If you want to stick to a budget in London, self-control is necessary. You’ll quickly overspend without financial discipline.
I’m not an extreme budget traveler. Instead, I save money where I can to spend it on what matters. A budget in London of $79 per day is a sweet spot in budget travel. It’s enough for you to take a day trip, buy a London Pass, and not skimp on other adventures. It doesn’t leave room for expensive hotels, restaurants for every meal, or taxi rides.
Note: When I budgeted $79 per day in London, one pound was equal to $1.20.
After living on a budget in London for three weeks, I created this guide to help you visit London without breaking the bank.
My Budget in London
Here is a fancy visual for you on how I spent money during my three weeks in London.
As you can tell, most of my spending was on entertainment such as museums, day tours, movie nights, and other adventures. I’m happy a large chunk of my spending went to experiences because I travel for experiences. In my eyes, this proves my budgeting worked.
Transport is unsurprisingly the second largest category. My one-way plane ticket was a steal at $241, thanks to STA Travel’s student fares and additional discounts. Public transportation within London is pricey, drastically increasing this category. Although I could’ve saved money by exclusively traveling by bus or on foot, the Tube is more convenient.
Accommodations came in at a close third. My hostel, Palmer’s Lodge at Willesden Green, was a steal for London. It’s located in Zone 2, which required about an hour commute to any tourist attractions. Their free daily breakfast included cereal, toast, and a croissant. I also stayed with a friend for a few nights towards the end of my trip, allowing me to further cut costs.
Food is one of my favorite subjects and the third largest category. Honestly, I’m proud of how little I spent in this category because I hate cooking. It’s so low because I cooked at least one meal in my hostel daily. Sainsbury’s offers a 3 meal deal, which I bought almost daily for lunch. It includes a sandwich, drink, and a side of chips, vegetables, or fruit. On the rare occasion I ate at a restaurant, I shared my meal with a friend and ate lunch specials. If I hadn’t bought coffee and cake so many times, I would’ve saved even more. Coffee shops gave me a nice break from walking and tourist chaos, though.
Miscellaneous was way more than expected, mostly due to a hospital visit. Although medical care in the UK is free, my midnight taxis there and back were not. Laundry at the hostel was pricey.
I also wasted money by purchasing wifi. First, I bought seven days of underground wifi. It was only five pounds, but I rarely used it because there’s no wifi in the tubes themselves and not every tube station has wifi. It’s not worth the money. Then, I purchased seven days of FONO wifi. Despite promising widespread access throughout London, I was less than pleased with its availability and cost. It was 24 pounds well wasted.
How I Cut Costs in London
- Buy the Oyster Card. The card caps your transportation cost in Zones 1 and 2 at seven pounds and also has a 7-day cap of 35.10 pounds. This means you won’t be charged more than seven pounds daily or 35.10 pounds in a week. The Oyster Card can be purchased at any kiosk in the tube station. It is a super simple process! The Oyster Card requires a five-pound deposit, which is refundable if you return the card at the end of your trip. TFL (Transportation for London) will also return leftover money on the card, up to ten pounds.
- Take the tube from airports. Do not take the overpriced express trains from the airports. Instead, do as the locals do and take the tube and buses to get around, even when traveling to and from the airport.
- Take the bus. Buses cost nearly half of the cost of the metro.
- Walk. Many attractions are closer than they appear. If possible, only use public transportation at the beginning and end of the day.
- Find accommodation in Zone 1 or Zone 2. Public transportation costs dramatically increase if you have to travel outside of the city center. I stayed in Palmer’s Lodge at Willesden Green in Zone 2 and enjoyed my stay. If you have friends in London, ask them for a few nights stay. I stayed with a friend for three nights for the cost of a few small gifts.
- Find a hostel which includes breakfast. These hostels usually cost a couple of pounds more each night, but you will save money in the long-run by cutting out a meal each day.
- Don’t end up in the hospital. Although health care is free, not spending money on the taxis, etc. would have saved me over $50. Let’s be realistic, though; there is no way to prevent this. Be sure to budget money in case of an emergency and always buy travel insurance.
