London For Less
This week’s Cities for Less post focuses on the most visited city in the world, London written by yours truly with a little help from some travel blogging friends. But seriously, is it even possible to do London for less?
MasterCard’s 2015 Global Destinations Cities Index ranks the most popular tourist cities by volume of visitors. That list includes some surprising destinations such as Seoul, Kuala Lumpar and Taipei but also includes some old favourites such as New York, Singapore and Hong Kong.
You can see the full list here, and will notice the coveted top spot goes to London. Our capital city is beautiful so it comes as no surprise that it was forecast to receive over 18 million visitors in 2015. It seems the combination of sights, culture, entertainment and dining are an irresistible combination.
Welcome to London for Less
For those who have long-awaited their trip to London, on arrival at a major airport such as Gatwick, you’ll instantly feel the grandness of the city, as you are greeted by top-notch facilities and gorgeous art works from Sir Peter Blake. You may be forgiven for thinking of London as an expensive European destination that’s exclusive to luxury and business travellers.
London can however be a place where you can maximize your travel investment without breaking the bank. It is a city full of opportunities including the chance to see royalty first-hand, visit iconic establishments you’ve only watched in movies or read about in books and still experience London for less. What’s important is that you start your voyage on the right foot, with the proper mindset, from the airport all the way to the heart of the city.
There are some great bargains to be had in London so here’s my top tips.
Check out all your flight options quick and easily on Skyscanner, including big and budget airlines for the best prices. Sign up for a price alert for flights from your home airport to London and watch trends to see when the fares are coming out best. TIP: not on a weekend!!
If you live in the UK and want to visit, I strongly advise against driving. Only the insane or those with nerves of steel would choose to drive around central London (see section on parking below), added to which you will end up paying congestion charges and excessive parking.
Instead I advise taking the MegaBus. Admittedly you rarely find the £1 advertised tickets (I reckon there is only one on each bus!) but this is a pretty good option for getting you into the heart of London. Victoria, where it terminates, is on the underground route map and close to many major attractions such as Westminster.
Arrival into London
For arriving tourists, the least expensive way to get from Gatwick to central London is via the easyBuses. According to Rachel Holdsworth of Londonist, by booking online in advance, you can get an £8 ticket for as low as £2. There’s also the Gatwick Express, which takes about 30 minutes (compared to the aforementioned buses’ 90 minutes) to reach the innermost part of London.
From Heathrow the tube is the cheapest option, if you have an Oyster Card, costing just £5.10 for a peak single adult.
If you are visiting London en route to Gatwick or Heathrow and plan to stay outside the city near the airport, you will need parking.
As Gatwick is one of the biggest and busiest landing fields in the world, finding suitable parking spaces can be a challenge, although the airport has invested millions to improve facilities and provide convenience to all types of travellers.
Parking is divided into three classifications: long stay, short stay, and valet. A UK-based review aggregator, Parking4Less, points to long stay as the cheaper alternative – especially for locals and business travellers who will be travelling for more than a week and allows you to book parking at all UK airports.
Sign up for a Visitor Oyster Card. A London travel card costs an incredible £12.10 whilst an Oyster card will charge you no more than £6.50 per day. If your total journeys cost less than the daily cap, the card only charges you for those you make.
To save even more, take the bus instead of the tube. The tube charges £2.40 – £2.90 (peak) per journey in zones one and two whilst the bus comes in at £1.50 (note you can only pay by Oyster or contactless. Cash is not king on a London bus!). Not only that, but you get a free sightseeing tour of the city, avoid the sweltering sauna otherwise known as the underground in summer and will get your bearings much quicker.
I spent years taking the Tube around London not realising that in some cases it was quicker to walk. A London A-Z, whilst admittedly a somewhat old-fashioned concept, is one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
Hotels in London have thankfully returned to more realistic price levels in recent times following the inflated prices we saw post Olympics. You can even pick up reasonable independent hotels for less than £100 although you might be sharing the building with spring breakers!
One good option I particularly like is the serviced apartments option where you actually rent an apartment or studio for a night. This allows you to eat in and save on that extravagance. Studios 2 Let is a good one I have used and some of the rooms even have their own little terraces which I can assure you feels like a huge extravagance in London.
