Experiencing London on the cheap

Published Mar 1, 2012


London is expensive. Most of us don’t want to live off breadcrumbs but can’t stroll into the Ritz either. However, with some planning you can do London comfortably, and with a spot of luxury.

However, nothing is as certain as Britain’s uncertain weather.

Be sure to pack a warm jumper and a long-sleeve sweater (and a winter coat if visiting in autumn/winter). Don’t worry about gloves. Primark shops (all over London) sell them for £1.50 (R18) for two pairs, and they also sell cheap umbrellas or raincoats.

If you’re flying directly into one of the London airports (London City Airport, Luton, Stansted, Gatwick or Heathrow), the cheapest ways to get into town are generally the following:

London City Airport

Take the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) straight from arrivals to Bank station.


Take the tube into London directly from your terminal (1-5).

Luton or Stansted

Take the Easyjet bus into London. It’s cheaper than the train. Then switch to the tube system (avoid buying tickets for the Greenline bus as it’s the same Easyjet bus, just more expensive).


If flying into Gatwick, either get on the coach or purchase a one-day travel card for all London zones. This gets you on all buses, trains and tubes all day (£12.50 off-peak).

Once you’re in the heart of London, buy a £5 Oyster top-up card. It works wonders on buses, tubes and most trains. This is the cheapest option, and it saves you 95p a pop. London Transport charges per trip, so choose the most direct tube and/or bus connections.

You could try hop-on-hop-off tourist buses (The Big Bus Company) or get on the 52 from Victoria to see Harrods and other treasures from the top of the red double-decker like true Londoners.

Why not discover the city on foot? Many of the famous sights such as the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace patiently await you and your camera in the very centre.

Should you feel guilty for ecological or financial reasons, or because you’ve just devoured Britain’s beloved fish and chips, mount one of the blue Barclay Bikes that are scattered around the city. They are cheap (£2), fun and healthy.

Entertainment and eating out

Apart from exploring the sights and (window) shopping in Oxford Street, meander through London’s majestic parks to feel majestic (Hyde Park, Regent’s Park etc). Like most museums and art galleries (British Museum, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum), they are free.

Skint animal lovers needn’t splash out on London Zoo. Travel to Richmond and be amazed by Richmond Park’s wild deer and green parakeets.

If you want to experience London from the top, it needn’t cost you a castle. Walk through regal areas such as Primrose Hill, Holland Park, Westbourne Grove and Chelsea and mingle with businesspeople, spoilt spouses and their posh poodles. Admire their white Victorian terraced houses and attend an auction at the renowned Sotheby’s (free) and goggle at the richest spending their riches.

Have a butcher’s hook (cockney slang for look) online at kgbdeals or groupon prior to your trip. They offer high discounts (65 percent-73 percent) on hotspot restaurants, bars and other hip London events. Whether you fancy a spot of classical music, Prosecco and cheese, a luxurious manicure, an exclusive hair treatment, a royal day at a Knightsbridge Spa or a West End cinema with cocktails, it’s at your fingertips.

If you’re looking for less extravagance, check out the Odeon cinemas (don’t forget to bring your photo ID student card) or the Royal Shakespeare Company (they do £5 tickets). The half-price booth on Leicester Square also sells half-price West-End theatre tickets for performances on the day.

Another great way to see the city is by boat, which costs £11.25 (book online) and gets you into the London Eye 4D experience (exhibition) too.

Final fun tip

To compensate for walking around, hitch a ride on the Ghost Tour Bus, especially around Halloween. Inside Adams Family-style buses shaped like coffins, ghastly actors take you past the must-see historical sites where people were quartered, hanged or burnt (£15).

Food-wise you can be creative. Certain eateries offer student discounts. Chinatown serves cheap food and so do many other places (92-93 Chapel Market near Angel tube, £4.50, unlimited veggie lunch or Gaby’s, a Jewish place near Leicester Square, main courses £5-£9). Then, supermarkets offer meal deals (sandwich or salad, drink and snack) and so does Boots. Many reduce their prices at the end of the day, as do street markets. So have a (park bench) picnic or visit Pizza Hut and share a massive pizza and a (fabulously free) salad. Looking for something more upmarket? Book for restaurants on the Top Table website, which offers discounts of up to 50 percent.

Accommodation and safety

If you’re a student and/or a backpacker, a hostel might just be what you’re looking for. Most hostels in central London offer £5-£12 a night bunk beds, 24-hour security, free luggage storage and bedding, internet and safes for hire. If you’re more comfortable in a hotel, the London House Hotel in Kensington offers three-star rooms for £38 a night.

Keep backpacks padlocked and bags zipped up around your shoulder or hug them to your chest. Although opinions vary, many Londoners agree it’s best to avoid areas like Brixton, Tottenham, Peckham, Hackney and Elephant and Castle late at night. Don’t wander around alone or in dark underpasses. As in any country-sized city, a lack of common sense is your greatest nemesis.


l Places to rent/stay



www.gumtree.com (places to rent in case of gap year, £400-£500 a month)




www.piccadillyhotel.net/London (hostels)

l Transport

www.cheapflights.co.uk (flights)


www.nationalexpress.com (London airports and UK destinations)

www.tfl.co.uk (London transport information)

www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/14808.aspx (Barclay bikes)

l Discount coupons and entertainment

www.visitlondon.com (tickets and itineraries, check it out especially during 2012 Olympics)

www.timeout.com/london (see all the events the city has to offer)

www.groupon.co.uk/www.kgbdeals.co.uk (discount vouchers)

www.tkts.co.uk/(Leicester Square half-price West End tickets)

www.londoneye.com (Thames river cruise)

www.rsc.org.uk/buy-tickets/16-25-five-pound-tickets.aspx (Royal Shakespeare Company)


www.toptable.com (discounts at restaurants)

l Safety and travel advice

http://maps.met/police.uk (check out Metropolitan police crime rates)

www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Tourism-g186338-London_England-Vacations.html (travel advice)

Alarm number: 999 or 112 (state whether you need fire brigade, police or ambulance)

NHS Direct (medical help):0842 4647 - Saturday Star

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