An Ohio native, Pete Meyers was bred on family road trips and the Beach Boys. Pete works at the budget travel guide EuroCheapo.com in New York City and enjoys eating bouillabaisse anywhere in the south of France.
London has a reputation as one of Europe’s most expensive cities to visit. And though it can indeed be pricey, if you keep a few simple tips in mind, London can also be full of budget-friendly bliss.
Below are EuroCheapo.com’s favorite ways to keep it cheap during your next visit, plus a few options for freebies. Take note of these tips and you too can experience the London good life for less.
1. Don’t even consider taking a taxi from the airport to central London
We can’t think of an easier way to quickly blow through your budget than by taking a taxi from Heathrow to your London hotel. While a cab might feel like the simplest transportation option, the ride will actually be rather slow and will make your wallet shed more pounds than a New Year’s Day diet.
Instead, take the Heathrow Express — it’s a 15-minute ride, and at £18 is less than half the price of a taxi. Better yet, just hop on the Tube (Piccadilly Line) for £5.30 and you’ll be in central London in 50 minutes.
2. First stop: Straight to the tourist office
London has several tourist offices located throughout the city and perhaps the most central is the Piccadilly Circus Information Centre, located in the Piccadilly Circus Underground station. It’s open daily from 9:15 a.m. until 7 p.m. and offers information on seasonal deals, as well as free and cheap events and performances.
3. Buy an Oyster card
The Oyster Card is a small plastic card that you “top off” with your credit card and swipe to get around town, just like the locals. It’s the cheapest way to pay for single trips on the London Underground (The Tube), bus, tram, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), National Rail Service and London Overground. You can get your Oyster card at Tube stops and Travel Information Centres by paying a £5 deposit.
4. Ditch the tourist bus and take the RV1
When you’re out and about in London you may be tempted to give one of those open top sightseeing buses a go. (They sure do look like fun!) Well, they’ll set you back a whopping £23. So here’s an alternative: One of central London’s public transport bus routes, the RV1, takes in an incredible number of sights and is a whole lot cheaper. Pay with your Oyster card (£2) and bag a seat next to the window. This is a great option in the winter, as shivering in the rain on an open top bus is certainly not our idea of fun!
5. Cruise down the Thames with your Oyster
Another perk to using your Oyster card is that it includes discounts on Thames riverboat routes, meaning that you can opt for public transport and forgo the overpriced tourist boats along the Thames.
6. Go to the theater. Just don’t pay full price!
One sure bet for on-stage discounts is the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, which sells half-priced tickets for most West End shows the same day of the performance. For the best shot at a wallet-friendly price and a non-nosebleed seat, get there when the booth opens at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday (noon on Sundays).
7. Sample your way through Borough Market
Situated in an immense open-air space under a Victorian-style warehouse roof, Borough Market is London’s oldest food market. Serving up fine artisan cured meats, French cheeses, fresh oysters, homemade cakes, and everything in between, the market is one of the best of its kind. Ask for free samples!
8. Sample some child’s play at the Natural History Museum
Keep little ones and teenagers intrigued on a shoestring budget with a day trip to the Natural History Museum. The impressive cathedral-like structure plays host to one of the largest natural history collections in the world. The collection includes everything from microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons, and an enormous life-size model of a blue whale.
9. Cultural pursuits at the British Library
If you love reading and enjoy doing so in the confines of a tranquil space, a trip to the world’s largest library is a worthwhile (and free) way to spend an afternoon. The British Library holds over 150 million items, covering Leonardo da Vinci, Karl Marx, the Beatles and more.
10.Take an urban walk along the Southbank
Entertain yourself without opening your wallet by taking a blissful walk along the Southbank of the River Thames. There are always free day and evening events (live music, dance, theatre, book readings, workshops and more) going on and even when there is a dry spot (which admittedly is not often), there’s plenty of other attractions in the area.