Nicole of Elusive Traveler also loves booking with Airbnb which offers accommodations for all budgets, ranging from a single room to an entire luxury apartment. Her favourite location is Westminster where she was able to rent a beautiful room, close to the Tube, and a five-minute walk to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey for just 98.00 per night! Now that is a bargain!
Once in central London, there are a vast array of incredible museums which are FREE (yes, totally FREE) to enter. We are literally giving away our wonderful heritage. You can visit the British Museum, Tate Gallery, National History Museum and many more for FREE.
A visit to the Guggenheim in New York costs $25 per adult and $18 for children over 12 in full time education. For a family of four that’s $86 (around £60). Multiply that by a similar cost for three other museums and you have saved over £200 visiting London for Less.
You can also visit free galleries such as Sir John Soane’s and the Victoria and Albert Museum; or spend a splendid afternoon at the likes of Wimbledon Common and St. James Park.
For a more unique, cultural experience, you can head to the Sherling High-Level Walkway, where you’ll see the captivating backstage world of the National Theatre. In addition, you can indulge on literary gems from the Beatles at the British Library.
Something else you may not have considered is a visit to an antique market which is a great way to spend a morning in London if you wish to find an unusual souvenir to take home. This link takes you to more information about the weekly antique markets.
Heidi of Bagsandbiscuits also recommends a novel and inexpensive way to see London for less by booking a “name-your-own-price” walking tour. She has some great advice.
Can’t afford to pay, don’t worry about it. You can still see the royal sights, grab a bite, follow the footsteps of Jack the Ripper or discover street art with knowledgeable tour guides. Free walking tours open up the London experience for everyone to enjoy with a professional tour guide without a high price. A quick internet search turns up several free walking tour companies, including Free Tours by Foot, Sandeman’s New Europe London Free Tour of London, and Free London Walking Tours.
Top tip indeed and I highly recommend that Jack the Ripper tour. It is fascinating!
Now my idea of eating out in London is grabbing a take-out from Chozen Noodle but that may be because I am usually there on business. If you fancy something a little more exotic, be sure to check out these top tips from fellow travel bloggers.
Foodie tip #1 from Grace of The Idyll: You don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy London’s food scene. For an inexpensive but delicious meal, try one of London’s many Vietnamese restaurants. East London’s Kingsland Road is the best place to head, where the restaurants are bustling and the food is good. One of the most popular is Song Que, which serves authentic Vietnamese food and the best pho in London, according to some.
Foodie tip #2 from Cyra of Roadlessforked: Eating a curry at one of the many curry houses that line the now hip East London street, Brick Lane, seems to be on most people’s London bucket list, but the best (and best value curry!) actually comes from just down the road in Whitechapel. Not too far from Commercial Road you will find a place called Lahore Kebab House. Expect a no-frills joint with plastic chairs and paper tablecloths, local Pakistani and Bangladeshi families taking advantage of the truly authentic food, and a refreshly inexpensive bill at the end.
Finally, Foodie tip #2 from Julie of Driveontheleft: London has a ton of food markets, and there are good value finds in all of them. But if you really want to get off the beaten path, check out my favorites: Broadway Market (Saturday only, near London Fields), Brockley Market (also Saturdays, SE London), and Brixton Market (open every day, but many of the small restaurants are pretty busy on the weekends).
Those girls have definitely got my mouth-watering and may have me ditching the noodle pot next time I am in town!
London for less by night
When it comes to amusement, London has its fair share of free entertainment venues at the Angel Comedy Club, the Hootananny Brixton, and the Forge just to name a few. I would also highly recommend any one of the sky bars that are dotted around the city.
Nicknamed the Walkie Talkie by locals, it is the 5th tallest building in London at 38 stories. The building is used as office space – except on the top three floors, which are touted as a public garden with 360 degree views of the city. It also includes an open air viewing deck and three restaurants. Although there is no charge, booking in advance is essential.
So can you really visit London for Less?
So there you have it. It really is possible to visit London for less as travelling here doesn’t necessarily require big spending and luxury tours. With knowledge and resilience you can savor the charm of a rich metropolitan area for free.
Your top tips
Given that London is the most visited in the world, clearly many of you will have an opinion on things to do for free or which offer particularly good value. What better way to share your passion than with other travellers by dropping your top travel tips in the box below. Don’t be shy now!
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