I love London. Between the architecture, the culture, the FOOD, the diversity, the history, the FOOD, etc. what’s not to love? It’s all amazing, except for one tiny thing…THE PRICE TAG! Yup, London is as expensive AF; a fact that is shocking to no one but that makes backpacking London a tid-bit tricky when you can spend upwards of £ 50 on a quirky afternoon tea in London.
So the question is:
How can you save money in London and still actually have a good time?
Well that’s where my amazing friends come in!
See, while I have an undying love for London, that burns with the heat of a thousand suns, sadly, I am not a local (yet) and lack some of the insider tips and tricks to saving money in London.
I asked some of my favorite female blogger buds to share their expert tips on the best things to do in London on a budget, where to stay while backpacking London, and where to find some of the best cheap eats in London!
So continue on with this epic London guide and I promise that all the secrets of London budget travel will be revealed in due time (or you can just mock my ridiculous attempts at being humorous).
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***Not sure where to stay in London? If you’re looking for some awesome but totally cheap hostels in London then definitely check out Wombats City Hostel (in Central London, well-priced, and all you can eat breakfast included), Generator Hostel (has a central location and a great bar for meeting people), Clink78 if you want to party it up), and The Dictionary Hostel (in Shoreditch and offers free breakfast),***
London Budget Backpacking Tips
I’m not a sorcerer, so there is no way that I can help you have fun on a London backpacker budget of $50 per day.
But it’s not gonna happen unless your idea of a hopping good time is staring at the four walls of your hostel dorm room all day.
When estimating your London budget, and the overall cost of backpacking London, I would plan on spending between $70-$80 per day if you basically walk everywhere, find a super cheap hostel with breakfast, and enjoy only the free activities that London has to offer.
You can bump this London budget up to $100-$110 per day if you plan to eat out a little bit, see a few paid, London top attractions, and use the tube to get around.
But to make your dollar (or pound) stretch even further, here are some insider tips on how to save money in London!
- Purchase an Oyster card – A rechargeable Oyster card costs £5 but you get your money back when you leave London and cash your card in. This is by far, the cheapest way to get around London. Just add money to your card (via cash or card) and any time you ride the tube, bus, or overground train, just tap your card to pay and you’re good to go. You also get discounted fares since daily expenditures are capped at £12.50 per day. So a great option if you plan on using public transportation a lot (much cheaper than buying a bunch of individual tickets). And I’m lazy so the answer to that for me is ALWAYS yes!
- Book a hostel where breakfast is included and they have a communal kitchen – Do this and not only will you save money on breakfast, but you can also save money by going grocery shopping and preparing several meals in the communal kitchen. This London budget travel tip excludes me though since I am not adept at cooking and would probably burn water.
- Visit some of London’s magnificent parks – Take advantage of the plethora of green space in London and visit some of London’s best parks like Hyde Park (a great place to stroll through an endless array of fountains, lakes, and waterside cafes in central London), Greenwich Park (a bit outside of the city but with spectacular views of London), St. James Park (just outside of Buckingham Palace and a lovely place to savor some awesome architecture and some exquisite flowers), St, Dunstan’s Garden (abandoned church that has been converted into a public park), Hampstead Heath (visit the Hill Garden and Pergola and enjoy some enchanting views of London), Kyoto Garden (Japanese Garden in Holland Park), and Waterlow Park (normally not too crowded and right next door to Highgate Cemetary).
- Eat at the best markets in London – Markets like Camden Market, Brixton Market, and Borough Market are great places to try an array of foods from around the world but at a fraction of the cost of a sit-down restaurant (Portobello Market also has an awesome antique market that is the largest in the world and a great place to do some window shopping).
- Eat ethnic food – When you do eat out, try local, hole-in-the-wall, ethnic restaurants where prices are MUCH cheaper. Places like Dishoom (for killer Indian food), Koshari Street (epic Halal food), Franco Manca (for pizza), The Happening Bagel (for duh, bagels), and Chilango (for a decent burrito with guacamole) all have great food and at prices that won’t make you burst into tears when you see the check.
