palate rather than the blandness of more traditional English food. Plus, a lot of these places are owned my expats from those countries and are reasonably priced as oppose to local pubs. Another good idea to save money when it comes to food, Tesco. If you are renting an apartment, you can cut costs by going to the local Tesco, picking up some things to make breakfast can help save serious bucks. Additionally, you can buy liquor at these stores which can help save money and drink less when you go out to the pub.
- Transportation: The cheapest way to get around the city? Public transportation of course! The good news if you’re not use to public transportation, is that London Underground system is notoriously easy. Maneuvering around the city on the underground is quick, clean, and safe. The only problem? If you’re planning on spending the night out on the town, the underground closes at midnight on the weekends. Plan to take a bus home. It is just as simple, clean, safe and it is actually cheaper than the underground.
- West Emd: Many people worry that West End tickets will sell out and therefore purchase them ahead of time. Big mistake. While seeing a West End production will cost you, there are plenty of smaller theatres putting on beautiful shows. The best part about it, there are ticket stands throughout the city selling half price tickets for shows everyday.
- Millennium Bridge: If you’re a Harry Potter fan like me and proud to admit it, there are lots of sites throughout London most of which you can see for free! My favorite was the Millennium Bridge which was knocked down at the beginning of the 7th Harry Potter movie. Don’t forget Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station!
While London has many tourists attractions, some of them can be costly, and some just aren’t worth stretching the wallet.
- The London Eye: don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful sights just as much as the next person. But this is just a very large ferris wheel that you wait 45 minutes in line for, and because it rains in London a majority of the time, it is very rare to get a great view of the city. Skip It.
- Taxi Cabs: While they seem appealing because they get you to your destination fastest, it will cost you. Also, if you do decide to take a taxi, make sure you choose a cab that is certified by the city. There are many taxi drivers who are not certified. They own their own cars and pocket all the cash. While this normally doesn’t present a problem, if you piss off the driver or if you do something they don’t like, there is nothing telling them they can’t drop you on the side of the road.
Where should you spend the money?
- Tower of London: Getting in to the Tower of London will cost you some but it’s worth it. It grants you admission into all buildings inside the Tower including the Torture Tower, a perfect photo opportunity with the Tower Bridge, and the queen’s jewels.
The best piece of advice I can give someone planning a trip to London, is to get lost. A friend and I made a wrong turn on our way to a museum and ended up spending 3 hours perusing back alleyways, small museums and cafés. It is my favorite memory of the city. Especially because even if I wanted to tell you where we went, I couldn’t. We got to see how locals lived and see things most people don’t. Be a traveller and not a tourists, try something different.