London is on many people's bucket lists for travel, yet it's one of the most expensive cities in the world. So is it possible to travel to London on a modest budget? Absolutely. I have been to London several times, and each time I budgeted carefully and thoughtfully and was able to have a fantastic vacation for what many spend on the hotel alone. How? There is no real secret other than planning! If you don't think about each day, very specifically, you'll end up spending A LOT. Meals are expensive, transportation is expensive, hotels are expensive. Especially in London. If you take some time and have a plan, I promise you can do it on a realistic budget.
Airfare * Hotel * Food * Sightseeing * Transportation
These are your significant expenses. The cost of these can be high in any destination but especially so in London. Let's tackle these. I think you'll be surprised that London is a place you truly can visit on a budget.
I'm in Nevada. Not only do I need to get across the entire US but then across the pond. And it's not cheap. There is just no way around it. A direct flight from Las Vegas to London is quite a bit more than one with just one stop. Our last trip was a stop in Denver then direct to London, it wasn't much longer and it saved us a few hundred dollars. Worth it.
We also fly economy or basic economy, depending on the airline, this alone can save $300-$600 per ticket! ! We always get an overnight flight, and luckily, I can fall asleep almost immediately.
I utilize a capsule wardrobe when I travel. Because of this, I can bring fewer clothes, and I can mix and match everything. I have also figured out a few carry on hacks to counter that 3oz liquid rule; a shampoo bar, and product free face washcloth, to name a few. I don't check luggage, I have a carry-on-sized suitcase and a backpack, and it works quite well, not to mention it can save anywhere from $120 to $150 in baggage fees.
Tip: I like Skyscanner to find the best flight deals. For the most effective use of Skyscanner, I put in my travel dates, the destination and set up an alert.
The best thing to take from this? Utilize a travel site like Skyscanner, fly without checking luggage, and always fly economy.
Here is where it's easy to give up and say, London is just too expensive. Because hotels can be scary pricey, one option is to travel off-season, I know sometimes you can only travel during the summer, but if you can swing an alternative time, it's a huge plus. We have been in London in May, September, and early October. The weather was good, and the costs were lower.
London is a big city. There are many sights and things you'll want to see that may be on opposite sides of the town. Not only will this cost you a lot of money to travel back and forth, but it will cost you a lot of time! Even though you should book your hotel early, you'll want to have at least a rough plan of what you want to see and do. This way, you can figure out the best area for you to stay. You can find reasonable rates outside of London. But you will not end up saving any money because of your travel costs. Not to mention the time you will waste each day traveling into the city. DO NOT DO THIS. We stayed in Westminster each time. It worked perfectly for us as it was central to what we wanted to do each day. When something was on the other side of the city, we planned for it and spent the entire day in that area or making our way back via other stops.
Travel tip: to see what area is central to where you will often be, create a rough outline of your itinerary, and put the places you want to go on a map. That is an excellent place to start your hotel search. The app, Visit A City, is the best for this.
There are a ton of options out there for hotels. I like Tripadvisor to help me in this search. You can search by cost, location, amenities etc. I discovered the Hub by Premier Inn chain a few years ago when randomly searching for “budget luxury” hotels in London. When I searched for just “budget” hotels, you get a lot of hostels, shared spaces, shared bathrooms etc. I wanted a private room and bathroom. I wanted a proper hotel setting, not a hostel or boarding house. If you don't mind sharing a bathroom or room, then there are many options out there, it just wasn't for me. What I like about Hub is that they are nice hotels; everything is new, updated, and very modern. The rooms are tiny; a bed, a chair, a small open closet, and a bathroom. In the lowest priced rooms, the beds are against the wall, so you had better be close to the person you're rooming with because one of you will be crawling over the other. Honestly, this did not bother me.
Here's why. The rooms and hotels, for that matter, are wonderfully modern, light, and finished with high-quality furnishings. The hotel has a lounge area with ample seating, tables, couches, and chairs. When we got in each day, we would hang out in the lounge and relax. Grab a coffee or something from the bar. We never felt like we were missing out by sitting in our room. The Hub brand has several locations in the heart of London. I've stayed in two Hub locations, and they were both top-notch. I highly recommend them. I'm a doer on vacation. The only time we were in our room was when it was bedtime!
The best thing to take from this? Start your search in an area that is centrally located for your itinerary. Search for “budget” or “budget luxury” hotels. Some good ones to start your search are; Hub by Premier Inn, Tune, Point A, Ibis, and Z Hotel. These all offer rates under $100.
Stick to a budget. That is first and foremost. I set a daily meal budget and stick to it. It's easy to do when you're busy sightseeing! One great thing about the Hub Hotels is the breakfast. They offer a fantastic breakfast for like 6 pounds, and we usually didn't need lunch. Be sure to include drinks in your budget, stops for coffee or alcohol with lunch or dinner.
