Spend two nights and three days at Central London on a cozy bed waking up to sumptuous English breakfasts, awe at the Buckingham Palace, British Museum, Westminster Abbey & more, Take a boat ride on river Thames under the London Bridge itself, Indulge in world exhibits at British Museum, Learn to decode the London Underground map, Marvel at a Westend show, Party hard meeting wonderful people on a pub crawl and dine in some peppy restaurants. All this & more for less than £75 or $120 or €90! Trippin’ On Life will tell you how! Don’t forget to send me a souvenir with the money you save! 😉
London, the quintessential city that charms and fascinates everyone alike! The magical world city where the global communities converge, the clash-point of all races & ethnicities & cultures! The very city that played part as the powerhouse of burgeoning British empire! The city that so perfectly links the past & future. There have been a lot written, said and published about this wonderful city of London and its sights. The must see views, must do activities etc. etc. I do not want to write anything more about all those because, it can literally take pages & pages if one writes about what to do & what not in London. Yes, it is true to every word when they say that when you are tired of London, then you are tired of everything for this city has everything life can afford! Of course, London has everything your money can buy from Michigan-star restaurants to splurge-it-all hotels, from pricey river cruises to wallet-firing experiences. But what if you are a backpacker or on that wonderful break year and travelling on a budget? Here’s what I did! The budget-packer’s guide to the world city.
Let us start with the basic necessities of humanity 😉 Food, Clothing & Shelter, or may be shuffle it a bit and also, I am sure all of us go clothed to London, so let us keep clothing while we talk shopping later in this post!
On a budget trip, Youth Hostel or Couchsurfing have always been my saviors. For most of that one year of travel in United Kingdom, youth hostels have given me some amazing memories and kept my wallet from getting thinner. London has some big youth hostels bang in the middle of the city which means you don’t have to worry about early starts. YHA UK offers some wonderful places like London Central, St. Paul’s, St. Pancras in the heart of the city and few more hostels not very far. I was so much in love with the hostels here that I stayed at the YHA St. Paul’s on every visit of mine (approx.. 15 nights in total). YHA provides you clean, comfortable, cozy dorms starting from £15 and a typical English, all-you-can-eat* breakfast for £4.99. At least for me, this is the perfect start for the day. Have a wonderful hot shower and gorge on an even more wonderful breakfast and all this for just £19.99. The saving tip here is to get any youth hostel membership. Members get £3 discount on the total which means Bed & Breakfast sorted out for £16.99/day. (One year membership costs you not more than £8 and is valid worldwide.) I highly recommend anybody planning a trip to London (or anywhere) to get a Youth Hostel membership. I am sure there is a subsidiary or associate of International Youth Hostels Association in your country and any youth hostel membership is accepted at YHA affiliated hostels.
The other possible cheaper option is Couchsurfing which I am sure everyone is aware of. Just in case you aren’t , it is a friendly gesture of offering your wonderful couch (or even spare bedroom) to a wonderful person for couple of days (or as you decide). I have had so many wonderful couchsurfing experiences and this is definetly the best way to meet new, like-minded people. (If you are around Stuttgart then drop me a word, I can be your host 😉 )
Total expense as of now: £16.99/day with breakfast
When planning to go around the city, I would straight away head to the nearest Barclays bicycle point to fetch that pretty blue bicycle. The process is simple, go to the machine at the bike point, insert your bank card, pay £2 and you get a 3 digit code printed on a receipt. Go the bike, look for the small key pad near the front wheel, type in the 3 digit code that is printed on your receipt, pull the bike out of its locks and think of the song that you would want to sing cycling the streets of good old London! Yes, it is that simple. London travel for 24hrs for just £2 and the added advantage, get in a better shape cycling out those extra calories and hey, it’s like having a personal vehicle, is it not?. Of course, there is a small clause, you cannot use the same cycle for more than 30 minutes, come on, you aren’t on Tour de France, its London, mate! But yes, this should be part of your planning. I suggest you take a look at the Barclays Cycle Point Map and make life easy. There are cycle points near every major attraction and a lot more than you can imagine around the city. So, the simple rule is every 25th minute of continuous riding, find the nearest parking point on your map, lock back the cycle into the available slots, wait for five minutes and repeat the process of inserting the card and 3-digit code to take out another bicycle and this time without any money being deducted. A bicycle almost for yourself for one full day at just £2. I should really take this space to appreciate Barclays and London city authorities for this wonderful initiative. If only everyone followed this, then how beautiful a place world would have been. Imagine a city full of people on peppy blue bikes! Green hugs!
Total exp: £2/day
Alternative option to cycling is the amazing London Underground. I can probably go on days together praising this wonderful rail network, what a foresight! The London Underground is arguably world’s best city commuting system. Whizzing past one after another, connecting every corners of London. A day pass for zone1+2 costs £7.30 and as far as I have known this would be the right ticket for a day travel around London. Travel from one point to another in minutes and at any time upto midnight! Marvellous! Find out the tube station nearest to the place that you would want to visit , open the London Tube Map and figure out the maze (oh, I so loved doing this! Like solving a puzzle) to connect from your point, hop on the tube, change as required and you are there even before you know it. For me London Tube is definetly one of the must do experience in itself. On a busy Monday morning just stand at one of the tube stations and people watch, trust me its so much fun! Of course, how can I miss the melodious (?) voice on the train that says ‘mind the gap’ at every station!
