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London on a budget

I wrote this post about how to visit London on a budget after returning from an epic two weeks in this great city!

I lived here for five years back in the day and I absolutely love it… But on this last visit I also noticed how expensive it is!

There are actually lots of great tips for travelling on a budget so you can still see the world without the breaking the bank. You might also like my tips for seeing New York on the cheap too!

Here are 7 tips to visit London on a budget

1  Affordable accommodation

Check out AirBnB* for a flat or an apartment in the area you want to spend the most time in – or choose by price. Remember it’s so easy to get around on public transport in London, so you’re never really very far from anywhere.

*If you choose to stay in an AirBnB by clicking on the link below, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

FG Properties
Our Earl’s Court apartment – just like a local!

2  Use a local laundry!

Whatever you do DON’T send your clothes out to be cleaned via your hotel. You can expect to pay about £3 for each pair of undies if you do!

If you have a couple of hours, you could wash and dry your clothes for a few quid, but if you’re in a hotel instead of an apartment with a washing machine, ask the concierge for directions to the nearest laundrette and have them do it. We had two bags of laundry washed, dried and folded for £13 and picked it up at the end of the day.

Use a laundromat in London

3  Ready meals!

Eating in pubs is not as cheap as it used to be (expect to pay £10-15 for one piece of fish and chips, or a beef and ale pie). We found the Marks and Spencers food hall and Whole Foods to be better value for easy meals to eat at home. Afterall, one can only bear so many deep fried dinners!

I have a penchant for dips and breads, so sometimes after a day that had involved a pub lunch, I’d hook into the deliciously fishy taramasalata and a baguette with a glass of wine we picked up from Marks (Tescos also does great ready to eat meals).

We also loved the sandwich stores Pret a Manger (which are everywhere) which does things like rocket and crayfish (all made on the premises) for about £5.95 or a tuna mayo for £4.95. (By the way, I worked for half a day Pret for a story many years ago, here’s my tale of drama and disaster…)

Pret a manger London
A healthy and affordable London lunch

4  See a cheap movie

If you fancy seeing a movie and don’t want to spend £20 each on a ticket way up in the circle, DON’T go to the Odeon in Leicester Square! We watched 007’s Spectre there, and admittedly it is an iconic cinema which had just hosted the premiere, but the screen is tiny if you’re up the back.

Friends watched it in Marble Arch for half that price. However we did come out and stumble upon this scene… See Bradley Cooper signing autographs in the bottom right?

Brad Cooper in London
Bradley Cooper at the premiere of his new film!

5  Getting around London

Use your paywave credit card instead of pre-loading an Oyster card. They work exactly the same way, except (so the bus ticket inspector told me) at the end of the month if it calculates that you have done more buses than tubes, and vice versa, and spent more in single fares than a monthly pass would have cost, it’ll automatically switch your billing to the cheaper pass price.

Besides, it’s more convenient than an Oyster card as you don’t need to preload it with money. (Note: my husband had difficulty with his Visa being accepted only intermittently. My Mastercard worked fine for two weeks). Make sure you swipe in and out with the same card. And slap it on the device, don’t just hover it near (I think that might have been husbands problem *rolls eyes).

Another tip for using cheaper public transport is to travel after 9.30am to avoid the rush hour fare.

London tube at Baker Street Station
London tube at Baker Street Station

6  Cheap way to go sightseeing in London

The Hop On Hop Off buses are great for a commentary as you go. But you could also just fill in a day by hopping on a bus that’ll take you to the area you fancy exploring (we took the Number 11 from Victoria to St Paul’s) and headed off for £1.50.

Bear in mind that if you change buses, you’ll pay another £1.50. But on this occasion we sat upstairs and had a great view of the poppy day goings on at Westminster Abbey, the protesters outside Downing Street and just generally people watching.

We hopped off at St Paul’s, then walked across Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and took a tour of the Globe Theatre next door with the money we had saved.

Tour London
While away a few hours on a bus like a commuter

7 Head to a rooftop bar

Rooftop bars in London don’t have to cost the Earth! Sure you can go to expensive ones with sweeping views across the city, but there are some very cool rooftop bars in London like car park rooftop bars and others in London’s south-east that have the vibe without the hit to the wallet.

Netil 360

If you’re not sure which part of London you want to be in, check this post out for where to stay in London.

Aside from these cheap things to do in London, there are also free things to do in London to make your stay even better!

You might also like to read 25 of the best things to do in London to help you plan your ideal holiday here.

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Elizabeth Beggs

Thursday 2nd of August 2018

Hi Megan, I have a question not really a tip. We have 4 days in London in a month and are reviewing the pros and cons of pauwave versus Oyster card. If you use paywave do you get charged a transaction cost because of the currency exchange each time you use it.

Best regards Elizabeth


Thursday 2nd of August 2018

Hi Elizabeth, that is a really good question! I used Paywave but of course my credit card is a NZ card and no doubt there were exchange rate differences. I didn't notice any fees, but then I didn't pay much attention as we were only there for a couple of weeks and not using the Tube every day. I found it much more convenient not having to load up an Oyster Card which I may or may not have used up. They also say that if your travels in a month come to more than a monthly Oyster by using Paywave, they will amend the rate down. Again, this didn't apply to me so I didn't notice anything on my credit card bill. I wonder if they just put one transaction charge through a month then rather than per ride if this is the promise they make.... Perhaps a UK travel agent specialist would be able to advise better.


Tuesday 26th of September 2017

just returned from 3 weeks in London. A must see is The Natural History musuem - it's free and fantastic. You could easily spend a day there. Also The science museum and the London museum at docklands. All free and worth a visit. For £5 climb the 311 stairs to the top of the monument to the London fire. Great views of the city and you get a certificate. Not for the faint hearted though. Stairs narrow and in a spiral formation.


Wednesday 27th of September 2017

Great tips! Thanks Sandy

Nigel Glew

Tuesday 26th of September 2017

Hi Megan. Great to share the beach with you at Hoi An yesterday. Like your blog as well. Read your article about the London buses. There are 3 routes that follow the same routes as the open tops but I can't remember the numbers now, I did them in April.

Take care and enjoy your travels.

Nigel and Julie


Wednesday 27th of September 2017

Nice to meet you and Julie too, we're now in Saigon. Hope the rest of your trip is fantastic!

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!