London is widely known as one of Europe's most expensive cities, ranking right up there with Paris. However, that doesn't mean you should take it off your bucket list just yet.
As it turns out, visiting London on a budget is easier than you think, especially if you do your homework. With a little planning, you can visit free museums, enjoy cheap eats, and get around London all without breaking the bank.
For our top money-saving tips while visiting the UK capital, here are our top tips for visiting London on a budget.
London on a budget: Know before you go
Save money and time with the London Pass
If you plan on visiting 3+ attractions (of course you do), your best bet is to purchase the London Pass. Not only does it grant you "free" entry to 80+ of London's most popular attractions. It also saves you tons of time by allowing you to skip lengthy ticket lines.
Use your Oyster Card to get around London
Much of London, particularly around Central London, is more walkable than you think. But for when your destination is a bit too far, your best bet is to take the Underground, known to locals as 'the tube'. To save money on your travels, grab an Oyster Card at any Underground station, the airport, or coupled with your London Pass. You'll pay less per trip than you would with an individual ticket. Plus, your charges are capped off at a daily maximum rate.
Ride a bike between attractions
London has a bike-share program that allows you to rent bicycles, called Santander Cycles (some locals call them Boris Bikes), for £2 per 30 minutes. There are 750 docking stations conveniently placed throughout the city and 11,500 bikes in the program, making it a convenient way to get around the city on a budget.
Free and cheap things to do in London
Visit some of London's top museums and galleries for free
As you might expect, London is absolutely filled with world-class museums and galleries. However, what you may not know is that many of them are completely free to visit. And don’t let the free admission fool you into thinking these are second-rate attractions. When in London, these free museums and art galleries are well worth the visit.
The British Museum is home to artifacts from all over the world including the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, and so much more.
Museum of London
It's a shame that the Museum of London isn't as visited as some of the city's other museums. It's a fascinating place that details the rich history of this incredible city from 450,000 BC to medieval London on to today.
Situated in a former power plant, Tate Modern is one of the world’s most well-known and esteemed contemporary art galleries.
The National Gallery is home to one of the most impressive art collections in the world, including stunning pieces from van Gogh, da Vinci, Rembrandt, and more.
Natural History Museum
From dinosaur and blue whale skeletons to several species collected by Charles Darwin, London’s Natural History Museum boasts around 80 million fascinating items from the natural world.
Take a free walking tour
It doesn’t get more budget-friendly than a free walking tour. Plus, they’re a great way to explore a new city with the help of a local expert. Of course, while the tour is free, you should always be prepared to tip your tour guide to show your appreciation.
Some of the best free walking tour companies in London are Free Tours By Foot, Strawberry Tours, Wonders of London, and Free London Walking Tours.
Prefer to take your own walking tour? Who better to give you a tour of Europe than the legendary Rick Steves? While a personal tour with him will cost you a few bucks, he’s got several audio walking tours of London that you can download for free!
Explore London's many famous markets
London is well known for its markets, which are a gold mine for budget travelers looking to get a deal on everything from antiques and handicrafts to cheap eats for £5 or less (but more on that later). Some of London's top markets to explore are:
This historic spot is one of the largest and oldest markets in London. A great place to savor local produce, street food, artisan cheeses, seafood, and so much more.
Though you’ll find things like vintage bags, second-hand goods, and fresh produce here, Portobello Market’s main attraction is its world-famous antiques section.
Technically several adjoining markets near the canals at Camden Lock, Camden Market is home to more than 1,000 stalls, shops, bars, and cafes. This bustling market has a long-held reputation for all things alternative, quirky, vintage, and even grungy, so keep an eye out if you're in the market for a unique souvenir.
See London from above at the Sky Garden
Snagging a free ticket to the Sky Garden will give you access to arguably the best 360º view of London from above. Located at the top of the “walkie talkie” building, this innovative public space consists of observation decks, open-air terraces, an on-site restaurant, and more. Tickets can be reserved online. Just don’t wait until the last minute!
Escape the city in one of London's incredible parks
London’s many parks offer a great way to get outside and enjoy the city without spending a cent (or pence, rather). Some parks are perfect for a stroll or picnic, others provide unmatched views of the city, while some are even great for deer spotting!
Covering more than 350 acres, this sprawling green space is one of London’s largest and most famous parks. Come here to enjoy a picnic, bike ride, sunbathing session by the lake, swim in the Serpentine, and so much more.
At more than 2,500 acres, this nature lover’s haven is the largest of London’s Royal Parks. Richmond Park’s wide-open spaces and grasslands offer a welcome reprieve from city life and are home to more than 650 deer, as well as several rare species of bird, insect, and plant life.
