London on a budget

By Sarah Todd, a Travel Professional

Read more on London.

Overall rating:4.6 out of 5 (based on 14 votes)
Enjoyable
4.214285
4.2
Useful
4.285715
4.3
Inspirational
4.214285
4.2
Recommended for:
Cultural, Short Break, Budget

London doesn’t have to be expensive - you just need to know where to look to find entertainment, shopping bargains and even spa treatments that are easy on your pocket

Sleeping

First up: cheap sleep. Courtesy of the YHA, it is possible to get a bed in the heart of London for under £25 a night. Near Oxford Circus, the YHA London Central on Bolsover Street opened last year following a multi-million pound upgrade. It also offers free maps and walking tours.

There’s also the Palmers Lodge Boutique Backpackers in Swiss Cottage, with adult-only beds from £22 per night, or the easyHotel chain, with prices from £30 for a basic room in central London (locations include Victoria, Paddington and South Kensington). 

Eating

Away from the more obvious tourist traps, there is a plethora of unique restaurants to try. For its famously rude waiters, the 500-seat Chinese restaurant Wong Kei’s in Chinatown is worth a trip – it even has its own Wikipedia fanpage. A regular haunt for much of east London’s nocturnal community, the Brick Lane Beigel Bakery serves the best salt beef bagels for miles – they should be eaten with lashings of mustard. Small & Beautiful on Kilburn High Road offers a wide range of Italian cuisine, while the veggie-friendly Indian Veg Bhelpoori House in Chapel Market, Islington, has all you can eat menus for under £4. South of the river, The Banana Leaf in Clapham can get very busy, but is worth persevering for some of the finest budget Thai food on offer. Finally, fish and chips are a British institution. At The Fish Club restaurant in Battersea, a beer-battered coley fillet is just over a fiver.

Entertainment

If it’s comedy you’re after, the Chuckle Club at LSE’s Student Union Bar has amazing heritage. It's more than 23 years old, and past club guests include Robin Williams and Ricky Gervais. The entry is £12, but includes a nightclub until late. It’s also worth registering with website Applause Store or the BBC, for free tickets to many TV shows and radio recordings.

Music

There is a wealth of options for free music. One of the best is the lunchtime concerts at the Trafalgar Square church, St Martin in the Fields. HMV on Oxford Street often showcases new and established bands, while Rough Trade is worth checking out for stellar undeground talent. The infamous 100 Club, just around the corner, has quality gigs at bargain prices. It’s also possible to catch some of the biggest names in music doing warm-up gigs on the QT. 
 
For cutting-edge cool, head to The Old Queen’s Head pub in Islington. Run by one of the key players behind London superclub Fabric, this pub hosts regular DJ nights at the weekend with some great turntablists.
 
For those who prefer their beats in a larger space, try Cargo. or the 333/ Mother Bar - both in east London's Old Street area. Most nights have an entry fee of around £10, with music programming spanning the best from around the world. This is clubbing in the capital at its very finest.

Cinema

For cheap cinema, there are two good options: the Roxy Bar & Screen on Borough High Street shows many films for free and recent releases for around £3; or there’s the Prince Charles Cinema, just off Leicester Square, a fab independent venue with two screens, offering films from £1.50. Cinema-lovers should also check out Film London’s website for free movie location map downloads.

Culture

Of the many free-entry attractions in the capital, four are particularly outstanding. The first, the Natural History Museum, boasts spectacular dinosaur skeletons. Weather permitting, the eight Royal Parks in London provide more than 5,000 acres of outdoor attractions. The British Museum houses the Rosetta Stone and ground-breaking contemporary art as well as a fascinating Egyptian mummies exhibition, and the Tate Modern’s collection is awesome. They are all free to enter, but a couple of pounds' donation goes a long way towards ensuring they remain free for future generations to enjoy.
 
Speaking of future generations, the Royal College of Art’s annual Secret Postcards fundraising event in November is worth catching. The concept is simple: more than 2,000 anonymous postcards are displayed, some by famous artists, others by cash-strapped students. Postcards are sold for a flat rate of £40 each in November, on a first-come, first-served basis.
 
Also worth a visit is Proud Camden, situated in Stables Market. This private photographic gallery has two huge exhibition spaces, plus a Gig Room for live music. While you're there, take a boat cruise up the Regents Canal, beginning in Camden and going to Little Venice, near Paddington, and back. Tickets cost £8.50 for the one-and-a-half-hour trip, and sights en route include London Zoo. For a free 90-minute audio tour, taking in many of the capital’s best-loved attractions around London Bridge, visit the Discover London Bridge website.

Fashion and beauty

Save hundreds of pounds on a top haircut and colour by calling Vidal Sassoon’s Advanced Academy to become a hair model for students at their central London school. Choose from either classic or creative options, and be safe in the knowledge that all students are supervised by an instructor.
 
To pick up designer labels at a snip of their original price take a trip to South Kensington and visit Sign of The Times second-hand shop, a veritable Aladdin’s cave for the label-conscious, with prices beginning at £10. Another well-kept fashionista secret is the Red Cross charity shop on Old Church Street in Chelsea – nearest tube stop would be South Kensington. Here, you'll find vintage and high-end bargains from a plethora of designers including some classic 1970s YSL. TK Maxx on High Street Kensington is best in this brand for jaw-dropping label steals. If you have the patience to rail-hang and half an hour to kill, here is a great way to spend it.
 
Elsewhere on the high street, many mainstream shops' collabs with top designers continues apace, including the capsule range for New Look by Giles Deacon under his ultra-wearable Gold label and Lanvin for H&M, which will hit stores on 23 November - just in time for a bit of pre-Christmas shopping as there will be both a womenswear and menswear collection on offer. Conveniently, there's a New Look just across the road from the next, and final, bargain shopping location: Primark Oxford Street. Many a fash pack queen has been spotted here; their turnaround from catwalk to shop rail remains unparalleled and this cavernous Mecca for the budget-conscious never disappoints.
 
