When you think of travelling to the UK and visiting London the first thing that springs to mind is that it is going to cost a fortune! However, London can be pretty inexpensive and especially with the current exchange rate you will find that many things cost the same and are sometimes even cheaper than Canada. Here’s some handy tips and advice to help make your trip to London an affordable one.
Your main expense is going to be your flight and accommodation. There are a few airlines out there that have some good deals from time to time. Air Transat and Icelandair are carriers that come up with specials, plus with Icelandair you can add in a few days in Iceland which is an added bonus! Virgin Atlantic is starting a new service from London to Vancouver this summer, and sometimes you can get offers from Air Canada and British Airways.
HI (YHA) has a number of hostels in London. The prices range from about £25-35 per night in a shared room, about $40-55 CAD, so that is a bit more than you would pay for a shared room in Canada, but still probably one of your cheaper options for accommodation in London.
London is a large city, but you will find the main attractions are actually quite close to each other and within walking distance. If you don’t mind treading the pavements then I do recommend walking as much as possible because you get to see so much more of the city. If you are going to use public transport then you should get a day Travel Card or an Oyster visitor card. Both of these options allow you to travel all day on London’s buses, trains and underground system. An off-peak Travel Card costs £7 about $11, which is not too bad at all.
Okay so now we have got you there, found a place to stay and figured out how to get around, the next step is what are you going to see? In London there are actually a lot of things you can do that won’t cost too much, or are actually free, you’ll actually find most museums are free. Here are some of my favourites:
This has to be my favourite museum/art gallery in the world and I have been to a few! Firstly it is free, yes free; however, some special collections do have an admission charge. It houses a whole host of exhibitions from ceramics to jewelry, to paintings to fashion, to glass, and may I add the glass room is well worth a visit, amazing! I love the fashion section; it shows the history of fashion, along with modern collections. Also keep a look out for the locks and keys section, that’s pretty interesting too!
Two fantastic art galleries and again entry is free, except for special exhibitions. The Tate Modern features international modern and contemporary art, you’ll find the likes of Dali, Monet and Warhol here. The Tate Britain is home of British art from 1500 to the present day. It is an excellent showcase of British talent and features iconic artists like Turner and Hockney.
If you want to appreciate some fine architecture you should visit this neo-classical building. Somerset House is situated between the Strand and the River Thames. During summer months 55 fountains dance in the courtyard, and in winter you can skate on London's favourite ice rink! They also provide free guided tours. On the tour “you'll discover evidence of Tudor intrigue and Georgian Enlightenment, scientific curiosity and naval power, extravagant entertainments and 'the King's Shilling', as we lead you from the airy lightwells of graceful staircases to the atmospheric Deadhouse.”
In the summer the city parks become a haven for the city dwellers who all come and relax on the grass, read a book, have a picnic and basically just watch the world go by. If you are in London on a sunny day then I suggest this as must do, even if you only spend 30 minutes it is a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. A few of my favourites are Hyde Park, St James Park and Regent’s Park. If you want to go a bit further out of the main city then I recommend Greenwich. Greenwich has a massive park and also has many interesting sights including the Meridian Line. You can take either the light rail line or a river boat to Greenwich.
No trip to London is complete without a trip to Buckingham Palace and a walk down the Mall. If you schedule your visit right you can watch the Changing of the Guard. Follow this link for an up to date schedule >>
There is always something going on Covent Garden. There is the market to peruse and the many street performers offer fantastic entertainment. If you are missing Canada, then I can recommend the Maple Leaf Pub, here you can tuck into your poutine, have a pint and watch a game of hockey!
Take a stroll down the South Bank any day of the week and you will find plenty of street entertainers, usually situated near the London Eye. The South Bank also offers great views of the Houses of Parliament and London skyline whilst you are walking along the river side.
See a show in the West End
No trip to London is complete without catching a show at one of the many theatres in West End. These shows are often pricey, however, if you are not too concerned about where you sit then you can get a stand by theatre ticket which is usually at a much cheaper rate. You’ll find many theatre booths in Leicester Square.
What to eat?
Many Canadians are concerned that the cost of dining out and shopping is very expensive in London. Yes, it is more expensive and even for a Brit visiting London from another part of the UK they find it very expensive too. I find that the restaurants in Chinatown are always well priced. Pub grub is usually pretty reasonable too, remember in the UK tax is already included and it is not mandatory to leave a tip like it is in Canada. There is a chain of pubs called JD Wetherspoon that offer excellent value pub food, I have eaten at these pubs numerous times and found the food is fine and the beer is often the cheapest around! If you are staying a hostel then you do have the option to cook your meals and make a bag lunch. Throughout London you will find supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose, you will find that groceries are reasonably priced.
This is just a snippet of what London has on offer that does not cost a fortune. And don’t forget there is more to the UK than just London – make sure you head to out other areas of the country. I recommend the cities of the North of England such as Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, York and Chester.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to save money in London and the UK? If you do, please add a comment below.