London On a Budget (Local Guide to Visiting Cheaply in 2023)
You might assume that a London trip is automatically going to be expensive. But that doesn’t have to be the case! Visiting London on a budget is an option if you plan accordingly and follow the local advice in this guide.
I’ve lived in London for a few years now and have improved my budgeting skills over the course of that time. In this article, I’ll give you my insider info on the best London activities, where to stay, and the best restaurants for sticking to a budget. I’ll also dish my best money-saving tips. Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- 6 Tips to Do London on a Budget
- 9 Cheap & Free Things to Do in London
- Where to Stay in London On a Budget
- Cheap Eats in London
- FAQs About London On a Budget
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6 Tips to Do London on a Budget
Tip #1 – Take London’s Public Transit When Possible
Most Londoners will tell you that the public transit offerings in the city are some of the best in the world.
Between the London underground, buses, and trains, you can get pretty much anywhere you need to go in London and the surrounding areas of the UK. In addition to accessibility, public transit is a very affordable way to get around when visiting and taking day trips from London.
Most of the main airports have a train that will bring you directly into the city. I would highly recommend taking this over a taxi or rideshare, as it often takes the same amount of time and could save you at least 50% of the cost.
Tip #2 – Book Your Stay Outside of Central London
As I’m sure you’re aware, staying in the heart of big cities can come with a hefty price tag. However, staying in London on a budget is possible as long as you plan ahead and weigh your options.
One great way to visit London and save money is by staying somewhere outside of central London. This doesn’t mean staying outside of London, but rather checking out a neighborhood outside of zone 1 with easy access into central London.
A few examples of great areas to stay in Zone 2 that have great character include Clapham, West Hampstead, Islington, Hackney, and Fulham.
Tip #3 – Visit London During the Low Season
Avoiding travel during peak times of the year, including the summer and Christmas, will maximize your chances of saving money on flights, accommodations, and activities.
I’ve written a guide on the best time to visit London to help further inform your decision on when to visit and to also help you save money.
Tip #4 – Take Advantage of Budget-Friendly Food Options
London offers one of the best food scenes in the world, due to being such a multicultural city. If you’re a foodie, you will want to invest some time exploring the incredible variety of restaurants, food stalls, and food markets on offer when you visit London.
If you want to partake in the great culinary delights of the Big Smoke without spending a lot of money, there are several top-rated budget-friendly restaurants to enjoy. Later in this article, you’ll find my top picks of the best cheap eats in the city.
Tip #5 – Visit Free Museums and London Attractions
When you visit the amazing city of London, you’ll notice there are several awesome free attractions. Doing these will allow you the opportunity to partake in the arts and culture the city has to offer without breaking the bank.
A few of the top free London museums and galleries that I would recommend are the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum (conveniently located across the street from the Victoria and Albert), National Gallery, Tate Modern, and Science Museum.
When it comes to free London attractions, my top picks include St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and Brick Lane to view the creative street art.
Tip #6 – Spend Time in London’s Fabulous Markets
If you’re looking for a unique-to-London activity that will help you explore London on a budget, touring the various markets in London is always a good option.
There are several to choose from across all areas of the city, where you’ll find the likes of everything from artwork to hand-crafted jewelry and food stalls.
Borough Market (pictured above) is London’s most famous food market. Entrance to the markets is completely free, allowing you to browse with ease, and perhaps treat yourself to a tasty bite or a souvenir with the money you saved at the entrance.
9 Cheap & Free Things to Do in London
Natural History Museum
📍 Google Maps | Phone: +44 207 942 5000 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5:50 pm daily (latest entry is 5:30 pm) | Entrance: Free
Out of the several great free museums London has to offer, the Natural History Museum is one of my favorites. It’s filled with history, science, and life-sized exhibits.
There is so much to explore between the wildlife, space, earth, dinosaurs, and other exhibits, you won’t run out of things to see. This place is also kid-friendly, making it a great spot to bring the family.
👉 Pro Tip: Book your free ticket online in advance to ensure entry.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: +44 300 061 2000 | Website | Hours: 5 am – 12 am daily | Entrance: Free
Arguably the most famous park in London, Hyde Park is filled with people any time of year and is a great budget-friendly activity to try when visiting London.
Located in Westminster, it is in close proximity to all the main attractions. Grab a coffee or tea and take a stroll through this beautiful landscape. Hit up Kensington Palace Gardens along the way, which is located within the park.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: +44 330 058 0058 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 6 pm daily | Entrance: Free General Admission, Day Passes for the Wonderlab from $11, IMAX tickets from $18
The Science Museum is another great spot for families, as it offers an extensive selection of interactive exhibits, which are sure to keep the kids entertained. Admission is free, and they also offer a great selection of affordable activities. A couple of special features of this museum are its IMAX theatre and the Wonderlab interactive gallery, which can be enjoyed at a small cost.