- Do a FREE Walking Tour – Okay these tours aren’t totally free since you are expected to be a semi-decent human being and tip your guides. However, these walking tours truly are amazing since guides have to go all out, ham it up, and work for their tips. And while there are a ton of companies out there, I’ve heard excellent things about Dope Art Tours and FreeToursByFoot. You can book tours with either company online, and choose from an assortment of programs that include street art tours, Jack the Ripper tours, WWII tours, food tours, etc.
- Venture out of Central London and explore some of the surrounding neighborhoods – There is so much more to London than Westminister. Plus, a visit to many of these top London neighborhoods is totally free, minus the tube ride of course. So whether you head to Shoreditch and savor the street art there, walk through Notting Hill and admire all the vibrantly colored houses, or head to Greenwich and stroll through the beautiful, Old Royal Naval College, you definitely don’t have to go broke while backpacking London.
- Visit top London attractions for free – Some of my absolute favorite London travel hacks include visiting some of the best attractions in London, but minus the insanely high admission fee. To do this, try reserving free tickets to see parliamentary debates at the Houses of Parliament, attending free church services at either St. Paul’s Cathedral or Westminister Abbey, or reserving free tickets to see The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. All of these backpacking London activities are super fun and will save you a ton of money. Just do yourself a favor and book tickets well in advance since spaces fill up FAST!
- Wanna splurge? Try purchasing discount tickets to shows at West End Theaters (check out my other many other tips for visiting London for the first time) – Like in NYC, the theater is an iconic part of any trip to London. And while I genuinely love the theater, about as much as I love cake (so a lot), I’m still not in love with the ticket prices. Therefore, to make buying theater tickets slightly less painful, try to nab some day tickets from the TKTS booth in London. Or, you can pre-order discount tickets on websites like LastMinute.com, Compare Theatre Tickets, Theatre Monkey, Todaytix, and Get into London Theatre.
Some other totally free things to do, while backpacking London on a budget, include:
By: Chelsea Lambert of The Portable Wife
People often relegate London museums to their “rainy day” agenda.
London’s iconic Science Museum should not be missed regardless of the weather.
All five floors are packed with free exhibits and activities that are perfect for anyone backpacking London.
Guests are transported back in time as they step inside the legendary inventor James Wyatt’s preserved workshop or stroll through the inside of our solar system for a lesson about the sun.
So whether you’re fascinated by engineering, biology, psychology, or astrology:
The London Science Museum has something that will excite your imagination.
But before you leave:
Don’t miss The Exploring Space hall, which houses the Apollo 10 command module and a piece of the moon.
Don’t forget to visit the 3rd floor Flight exhibit, where dozens of vintage airplanes hang from the ceiling.
To avoid the crowds though, like with most sightseeing in London:
Visit on a weekday, either close to opening (10:00) or in the afternoon, around 15:00 (3:00 pm for Americans).
***Some other fantastic and TOTALLY free museums that you can add to your list of free things to do in London include the National Gallery, the Museum of London, the Imperial War Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum (home to one of the most unique things to do in London), etc.***
By: Katherine Fenech of Bright Lights of America
The British Museum is an aspiring archeologist’s Eden, a history buff’s heaven, and an anthropologist’s paradise.
But best of all:
It’s free for anyone who crosses the threshold, into the beautiful Greek revival building that sits on Great Russell Street.
It’s the perfect place to escape the ever-changing London weather and explore over 8 million artifacts that span the entirety of human history, art, and civilization.
Once you’ve entered into the beautiful domed reading room:
Wander into the Ancient Egypt wing, where you’ll find sculptures that once adorned the walls of great pyramids and temples, as well as sarcophagi and mummies that have withstood the test of time.