St. James's Park
This small roughly 56-acre park is the oldest Royal Park in London. Come for the premier view of Buckingham Palace, stay to admire the wildlife surrounding the lake, including the iconic pelicans, who’ve called the park home for nearly 400 years since being presented to King Charles II as a gift from the Russian Ambassador.
Greenwich Park is the perfect spot for a picnic with a view. Head to the top of the hill where you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the London skyline, Royal Observatory, and the Prime Meridian Line.
Witness the Changing of the Guards
This activity is pretty much as touristy as it gets but hey, “when in London,” right?
You can see the famed Changing of the Guard in three different spots, all for free: Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, and Wellington Barracks. The day and time of the Changing of the Guard varies and depends on what time of year you’re visiting, so be sure to check the calendar and schedule ahead of time.
Where to stay on a budget in London
Astor Hyde Park hostel
Staying at the Astor Hyde Park hostel will make you feel like a London local. Located in a redbrick Victorian-era townhouse, this modern hostel is simple enough to be affordable but comfortable and convenient enough to make you come back again and again. Guests especially love the convenient location, as it’s near public transport, Hyde Park, and several of London’s premier museums.
Palmers Lodge Swiss Hostel
Situated in an old restored Victorian-era building, Palmers Lodge Swiss Cottage is a unique hostel that gives you a taste of old London elegance with a touch of modern hospitality. The space is charming, with comfy dorms, cozy, private rooms, and a casual on-site eatery where you can watch a football match (soccer game) or make friends over a game of pool.
Wombat’s The City Hostel London
Situated in a restored former hostel for sailors in the British Navy, Wombat’s The City Hostel London is now a quirky, yet trendy hostel beloved by the modern-day backpacker. In fact, they’ve won the title of London’s Most Popular Hostel at the Hostelworld HOSCARS every year since 2016.
Cheap flights to London
Recently, Dollar Flight Club members have saved between 70-90% on cheap flights to London. On average, our members spent $467 on their tickets to London and saved over $175 per ticket. Here are a few samples of cheap flight deals that Dollar Flight Club members have received recently.
Dallas (DFW) to London (LHR)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $511
Average Price: $890
New York City (JFK) to London (LHR)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $390
Average Price: $515
Chicago (ORD) to London (LGW)
Price with Dollar Flight Club: $326
Average Price: $580
Best cheap eats in London
London’s famous markets aren’t just perfect for window shopping and souvenir hunting. They’re also some of the city’s most reliable places to find a good meal on a budget.
Fancy an Ethiopian stew? Or a savory Thai Curry? Perhaps a hearty Scotch egg? Whatever you’re after, you’ll probably find it at the famous Borough Market. We think the £6.50 cacio e pepe pasta (think Roman mac and cheese) at Padella is a solid choice here. And we bet those in the often lengthy queue outside would agree.
Maltby Street Market
Maltby Street Market, which opened in 2010, is a newer, smaller market that's big on flavor. Come to enjoy on-site breweries, bars, and vendors serving up small bites like Venezuelan arepas, Brazilian steak wraps, Ecuadorian BBQ and so much more.
Other great markets for finding cheap eats in London: Camden, Brockley, Broadway, Berwick, and Leather Lane.
London's diverse neighborhoods
London’s ethnic neighborhoods are a go-to spot for foodies seeking affordable, authentic, delicious eats. Head out to Brick Lane for the city’s best Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants, Chinatown for £2.50 bao buns at Bun House, or Kingsland Road for Vietnamese specialties like £6.90 Banh Mi at BúnBúnBún.
Wagamama is a moderately-priced British chain serving Asian and Japanese classics like Ramen, Donburi, and curry with countless outposts throughout London.
Pizza Union is a small local chain serving thin-crust pizza in a slightly elevated fast-casual setting. Prices start at just £3.95 for a Margherita pizza.
Pro tip: To find more affordable food in London, check out London Cheap Eats, a site run by local foodies dedicated to finding good food on a budget.
Start planning your trip to London
With free admission museums, outdoor markets filled with cheap eats, and countless ways to explore this incredible city, it's easier than ever to visit London on a budget.
BY: ZACH ANDERSON, CONTENT MARKETING & FLIGHT EXPERT
Zach is a digital marketer, copywriter, and flight deal expert at Dollar Flight Club where he helps 1 million people travel more. As a digital nomad, he is deeply passionate about location independence, Thai food, and helping others see the world affordably.