London Bridge, London

How to do London on a budget


The bustling metropolis of London is one of the busiest cities in the world. The latest figures show that 17.4 million overseas visitors came to the capital in 2014. According to a report commissioned by Visit Britain and published in 2013, London absorbs more than half of all inbound visitor spend. Anybody who has been to London will tell you it’s not a cheap city to visit. Yet it is definitely possible to have a great time on a small budget. Here’s how.

Visit museums and art galleries

Many of the permanent exhibitions in the city’s museums and art galleries are free: The British Museum, The Natural History Museum and The Tate Modern to name but a few. Several of the museums, including the V&A, also offer selection of free tours. The special exhibitions at these museums may however incur a charge. Most of these museums and galleries will feature large, prominent donation “pots” in the hope that you will shove a few coins (or notes) in. This isn’t mandatory, though.

Get cheap theatre tickets

The Get into London Theatre website offers massive discounts on tickets to a wide range of shows every January or February. The box office on this website usually opens in December and tickets are available on a first come, first served basis. You can also rock up to the theatre on the morning of the showing to enquire about cheaper tickets. Click here for more information.

Get free cinema tickets

The likes of Showfilmfirst and Times Plus regularly offer free tickets to previews of the latest films in return for a quick questionnaire after the showing. The former is free and the latter is part of a membership. There are often tickets available to big films being screened across London. It certainly beats paying upwards of £11 per person!

Get restaurant deals

If you’re a UK resident, it may be worth investing in a Tastecard as over 1,000 restaurants in London offer 2 for 1 or 50% off discounts. Tastecard membership costs £39.99 per year but you can get free trials, too. Several restaurant chains also often offer great deals. The best places to look are Vouchercloud and Money Saving Expert. Word of warning: pay attention to the terms and conditions as several vouchers are not valid on Fridays or at the weekend.

 Hire a bicycle

Tired of the stuffy, crowded underground with stressed Londoners who dash down the escalator for the train even though the next one arrives in 30 seconds? Fancy a bit of exercise? Then the Santander Cycles (aka “Boris Bikes”) are right up your street. You don’t need to be a member or register, but you do need a bank card. More instructions can be found here. You pay £2 to hire the bicycle for 24 hours and if return your bike within 30 minutes, then that journey will be free.

Use contactless to pay on the underground or buy an Oyster card

It is now possible to pay for London public transport using a contactless debit or credit card. Just tap it at the barriers, as you would with an Oyster card. Make sure you use the same card each time, as these sums should be capped. If you don’t have a UK bank card and are worried about foreign currency fees, you can buy an Oyster card for a £5 deposit. These cards are available at most major underground stations and also apply a cap on your travel. You can return the Oyster card to most major underground stations on your last day or keep it as a souvenir (or for your next visit!)

Do you have any tips for tourists on a budget? Post in the comments below!

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