- Plan Ahead – A few of the following tips are only possible if you plan far enough ahead. If you’re able to go off-season, you might save money, but if you can book things far enough in advance, you’ll be able to save money and have great experiences as well.
- Consider the Airport Hotel – If you are flying into or out of London, consider staying at one of the airport hotels either right when you get in or the night before you leave. Hotels out by the airport are less expensive than the city. Also, if you arrive in the late evening, you will not want to navigate all the way into town that night just to sleep in a more expensive bed (we wanted to get to a bed ASAP!).
- Travelodge – There are equivalent hotels out there, but consider the Travelodge. It feels like a really clean hostel but the bed is comfortable and it has the basic hotel amenities. We stayed one night at the Travelodge by Tower Bridge and it was inexpensive and close to the Tower of London and the tube station. There are several throughout the city, most under $100/night. Find one close to a tube station and you’re set.
- Marks & Spencer – Tesco, Sainsburys, and other stores have sandwiches, but I recommend the Marks & Spencer ones. You can also get a hot breakfast at Marks & Spencer for under five pounds. Don’t discount grocery stores in the city. Marks & Spencer actually has pretty good food!
- Eat One Big Meal – This is basic Travel 101, but if you grab breakfast and then eat out one big meal around 3 or 4 (managing to get Lunchtime pricing), you’re golden. We often snacked on HobNobs or Digestives around 8pm if we got peckish before bed.
- Cafe in the Crypt – Several churches in London have Cafes in the crypt downstairs. They offer delicious, warm food for reasonable prices and you get to eat in a real crypt! St. Martin in the Fields is the church right in Trafalgar Square, so it’s location is awesome and I can attest to its delicious food (yummy apple custard dessert!).
- Street Food – Pasties, Paninis, and Kebabs are all inexpensive, warm items that you can grab and go and a variety of places.
- Travel Back in Time – OK, this one isn’t usable advice, but after all our careful planning, our best deal on food came entirely by chance. We went to the Hard Rock Cafe because it’s a road trip tradition for Mr. T’s family, and the London location is the original. Well we just happened to be there on HRC’s 45th birthday, and in honor of the day they were serving the original 1971 menu at 1971 prices. So we got dinner and dessert for two for only £1.80!
- Museums – Most of the museums in London are free. The Tate Modern was just renovated and is huge. The best museums for kids (and my favorites!) are probably the V&A, the British Museum, and the Museum of the City of London. Though they are quite large, they have a large assortment of stuff to see and a few things for kids to do. Do some research beforehand so you know what you want to see. Otherwise, you could spend the entire trip inside museums and still miss tons!
- Gardens – Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, and Green Park are all free and wonderful. Hyde Park is large enough to explore for hours! Grab a sandwich and head to a park to enjoy the scenery and the people watching.
- Theatre – This is one instance when planning ahead may cost more than waiting until the last minute. I’m a theatre nerd and saw a show every night we were in London. I planned a year ahead and purchased all of our tickets. For shows at the Globe, tickets sell out within a few weeks of going on sale (and aren’t cheap!). Then there was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child where I had to stay up all night to get tickets which sold out within hours (go read my review!). But for all of the other shows we saw, we could have purchased tickets at the official Leicester Square half price ticket booth. Go there. At two of the shows we attended, the people sitting right next to us even mentioned they got their tickets there. My snobbish ways cost us money.
- Go to Church – Westminster Cathedral and St. Paul’s are some of the most expensive tourist attractions in London, but they are still churches. To get inside free, look up Evensong or other services and attend Church. You won’t get to climb the towers, explore the crypts, or see all the things inside the Church, but you will get to experience it for its primary purpose: worship.
- Tower of London – A Must See in London is the Tower of London, but it is pricey! Two ways to experience it without the cost:
- Go to Church – Sound familiar? Worship services are held in the royal church inside the tower each Sunday (except August and a few other weeks). You’ll miss out on the crown jewels and other exhibitions, but you’ll get inside the gate, see the chapel intimately, and get to look around the grounds. (And for what it’s worth, our Beefeater guide told us that if you’re there for church, they tend to turn a blind eye to what else you do whilst inside the Tower gates…)
- Ceremony of the Keys – This is a special ceremony that has taken place each evening at 10pm for over 700. It is free to attend, but tickets have to be reserved online and book up 9-12 months in advance because only 20 people are admitted. You enter the tower with a Yeoman Warder at 9:30pm and are escorted in to see the ceremony. No pictures are allowed and you must be silent during the ceremony. The actual ceremony is about ten minutes long, but you get a glance inside the Tower of London with no crowds, you get some time with a Yeoman Warder (who are all very entertaining), and you feel like you’re a part of the ceremony. (I highly recommend doing this if you can even if you plan to buy the expensive tickets to the Tower of London as well!) Then, when the ceremony is over, you can walk down the pier and take pictures of the Tower Bridge at night!
- Go Shopping!: But don’t buy anything! Walking through Harrods and Selfridges is quite an experience. The food halls are my favorite. But don’t enter those places if you will be tempted to pull out your wallet. Trust me. You shouldn’t buy anything there. If you need to buy souvenirs, Camden Market area has cheap, interesting stuff. But you probably won’t get a better deal on postcards than the 10-15/1 pound deals you find at the super touristy stores around Piccadilly Circus (and everywhere else!).
London is one of my all-time favorite cities. Buy yourself an Oyster Card for all transportation. Load it at the machine and you’re good to go. You just tap it and go and you’re on your way on the Tube, Buses, and some Trains. Enjoy the experience!
What are your favorite things to do in London?