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There’s no denying that London is an expensive city to visit. But don’t let that put you off, because it really is an amazing place that is rich in history with so much to offer in terms of things to see and do. I’ve already listed a few places you can visit in London without costing a penny. Here are a few more ways in which you can make your pound stretch that little bit further.
1. The world (well, London) is your OYSTER
If I have 1 tip for you, it’s to get yourself an Oyster card on day 1. Not only does this save you time as you can simply tap on and tap off each time you catch a bus or Tube, it also saves you money as there’s a daily price cap that actually works out cheaper than purchasing a travelcard each day. So you can take as many rail, bus and tram journeys as you want each day, feeling reassured that you’re paying the cheapest fare possible. Fuss-free travel? Great! Even better, when you leave London, you can return your Oyster card and get any unused credit AND the original £5 deposit back!
2. Location, location
While it would be nice to stay right in the heart of town, there’s really no need to. London is a big city with a pretty good (in my opinion, anyway) public transport system. This means that (1) regardless of where you stay, you will be travelling most days to get to your destinations of choice, and (2) it’s really no hassle! In fact, it’s quite nice to be able to do what the locals do, as I always think this gives a much better feel of the place. So, I suggest looking for cheaper accommodation further afield, then making use of your Oyster card to get to where you’d like to visit each day. My favourite area is Earl’s Court.
Aside from being more a more affordable part of town to stay in, this Tube stop offers disabled access facilities (also handy for travellers with big suitcases), and is conveniently situated on both the green District line as well as the navy Piccadilly line. The latter connects central London to Heathrow Airport as well as King’s Cross/St Pancras (in case you’d like to take the Eurostar over to Paris) and Paddington (for rail connections to other towns like Oxford and Cardiff), whilst also serving many of the top tourist destinations such as Harrod’s at Knightsbridge, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. The District line also gives you easy access to many tourist sights such as the Victoria and Albert Museum (South Kensington), Buckingham Palace (Victoria), Westminster Abbey (Westminster), the London Eye (Embankment) and the Tower of London (Tower Hill). The Victoria stop is also right next to the Victoria Coach Station, where you can join various day tours out of London or independently catch a bus to other towns and cities in the UK.
3. Last minute deals and advance sales
I tend to shy away from hostels, as I like having my own space and privacy. This doesn’t mean I shell out a fortune on accommodation. I like checking online for last minute deals or advance sales. My favourite websites are lastminute.com and wotif.com.
4. Do not pass on the research
I personally don’t think the London Pass is a worthwhile investment. But that’s because I’m someone who likes to take my time at each attraction. I would much rather visit fewer places but spend a good amount of time at each place, than whip through a record number of sights. That being said, you may be someone who enjoys ticking the sights off a list. Nothing wrong with that – we all have different travelling styles. It’s up to you to decide how many of the offered attractions you’d like to visit, how long you intend to spend at each place, and whether it’s cheaper for you to pay the cost of admission to each of these places separately or to pay £49, £68, £88 or £108 for a 1, 2, 3 or 6 day pass. Personally, I think it’s more worthwhile to become a Historic Royal Palaces member for just £36, giving you unlimited access for a year to the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and the Banqueting House. Just visit the first 2 (highly recommended) and you’ve got your money back!
If you’re planning to venture out of London, I do recommend looking into the English Heritage Overseas Visitors Pass. It costs just £25 for 9 days or £30 for 16 days, and gives you access to sights such as Stonehenge and the haunting ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. There are even cheaper (per person) options for 2 adults or a family travelling together!
Other options to consider include becoming a National Trust member for a year (£43.50 for an individual), which will give you entry to places like Lacock Abbey (where some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed), Stonehenge, Avebury and the Bath Assembly Rooms. Or, if you’re planning to spend a lot of time in ruggedly beautiful Wales, CADW membership is only £40 a year or £26 or £17.50 for a 7 or 3 day Explorer Pass. These will get you into all the major sights including Castell Coch, Caerphilly, Chepstow, Caernarfon, Conwy, Criccieth, Beaumaris, Harlech and Raglan Castles, Plas Mawr Elizabethan House and the mysterious Tintern Abbey.
5. Fuel up!
If breakfast is included at your accommodation, I recommend taking advantage of the full English breakfast that should be on offer at most locations. Not only is it delicious, but the combination of eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, toast, mushrooms and tomatoes will give you enough energy to last until late afternoon at least. This means you can spend a bit less money on a light lunch, and since you’ll be eating less at lunch time, you also get more sightseeing time. Bonus!
6. Lunch deals
Speaking of light lunches, I loved the Boots meal deals. Boots is a pharmacy chain found throughout the UK, and they offer this deal where you can select a main course, a snack and a drink from a wide range of options for just £3.29! Another great place to look for a cheap and quick lunch is department store Marks and Spencer.
7. “It’s showtime!”
Want to watch a show on the cheap in London? Then head straight to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, where you can get tickets for as low as £15! All the popular shows are covered, including Phantom of the Opera, Billy Elliott and Wicked. They’re open Monday-Saturday 10am-7pm and Sunday 11am-4.30pm.
8. Bus about
If you’re not in a rush, the National Express buses are a fantastic way to visit other towns from London. The prices have actually gone up from £1 fun fares when I was living in that part of the world around 8 years ago to fares now starting at £5. But that’s still rather affordable, don’t you think? The cheap fares all start or stop in London and have to be booked online. I once went from London to Edinburgh for £1!
9. Show your age
There are discounted admissions for under 17s, students and over 60s, so if you belong in one of these categories, show off your age proudly. If you’re spending a significant length of time in the UK, planning to get around by train and are under 26, invest in a 16-25 Railcard. This costs just £30 a year and gives you 1/3 off the normal price of any National Rail ticket.
10. Get Opera Mini
This is a general travel tip that will save you money not just in the UK but on your travels all over the world. Opera Mini is a web browser that you can download onto your phone. When you’re browsing with Opera Mini, your requests go through servers that compress the information. This means faster browsing speeds and, even better, reduced data usage. No more scary data roaming bills when you go home, yay! I also love how you can save webpages so you can do all your online research while you have access to free wifi at your hotel (or Starbucks or MacDonald’s), and still be able to access the saved webpages even when you’re offline. I find this especially useful for saving maps so I don’t get lost during my travels.
Do you have any other money saving tips to share, either in London or elsewhere?
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