📍 Google Maps | Website | Jubilee Market Hours: 5 am – 5 pm Monday, 10:30 am – 7 pm Tuesday – Friday, 10 am – 6 pm Saturday – Sunday (individual store hours may vary) | Entrance: Free
Covent Garden is a great market with a variety of restaurants that doubles as a shopping center. Inside the apple market, you’ll find traditional vendor stalls with sellers offering a selection of goods.
This is a great area to look around, explore, and grab a bite, and is always buzzing with people. There are often street performers and musicians trying out their latest acts within the outdoor space, making it a great spot to hit up with the family.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: +44 303 123 7300 | Website | Hours: Any time of day to see it outside; 9:30 am – 7:30 pm July & August; 9:30 am – 6:30 pm September & October | Entrance: Free to visit outside or $20-37 to tour parts of the inside (discount for families if you book directly through the Buckingham Palace website)
Buckingham Palace is a must-visit attraction if you’re traveling to London for the first time. Visiting the outside is free, but there is a fee if you want to go inside.
Observing through the gates is where you will get to view the outside of the Palace and also watch the changing of the guard, a traditional British ceremony that takes place weekly during set dates and times. However, if you’re a fan of the royals and want to learn more about the history of the palace and royal family, I would recommend paying for the tour to visit parts of the inside.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: +44 207 887 8888 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 6 pm daily | Entrance: Free (some exhibits cost money)
Located in the Bankside area of the London Borough of Southwark, the Tate Modern is an excellent modern art museum worth paying a visit to.
Open every day, I would highly recommend checking this place out to take in special pieces of modern and contemporary art from around the world. The walk along the Southbank is beautiful, and you’ll find some great food stalls and scenery to enjoy along the way.
Self-Guided Walking Tours
🎟️ Entrance: Free
I’m a believer that there is no better way to see London than on foot.
Not only does this allow you to see many great parts of London on a budget without paying for transport costs, but you’ll also get the chance to take in the main attractions like Big Ben, Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, and Tower Bridge up close and personal.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: +44 207 332 3322 | Website | Hours: Open 24 hours daily | Entrance: Free
Hampstead Heath is one of London’s greatest hidden gems that doesn’t receive the same amount of recognition from tourists as Hyde Park and Greenwich Park.
This is a spot that locals will recommend, and its location in North London is close to several adorable pubs, restaurants, and bars that are filled with character. The park itself offers one of the best views over London.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: +44 333 772 0020 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 12 am Monday, 8 am – 12 am Tuesday – Thursday, 8 am – 1 am Friday – Saturday, 8 am – 12 am Sunday | Entrance: Free
The Sky Garden is a great free attraction to visit if you want to get views similar to those at The Shard, but without having to pay the high ticket price. One thing to note is that you must have an advance ticket for entry, which is released the week of.
Tickets go quickly, so make sure to go online and snag yours!
Where to Stay in London On a Budget
If you are visiting London on a budget and hope to stay in a vibrant area without spending a fortune on accommodations, check out my top picks on affordable places to stay below.
For further details on the various neighborhoods around the city so you can weigh your options, check out my guide on where to stay in London.
👉 Best Area For Renowned Independent Restaurants | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Keystone House
If you’re hoping to stay in a more trendy part of London that’s off the expensive beaten path, look no further than Islington.
This neighborhood is not only in close proximity to other buzzing areas such as King’s Cross, Coal Drops Yard, and Shoreditch, but the area also comes with its own character and things to offer.
Because it’s in zone two, if you choose to stay in Islington, you’ll still be centrally located but have options in terms of more affordable accommodations, especially if you plan on staying for multiple nights. Upper street in the heart of Islington offers a lovely selection of boutique shops and some of the best restaurants in London, including names like Ottolenghi, Chinese Laundry, and others.
👉 Best Area For Shopping, Nightlife, & Entertainment | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: NOX West End Lane II
Another great area to stay in London on a budget that has a completely different vibe is Camden. Home to many student houses and near a main university in London, this area offers affordable accommodation options and this area never misses a beat in terms of its vibrance.
Within Camden town, you have the famous Camden Locke, and outside of Camden Market, a wide variety of shops, affordable restaurants, and a great jazz scene. This area really has it all when it comes to nightlife, food, drinks, and culture.
