Uncovering Europe's best budget hotels since 2001.

Home > Travel Blog > London > London Practical Info > 10 money saving tips for first-time visitors to London

10 money saving tips for first-time visitors to London

3 comments

Parliament at dusk
Walk to Parliament instead of spending for the Tube, and you might be rewarded with a view like this. Photo: Trodel.

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.

1. Walk it.

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.

Oyster card

An Oyster card is the best way to save on transport in London. Photo: Mirka23.

2. Use an Oyster card.

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.

3. Visit free sights and museums.

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.

Tower of London

A Eurostar ticket can get you into the Tower of London for cheap. Photo: Marku85.

4. Find special offers in advance.

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.

And while you’re on the National Rail website, make sure to stop off to look at their two-for-one entry deals to places like Tower of London, the Zoo and Madame Tussauds.

5. Grab a free Time Out.

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.

Pizza Express London

Pizza Express is a Cheapo standby. Photo: Kake Pugh.

6. Vouchers can make meals much cheaper.

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.

7. Join a free walking tour.

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.

London Eye at Christmas

Christmas is a beautiful—but expensive—time to visit London. Photo waldopepper.

8. Avoid peak travel times.

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.

9. Use bathrooms when they’re free.

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.

View from Alexandra Palace

The view from Alexandra Palace is stunning—and Cheapo! Photo: lo_ise.

10. Enjoy free views of the city.

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.

About the author

Frances Ambler

Frances Ambler has been doing her best to live in London on the cheap since 2003. She works as an editor in one of London’s best – and free – museums, as well as writing for various websites including domesticsluttery.com. An avid second-hand shopper, ten years of "research" culminated in her most recent project: writing for the soon-to-be-published "Rough Guide to Vintage London."

Leave a comment

3 thoughts on “10 money saving tips for first-time visitors to London”

  1. Excellent article for saving money touring an expensive city. Only comment we can add is that if you have leftover credit on your Oyster Card at the end of your stay, you can only get a refund at certain outlets so plan where you can do that ahead of time.

    Reply

Follow Us