London is really expensive. It is just the truth. It is still wonderful and fantastic and as far as I am concerned the best place in the world, but it is really expensive to visit (not to mention to live in!). So how can you save money when visiting London? The more you save when visiting London, the more you can do and experience. Here are some tips for saving money in London, and making your trip fun and enjoyable without breaking the bank.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before you do anything else in London, buy an Oyster card. An Oyster card is like a magical travel ticket. You can use it on buses, the London Underground (tube trains), and overland trains. You basically obtain an Oystercard, and then it is yours to keep. You just have to keep topping it up with funds to get you around London on public transport. You can’t actually get on a bus in London without an Oystercard – they don’t take cash at all (but don’t worry, if it is ever an emergency situation and you need to take a bus I have seen many kind-hearted Londoners offering their Oystercard for use – either for free or if you pay them the fare cost). When you first get an Oystercard on site in London you have to pay a small fee – but it is refunded if you hand in the Oystercard at the end of your trip, or you can purchase your Oystercard ahead of time before you even leave for London. To top up the Oystercard you just need to visit a special machine and you can top the card up using cash or a credit card. You can also top up an Oystercard in shops and convenience stores (just go to the paying area and ask to top up your Oystercard – usually shops offering this will have a sign outside). An Oystercard means that a trip is about 50% off the price you would pay without an Oystercard and with cash, therefore it is really worth getting. An Oystercard also caps the total price you pay each day, so the more you travel the cheaper it actually is. It is possible to purchase an Oystercard before you go to London. It will be mailed to your home address topped up with the amount you chose, ready for you to use in London (but make sure you order it in plenty of time in advance of your trip).
ARRIVING IN LONDON
There are 5 airports that serve London, but the most common for international travel are Heathrow and Gatwick. When you first arrive at a London airport and need to get to your hotel or wherever you are staying, it is temping to take a taxi, as you are usually so exhausted after a flight. But there are cheaper options. The London Underground runs a tube service right from Heathrow airport into central London – on the Piccadilly line. There are usually seats available when you first board at Heathrow. The Piccadilly line runs right into and through central London, including Russell Square and Leicester Square. You can also take the opportunity when you first arrive at Heathrow to go and purchase your Oystercard at the tube station for your use around London, then you can use it for the first time on this tube journey! There will be people at the airport trying to get you to purchase tickets for the Heathrow Express train, but it is an expensive journey to take one way (although of course it is nice and comfortable to take). If you fly into Gatwick, take the Gatwick Express. The Gatwick Express is a train service that runs to Victoria in central London every 15 minutes on a non-stop journey. Please note: you cannot use an Oystercard for Gatwick airport (I have many friends who got caught out with that), but you can use your Oystercard on the tube to and from Heathrow. It is also possible to save about 10% if you book the Gatwick Express online ahead of time.
MUSEUMS IN LONDON
There are many amazing, wonderful – and completely free – museums in London that you can visit. These include the Victoria & Albert museum, the British Museum, the Museum of London, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the National Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the Imperial War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Maritime Museum. There is a really wide choice of free museum offerings that you can take advantage of.
BUY A LONDON PASS
A London Pass is a sightseeing city card, like a sightseeing package. It will give you free entry to over 80 attractions, tours and museums, including the Tower of London, London Zoo, and Hampton Court Palace amongst many other wonderful sights. It allows you to skip lines and also gives you a handy guidebook. You can order the London Pass online and pick it up in London when you arrive. You can also have it delivered instantly to your mobile smartphone, or it can be shipped to your home address anywhere around the world ahead of time.
SEE THE FREE SIGHTS!
Just walking around London you can see so much, and a lot of the time you will discover things off the beaten track, which can sometimes be more enjoyable than the ‘set’ sights of London. Some typical sights of London that are completely free include the Changing of the Guard, Buckingham Palace (the outside), Camden Market, walk across the Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk across the famous Abbey Road crossing, take a stroll along the South Bank beside the Thames, visit Postman’s Park, plus all the free museums, as mentioned above.
There is no reason to spend a fortune on food and drink in London. Whilst it is great to experience good food and drink wherever you travel, it is possible to eat cheaply in London. Many supermarkets (grocery stores) have quick grab sandwiches, salads etc to purchase for lunch, or even dinner. Shop chains such as Marks & Spencer’s, Boots etc have sandwiches and other foods ready to purchase quickly and easily. Pubs, which are the mainstay of British culture, do food usually fairly affordably. If you are staying somewhere with cooking facilities go to the grocery store and purchase food to make your own meals.