Getting to London on a budget
Cheap flights to London
Thanks to budget airlines like Ryanair and cheap flight deals from Aer Lingus and CityJet, it’s never been cheaper to fly to London. There are multiple flights a day from five different Irish airports, giving you ample choice depending on where you live. Some of the cheapest flights you will find between Ireland and London are the Ryanair flights from Dublin to London Gatwick which start from as little as €30 return. Flights to London City Airport, while a little more expensive at €58 return, are often a better choice as you can leave the airport and be in London in less than 20 minutes. The bus (number 473 or 474) or the Docklands Light Railway from London City Airport to the city centre are both a lot cheaper than the trains and buses from Heathrow, Stanstead and Gatwick. Heathrow would be our second choice thanks to its proximity to the city centre, followed by Gatwick.
Flights from Dublin to London are in general cheap all year round but the more flexible you are with the days and dates that you fly, the better chance of getting a great deal. Try to avoid any big UK or Irish holidays, as well Christmas and New Year.
Getting around London on a budget
By far the cheapest and easiest way to get around London is walking! You will be surprised to know that a lot of the main sites are in a concentrated area making it easy to travel around on foot.
Buy an Oyster Card
If walking doesn’t sound appealing to you, then the second best option is investing in an Oyster card. You can purchase one at the airport or at any ticket machine in the various tube stations. You can then top up by whatever amount you like, adding more credit as you need it. Using an Oyster card on the Underground is far cheaper than buying individual tickets and will save you a lot of money. It should be the first thing you do when you leave the airport!
While it might seem quite cheesy, those open top, double decker sightseeing buses are actually a great way to see a city. Especially useful if you are only going to be in London for a short period of time, such as 24 hours, and are keen to see as much as possible. The buses stop at all the main tourist attractions in London and you can hop on and off as many times as you like in a 24 hour period. Tickets cost €35.50, last for 24 hours and can be purchased online here.
Budget accommodation in London
If you’re looking to visit London on a shoestring budget, your cheapest accommodation option is definitely to stay in hostels. Hostel Geeks is our go-to website for finding luxury hostels around the world that will make you feel as if you are staying in a boutique hotel for a fraction of the price. Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage, for example, is housed in an old victorian building complete with bar, chill our area and pool table. Beds start at just €18 per person. If you’re looking for a party hostel then Generator Russell Square is the place to go (beds start at €25 per person).
As unbelievable as it might sound, there are in fact many nice cheap hotels to be found in London. If you are feeling too old or weary to hang with the cool kids in a hostel, or just crave a bit of privacy, then a cheap hotel is the way to go. The Pavilion Hotel in Paddington, with rooms from €79 a night, is a great choice as is Hub by Premier Inn, which are very small box-like rooms starting from €79 per night. If you fancy waking up each morning in the posh neighbourhood of Kensington Gardens, then check yourself into London House Hotel with rooms, which while small, start from just €59 per night. Clean, cheap and cheerful would sum these hotels up quite well!
One last option, especially good if you are travelling with one or two friends, is to rent out an Airbnb. You can either rent an entire apartment or if you’re travelling solo just rent a room in someone else’s apartment for a few days. The owners set the prices so you often find a good deal for a room or apartment that has not got many references yet.
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Eating on the cheap in London
Location is everything in London, so the further you venture from the main shopping streets, nightlife district and tourist zones, the cheaper the restaurant prices will be. Just north of Hyde Park is the Bayswater neighbourhood where you will find lots of small cafes and restaurants that won’t break the bank. You will also find lots of great Middle Eastern and Indian food in various parts of the city, just venture off the main squares and down side streets to find your hidden gems. If you are staying in a hostel, they often have cheap meal deals for guests as they know everyone is on a budget. Or you could get creative and cook your own food in the hostel kitchen!
Some of the cheapest restaurants in London, where you don’t feel like you are sacrificing taste for cash, include Koshari Street (cheap but delicious Egyptian food), Scandinavian Kitchen (perfect for a budget breakfast that will fill you up for the day) or Bibimbap (for some of the best Korean food in London).
If you are in London for a few days or plan to do a few trips, buying a Taste Card is a good plan. It gives up to 50% discounts in thousands of restaurants around the city and even offers some 2 for 1 deals on meals.
The same applies for drinking and nightlife, sticking to more local pubs and clubs will save you a lot of money. Expect to pay around €4 for a pint in non touristy areas and anything between €5 to €8 if you go to any big name bars or clubs. With London being one of the top 10 places to go clubbing in Europe, you can’t go to wrong!
Sightseeing on a budget in London
One of the best ways to see London is to sign up for a free walking tour. These happen a few times a day and take in all the main attractions. While there is no charge to sign up it is expected that you will tip the guide at the end. These highly trained guides will fill you with so much information and make you see the city in a whole new light.
If you are in London for a few days and are keen to tick off a long London bucket list of sights including Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and the London Tombs then you should invest in the London Pass. It costs €92 for a two day pass which lets you into unlimited sights for a 48 hour period and also lets you skip those frustrating queues.
One of the best things about London is that many of the best museums and main sights are free to enter. The British Museum, the Tate Modern and the Victoria and Albert are all free and you can also view the Changing of the Guard at 11.30am each morning at Buckingham Palace for free!
5 unique things to do in London for free
1. Westminster Cathedral
While nearby Westminster Abbey is a staggering €23 to enter, the beautiful Westminster Cathedral is free. Spend some time admiring the cathedral’s fascinating architecture, which is said to have been inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and St. Marks in Venice.
2. Visit Camden Market
Nothing says London like strolling around Camden Market, observing the eclectic mix of stall-holders, hipsters, tourists and fashionistas. If you love vintage clothing, you’ll be in heaven, but even if you don’t want to spend any money shopping checking out the incredible street art on Brick Lane and just people watching for an hour or two is a great way to spend an afternoon. If you are still keen to tour more markets, head on over to the Borough Market for a few hours. Foodie heaven!
3. Get free tickets to a TV show
One very unique, and free, thing to do while in London is to try get audience tickets to a popular British TV show. You can find a list of BBC shows here where you can apply to be in the audience. You can also join their mailing list to be the first to find out what tickets are available.
4. Attend a free Comedy night
London is known for producing some great comedians in the past decade or two, and what better place to see rising talent than at a free comedy show in one of London’s famed comedy clubs. Angel Comedy Club on Camden Street actually run a free comedy club every night of the week, a guaranteed cheap and fun night out in London.
5. British Museum
The fact that one of the best museums in Europe is free to enter is pretty mad, but it would be crazy to visit London and not take advantage of the free entrance to this fascinating museum. No matter what peaks your interest or tickles your fancy, be it Greek statues or artefacts from ancient Egypt, no two trips here will ever be the same and if you only visit to marvel at the stunning glass roof it’s worth the visit.
*Published January 2017. Prices correct at time of publication. Prices indicative and subject to availability.
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