The best things to do in London while traveling on a budget.
London is a world-famous, multicultural, fast-paced city that many travelers venture to at some point in their lives. Some people stay for a week, some people simply stop-over. There is so much to do in London it’s insane, but the city is still enjoyable if only staying for a day.
I lived in London for 10 months and have been back many times to visit. From my own personal experience, here are the best things to do, places to see, and things to eat in London. Do them all if you have lots of time, or just pick a few if you only have a day.
Keep in mind, this is a BUDGET TRAVEL BLOG, so everything I list is catered towards the budget traveler. London is expensive and very fancy in some areas so there are endless options for those travelers who love to treat themselves.
This London travel guide will not include accommodation. I always stay with friends or family in London so I don’t have much experience with hostels there.
Before traveling to the UK, visit iVisa.com to find out if you need a visa.
Transport in London
When in London, WALK EVERYWHERE IF YOU CAN! The city is massive, but walking helps you catch all of London’s little expressions of beauty, such as street art, historical buildings, and other cultural insights.
If you hope to see different parts of the city in a short time frame, public transport will be necessary. Just make sure to follow these tips for traveling around London so you don’t spend a fortune on the somewhat expensive transport.
Transport To and From London Airports:
Heathrow Airport: A tube journey on the Piccadilly Tube Line takes about 50 minutes from Heathrow Airport right into Central London, and this only costs around six pounds. While the train is a little quicker for reaching Central London, it is so much more expensive than the easy tube ride.
Gatwick Airport: Southern Train Lines head from Gatwick Airport to London Bridge Station in Central London frequently, and the journey takes around an hour and costs around 12 pounds. This is easily the most straightforward and affordable method of transport into the city.
Stansted Airport: Take the National Express Coach Bus from the airport to either Liverpool Street Station (East/Central London) or Victoria Coach Station (West/Central London). This journey costs around 12 pounds, depending on the time of day, and takes between 1 and 1.5 hours depending on traffic.
Luton Airport: National Express Coach Buses are also cheap and easy ways to travel between Luton Airport and city, but there are many other coach bus companies that work here as well. EasyBus, owned by EasyJet Airlines which often flies out of Luton, can be another cheap option.
When traveling from all the airports into London, all bus and train tickets can be bought on the day of travel. If you prefer to book tickets in advance, this can be done on the transport company’s website, but it isn’t necessary to book in advance as the airports make buying public transport tickets very accessible and easy.
When traveling from London to Stansted or Luton Airport for a departing flight, I recommend buying your ticket at least one day in advance. Coach buses can sometimes fill up and you don’t want to risk missing the bus you need and waiting for the next one.
As for train and tube transport, you can buy your ticket on the spot easily.
Transport Within London:
The most important step to traveling in London is buying an Oyster Card. You can buy one in almost any convenience store and they cost only five pounds. Then you can add money to your card at tube stations or in convenience stores so you can use the public buses and the underground.
When leaving London, you can return your oyster card at the airport and get any leftover money back in cash.
London Bus Travel: Any bus journey costs 1.50 pounds, which is significantly cheaper than the tube. Every bus stop has a small map that outlines various bus routes around London, and every stop is announced inside the bus so you always know where you are.
Tip: After using your Oyster Card for a bus journey, any other bus journeys you take within 1 hour of touching your card the first time will be free.
London Tube Travel: In comparison to the bus, the tube is faster and easier for traveling longer distances in the city, so always check your journey on tfl.com to compare prices and travel times. Every tube station has a London city tube map, so you can easily plan your route.
Tip: The price of a tube journey increases as you leave Zone 1 (here a tube journey costs 2.50 pounds), so try to stay within this area when traveling and then walk to your destination if it lies in Zone 2.
Best Activities in London
With endless things to do in London, here are some of my favorite attractions that cost little to no money.
Regent’s Park: Walking, napping, or having a picnic in a park is a necessity during nice weather in London. All parks are free to enter, and though Hyde Park gets all the attention, Regent’s Park is just as beautiful and easier to navigate. In spring and summer there is a stunning rose garden in Regent’s park.
Location: Northwest of Central London, has its own tube station.
Tip: At the very north end of the park, walk across the road and you’ll find Primrose Hill, a wide grassy area with a nice view of London.
For a more in-depth article dedicated to parks in London, check out this article.
Victoria and Albert Museum: All of London’s museums are free, and all are definitely worth visiting. But the Victoria and Albert is my favorite museum, with its gorgeous architecture and design, and wide variety of art and history displays from other cultures.
Location: Short walk from Kensington Tube Station.
Tip: Visit the cafe just to admire the beautifully decorated room.
Covent Garden: This little area of narrow streets, unique shops and wonderful restaurants is the perfect place to spend an afternoon walking around, people-watching, and browsing through cool shops. The Covent Garden Piazza is an indoor market hall that usually has music performers and is full of quirky stores. Visit both Twinings and East India Tea Company shops for free tea samples.
Location: Central London, has its own tube station.
Tip: Just off of the street called Shorts Gardens is Neal’s Yard, a tiny square where the brightly colored buildings and flowers rival something out of a Dr. Seuss book. You can also find amazing healthy food places here, like 26 Grains and Wild Food Cafe.
