The capital of the UK is a 21st-century megacity, where old and new meet underneath the iconic skyline. Regal palaces and Roman architecture mesh with contemporary landmarks and towering skyscrapers. But one thing London is not is cheap.
It is one of the most expensive places to live in Europe with some of the world’s most expensive properties. From accommodation to attractions, visiting the home of Big Ben and the London Eye can really add up. You’re probably wondering by now whether visiting London on a budget is even possible, but the English capital doesn’t have to break the bank.
From free attractions to travel hacks, cheap eats, and more, our guide looks at all the ways to make your pennies stretch to find out is London really that expensive after all? Whether you have your sights set on London for your next city break or you’re planning a move to the heart of the UK, we’re here to make it more affordable. Let’s get into it.
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The Average Cost of a Holiday to London
So you’ve got your eyes on the English capital for your next holiday abroad, but how much your vacation will cost depends on a few important factors. From where you’re coming from, to the size of your party and everything you plan to see, London is never going to be cheap, but your spending habits could make it twice as expensive.
London is great for families with endless attractions and exciting historical sights. But the city also has a thriving nightlife, a vibrant student community, countless romantic destinations, and no shortage of places of cultural importance. It might accommodate every traveler, but that doesn’t mean it accommodates every budget. Still, there are areas you can cut corners to save on your travels to the big city.
Looking at the average costs for a one-week trip to London, a solo traveler can expect to spend around £1,014 ($1,720) including accommodation, food, and activities. This averages at around £1,800 ($2,362) for two people and as much as £5,136 ($6,741) for a family of four. But staying in the cheapest accommodation, visiting free or minimal attractions and cooking your own meals could see these costs almost half. You could budget as little as £60 ($78.74) per day, not including your travel to the city, and still get by in London.
Of course, there’s a considerable difference between £1,000 and less than £500 for a one-week trip, and how much your trip to London costs depends on how much you plan ahead. Keep reading to see how all these costs break down and realistic travel tips to seeing London on a budget.
Cost of Travel to London
The costs of flights are always changing, no matter where you’re coming from. But the further you’re located from London, the more you need to budget for your flights – It’s not rocket science.
You’ll find some of the cheapest flights to London in the low season, this is just after December when the Christmas crowds have died down and temperatures are at their lowest in the city. But February and March start to see Spring sunshine creep in and can be the perfect months for a city break if saving money is on your agenda.
Flying from Europe will be the cheapest way to get to London, with regular deals from budget airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and WizzAir. You can find flights for as little as £25 ($31) return and £120 ($157) on average from most European destinations including Ireland, Italy, France, and Spain.
Coming from Australia, Asia, and the States will cost considerably more, with Sydney being one of the most expensive destinations from which to travel to London. Expect to spend between £324 ($450) and £1,008 ($1,400) for return flights from New York, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, and around £720 ($1,000) to £1,296 ($1,800) for flights from Down Under.
When it comes to getting around in the city, London transport is efficient. Taxi prices have skyrocketed in recent years, and even the so-called low-cost alternative to London’s iconic “Black Cabs” can be extortionate, with Uber and Bolt rides costing an average of £20 ($26) for a half an hour trip. Although public transport prices are also consistently on the rise, you can still get around the city center for less than £8 ($11) a day and £30 ($39) a week.
A daily travel card for the city of London and all six of its transport zones can cost as much as £14, but if you stick to the city center (zones one and two) and pay by contactless or Oyster Card, your travel expenses will cap at £7.70 ($10) a day and £28.80 ($37) a week. Stick to buses, and this cap is as little as £5 ($7), with Pay As You Go bus journeys costing £1.65 per ride, and two for the price of one within the same hour.
Public transport is one of the least expensive things about visiting London, that’s if you do it right and make the most of travel caps and the extensive bus routes. You might have to deal with heavy traffic and crowded carriages, but waiting times are often short and buses are a great way to see the city as you get around. Although don’t be fooled by postcards, we Londoners don’t use open-air buses for everyday travel. These tourist buses are actually guided tours and cost considerably more than average commuter buses. But they are a great way to see more of London.
Accommodation Prices in London
London accommodation is always going to be costly, but where you stay makes all the difference. Hotels in the city generally range from £58 ($77) to £267 ($351) a night, averaging at £147, and vacation rentals come in between £213 ($280) and £449 ($590) a night. Accommodation is most expensive on the weekend and during the summer months, but staying on the outskirts of the city in budget lodgings could halve your holiday expenses.
London is also an expensive place to rent if you plan to stay for the long haul. Furnished apartments in sought-after postcodes, close to central transport lines, can cost an average of £2,500 per month, and £1,200 per month in suburban neighborhoods.
London accommodation is diverse and extensive, but Airbnb systems limit entire home listings in Greater London to just 90 nights a year. So let’s look at some of the alternative accommodation options for different budgets in London:
Smart Hyde Park View ($) – This cheap hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from London’s Central Park, offering clean rooms in a laid-back London property.
Safestay Holland Park ($) – With room prices starting as low as £37 ($48) a night, Safestay is a true budget option offering hostel-style lodgings in an upmarket area on the edge of Central London.
Hub by Premier Inn London City Bank ($$) – Brought to you by the budget hotel group, Premier Inn, Hub offers efficient city center accommodation in the heart of a trendy East London neighborhood.
The Chelsea Harbour Hotel & Spa ($$$) – With stylish business suites, unmissable Chelsea Harbour views, and an indoor pool, this five-star hotel is located in one of London’s most sought-after neighborhoods, just minutes from the elegant shops and restaurants of the Fulham Road.