Tip: combine with bus pass or London Pass and buy the day pass on weekends as they are cheaper. Make sure you are within the zones.
Total exp: £7.30/day
Oh its lunch time and we are back to food again! If you started your morning from the YHA, they give an amazing box of packed lunch with a water bottle, crisps and fruit for £5.99! Find a nice park near you, sit around, open your boxes, much! Munch! Crack few jokes about that foreigner you saw on the tube, munch! Munch! Drink some water! Munch! Munch! Plan where to go next! Life’s good! But, if you want to choose your own food or just in case if you don’t want to lug around the lunch box (come on, it’s your fuel!) then look for the nearest Tesco or Asda or Sainsburys. A filling lunch of some sandwich that you like, drink, crisps, fruit bowl should not cost you more than £7! You can even get some points on your nectar card or club card, lol! Now, find another park and do the same as we just discussed above! and now you can even discuss about that pretty lady at the supermarket counter 😉
Total exp: £5.99/day
Sightseeing in London could get a little trickier if you don’t plan well. Trust me, entry tickets could easily be the biggest portion of expenditure when you later make your trip balance sheet. The way out is to plan and plan well. The advantage of being in London is you have free entry into some of the finest places and others can be managed with a little planning & smart-assness!
London is never short of must see-must do items. Open any website, travel page they all tell you what to visit and when but the price? The hassle free way that everyone prefers is the London Pass. It is great deal for people who are on a relaxed trip and have some extra quids to spare. It allows you to visit almost all places in London, skip the queues and gets you a great discount when its price is compared with total individual tickets of those places. Whats more interesting is you can even combine this ticket with one day pass on the tube or bus or both and get a discount! But we are on a budget and cant spend £50 but how to still make the most of it? Here it is!
Of course, London Pass lets you see almost all of London. But on a small budget trip you can definetly not see all of those. Not even run through them! So, the best way is to choose what you want to see. London’s museums are probably one of the finest and the best in the world. The British Museum probably has exhibits that are probably nowhere else in the world. They have the mummies, Assyrian lions, Indian temple architecture, Native American history and everything. They even have free shows and exhibitions from time to time. If you are a keen observer then British Museum alone could 3/4th or even a full day (I looked around for half a day once and still had not covered the complete museum) , it is huge! The next one would be the thought-provoking Natural History Museum, with its dinosaurs eggs and skeleton. Something that can bring back your school science books into life. Another place that I suggest is the British Library, the world’s largest library is where the world’s knowledge has been kept locked in books. Of course, where else can you see the second-oldest manuscript of Bible, the Magna Carta, Leonardo Da Vince’s notebook, manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland etc! So, we have gone through time & text and all this is without spending a pence! They are all free. Well done, London!
There are couple of ceremonies that are London’s own! The shift change display of guards, though it is more touristy these days, Changing the Guard ceremony is something that you wouldn’t want to miss while you are in London. The ceremony is the replication of procedure that is followed when the night guards change their shifts with morning guards or next batch! This takes place every day during the summer and alternate day on other months. Make sure you are the gates of Buckingham palace early to catch a good view because it can get quite crowded (I suggest be there by 10.30AM). The guards come in parade, the new ones take the place of the old while the band plays hit-numbers like Skyfall and others! Though the changing ceremony is a must watch, spectacular event, what has always fascinated me is the parade that arrives on The Mall or the Royal Walk (remember Kate & William’s wedding) on top of those Black Stallions! Truly royal! But that’s my opinion anyways! Yet another show that London can take pride is the Ceremony of the Keys. Every night when the gates of Tower of London are closed, the guards lock the gates and exchange the keys which is a unique event. This even takes place every evening at 9,30pm and entry is as simple as sending a post, literally. All you have to do is send a self addressed envelope to the address mentioned here and they will send you an entry pass which shall let you witness Ceremony of the Keys! The bonus? Both these spectacular events are for free!
A visit to London is never complete without witnessing those magnificent cathedrals. The Westminster and St. Paul’s have been prominent sights of the London skyline for ages. Westminster Abbey has been the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later British monarchs. This Gothic masterpiece like its page says, Kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes and villains – the Abbey is a must-see living pageant of British history. But, one visit can reduce your pocket by £18! It’s almost same case with Sir Christopher Wren’s spectacular creation, St. Paul’s cathedral. The dome of this magnificent architecture has been synonymous with the name London itself. But the problem for a backpacker is again that, single entry into this lasting monument costs £16! So what’s the way out? You can have a look at this glorious architectural marvels for free. All you have to do this go to their respective websites in the above links and check the daily service timings. Join a mass, offer some prayers and soon after you finish you are allowed to walk around the cathedral and take a look!