Meander through the artistic beauty of ancient Greece and marvel at Parthenon sculptures that formerly embellished the immortal, Athens temple facade.
The British Museum even houses the famous Rosetta Stone, which was the key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as several other archaic languages.
Stop by the Lewis Chessmen, a set of historic chess pieces that were crafted in Norway around 1150.
You could spend weeks in the museum and not see everything.
The museum offers free tours that you can join, based on the different world regions, or time periods, that are of interest to you.
3. Thames Path
By: Clare Dewey of Epic Road Rides
The Thames Path is 184 miles long and runs from the Cotswold hills, west of London, into the heart of London.
The Path follows the meandering course of the UK’s most famous river, the Thames, and takes you through rural villages, and into the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, just a short distance from the sea.
But even better:
It’s free for all pedestrians to use and is a great place to see some of London’s most iconic landmarks.
If you’ve got a few hours to spare:
Definitely take a leisurely stroll along the path from Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge; a scenic, six-mile stretch that takes you past the House of Parliament, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, and the Tower of London.
Along the way:
You’ll witness the beautiful diversity of London, as you see buskers, street artists, and skateboarders all around you.
So if you’re in London, take our advice and give the Thames Path a try!
4. Primrose Hill
By: Nicky Cade of That Anxious Traveller
If you’re traveling London on a budget, then a trip up Primrose Hill is an absolute must!
Just pack yourself a picnic lunch and make your way to Camden Town Underground station.
Walk up Camden High Street and visit some of the bohemian shops there; taking in the extremely decorative art outside (free), before visiting Camden Market and savoring the fantastic, global cuisine there (free).
Once you’re finished:
Take a stroll along the scenic canal (free) and explore the pastel-hued, Instagram-perfect houses of Chalcot Square and Chalcot Gardens (free).
Once you’ve taken as many pictures as your camera allows:
You’re FREE to explore one of London’s most beloved green spaces, Primsore Hill.
Just follow the winding path up to the top and take in a magnificent, postcard-perfect view of central London.
You’ll be able to spot such well-known structures as The Shard, Telecom Tower, and the London Eye.
5. God’s Own Junkyard
By: Felicia of Feather & the Wind
Well off the well-trodden tourist path:
There is an unassuming warehouse in Northeast London where you’ll find an impressive collection of neon signs and film set artifacts known as, God’s Own Junkyard.
One of the more unusual things to do in London:
Local artist Chris Bracey created these stunning, neon, art pieces for major motion pictures like Blade Runner and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
And while he has since passed away:
Over 1,000 of his iconic pieces are still on display for anyone who wants to have a more local travel experience in London.
While relatively small in size:
A walk through this wonderland of creativity makes you feel as though you’ve been transported to a quirky, neon emporium, complete with disco balls, retro signs, and random car parts.
The experience is entirely free and well worth the trek to Walthamstow.
There’s even a small cafe inside, called The Rolling Scones, which features reasonably priced drinks, cakes and (of course!) scones.
Please be aware that only phone photography (no point-and-shoot or DSLR photography) is permitted inside God’s Own Junkyard.
6. Sky Garden
By: Katie of Creative Travel Guide
Perched atop 20 Fenchurch Street, near the Monument underground station:
Sky Garden is the perfect place to get free, 360-degree views of the whole city.
Ascend to the 36th floor of the famous, “Walkie Talkie” building:
And you’ll find an observation deck and garden that is the perfect place to relax, take some photos, and enjoy panoramic views of central London.
There are even three different bars here where you can meet friends and enjoy a drink with a stellar view.
Sky Garden is quite popular and accordingly, can get quite crowded:
Whether you’re visiting the bar or just want to enjoy the view, be sure to book your free tickets, in advance, online.
7. Spitalfields City Farm
By: Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views
Some of these other free things to do in London are fun and everything, but do they have donkeys?
Because believe it or not:
London has donkeys! And if you want to see them, just visit the Spitalfields City farm in Shoreditch.
