What do you think of when you imagine London? Tea and cake? Fish and chips? Double decker busses and iconic landmarks? Well, all of those things do exist, and you can experience them without spending an arm and a leg. I just recently got back from a seventeen day trip to London, and I’ve comprised several tips to getting around the city on the smallest dollar.
As much fun as it is to be spontaneous and wander around, you’ll end up saving a considerable amount of money if you plan your days. I’m not saying you need to have every minute of every day planned, but knowing what you want to see ahead of time will make a world of difference. This is something I did not do very well, and ended up paying a lot more in transportation cost than I could have.
My suggestion: Make a list of all the attractions you want to see, big or small. Next, map them out so you can see which ones are within walking distance of each other. This way you only have to pay to get to that area of the city once.
Example: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and The London Eye are all within walking distance of each other, and take the better part of a day to see. take a bus or the tube to one end of the line or the other and you’ve got your transportation covered. The other awesome part about these things? They’re all free to see. If you want to ride The Eye or see the inside of the Abbey you’ll have to pay a fee.
Bring Your Walking Shoes
Transportation in London is sneaky expensive. £1.50 here, £2.40 there, adds up very quickly. During my time there I loaded my Oyster Card with £60 and paid another £50 on trains to various locations. If you’re willing to walk, and plan your days like I suggested above then you can save loads.
Walking from place to place is also a great way to see all the beautiful architecture of the city. As someone who grew up in Nebraska (where the most of the buildings date after the 19th Century) I could not get enough of it. Plus you never know what neat little shop you’ll run into. If you’re like me and love independent coffee shops and boutiques, then this is the way to find them.
I was doing just this around the Covent Garden area and I happened to stumble into The Espresso Room. This coffee shop was tiny, I mean really tiny. There was just enough room for two small tables right next to the large window facing the street. I ordered a double latte, and it was delicious. Espresso in the UK is thicker than it is in the US, and has a different, more powerful flavor. Any coffee snob will have to give it a try.
Museums for the Win
Mummies and sculptures and trains, oh my! You can see all of this and so much more in the many many museums that London has to offer. Entrance into these museums is free, making it the perfect way to spend an afternoon (especially if you’re blessed with a rainy London day). Now I didn’t make it to all the museums I wanted to see, but my favorite ones were the National British Museum, The Science Museum, and The V&A Museum. The National British Museum was my favorite overall, I was there for about three hours until they were ushering us out because it was about to close. (I was just about to take a picture of Cleopatra’s mummy too.) This museum features art and historical artifacts from around the world. In Olly’s words: “it’s a bunch of stuff we’ve knicked from other countries.” Regardless, it was so neat to see ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek statues, and African art.
The London Pass
If you’re a tourist attraction junkie this may be the answer for you. Depending on the package, the London Pass can get you into 60+ attractions, provide special discounts on meals, and allow you to arrange and cover all transportation costs. The 10 day package costs £16 a day, and will save you £350 if you visit an average of three places each day. While this wasn’t the best option for me, if you plan to see and do everything this is a great money saver.
Choose Where You Stay Wisely
Accommodation in London is expensive. Period. I got lucky and was able to stay with someone who lives in Central London. All it cost me was some home cooked meals and agreeing to accompany my host for a few nights out on the town. (As if I didn’t enjoy every minute, bottomless brunch outing at the Villandry pictured below…taken after three bottles of Prosecco) I live by Airbnb. Every time I travel I always book my accommodation through it. The ideal situation is to find someplace in Central London with access to a kitchen and if you’re really lucky-laundry. Having access to a kitchen will allow you to eat some meals in instead of out, saving you even more money! Something I was surprised by was how inexpensive groceries were. We’re talking like half price of how much they are in the States! (Not to mention the ridiculously low price of wine) Staying somewhere in Central London will allow you to save money on transportation as well. You’re always a quick walk away from a bus or Tube stop.