Many people think that London is expensive but there are so many free things to do in this city and special deals to be found that I thought I’d show you how it is possible to do London on any budget. I used to do a feature called “Free, half price and discounted in London” and I’m going to share my best tips with you today.
My number one tip: never pay full price for anything.
Getting to London
The first site I ever visit when booking long haul flights is Expedia.co.uk. Their layout is super easy to use and they will bring up an easy grid for you comparing the price of direct and non-direct flights over several airlines. We used them to book both trips back to South Africa last year.
Tip: once you find a flight on Expedia, we sure to check on the airline’s website as booking direct from an airline can often be cheaper.
By the way, there are four major airports in London and they roughly correspond to the four compass points: Stansted (North), London City(East), Heathrow (West) and Gatwick (South). You would not believe how centrally located London City is and how easy an airport it is to travel through. The best thing is to book an airport closest to your hotel if you can.
For all of our package holidays from the UK, we use TeletextHolidays.co.uk and have not been able to beat their deals.
Finding a Place to Stay in London
VoucherCodes.co.uk has fantastic deals on saving money in the UK and they currently have an exclusive 10% off bookings at Hotel.com. The current offer ends Sunday 21 February but keep checking back as they have excellent offers added every week.
I’ll tell you a bit more about VoucherCodes.co.uk a little later on as they are quite famous in our office and we simply don’t go out shopping or to a restaurant without first checking on their site.
Couch Surfing, Crash Padder and Hostel Bookers are great sites to visit for those of you on an absolute budget. Prices range from free to the ridiculously inexpensive but obviously staying in a hotel will always be better.
Getting Around London
If you are in London for more than one day, I would absolutely recommend getting an Oyster card to travel around. Bus rides reduce from £2 to £1.20 and tube fairs reduce from £4 to £1.80 for a zone 1 fare using an Oyster card.
Tip: the best thing to do with Oyster is to travel with pay-as-you-go. If you hit the daily Travelcard limit, it will stop charging you but it is better than splashing out on a Travelcard that you land up not using.
If you are visiting friends or family in London and they have an annual Gold Travelcard make sure you make use of the offer of a 34% discount on train travel and Travelcards in the Network area. Gold Travelcard holders can travel with up to three other adults who will get the discount too. Patrick and I used this special when we went to Dover and paid £19 instead of £28 for tickets.
Eating Out in London
Like I said earlier, we have a firm tradition in our office that we never go out the latest restaurant vouchers at VoucherCodes.co.uk. The specials include 2 for 1 mains at Prezzo and 2 courses only £10 at Zizzi.
Wetherspoons can be found all over the city and they offer a fabulous and ridiculously inexpensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. We eat breakfast there at least once a weekend!
Discounted Theatre in London
I have four tips for obtaining discounted theatre tickets in London. You can visit London Theatre Tickets to get the best possible deals on theatre tickets or check out the offers at The Evening Standard’s Theatre Club. You can also do my favourite trick and Google “2 for 1 tickets to…” or you can catch the tube to Leicester Square and visit the last minute ticket booths there.
Touring Around London
If travelling around all day on a London Bus all day without a tour guide is not your idea of fun, you can book a tour on the Original London Bus Tour which is the famous open topped bus.
You can also take a Thames Clipper which is a small boat that goes up and down the Thames. I blogged about our glorious ride on a Thames Clipper last year.
You could also contact me to be your personal (and free) tour guide and if I am not busy, I’ll be happy to help you out!
Visiting Attractions in London
You actually wouldn’t believe how many free places there are to visit in London. The British Museum, Science Museum, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Museum of London, Imperial War Museum London, Design Museum, Natural History Museum, The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery are all free to get into!! Is it any wonder I am determined to maintain my status as an eternal tourist in this magical city?
When I went to New York, I bought the CityPass there and I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it was in terms of saving money and skipping queues. Well, here we have The London Pass which gives you entry to London’s top attractions at a great discount plus allows you to skip queues plus you get a free guidebook too! Attractions include Tower of London, London Zoo, London Bridge Experience and Tombs, The Britain at War Experience and Windsor Castle.
Tip: Make sure you’re not using your London Pass to visit free attractions!! They list a lot of the free museums above on their site but they really do offer you fabulous value for money on the paid attractions.
Their website also offers dining and shopping offers, free cinema entry and an itinerary planning service.
My absolute favourite site for 2 for 1 specials is the National Rail Days Out Guide. Here you can get 2-for-1 entry to Madame Tussauds, The Harry Potter London Locations Tour (oh, wow) and The Tower of London as well as a host of other specials on hotels, theatre, events and attractions. The catch? You have to both travel by rail and you can’t use an Oyster card. (Oyster used to have separate specials but I can’t find them for love or money now).
Top tip: plan your deal well to take the most advantage of discounted rail fares, special offers, free attractions and bulk buying such as the London Pass. I can help you if you email me where you’ll be staying, how many days you’ll be here and what you have to see and do while you’re here. Having said that, it is much more fun planning your own travel itinerary!