Founded in 1978:
The farm’s mission is to allow people to connect with nature while managing local ecosystems and educating visitors about the benefits of a sustainable lifestyle.
If you’re going to hang out in Shoreditch anyway, then you might as well visit this furry oasis, plonked down in the middle of a gritty neighborhood, covered in street art.
This farm has everything, including a flower patch, vegetable garden, and a menagerie of amazing animals (chickens, pigs, geese, sheep, goats, and mini-donkeys).
The whole experience is a delightful oasis of greenery amidst the urban chaos of London.
**Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10am-4pm, on Buxton street just east of Brick Lane.***
8. The Changing of the Horse Guard
By: Megan Hamilton of Wandertoes
If you’re a horse-lover, history-lover, shutterbug, or just enthralled with the pomp of royal ceremonies, then one of the best free things to do, while backpacking London, is to watch the changing of the Horse Guard.
During this historic ceremony:
Two sets of guards, in full dress uniform with sparkling breastplates and plumed helmets, sit atop matched horses and march along the parade grounds in Whitehall.
The daily splendor of the Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards Parade is a lesser-known spectacle with smaller crowds, allowing spectators to obtain better views.
***The Changing of the Guard occurs daily at 11:00 am, except on Sundays when it is at 10:00 am.***
There is also a daily, dismounting ceremony, at 4:00 pm, that involves a detailed, royal inspection.
This tradition was started by Queen Victoria, in 1894, when she came unannounced to the Horse Guards and found all of the horsemen drinking and gambling while still on duty.
She decreed that guards must be inspected daily for the next 100 years; a form of punishment that has now become an iconic, London tradition.
9. Platform 9 and 3/4
By; Kirsty Bartholomew of Lost in Landmarks
Whether you’re a kid, teen, or adult:
Platform 9 3/4 is a must-see, free attraction in London.
Featured throughout the Harry Potter books and films:
Platform 9 and 3/4 is the perfect spot for any Harry Potter fan who wants to experience the magic of the Harry Potter Studio tour for themselves.
Situated in Kings Cross railway station (although admittedly not quite in between platforms 9 and 10):
This is a great place to stop, pose with a luggage cart, and get your picture taken.
If you really want to go all out:
You can even borrow some Hogwarts inspired scarves, pose in front of a professional photographer, and purchase your photos from a nearby shop.
But the best part?
No one pressures you to buy pictures since you’re more than welcome to take photos of your own.
It gets quite busy so expect a queue. But the line moves quickly so you’ll probably wait just long enough to perfect your pose for the camera.
10. Postman’s Park
By: Dagney McKinney of Cultura Obscura
Just 10-minutes from the tourist frenzy that surrounds St Paul’s Cathedral is a small greenspace known as Postman’s Park.
Opened in 1880:
A Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice was installed in the park, in 1900, by painter Frederic Watts.
Commemorating everyday citizens who died saving the life – or lives – of others, this park was even featured in the 2004 film, Closer.
Visitors can sit on one of the many park benches, enjoy the quiet, and pay homage to the forty-eight heroes who are honored on this memorial; individuals who remind us that even the most ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
11. Camden Market
By: Liliane Fawzy of My Toronto My World
London has such a rich history and culture that you could literaly spend months here and still not see everything that this city has to offer.
The downside is that many of these London experiences can be quite expensive.
There are a ton of free things to do in London, like strolling through Camden Market; a combination outdoor/indoor market that can be visited, regardless of the weather.
So take a leisurely walk through this lively place and photograph the amazing murals (and storefronts), explore the beautiful shops, buy some fantastic souvenirs, and try some delicious food from one of the nearby vendors.
There are musicians and street performers in the area, who put on lovely shows and who make the entire market feel truly magical.
Before you leave though:
Visit the Amy Winehouse statue, which commemorates the immortal singer, who lived in the area up until her tragic death.