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First time visit to London? Lucky you! There’s lots to look forward to. What’s not fun to anticipate, however, are the costs involved. Plan ahead and it’ll go a long way towards ensuring a stress-free trip.
To save a few shillings without having to scrimp on the sights, here are our EuroCheapo top tips for first time visitors to London.
The center of London is deceptively small. Rather than be the tourist who wastes £4.50 getting from Charing Cross to Embankment on the Tube (when they’re right next to each other on the street), it usually pays to use your feet. You get much better views too.
Marvel at London at its most imposing by walking from Trafalgar Square and National Gallery, down Whitehall and on to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster. Or experience the city’s fun side by exploring the streets of Theater Land around Covent Garden, before wandering over one of the Thames’s bridges to the always-bustling South Bank.
From street performers to hidden parks, there’s a lot more to happen-upon when you’re traveling above ground.
It’s an unrealistic hope to completely avoid public transport in London so make sure that when you use it, you’re using it in the smartest possible way. Get an Oyster card: it slashes your journey costs. (For example, it would reduce the cost of that unnecessary Tube trip from Charing Cross to Embankment to £2.10.)
Additionally, opt to take the most picturesque bus routes rather than paying for sightseeing tours (we recommend the RV1).
And if aquatic is your favorite style of transport, I would recommend the Thames Clipper, which goes from Waterloo to the Dome in North Greenwich, as a great cheapo alternative to a river cruise, costing only £3.90 with your Oyster.
National Museums are all free and definitely worth factoring into any itinerary. The British Museum, Tate Modern and the National Gallery are the more obvious choices for first time visitors, but it’s also worth saying hello to the dinosaur skeleton hung in the imposing Gothic building of the Natural History Museum, spending an afternoon in Greenwich – a world heritage site – at the National Maritime Museum or learning more about your host city at the Museum of London.
Cheapo tip: If you arrived by Eurostar, it’s worth keeping hold of your ticket: they allow two for one entry into many of the major temporary charging exhibitions.
While the paying attractions will undoubtedly make a dent on your wallet, it’s always worth checking out deals before you turn up. It’s cheaper to go on the London Eye if you book in advance, for example. The same applies to bus and train fares.
If the last two tips have both failed you, make sure you pick up a copy of Time Out Magazine for their money saving tips and vouchers. The city’s best listing guide is now given away each week for free. Get the new edition each Tuesday for the latest of what’s going on and their authoritative reviews, as well as cost-cutting advice.
Vouchers are your secret weapon when it comes to eating in London without breaking the bank. UK website Money Saving Expert keeps an up-to-date listing of which restaurant chains are currently running 2 for 1 or money off promotions.
We recommend Pizza Express as a safe bet: it’s got branches throughout the capital, reliable service and food and is part of London’s history: it opened its first branch in Soho’s Wardour Street in 1965. Celebrate your savings with an extra helping of their dough balls.
Take a walking tour to familiarize yourself with the city. While there’s plenty of paying options available, there are some fantastic free walks on offer too. Sandeman’s has a free Central London Royal London tour that will guide you through the city from Anglo-Saxon times.
For contrast, Alternative London runs a pay-what-you-like tour of East London, with an emphasis on its street art and creative scene. Both are great ways to get a flavor of the city and to work out what bits you’d like to spend more time exploring yourself.
If you have some flexibility with your timings, avoiding peak times for travel in the UK will help with both costs and crowds. These times are mainly Easter, Christmas and the school summer vacation, when you’ll be competing with British families to make the most of London. An enjoyable time to visit would be September and early October, once the schools have gone back and there’s usually some late summer sunshine hanging around.
Between Christmas and New Year can also be a good period for exploring the city: the streets are still looking pretty in their festive decorations but are free of stressed commuters. Just be prepared for bad weather and be willing to spend some of your day hauled up in a cozy pub.
Public conveniences in London tend to be rather inconvenient. There’s not many bathrooms left for public use and those that remain are often paying. With entrance fee of up to 50 pence per visit, you can spend a lot more than pennies during a day’s sightseeing. Instead, make the most of the bathrooms inside tourist attractions, and in restaurants, bars and pubs.
For when you’re out and about, it’s worth taking note of this excellent toilet map, a mobile-friendly guide to all of London’s public facilities. You’ll never need to be caught short – or short of cash – again.
With a trip on the London Eye costing from £17 upwards (even after your early booking discount), going up the Shard priced at £24.95, and an ascent of the London Orbit in the Olympic Park billed at £15, getting a good view of London can be a costly business. But some of the best views in London are free and a great way for a first time visitor to get their heads around the city.
Head up northwards to Alexandra Palace to see a majestic sweep across all of London, or to Parliament Hill where residents gather with picnics in the summer and celebrate each new year with sparklers. In central London, Monument – 202 feet tall and built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in the seventeenth century – costs only £3 to climb. You’ll even get a souvenir certificate thrown into the price.
Got your own Cheapo tips? Share them in the comment section below. We’re always looking for ways to save in London! And of course, if you’re looking to save on your accommodation, swing by our guide to budget hotels in London.