Cucumba spa is a great for the budget-conscious in need of some pocket-friendly pampering. Recently celebrating its fourth birthday, it is located in Soho and open seven days a week, from 10am-8pm. Only Sunday is completely by appointment-only – the rest of the time, you can simply visit unannounced and choose your treatment and the amount of time you wish to spend. Starting at 10 minutes with the TopUp treatments, these include a mini facial or pedicure (polish only) and cost £9.50 (E10.60, US$15.70).
 
Finally, for high-end pampering without the precious price tag, visit an Elemis SpaPod, situated in many of the capital's department stores. The 30-minute Elemis Power Booster Facial is a top spa experience at a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.

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More information on London on a budget:

Author:
Sarah Todd
Traveller type:
Travel Professional
Guide rating:
4.57143
Average: 4.6 (14 votes)
Total views:
4123
First uploaded:
17 April 2009
Last updated:
3 years 40 weeks 1 day 20 hours 21 min 22 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Short Break
Budget level:
Budget
Free tags / Keywords:
walking, spa, shopping, budget, comedy, clubbing, music, cheap

Sarah recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Yha London Central
£22
3.8
2. Palmers Lodge Hostel
£14
N/A
3. Easyhotel Paddington
N/A

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Community comments (14)

Rating:
3
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

One thing which might trump your backpacker offering has to be Tune Hotels - they have an hotel in London from £45 per double room per night so essentially £22.50 each if there are two of you - en suite, and not a poky dorm in sight.

Also there's no mention of how to get around London on the cheap - pick up an A-Z and often working out your route and walking is actually quicker than going anywhere by Tube - and free, too. Alternatively if you travel by Tube consider an Oyster card as this is the cheapest way to travel on London's Underground. Another student favourite is the hop-on, hop-off bus tour - a great way to do a sightseeing trip and visit places, without having to rely on taxis or the tube - plus you get to see everything as you go along, too.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

In these times of credit crunching the more budget ideas the better to encourage people to continue to travel and explore. By focusing on London you really have created an essential short guide for budget travellers to Britain: http://www.europe-autos.com/britain-on-a-budget/

Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Thank you very much for this very useful guide Sarah. It may be worth mentioning a blog I came across while searching for tips on cheap London living - I found some interesing stuff on it, see for example how to save on train tickets, pretty amazing isnt'it?
www.inexpensivelondon.net

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I enjoyed the brief trip I made to London many years ago. The atmosphere of the city and its people gave the great capital a "cool" feel. As someone though who likes to immerse myself in a destination, to live and experience the city like a local, I found London too expensive to do so. Thanks for this great guide with tips to live like a local on a budget.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I live within commuting distance of London, and this guide has inspired me to treat myself to a few more days out.

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

A super review. It's easy to take London for granted and ignore it's more subtle (and cheap) charms. Time I got of my sofa and started making the most of one of the best cities in the world. Looking forward to more of the same from your site.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Is that all this in that Lo0ndon Vidal Sassoon. I do remember my sister going there but that was back in the 60s

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I only stumbled across this guide whilst looking for places to go in Islington. I'll be checking out the Old Queens Head.

The rest of the guide was brilliant for alternative places to go. As someone that 'doesn't get out much' - this gave me plenty of food for thought.

I do however love a comedy night, and the Chuckle Club sounds right up my street. Hopefully the bar prices remain the same for non-students.

Also, as well as the trips up the regents canal - my own little tip would be that the canal and adjoining Victoria Park and Lee Valley are a great place for a bike ride. Don't cost a penny either!

Cheers Sarah! Good Guide!

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0 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

While the guide was full of suggestions of places to go, it was a bit lacking in genuine enthusiasm and personal preferences. Being factual is great, but it started to read more like a list than actual recommendations personally selected by the writer. The most passionate section of the guide was once we were in the writer's obvious forte - fashion writing. What about writing a more fashion-related London guide?

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

What a comprehensive and credit crunch friendly review! I live just north of London and come down quite often but always play it safe and go to the same places I know. It's great to have recommendations of some new venues to try. Thank you. I'll need to get a few pairs of those Jimmy Choos as I'm planning on doing a lot of walking around London from now on!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

This is a great guide! There are some fantastic tips here for London-dwellers as well as tourists. I lived in London for four years before moving out to Hertfordshire and thought I knew it pretty well, but this has inspired me to dive back in again – I'll definitely be checking out the Chuckle Club, the Roxy Bar & Screen and the Secret Postcards sale. I really like this writer's style too – informative but with a nice, light tone.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Excellent tips and advice, especially in these times of economic doom and gloom. Thanks Sarah!

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Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

I am not a city dweller myself and commute every day. I'm often looking for extra curricular activities to do in this town other than the trudge to and from work. The picture of the giraffes attracted me to this article and made me want to find out how I get to see them! I scrolled down to the mention of the zoo and being a sucker for fashion and beauty (great tips re collabs between mainstream shops and top designers), I had to read the next section. I love the style of this writer and found myself on the 'Skip to top' link and reading the guide in its entirety. I'm really glad I did. There are some great ideas for exploring some little gems off the beaten track, particularly the trip down Regents Canal which seems like great value for money. Thank you for inspiring an otherwise unadventurous commuter!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

This is a great guide-I often go to London for the weekend and with the rising train prices its nice to know that some money can be saved yet some real hidden jewels still exist. I am as guilty as anyone of not utilising some of the excellent free facilities in London and this article has inspired me to get back out and have a look at some of the museums and parks that exist in London. Awesome guide to cheap places-I shall be bookmarking for my next trip to London.

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