London on a Budget - Travel Guide & Tips
Plan Your Trip
Planning a trip to London on a budget? Budget travel to London is possible if you plan it right. Know the best time to travel and how to get the best deals. I have included my experiences from London and how to make your money go the mile! Before I left I purchased a guide book. Guides help you plan activities, get advice on travel, and provide maps you didn't think you would need until you were lost. Get out a pad to take notes and have your idea of what your travel budget is.
Passports are required so don't leave without yours. Also be prepared to explain the purpose of your visit, how long you will stay, where you will stay, and who you will meet. Check your passport to see when it expires as well.
Off Peak air travel for Europe is Mid-October to Mid-May so book your flights during this time for the best discounts. If you are a family you may not be able to take the kids out of school but these are some of the best times for a bargain.
Hotels are not cheap, so most of your money will go to hotels and airfare. I stayed in a bed and breakfast for $100 a night near Buckingham and it was a 5x8 room with a tiny bathroom. The bed was also broken. If you are a member of a hotel chain like Marriott, keep up with their site for discounts. You save the most by booking air with hotel at sites like Expedia, Priceline, and American Airlines Vacations.
Do I take the red-eye? If you can't sleep on a plane then I would not. If you have not visited London before, figuring out where the Tube is and navigating the station and purchasing tickets can be taxing and you may be exhausted.
Also, pack your umbrella. I left mine at home and had trouble finding one at a reasonable price.
I suggest getting a London Travel Guide book for planning your trip and use during it. I found that some include restaurant guides which indicate the level of pricing for a meal. When on a budget no one wants to wander all day looking for something they can afford. Travel guide books also include transit maps, maps of key areas, hotel listings with prices and phone numbers and various travel tips. Guides a published every year to make sure to get the latest one. Hours of operation for listed attractions do change and having the most up to date information is important.
Guides and Readings
Before you go, decide how you want to handle money. I would have multiple sources.
Your Credit Cards and Debit Cards may include fees when used, but can provide a better exchange rate. ATMs are available for access to cash and many major stores take cards. Notify your bank by phone of your trip so the card does not get shut off when you are abroad. I included a link at the end for ATMs and locations in London.
Bring a small amout of cash currency to have on hand and keep it in a separate place than your card. Exchange rates at the airports are not great but it can be an additional resource. Cash may be best for cabs or other smaller items. Travelers Checks in the British Pound are widely accepted.
The current exchange rate for the British Pound for US Dollar is available below. Remember, the Euro is not the currency in England.
The London Tube is excellent and timely. Travelers Checks are also accepted here. Get a pre-paid card for the tube and put more money on during your trip as-needed. If you put more money on than you will use, it may go to waste. The London Tube has stations at both airports Heathrow and Gatwick. Only a few routes run late at night so if you plan on staying out until 2 a.m. then have a plan on how you will return by another means. You can get a London Pass which combines travel on the London Tube and attractions. Costs are per day and only good if you will use the attractions and transportation.
Cabs are available as well as car rentals. Cabs are more a costly option. Thinking of renting a car? You can drive with your US driver's license which is printed in English. Check all policies before renting a car if you book online. International bookings often have hidden fees you do not find out about until later. Not all people will be comfortable driving on the left side of the road and the trip may be less stressful so take the Tube or other public transport in that case.
Look for a london travel guide book that includes a map of the Tube and other areas. These come in handy when you get lost. Also many books include maps of key tourist areas with landmarks of interest indicated.
Free Activities and Attractions
Many of us are familiar with the attractions and you may know many of them already. What I love the most are the free attractions!
Many museums provide free admission. There are over 20! The British Museum is one of the most familar, along with the Tate Modern and the National Gallery. You can spend days just touring museums. They also provide a free cool place to hang out after a day of touring. Sit and relax with a coffee in a museum cafe.
Famous parks are always free. Take a casual walk and see additional monuments and famous landmarks. Great place to keep with an exercise routine while traveling. Some of the most popular include Hyde Park and Regents Park.
The shopping is excellent even if you do not buy. Spend the afternoon walking Harrod's and be amazed at the variety of products and the price tags. Check out the trendy Top Shop and H&M for the latest looks at an affordable ticket.
London boasts an excellent range of cuisines. Not only can you find a traditional fish and chips, but international restaurants at which I never had a bad meal. I found the Indian, Italian, and Chinese restaurants had high quality food and real flavor. I am a picky eater and still loved it all. No pre-made Chili's egg rolls you know came out of a freezer bag. Everything can be found to fit your budget as well. Remember, an inexpensive meal may be 8-12 Pounds which is reasonable for the area. You will not find as many places serving $5-10 dollar meals as you would here. McDonald's and other fast food joints are present, but take the opportunity to try new things.
Quick meals in plastic cases are available at local grocery stops. These are reasonable prices and provide an on-the-go meal. Do you want your regular mornig coffee? Remember to order an American coffee and you will be understood. Starbucks also has a shop on almost every corner in many parts.
Pubs do not always have a wide variety of food. Also, they are often out of it. I went to several places that had a limited menu with many items not available. Pubs were great for a semi-quick beer. Beer is also not served very cold and is in pint or half pints. Food can be pricy and I found many reasonable places through budget travel guides. I spent a few dollars on the guide but a lot on food.
Tipping is not the same as in the States. You can leave a tip for service but 15-20% is not standard. Servers and bartenders are usually paid hourly. As in most of Europe, soda does not come with a free refill and is not cheap. If you would like regular tap water, ask for it. Otherwise, you will pay for a bottle of mineral water.
Additional Resources for Planning a Trip
- Free things to do in London - Time Out London
Discover all the best free things to do in London including free art, free culture, free gigs, free clubbing, free comedy and cabaret
- London for free - Free things to see and do in London
This site includes various free self-guided walking tours of London, passing many tourist attractions, and a cheap London sightseeing tour by bus. Also ideas for cheap self-guided day tours and trips from London.
- London\'s best cheap eats - Features - Time Out London
Find the top 50 restaurants and places to eat in London. Our independent team of critics present the definitive guide to the capital's best eateries at Time Out London, your online guide to what's on in London