No visit to Europe is complete without a trip to London — one of the most exciting and diverse cities on the continent. From world-class museums and musicals, to nightlife and awesome food, there is so much to experience.
Unfortunately, a trip to London can also get pretty expensive. If you’re not careful, you may end up emptying your wallet! However, with proper planning and insider tips, it’s possible to keep to a sensible budget.
For my entire 5 day solo trip to London, I spent a total of only £296 (~SGD540) including accommodation! While it can probably be cheaper, it was also important to ensure none of the quintessential London experiences were sacrificed. After all, you’re here to experience the city.
From watching a musical, visiting the Harry Potter Studio, to indulging in steak and lobster, here’s a 5 day itinerary on how to travel London on a budget.
A visit to London will not be complete without catching at least one Broadway musical at West End. Start the day preparing for the evening by queuing for a discounted ticket to a musical of your choice. Most productions offer heavily discounted tickets daily for those willing to queue at the theatre in the morning.
*Pro-tip: You can also buy tickets off LastMinute.com or at ticket booths along Leicester Square if you can’t make it in the morning. It’s more expensive, but still much cheaper than the original tickets.
Spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon exploring the British Museum (entrance free), marvelling at artifacts chronicling art and culture around the world from the ancient Egyptians to Mayans. There’s so much to see that you can probably spend the entire day here.
In the afternoon, take a walk around the royal Hyde Park. It’s a nice place to chill for a picnic and people watch. Before catching your musical at West End, head down to a pub for some happy hour drinks. There is a local watering hole called Cittie of Yorke that serves up £3 pints.
Food in London isn’t the cheapest, but there are still many affordable and decent options. Chain stores like Leon offer healthy set meals for £5. There are also many small restaurants like Meltroom that get you a meal for the same price. For those craving Asian food, Chinese takeaway at Chinatown is cheap and the portions are huge.
- British Museum, free
- Hyde Park, free
- Kinky Boots Musical, £20
- Burger at Leons, £5
- Chinese takeaway at Chinatown, £4.50
- Mac & Cheese at Meltroom, £5
- 2 Beers at Cittie of Yorke, £6 (£3 a pint)
Go on a free walking tour around some of Central London’s most iconic sites. It’s a quick way to orientate yourself and learn the history of the city without spending a bomb. Not to mention that it’s also a great way to make friends while travelling alone.
There are many companies running free 3 hour London walking tours, typically covering the areas around Westminster and Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square. The tours are free, although the guides work on a tipping system and you can tip as you please.
Head to Borough Markets in the afternoon for some street food - London’s oldest market is where you can find all sorts of fresh produce and specialty dishes. From £8 for half a dozen oysters, to £3.50 for some delicious fudge, you’ll be spoilt for choice on what to munch on.
Afterwards, head down to the hipster neighbourhoods around Shoreditch and Spitalfields for the rest of the day. It’s a nice place to walk around, and you can find old industrial warehouses converted to creative spaces. Think lots of edgy art galleries, cafes, as well as craft and artisan shops.
Have dinner at Poppies, a popular and affordable Fish & Chips restaurant decorated with 1950s memorabilia.
*Pro-tip: If you want to save even more, a takeaway at Poppies is cheaper than dining in!
- Free walking tour, £10 tip
- Walking around Shoreditch and Spitalfields, free
- 6 Oysters at Borough Markets, £8
- Fudge at Borough Markets, £3.50
- Salted Beef Beigel at Beigel Bake, £4.10
- Fish & Chips at Poppies, £7.45 (dine in)
Regardless of whether you’re a Harry Potter fan, a visit to the Warner Bros Studio is a must. Harry Potter Studio is a quintessential London experience. After all, it’s home to one of the most popular movies of our time.
Delve deep into the magical world, exploring sets from the movies, and appreciating the work that goes behind the scenes of such an epic production. Be sure to try the Butterbeer too!
Just make sure you book your tickets at least a month in advance on the official website as it is very popular.
*Pro-tip: Be curious and talk to the staff. You’d be surprised at the level of ingenuity and storytelling behind every detail.
After a long day at the studio, treat yourself to the most value for money steak restaurant in London. Flat Iron along Beak Street has pretty decent steak sets for just £10.
- Harry Potter Studio Adult Ticket, £35
- Sandwich at Watford Station, £4
- Butter Beer, £6.95
- Flat Iron Steak, £10
- Harry Potter Studio shuttle bus (2way), £2.50
While the free walking tour is perfect for getting a glimpse of the city, there often isn’t enough time at each location to properly appreciate it. Spend the day revisiting some of these places while checking out new ones along the way.
A great way to cover them is on a bicycle. The self-service Santander Cycles allows you to hire bicycles from numerous docking stations throughout the city. £2 will grant you 24-hour access, with the first 30 minutes of every new ride free. Use the Santander Cycles mobile application to find docking stations and check on the availability of bicycles.
*Pro-tip: Plan your route in a way where you can return the bicycle within 30 minutes. To avoid a surcharge, you need to wait 10 minutes between each new rental. Not a problem if you are also exploring an attraction!
End the day with a well-deserved lobster set meal at Big Easy. For £20, you get a humongous lobster with chips, salad, and an alcoholic drink!
- Visiting landmarks around London,
- Chinese takeaway at Chinatown, £4.50
- Lobster at Big Easy, £20
- Santander Bike Rental 24hrs, £2
Explore the arts and culture on the last day, before heading to the airport.
Check out Tate Modern, which has one of the most extensive modern art collections in the world. The entrance is free, though there are always special paid exhibitions going on.
*Pro-tip: Head to the cafe on the top floor for an amazing view of London
Fans of Shakespeare and literature should also visit Shakespeare’s Globe — the iconic theatre of Shakespeare. Take a step back in time and go on the Exhibition and Globe theatre for an appreciation of the writer who gave us Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.
- Tate Modern, free
- Shakespeare's Globe, £16
- Sandwich from Tesco, £3
- Random Thai food pop-up booth, £5.50
Get 3G/4G data connection with giffgaff at only £10 for 2GB. Highly recommend this as it’s the cheapest and you can get it delivered to your accommodation if you pre-order your free SIM card online. The ones in the airport are more expensive.
The cheapest way is to take the London Underground train via the Piccadilly Line for £3.10. The express trains are about 15 minutes faster, but isn’t worth it at £22 per trip.
Cabs in London are notoriously expensive. The easiest and cheapest way to move around is via the London Underground (Tube) or London Busses.
Prices on the more efficient London Tube vary depending on the location zone and time of day, but it’s generally reasonable. London Busses cost £1.50 per single trip, with a cap of £4.50 a day if you only use busses and trams.
*Pro-tip: Get an Oyster Card for use on public transport. It’s more convenient and significantly cheaper than single trip tickets.
Total Oyster Card Top-up Cost: £35
As a solo budget traveller, hostels are your best bet as they are cheap and you get to meet people. While some hostels don’t have a good reputation, find a well-reviewed one to be assured of a clean and comfortable bed.
In an exciting city like London, you’d be out exploring the entire day, which makes an expensive hotel room a bit of a waste.
Astor Hyde Park Hostel
Conveniently located beside Hyde Park in a charming and upscale neighbourhood, Aster Hyde Park Hostel is a safe spot close to many world-class museums.
Cost: £17 x 4 nights (12 Bed Dorm)
Address: 191 Queen's Gate, South Kensington, London SW7 5EU, UK
Grand Total: £296 (~SGD540)
By making smart travel choices, travelling doesn’t have to be too expensive even for a notoriously costly vacation spot like London!!