As I stumbled off the plane at the ungodly hour of 5am at London Heathrow, I saw the cure for all my troubles: a Starbucks coffee kiosk. Wow, I thought, and the prices aren’t all that bad. It’s the same as the US, one cup of coffee costs four dollars…. then, through the murky effects of jet lag, I remembered that the prices weren’t in dollars anymore. They were in British pounds. And, at the time I visited, the exchange rate was almost 2 to 1. Even with my extreme lack of sleep and jet lag, I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $8 for a cup of coffee. This was going to be a long and expensive week in London.
How can you cope if you’re broke like I was? Check out my list of 6 ways to avoid bleeding money in London.
1. Book a hotel with free breakfast
Even though this has backfired on me from time to time (see food poisoning in Prague, Morocco, Turkey, etc.), I will always choose a hotel with free breakfast over one without. Apart satiating from my coffee addiction, it also allows you to “stock up” for the day, especially if money is really tight. My first time in London, we ate all the cereal and toast that our tightwad hotel would provide us with. Then we had just a snack of fruit or a granola bar for lunch, and saved the little of our money that was left for dinner.
2. Eat at ethnic restaurants
If it’s your first time in London, then by all means, have your fish and chips and steak and kidney pudding. Personally, I am not a fan of the English cuisine, so on my second time around in London, I decided to eat only at ethnic restaurants. I was lucky to be in the Kensington area where there were plenty of kebaberies and curry restaurants to keep me going. While kebabs have always been this poor traveler’s meal of choice, for both their deliciousness and cheap cost, British kebabs still cost about twice as much as they did anywhere else in the world. But that was still cheaper than any of the pubs or sit-down restaurants. The Indian restaurants were also reasonably priced and offered some of the best curries I’d ever had.
3. Be on the lookout for restaurant deals
On my first trip to London, we stumbled upon Earl’s Court Café, which was a short walk from our hotel. We were thrilled to discover that every night, they offered a buy-one-get-one-free deal on dinner. So, every single night that we stayed there, we loyally returned to our “place,” tried a new item off the menu and didn’t feel nauseous after getting our bill.
4. Find freebies
The British Museum, undoubtedly one of the finest in the world, is free. Make a day of it. You can easily spend hours upon hours strolling through their exhibits. I was also fortunate on my second trip to London to just happen to come to Trafalgar Square at night, and see that the National Gallery was not only open, but also had free admission that night. Many of London’s attractions, like Big Ben and the exteriors of the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, are simply outdoor sights that require no admission fees. And London is one of the greenest cities in Europe, so if you’re visiting in spring or summer, spend the day at Kensington Gardens, or Hyde Park. Go there, spend some time and save that cash for the exorbitant entry fee into the Tower of London. It hurts to pay it, but the Tower is worth every penny.
5. Research walking tours
I really wanted to do the Harry Potter tour when I was in London but it was crazy expensive! So I did some internet research, found out where they stopped on the tour and went there on my own. I don’t need to pay someone $100 to take me to King’s Cross station, and lead me to the wall between Platform 9 and 10.
6. Book an apartment instead of a hotel
This strategy has worked well for me in other cities and I think I will try it out on my next excursion to London, whenever that may be. When you rent an apartment, you often get a centrally-located spot for a fraction of the cost that a hotel in that area would cost you. And while you may miss out on the free hotel breakfast, self-catering is another great way to save some pounds.
So, if you are a budget traveler like me, don’t skip London just because of the sticker shock that will greet you almost everywhere you go. Be smart, pinch pennies where you can and enjoy the sights and experiences of one of the world’s greatest cities.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Samuel Johnson
Share your money-saving, London-insider tips below!