Theater: The variety, availability, and quality of shows in London is unbelievable. Whether it be a huge professional theater in the West End, or a small local comedy show, never turn down an opportunity to dive into London’s entertainment scene.
Location: Theaters are all over London, but most of the best ones are concentrated in the West End. Crowded areas like Leicester Square and its surrounding streets are full of box offices where you can purchase cheap tickets in the morning for a show that same night.
Tip: If you are in the area for a longer period of time, it’s worth signing up for the National Theater email list. On this website you can find cheap discounted tickets for some of London’s most popular shows.
Brick Lane: Full of street art, vintage shops and curry houses, this street vibrantly showcases London’s artistic side and its thriving immigrant culture. A whole afternoon can be spent browsing through bookstores, record stores, art stores, or whatever your heart desires.
Location: East London
Tip: On Sundays, Brick Lane fills with outdoor food vendors and carts selling antiques and vintage apparel. Also on Sunday mornings, take a short walk northeast from Brick Lane to visit the beautiful Columbia Lane Flower Market.
Famous London Tourist Attractions: Of course, a visit to London doesn’t feel complete without seeing all the famous stuff. Definitely try to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, and all the other touristy spots.
All of these places are cool to check out, even if you’re on a budget and don’t want to pay for the guided tour or steep entry fee. Just admiring from the outside is usually satisfying enough.
Viewpoints in London
Rather than pay for the overpriced and touristy London Eye, visit one of these unique spots for a great panoramic view of the city.
Top Floor of Tate Modern Art Museum
Location: On the South Bank right in front of the river (its the massive brown square building with a tower in the middle)
Cost: The entire museum and the the top floor cafe/lookout point is free, so you might as well check out some of the art in addition to enjoying the view.
Location: Top Floor of the Walkie Talkie Skyscraper (Also known as 20 Fenchurch Street)
Cost: Free to enter, though it is recommended you buy at least one drink at the bar. The drinks are delicious but pricey, around 10 pounds, but worth it for the experience.
Climb The Monument
Location: Short walk from Monument Tube Station
Cost: 4.50 pounds, or 3 pounds with a student card
Tip: My favorite view in all of London is crossing the Waterloo Bridge at night. One one side you can see Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, The London Eye, and the Jubilee Bridge, whereas the other side shows St. Paul’s, The South Bank, Blackfriars Bridge, and the distant skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. Everything in sight is lit up different colors and it is absolutely magical.
Best Cheap Food and Drinks in London
My favorite places to eat in London are hands down, the street markets. I’ve written a few articles solely about London’s masses of markets already, so here are a few of my other favorite places to eat in London.
Chez ZouZou Moroccan Cafe
Location: Hoxton Street in East London
Cost: Super cheap for amazing quality food. A huge vegetarian mezze platter including falafel, hummus, pita bread, salad, and couscous is only 6.50 pounds.
Tip: The pizzas here are also amazing. I’ve still never found a cheaper margarita pizza anywhere in London (it’s only 2.99 pounds at Chez ZouZou).
Gordon’s Wine and Cheese Bar
Location: Short walk from Embankment Tube Station
Cost: For 6.50 pounds, you can choose one decent sized block of cheese with bread and various jams and chutneys. Wine costs vary, but most are decently cheap for central London.
Tip: Try to visit on a weekday afternoon, as the building is tiny and fills up quickly. You most likely won’t find anywhere to sit at all on a weekend or in the evening.
Sourdough Pizza from Franco Manca
Location: various locations throughout London
Cost: A basic sourdough pizza with tomato, garlic, and oregano is about five pounds, adding any toppings are worth the extra cost (wild mushrooms are the best).
Location: Various locations in central London
Cost: Some items in the grocery section are expensive, but the hot food counter offers decent sized salad bowls for five pounds.
Tip: If you take the time to really browse through the grocery section, you can find some amazing health foods for cheap prices. You can find everything from vegan desserts, to green juices, to sprouted breads, to interesting cereals.
Pret A Manger
Location: ALL OVER THE PLACE
Cost: Very affordable and convenient food for eat out or take away. A good sized salad bowl costs between four and five pounds, whereas healthy sandwiches cost between two and four pounds. Cheap fruit bowls, protein pots, soups, and oatmeal bowls are also perfect for a quick meal.
Tip: There is a Pret A Manger in most London airports, so buy your travel meals here for something cheap, healthy, and delicious. Also, sometimes the eat-in prices are more expensive than take-away prices, so keep that in mind.
Afternoon Tea: As an important aspect of English culture, many travelers like to experience a traditional teatime. London is full of places to indulge in this mid-afternoon treat, and every place offers basically the same supply of tea, finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and desserts.
I have also written a more in-depth article about tea in England if you want to read more about that.
Visit A Classic London Pub: The pub culture in London, and all of the UK is very important to the daily lives of locals. It’s where people come to eat, drink, watch football, catch up with mates, and relax. To eat a traditional English meal, sip on a pint of local beer, and soak in the English atmosphere, you have to visit a pub.
I won’t recommend any specific ones because there are great pubs on almost every single street in London. Wander into any one of them and you’ll have a great time.
To read about more personal experiences in London, check out my article, Tribute To London. I really love London, if you haven’t already realized that.
If London is wedged into your grand European travel adventure, check out Travel Hacks For Europe to help you plan and budget the rest of your trip.
This article has been republished on Huffington Post.