It's hard to eat in a fabulous British pub and not get a pint. We aren't big drinkers, so it's easy to budget alcohol just at dinner, usually just a drink or two. One thing that was easy on our food budget was quick meals. After about two days of heavy breakfasts, I wanted something lighter. So we stopped at Pret A Manger. I'm not sure how to describe them as we have nothing like them here. It's like pre-made, healthy fast food. You can get a breakfast sandwich or wrap for just a few pounds. Everything is grab and go. They even have some tables. We did this for breakfast and lunch several times. They have tons of options for lunch and even dinner too. Don't forget to budget for coffee, if you're a coffee drinker. We love independent coffee shops, so I researched ones that were near our stops during the day. We love sitting in a quaint coffee shop, and there are plenty in London. Sometimes we had a light breakfast or shared a snack for lunch. Usually, it's a pretty budget-friendly way to go.
What to take from this; calculate costs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, extra drinks like coffee and alcohol for each day. We planned accordingly for a few splurge meals. Be prepared. Write a budget and try to stick to it.
There is so much to do in London. It can be overwhelming. For me, it's the kind of place I need to revisit several times as there is just so much I want to see. There is no shame in wanting to see the typical tourist attractions. After all, London is full of history and museums, and there are some fantastic places to visit.
I made a master list of sights I wanted to see in London. Then I grouped them by “type. ” For example, there are plenty of places for a view: the Shard, The London Eye, or The Sky Garden. On our last trip, we were doing a few spendy tourist attractions, so I decided on the Sky Garden. It's free admission; with a reservation. We only needed to see one place with spectacular sky views, so it was easy to narrow down. The cool thing about London is there is a lot to walk by and see. Tower Bridge is iconic. But you do not need the tour. It's more than enough to walk over it and take pictures. Same for Big Ben or the House of Parliament, they are stunning sites. Even walking across the Westminster Bridge is incredible; there is so much to see while you walk.
Views around Westminster Bridge are outstanding, and free!
Museums in London are free, and there is a lot to choose from; Modern Art, Historical, the Monarchy. Do some research; museums are fantastic in London.
The best tip I can tell you is to get the London Pass. You pay for a 1-5 day pass, upfront, and then get admission into many attractions for free. We used the pass on a few sites like; Kensington Palace, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and Hampton Court Palace. But this only works well if you do your research. You can see what attractions they offer on the website. Again, it will only be beneficial if you use it enough each day. I've purchased a pass for a different city and did not use it enough. We ended up paying way for more for the attractions we did see. But, as long as you use it multiple times each day, you will be fine. We love our days to be packed with sightseeing! It's entirely possible to visit London to fill your days in places with free admission and not miss a beat.
My advice? Either get the London Pass or utilize many of the free things to do in London!
Getting around London is pretty easy as there are a lot of options. Classic black taxis (which would be my favorite if they weren't so expensive) Uber, Lyft, fantastic red buses, and of course, the underground or the tube. Brits don't call it the subway.
Travel tip; get an Oyster card for the tube and bus. When you prepay with the Oyster card, you get a discounted rate. But, even the tube can be a little expensive. They have peak hours in the morning and evening commute. When you're on vacation, it's less likely that you'll be thinking of that! Isn't everyone on vacation when you are?
Uber's and Lyft's are an acceptable option if you aren't familiar with the area and can't find an underground station, although they are literally everywhere! It might be raining, or the one you need is a bit far. I've been to London when we used the tube for all our travel. It's easy to get the hang of, and it's super reliable. But we were on vacation and not thinking of commute hours, so often we traveled during peak times, and we ended up spending a fair amount on transportation costs.
On our last trip to London, we planned our days much more intentionally. We wanted to walk a lot. So I planned our stops each day carefully. For example, we had a destination that was a 45-minute walk away. Rather than walk straight there for 45 minutes, we hit some sights we wanted to see along the way. It never felt like we were walking far. When you walk for 10 minutes, then stop, and see Piccadilly CIrcus, then walk another 10 minutes and shop at Fortnum and Mason, the day flies by. We ended up walking 16,000 to 20,000 steps each day for the week we were there. It was the best way to see the city.
We did utilize buses on several occasions. Honestly, I found them unreliable a few times, so it turned me off. Black British taxis are my favorite. I even researched buying one in the states, and you know what? It turns out; it's a thing. Some companies import British taxis to America. I mean, how cool. Since they are my favorite, it's a little ritual to take a classic taxi from the train to the hotel upon arrival.
So what mode of transportation is most budget-friendly? Walking, of course, but mixing the tube and maybe an Uber here and there is not a bad idea. You must take a black taxi once, though; they are so classically British.
London is not cheap. It's expensive. There is no way around that. But, visiting London can be done on a reasonable budget. It will take some planning and effort on your part. If you are a carefree, fly by the seat of your pants kind of traveler, who doesn't want to be restricted by a plan or budget, well, you probably wouldn't be reading this post! !
If you ask my daughter, I'm super strict and rigid when it comes to vacation planning. I think it's a fair assessment; however, once on vacation, I lighten up a bit. Things happen, and sometimes your perfectly appointed plan fails. You do need a little ‘go with flow' attitude. The great thing about London is you can always find a free adventure right around the corner.