- Do not purchase WiFi. Instead, use the free WiFi in museums and restaurants. Check if your cell phone carrier offers free data abroad. Mine did and I had no idea!
- Visit the free attractions. There are hundreds of free (or really cheap) things to do in London. Go do them. They are amazing.
- Buy the London Pass. If you would like to see several paid sides, check out if the London Pass is worth it for you.
- Cook at the hostel. Buying groceries will set you back around $50 per week, depending on how much you eat. I spent a lot less. Past hostel residents often leave leftover groceries when they check out. Look for those as well!
- Eat out during lunch. Although I try to cook as many of my meals, I eat at least a few times during each vacation so I can experience the local food scene. Eat during lunchtime and order the lunch special. The portion sizes at lunch are usually the same as dinnertime, but half the price. To find even cheaper meals, walk about five to ten minutes away from tourist sites.
- Order tap water. Ask for tap water because it’s free. If you’re not specific, the waiter will bring you expensive bottled water. I saved a lot of money by mostly drinking water because coffee, tea, and sodas are several pounds each.
- Pack a lunch. Bring reusable containers with you and eat in a park or at a museum’s cafe. Most museums will allow you to bring the food inside as long as it stays unopened in exhibitions. The reusable container can also store leftovers from restaurants.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. Not only does it help cut plastic, but most hostels have a water source available for its guests. Fill the bottle up in the morning before setting out for the day and never purchase an overpriced bottle of water again.
- Stay longer. I visited London for three weeks. This allowed me to take my time visiting attractions and, most importantly, spread out costs. I broke up my expensive days with inexpensive days filled with aimless wandering and people-watching in cafes.
- Buy the grocery store meal deals. Most grocery stores offer some form of a meal deal. They usually include a sandwich, snack, and drink and cost around five pounds. It is a steal for typical UK prices. Packing a lunch is still cheaper than purchasing the meal deal, but if you’re feeling lazy (as I often did) pop into a Sainsbury’s or other store and purchase one of these.
- Take a day tour with Golden Tours. These are incredibly high-quality tours for relatively inexpensive prices.
- Purchase discounted tickets. Students and seniors will find the most discounts. However, there are occasionally family discounts or “pack” discounts that allow you to purchase entrance to several attractions at once. Book online for an even further discounted ticket.
- Participate in a free walking tour. I participated in the Old City of London walking tour by Free Tours By Foot and it ranks as one of my favorite experiences while in London. Not only was our tour guide, who looked exactly like Adele, incredibly knowledgeable and witty, but the tour moved at a nice pace. It was leisurely to the point I was not sweating, but also not so slow I was tripping over my feet. The stops included a generous amount of time for photographs and note-taking. Finally, we were shown some of the best, historical, and quirky spots in London!
How You Can Save Even More Money
- Stay downtown. In retrospect, I could’ve saved more money if I had stayed in a hostel downtown and biked, walked, or ridden the bus to all my attractions. If you’re determined to ride the Tube everywhere, then stay in Zone 2. If you enjoy biking or walking, stay in Zone 1.
- Eat fast food or at chain restaurants. It was not until the end of my stay in London that I realized how delicious British fast food and chain restaurants are. For some reason, I refused to eat at these places, but I missed out on good budget food.
- Get a SIM card. Avoid the ridiculous WIFI prices. I realized at the end of my stay a free SIM card is available for all London Pass holders. Even if you don’t buy a London Pass, SIM cards aren’t terribly expensive. Check if your phone carrier offers free international service. Mine did and I had no idea!
- Shop at Poundland. This is the UK’s version of dollar stores. Everything is one pound, or close to it. It’s sort of like a Dollar General for my American readers. If you forgot something at home, this is the best place to look.
- Bring snacks. Everyone needs an energy boost mid-day. Instead of spending money at a coffee shop, buy snacks at the supermarket and bring them with you for the day.
Although London is expensive, it’s also possible to travel on a budget in London.
How do you stick to a budget in London?
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