So after visiting two magnificent museums, one all-brain-can-eat library, two royal ceremonies that are as old as the city of London and two world famous cathedrals, your pocket is still of the same size! You haven’t spent a penny!
One of my favorite things from my London visits are the free walking tours. The Free walking tour of the city are organized by few volunteers and of course, it’s kind of you to tip them as you like. One of the best walking tours is by this group called We Are Undiscovered and they start every morning at 11 and afternoon at 2 from the statue at the entrance of Green park tube station. Look for the people with an orange umbrella and they will take you on a wonderful, fun-filled walking tour of City of London. The tour lasts for 2-2,5hrs and taking in views and stories like the queen that ordered to cut down flowers of Green Park, the drunk Irish who got into the Queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace, the infamous massacres of James’ Palace, see the rich & famous shopping at Pall Mall, the strip club called Athenaeum whose members were legends from past, Trafalgar Square that reminds the story of war hero Nelson and his nose, #10 downing street, Westminster Abbey, ending on the banks of River Thames overlooking the Big Ben, Westminster Bridge and house of parliament before doing some photos with the guards on horses. With their fun filled stories and trivia on the London and its history, these guides are sure a great way to know the city. I assume the tip to be generous but of course it’s your choice. (If your guide is this guy called Mark then I am sure you will pay a more generous tip because he is that fun!)
Total exp: As you tip, be generous as they make a living out of this!
Before you move on to the next place, make sure you buy the Camden Pub Crawl tickets from the guide. These guys organize this kick-ass pub crawl in Camden which is arguably the best way to experience London night life, at least for a foreigner on budget. The tickets cost you £10 and entitles you to join the group on pub crawl later in the evening. The ticket gets you entry into 5 pubs, two of them more like a traditional pubs and others upscale dance clubs, including the kick-ass Koko! What more, you even get a welcome shot at all of the five pubs and discount on every other drink you buy! Meet wonderful people in the group and have a great night!
Total exp: £10
The next slightly not-so-pocket friendly but worthy experience is taking a cruise on the Thames and the best bet would be to board the London River bus between London Bridge and Canary Wharf. This would allow you also to make a quick visit to Greenwich to see the birthplace of time and also a visit to yet another free museum of the Royal Marines. What more, you pass under the Tower Bridge which itself is a big photo opportuinity! And the ticket costs £3,50 for single.
Total exp: £3.50
Now you need to get to the big and bad sights of London! 🙂 This part onwards it is totally a personal choice, so the costs depend on your choice! A London Pass might grant you entry into everything, but you have to decide if you really need it as you definetly wouldn’t be visiting all of those mentioned on their website or catalogue. So you have to make a decision whether you want to see those replicas in wax at Madam Tussad’s or encounter the shining jewels in the throne at Tower of London. On my five trips to London, I never took a round on the London Eye or posed with celebs at the Tussad’s! But something that I would really spend my money are the Ripley’s believe it or not and a show at the west end! But, even if waiting in a quarter day queue to take the aerial view of London or holding down Marlyn’s skirt is your taste then we still have a way out! The 2 for 1 offers of London! All you have to do is travel to London by train, pick up the 2for1 forms that are available in every information centers, fill in your details and date and you have 2 tickets for the price of one! 😉 For Westend shows, I have known that if you head to the countless counters in , you might strike an even better deal and watch a show at the Shakespearean theatre for as low as £5!
Shopping is definitely is on your list when you come to London. When I started, I did mention the quote of some great man! London has everything you can afford. You can shop at the Harrod’s if your wallet is still heavy or head straight to Camden Lock! It goes without doubt that Camden and Portobello roads had the best and prettiest things on sale of all the London that I have seen and the advantage, the price aren’t as much as in the other part of the city. The tip is to make sure you hone your bargaining skills before coming over to this place. The better you bargain, better your deal is going to be! Good luck!
Now you have saved some money, you are free to enjoy a heart filling drink and dinner at one of the nicest restaurants but again, we have some fine options that fit well into the budget! Here you go,
Total exp: £10/ person
So, a perfect itinerary for a budget traveler doing a London trip?
Arrive and check in to the wonderful youth hostels. £16.99/day including breakfast.
Catch a glimpse of vibe of London at Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square. Free.
Walk around the city of London on the banks of river Thames, it’s absolutely amazing under lights, especially the Tower Bridge, Westminster and around. Free.
Pick a Barclays cycle on ride to the top of Primrose hill to see a magnificent world city waking up to a new sunrise. £2/day.
Reach earlier than the crowd to Buckingham Palace to witness the Change of the Guard. Free.
Get to the British Museum, Natural History museum and Library. Free.
Tube ride £7.30/day/off peak ticket. (Valid throughout Zone1 & Zone2 on weekends)
River Cruise £3.50. (From London Bridge to Canary Wharf, connecting to Greenwich)
Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s free during service. Free.
Shopping in Camden Lock. As you spend.
Ceremony of the Keys. Free.
Join the wonderful walking tour at Green Park and also pick your Pub Crawl tickets. Tip based.
Paid attraction. Half price option.
West End show. From £7.
Join the pub crawl and party to glory. £10.
Dine at budget hotels. From £10.