A London vacation for under $1,000
London is one of the most-visited cities on earth, and it’s also one of the most expensive. But thanks to several new discount flight options, the growing ranks of people looking to swap their homes, and an abundance of free entertainment, it’s now possible to take a weeklong jaunt across the pond for less than $1,000.
Skeptical? There’s good reason to be. TripAdvisor ranks London as the seventh most expensive city to visit. One night in a four-star hotel will set you back an average of $271, dinner for two (two courses and a bottle of wine) costs $101.79, and two cocktails at a five-star hotel bar run $37.09. What’s more, taxis in London cost more than those in any other major city in the world, the survey found (an average round-trip ride of about two miles each way costs $41.47—nearly double the amount for that same trip in a New York City taxi). All in all, a week’s stay in London could easily cost $5,000 or more.
But here’s how savvy travelers save on food, airfare, entertainment and accommodations.
Flights used to be one of the biggest expenses for travelers going from the U.S. to the U.K., but starting this summer, that may change. In July, Scandinavian airline Norwegian will begin flying from New York, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles to London. A search on the site reveals that some round-trip nonstop tickets are less than $600, including taxes and surcharges, for the New York- and Fort Lauderdale-to-London routes; from Los Angeles, roundtrip tickets come in at just under $700. Fly.com reports that other cheap carriers include Aer Lingus and Icelandair.
As a general rule, to get the best fares to London, fly from September to November and from January to early-mid March, when low prices across carriers hover at around $700, according to Fly.com data. Prices begin to increase in April, with July and August being the most expensive months to fly. Traveling between some cities in Europe., meanwhile, is very cheap via airlines like easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair, Flybe and Thomas Cook Airlines, says Warren Chang, vice president and general manager of Fly.com. Ryanair offers one-way flights to Dublin for around $50, for example.
Likely minimum cost (for travelers from New York or Fort Lauderdale): $600, including taxes and surcharges
Accommodations in London aren’t cheap, but with the increasing number of Londoners looking to swap their homes with other travelers, you needn’t shell out much. The numbers of homes and apartments listed in London on LoveHomeSwap.com, one of the largest home-swapping sites, now totals 2,200, double what it was at this time last year; the site says that London, New York and Paris are its most popular destinations. LoveHomeSwap.com offers a 14-day free trial and then charges a minimum of $15.75 per month; another home swap site, HomeExchange.com, which also has properties in London, charges a minimum of $9.95 per month; both bill for the year rather than on a month-to-month basis. This means that doing a home swap could cost you $120 to $189 or less, while a single night in a hotel room would likely cost more. And there are luxurious homes on the sites, which, depending on how nice your own home is, you might be able to get for nothing but the cost of site membership.
To be sure, there are risks to home swapping, including the chance the person you swap homes with will trash your place. Experts say that you should research the potential swapper online, including looking at their social media profiles and googling them, and talk to them on the phone and online before renting. For those who are wary of home swaps but still want deals, Airbnb and VRBO offer home and apartment rentals that are often better deals than hotels (especially for families).
Likely minimum cost: $120
You’ll need to get to and from the airport and around London throughout your trip—and unfortunately we don’t recommend taking taxis since London cabs, as we said, are not cheap. Luckily, London has an excellent public transportation system, which Simon Harding, partner at London-based theater discount site TheatreBreaks.com, says will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go. A seven-day unlimited-ride Travelcard—this lets you on the Tube, buses and other public transit—will cost roughly $50 for zones 1 and 2 (these zones will take you through most of the major tourist destinations in London, says Helen Bedford, a travel agent with Original Travel UK).
To get to and from the airport (assuming the airport is Gatwick, the one budget airline Norwegian flies into), two decent budget options exist: the easyBus and the National Express, with prices that start at $13 each way.
Likely minimum cost: $80
Food & Entertainment
If you’ve swapped homes, you probably now have a kitchen to use—and this is essential for saving money in London, where eating out even a single meal can cost well over $50. You can buy a week’s worth of groceries (if you stick to basics) for about $125; many stores deliver for a small fee, so you needn’t take a taxi to the store or hop on public transit, says Bedford.
What’s more, “London has a ton of free entertainment,” says Harding—plenty to fill up a week. You can spend a couple of days trolling through London’s major art galleries like Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Saatchi Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery. Another couple of days can be spent at museums like the Natural History Museum, British Museum and Science Museum, all of which are also free. Bedford adds that bringing your lunch and sitting in one of London’s many parks is a great way to spend an afternoon, as is simply strolling through London’s diverse neighborhoods. She also says that you can get into Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral free if you attend a religious service there. The city lists its free attractions at VisitLondon.com. If you have some extra dough and want to grab a bite on the road, there are plenty of inexpensive options, says Harding; Bedford recommends Borough Market, as there are lots of samples and grab-and-go foods. Harding adds that you can take the No. 15 bus one day to see many tourist sites; the bus passes by St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and more.
Likely minimum cost: $175