Budget travelers may often shy away from London. This financial capital regularly tops the charts as one of the world’s most expensive places to live, and most assume that a visit to the city will have all the pounds drained from their pockets. However, with a wealth of free attractions, and inexpensive and unique activities, there are plenty of ways to explore the city without sacrificing your bank account.
Take a Free Walking Tour
For an insightful orientation to the city, embark on a free walking tour hosted by one of London’s knowledgeable locals. Funded by gratuities, these free walking tours, advertised at major hotels and hostels, operate on a pay-what-you-like basis, allowing you to tip handsomely if you’re feeling generous, or nothing at all if you didn’t enjoy the tour. Covering the city’s most famous attractions like Big Ben and Trafalgar Square, the walking tours also highlight off-the-beaten path destinations for a comprehensive glance at London. Opt for a history tour for humor filled anecdotes of the royal family as you wander past Buckingham Palace, or select the increasingly popular street art tour to gain an understanding of the social context behind East London’s quirky works.
Invest in the Oyster Card
Though London’s set of attractions in zone 1 are walkable, traveling beyond this region as a budget traveler will land you in the city’s tube and iconic double deckers. Save as much as 50 percent by investing in an Oyster card, issued at a number of tube stations, instead of purchasing paper tickets. Easily obtainable with a £5 refundable deposit, load your Oyster according to your length of stay in the city — a weekly or monthly travelcard for zones 1 and 2 will allow you to travel the region freely within the timeframe, or load it with the pay-as-you-go option for shorter stays. Though buses often run longer routes, hopping on them costs less than the tube, and they are not subject to the zones system. Receive a refund on any leftover balance on your Oyster card at a ticket booth at one of the tube stations when you leave the city.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to spend entire afternoons in London without taking out your wallet, as the city boasts plenty of free attractions, including over 20 free world-class museums. Browse the carefully curated collections at the National Gallery, then discover the natural world and history of the city at the Natural History Museum and Museum of London — all for free. Clear skies call for picnics at Hyde Park and leisurely strolls through the Kensington Gardens, urban oases with free public access. Both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral come highly recommended on any visit to London. But while there’s an admission fee, it’s possible to enter these places of worship during their daily services, bypassing the ticket booths entirely. Experience the grandeur of these awe inspiring cathedrals the same way royalty have for centuries from the polished pews at a choral evensong.
Stay in Campus Halls
Time your visit to London with its university holidays and score budget accommodation in the heart of the city at a number of its campus halls. An assuming choice of residence, dormitories are generally available to the public beginning mid-June to mid-September when students leave for the holidays, and some even offer rooms over Easter and Christmas breaks. Equipped with basic facilities like shared kitchens, laundry rooms and communal spaces, campus halls are an ideal base for budget travelers seeking a no-frills stay in close proximity to the city’s main attractions.
Discounted West End Theatre Tickets
Going to the theatre is a quintessential London experience, yet some of the city’s most sought after performances cost upward of £120. Though there are a number of booths surrounding Leicester Square, TKTS, operated by the Society of London Theatre, is the official outlet for last minute and discounted tickets on the day of the show. Often sold at half the price, a night out in London can still be worked into a budget itinerary. Alternatively, if you wish to see a specific show, then queue at the theatre for standby and unsold tickets for the same evening’s performance, but approach the theatre with a second choice in mind.