Marriot County Hall ($$$) – Complete with a state of the art fitness suite and spa, iconic tea rooms, and London Eye-view rooms, Marriot County Hall is the epitome of five-star London accommodation set in an iconic Waterloo building.
Cost of Food in London
Eating out is the more expensive option in most cities, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid London’s restaurants if you’re trying to keep the costs down. The foody scene encompasses Michelin-star eateries, world-class pub grub, exotic street food, and cheap East End staples – do your research and you can sample it all even on a shoestring budget.
You’ll find the ultimate comfort food in London’s pubs and you need to have at least one roast dinner if you’re visiting England. Expect to pay between £15 ($19) to £25 ($32) for a full roast at most independent taprooms in the city, and a lot less at a pub chain. Fish and chips and pie and mash are also among the quintessential London dishes that you can still find for a steal. Cod and mushy peas come in at £8 ($10) on average, and head to East London for eel pie and gravy for as little as £5 ($6).
London is also a great place for global cuisine. Borough Market, Brick Lane, Newham, and Enfield are home to a high concentration of renowned Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani restaurants. Competitive prices mean revelers can secure another London favorite, affectionately and collectively known as “a curry”, for between £10 ($17) and £20 ($34).
Kebab shops, chain pubs, and “greasy spoon” cafes or “caffs” are also great for all-day affordable food. And if you’re really looking to save, sourcing your own groceries and cooking at home is your best bet. Head to Aldi, Lidl, or Morrison’s for a huge selection of products and affordable basics.
Cost of Nightlife in London
It might have a thriving variety of bars, pubs, and clubs, but London is notoriously expensive for nightlife and it’s hard to cut corners unless you really know the city. The average price of a pint of beer in London is around £5 ($7), that’s more than 20 percent higher than the UK average. Some London pubs even charge as much as £7 ($9) for a pint, but you can still find cheap beer in pub chains like Weatherspoons or Harvester.
Some locations offer pints for less than £3 ($4) and these establishments sell all kinds of cheap alcohol from wine to cocktails. But they often get a bad rep for their outdated decor, dull atmospheres, and crowds of underage punters.
The city center is the most expensive for alcohol with some London clubs charging upwards of £10 ($13) for a bottle of beer. But head to the South East for a night out in one of London’s trendy suburbs like Peckham or Deptford, for attractive happy hour deals and cheaper pints. Cocktails might still be £9 ($11), but two-for-one deals make this easier to swallow, quite literally.
When it comes to events, you can find free music and entertainment everywhere in London. Skip the £20 ($26) ticket to Ministry of Sound, and head to Camden on a Friday for a free gig or amateur stand-up comedy show, it will be worth it.
Cost of Things to Do in London
London is great for its attractions and the city is jam-packed with iconic landmarks. Monuments like Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are best enjoyed from a stroll across Westminster Bridge and you can likewise view many of London’s sights completely free or from a distance.
We even think that you can enjoy London with a $0 budget for attractions, if necessary. But most people want to look a little beyond the skyline and into the capital’s history, for which you can expect to pay between £15 ($20) and £50 ($65) a day, depending on the experiences you choose.
A guided tour around the Tower of London will set you back £30 ($40), while a glimpse inside St. Paul’s Cathedral costs £21 ($28). And if you want to take in the best panoramic views of London from the Shard or the London Eye, expect to pay £32 ($43) and £27 ($38) respectively. Still, both iconic landmarks are equally enjoyable from the ground!
You can purchase nifty attraction passes like the London Pass for access to over 80 attractions with a hop-on hop-off bus tour included. Prices start at around £100 ($130) for 12-month validity, but if you’re into seeing the sights of the city, this is more than worth it.
We argue that taking yourself on a free walking tour is the best way to get a taste of London life. From Covent Garden and the West End to the big lights of Picadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, and the Southbank promenade, the city of London is more compact than you might think and most sights are within walking distance of each other. The Thames River Taxi is also just £15 ($20) and offers unparalleled views of the Tower of London, Westminster, and London Bridge from the water.
7 Money-Saving Tips for London
Travel by bus – London public transport is surprisingly efficient and busses are the cheapest way to get around. Priced at just £1.65 a ride and with two-for-one deals within an hour, you can see a lot of the city in the vehicles synonymous with London. Better yet, daily bus expenses are capped and you can get around for less than £5 a day.
Make the most of free attractions – So many of London’s attractions are best viewed from the ground. There’s no reason to take a look inside St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Shard when their exteriors are equally impressive. Head to rooftops bars for skyline views and save pennies on expensive attractions.
Get a London pass – If you do want to see some landmarks, get a London pass to save on entrance fares. You can save over £80 with the £100 ticket if you want to see a lot of attractions.
Book online in advance – From West End shows to the Harry Potter experience, booking ahead won’t only save cash but waiting times and disappointment. You’ll also find the best prices for popular attractions online and on price comparison sites.
Go to happy hours – Alcohol is one of the most expensive things in the city. Keep an eye out for happy hour deals and start your Friday night early with the attractive deals that crop up at bars all over the city from 5 pm to 7 pm.
Stay in a hostel – Hostels have long been a way for travelers to pinch pennies, but London’s hostels are a far cry from the grimy dorms you’ll find in Southeast Asia. There are many hostels in London and they’re the cheapest place to grab a private double room. Find one with a shared kitchen and you’ve lucked out.
Cook at home – Sampling the restaurant scene when you’re in London is essential, but eating out can be extortionate, so stock up on cheap groceries and make your own meals. The same goes for alcohol. You can find high-quality bottles of wine in supermarkets and mini-marts going for the same price as glasses in bars and restaurants.