With the Great British pound rising dangerously close to nearly twice the United States dollar (or even worse for Australia and Canadian dollars, where its already twice as much plus some), when I think of traveling to London the first thing I think is of all the places that it would be cheaper to go, and by that I mean everywhere else in the world. But everywhere else doesn’t have Big Ben, afternoon tea, the Thames, lovely accents and gorgeous neighborhoods. Sometimes a substitute won’t do. I’m no stranger to figuring out how to have a great time without sacrificing all the comforts that make travel fun – traveling through Germany last year for the World Cup was definitely a budget challenge, but we had a great time and didn’t break the bank. What fun is a vacation if you’re worried about paying for it?
The Viator offices have been abuzz with the recent rises in the British pound, with more than one person expressing relief at having already traveled to London recently (ahem, Suzann) or those hopeful it will decline a bit before they need their next cream tea fix. For non-millionaires who aren’t waiting out the whims of the currency market, there is hope for a great trip. I undertook compiling all my travel resources and culled out the best advice I could find for saving money in London (without much sacrifice).
My general overall advice first: plan ahead. It’s sometimes fun to travel spontaneously, but not when you’re trying to save a pound or two. Planning what you need to pack, so you don’t have to buy things you forgot or suddenly need (like an umbrella) is step one. Also, really good deals, whether on hotels, tours or airfares sell out. And the British pound is, in the near term anyway, probably going get worse for visitors, so if you book and pay now, you won’t have to pay later on your trip when it’s say $2.50 to the GBP (in my college economics classes, we called this currency hedging). So plan.
Hotels: London hotels are not cheap, I recall reading an article recently touting a great deal in the $300 per night range (c’mon, are you kidding me?!). As much fun as a hostel is when you’re young, it’s less fun we’re you’re married and pushing 30 like me. I like my own shower and a comfy bed that fits my husband, me, and comes with sheets. Here’s a few lovely hotels in London I’ve run across that don’t cost a fortune:
Transport: London is very walkable, which is good for your wallet, but if you want to visit a few neighborhoods or a couple of disparate attractions in a day, it’s a good idea to opt for public transport to get around. London taxis aren’t so cheap, and the Underground is in and of itself a tourist destination you’ll want to try at least once. If you think you’ll use the tube or buses a fair bit, it’s best to get a Travelcard, which will discount all your rides, and save you the hassle of paying a fare each time. If you plan to see some attractions (like the Tower of London, Kensington Palace or the the London Zoo) you’re probably going to save a heap by investing in the London Sightseeing Pass. The pass comes with a Travelcard, admission to over 60 attractions in London, and you get to jump the queues at most of them. Another cheap transport option, that also helps orient a new visitor to the city, is to take a London hop on hop off tour, either by land in a double decker bus, or by cruising along the Thames River.
Sightseeing: Though Viator offers a low price guarantee, in a place like London that could still mean a pretty expensive tour, even just around the city for the day. We just weren’t going to settle for that (especially not Annie, who’s in charge of all things London). She’s tenaciously dug up some fantastic budget tours of London. Have all the classic London experiences, Westminster Abbey and the changing of the guard, a day visiting places like Trafalgar Square and 10 Downing Street, or even get out of town to see Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford, Stratford-Upon-Avon or the Cotswolds. The best part? All these tours are $40 to $80 (a mere 20-40 GBP).
Theater: London is famous for theater, but again, seeing a new show can be a pricey proposition. Snag a London Theater Passport and get rush tickets without all the hassle, for less than $40, to some of the hottest shows in London.
Trains: Day trips from London by train are popular, and for good reason, the trains are comfy and reliable and pretty extensive, but again, sometimes not so budget friendly. If you’re thinking about hopping over to France, you can’t beat the Eurostar trip to Paris. More rail tours from London (under $250).
Food: You can’t go wrong with classic fish and chips, Indian, or a nice kebab, all of which are going to be some tasty cheap eats in London. But obviously, you also should have afternoon tea, preferably at a posh locale. For $31, have tea at Grosvenor House, such a good deal that one traveler review noted “This was worth every penny. We were treated like royalty.”
Plan ahead, find some great deals, but more importantly, have a fabulous time in London!
Check out 130+ things to do in London in all sorts of price ranges on Viator.com. If you need a place to stay, check out London Hotels on Planetware.com.