👉 Best Area For Sports | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: The Wolfpack Inn
Located in West London and bordering the neighborhoods of Chelsea and Hammersmith, you have Fulham, a very underrated location filled with lovely cafes, great pubs, and most importantly, two of the most popular sports stadiums in London. Fulham is home to Fulham Football Club’s Craven Cottage and Chelsea Football Club.
If you manage to snag tickets for one of these football teams, the area lights up whenever a game is taking place as these stadiums often sell out from eager fans. Football is an integral part of UK culture, so it is worth trying to get tickets to a game while you’re in town.
For pre-game festivities or if you aren’t able to score tickets, I can guarantee that every surrounding pub will be a great vibe, filled with patrons cheering on their respective teams.
👉 Best Area For Royal Parks & Gardens | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: The Red Cow Guest House
Located a bit further out in Zone 4, but still accessible to central London, Richmond Upon Thames is a thriving community famous for its breathtaking scenery, wildlife, and magical parks.
Within Richmond, you have a bustling high street located along a glistening waterfront and accompanied by a generous array of shops, restaurants, and London bars.
The main highlight of Richmond is two incredible parks, Richmond Park and Kew Gardens. If you’re a lover of wildlife, I highly recommend checking out Richmond Park, as you are very likely to stumble across some deer!
Kew Gardens is also a great spot, offering a large wild botanical garden that will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into a fairytale.
Cheap Eats in London
Eating cheaply in London can be done but requires a bit of planning. It is important to avoid tourist traps in Leceister Square that normally have inflated prices for food that is not as high quality.
Along with my list of favorite London restaurants, check out my top picks to get the best bang for your buck when dining out in the Big Smoke.
Flavorful and authentic Italian
📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $$
Lina Stores takes a traditional Italian delicatessen, sprucing it up with cute decor and serving simple, yet homely Italian dishes. Pasta is their bread and butter, and they offer delicious flavors from truffle to pumpkin.
With multiple locations across London, this adorable little spot is worth trying out.
Gordon Ramsay’s Street Pizza
Bottomless pizza fresh from the oven
📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $$
Imagine having unlimited pizza that is fresh from the oven and served by the slice. You can make this a reality by visiting Gordon Ramsay’s Street Pizza, where you can enjoy 6 different kinds of pizza for under $20.
Street food stall with juicy dumplings
📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $
Dumpling Shack is a popular street food stall with two locations in London: Spitalfields Market and South Quay.
They serve a small menu of Asian street food items including a few types of noodles, smacked cucumbers, and of course, delicious dumplings. Prices range from $4-12 per item, and they offer meal deals, which are a great way to try more than one thing.
Simple yet tasty fresh pasta
📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $
Demonstrating that delicious and authentic Italian cuisine doesn’t always have to come with a high price tag, this simple and extremely popular pasta restaurant offers freshly made pasta at a very reasonable price. Each dish is packed with flavor and you can watch it being made while sipping on a negroni or Aperol spritz.
There are two locations in London Bridge and Shoreditch, and unfortunately, they don’t take reservations due to their popularity. I would recommend visiting during off-peak times during weekdays.
Succulent bao buns filled with bursts of flavor
📍 Google Maps | Website | Price Range: $$
For tasty Taiwanese cuisine in central London that won’t cost a pretty penny, I would highly recommend checking out BAO.
Bao buns have become one of the most popular street food staples, and this little spot offers a great selection ranging from $6.50 – $8 a piece, along with affordable sides and small plates.
FAQs About London On a Budget
How can I go to London on a budget?
A couple of easy ways to visit London on a budget include planning ahead and looking out for deals on flights and accommodations, and taking advantage of the many free attractions London has to offer. If you’re looking to save money on the hotel, there are plenty of budget-friendly options within various London neighborhoods.
Is London expensive for tourists?
Due to being one of the most popular and exciting cities in the world, London does come with a higher price tag than many other cities. That being said, there are also many free things to do in London, making it an affordable city for tourists if you are able to budget well, find good deals, and sacrifice going to fancier places.
How much is an average trip to London?
For a trip to London as a solo traveler, I would recommend budgeting at least $2,500 for 7 days, which would cover the flight, accommodations, and about $120 on average a day for food and activities. If you’re planning to shop or try out some of London’s world-famous Michelin Star restaurants, I would suggest budgeting a bit more to be on the safe side.
I hope this article was helpful when it comes to finding ways to save money during your trip to London. Check out my guide on safety in London for more great travel tips!
Safe travels and enjoy the big smoke!
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