London is a notoriously expensive city, but with a few tips you can spend a week here on not much cash. If you follow our tips, you can get away with seeing the sights, eating the food and even enjoying a few pints for no more than £200.00.

(We’re not including the cost of getting here. That one’s up to you!)

Travel

London bus cheapest way to get around the city
Photo by iStock.com/mikeinlondon

First thing to do when you arrive is get an Oyster card and load it up with money. This is the cheapest way to get around town, touching in and out as you go. You’ll have to pay a deposit, but you can get that back — and any remaining credit — from a ticket machine at a tube station when you leave.

Alternatively, depending on where you’re traveling from, you can use a contactless payment with a bank card or mobile payment instead. London transport accepts mobile payment from Apple Pay, Google Pay, Fitbay Pay, Garmin Pay, bPay, and Samsung Pay. Although it’s worth noting that if you’re visiting from abroad you may be charged overseas transaction fees, so check that first.

You’re going to be doing a lot of walking (if you’re able to) and taking buses to keep the cost down, because the tube is pricey — buses are also more accessible for wheelchair users, and oher people with mobility issue. Although you can find info on stations with step-free access at the TFL website.

The top deck of a London bus is one of the best ways to get a feel for the city. Plus, the bus is cheap: with Oyster / contactless it’s £1.65 per trip, with a second bus free within an hour. And if you’re using Oyster / contactless you’ll never pay more than £4.95 a day total for your bus journeys.

But first you have to get into London from the airport. If you’re coming from Heathrow take the tube: £3.10 off peak. From London City Airport take the DLR: £2.80 off peak. From the other airports, easyBus is your best bet. If you book in advance it costs as little as £1.95 one way.

Accommodation

Youth hostel in London
Photo by iStock.com/Thinglass

We’re assuming you arrive on Monday morning and leave on Sunday evening. Your sleeping costs will be the biggest chunk of your budget, but there’s no need to splash out on a hotel.

If you’re happy with Airbnb, there are rooms available for under £10.00 that look reasonable, aren’t hours away from the centre and are owned by people who appear not to be psychos. Some are even doubles, which if you’re travelling in a pair will bring your costs down even further. Although focused mainly on longer term stays, also worth a quick mention here is our article on finding cheap and free accommodation in London.

However, if you can’t bag one of those bargains you can book a dorm room at Rest Up London, which is in a period building close to Elephant and Castle. Dorm beds are from £12.00 a night during the week but get more expensive on a weekend — although so does Airbnb. Cost: £81. (April 2020 Update: Rest Up is temprorariy unavailbe, in the meantime for another good value option try Easy Hotel)

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From here, it’s a half-hour walk to the South Bank or a ten-minute walk to the hive of bus activity by Elephant and Castle tube station, or 20 minutes to similar bus options at London Bridge. Check out the connections with TfL or download Citymapper to your phone (lots of places have free wifi, and keep an eye out for old phone boxes that have been turned into wifi hotspots).

If you’re struggling to find cheap rooms for your stay, there are a few free (or almost free) options. Depending on where you live/whether you’re in a house share, you might be able to join a home exchange community like Love Home Swap or be a guest with Couchsurfing.

Food

coffee stand in london
Photo by iStock.com/krblokhin

You can easily blow your whole budget on a single meal in London, but you don’t need to. For breakfast, grab a pack of pastries from one of the many mini supermarkets around town. Pick up a bottle of water here too, as supermarkets tend to be cheaper than sandwich shops or cafes. Or if you’re looking for something heartier to start your day, try one of these spots for under a fiver.

For lunch, look out for meal deals in supermarkets and other shops, which come with a sandwich, snack and drink for about £3.00. Alternatively, supermarkets will do sandwiches for as little as £1.00. Aldi, Lidl, and Morrisons are cheaper supermarkets compared to Waitrose or M&S Simply Food. Coffee for around £1.00 can be found at easyCoffee in Chelsea.

You can also save some cash and curb some waste by downloading the Too Good To Go app from Google Play or the App Store. You can grab unsold items from supermarkets, convenience stores, cafés and restaurants for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. It’s great for grabbing some pastries, sandwiches, salads or ‘grab bags’ of assorted items which could include fruit, veg, bread and cheese. Prices range from about £2.50 to £5.00.

7 days of breakfast and lunch: cost £15.00

Dinner

curry shop in london
Photo by iStock.com/VictorHuang

With a little savvy planning, you can easily get dinner for under £10.00. Our top tips include Kati Roll on Poland Street for fantastic Indian wraps and masala chai; Franco Manca has branches all over London and makes sourdough pizzas to die for. No trip to London would be complete without real British fish and chips, so call in at the Fryer’s Delight in Holborn.

Go to Dinerama in Shoreditch between 5pm–7pm Thursday-Saturday (there’s a £3.00 entry fee after 7pm) for an indoor street food market. Elsewhere in East London, we’ve got another whole article about cheap eats in that part of town, including the curry temple of Brick Lane.

If you’re staying at the hostel in Elephant and Castle, there are also some excellent cheap options close by. Polish restaurant Mamuska is legendary: have a hunter’s stew, side and homemade lemonade for £10.00. Or visit the semi-permanent Artworks development which has various eateries — pizza, Caribbean, Vietnamese, Greek — where you can have a full meal for under £10.00, then maybe hit up a bar after.

There are great cheap eats for veggies and vegans in central London, too. Govinda’s Pure Vegetarian is next to the Radha-Krishna temple and is run by Hare Krishnas, so there is no onion, garlic or mushrooms. But, there is plenty of flavoursome food, especially if you go for the thali option — small curries, rice, chapatis and side salad for between £7.00 and £10.00.

Six nights of dinner: cost £60

Further readings on cheap eats:

What to see and do

There are enough free museums and galleries in London that there’s really no excuse for ever paying entry for anything. Rather than give you a strict day-by-day itinerary, we’ve grouped attractions into areas so you can make sure you hit up everything in one place. Saves on travel. You’re welcome.

South Kensington

Here we are, museum central. Within a short walking distance there’s the Natural History Museum (dinosaurs and other animals), the Science Museum (space, cool things) and the V&A (art and design; lovely cafe). All three are free and even if you only do the highlights you’ll be there all day.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington | Photo by iStock.com/AndrewMaltzoff

Also in the area is the Royal Albert Hall and during the summer you can pick up a £6 standing ticket to the world-famous Proms. The RAH stands opposite Hyde Park, where you can relax after a day’s museum-going or check out yet another one: the Serpentine Galleries which are also free.

Bloomsbury

The main attraction here is the British Museum (free), with its vast galleries of historical treasures from around the world. See the Egyptian mummies and Roman, Greek and Persian monuments, or get away from the crowds and discover hidden gems in other rooms.

Bloomsbury Square in London
Bloomsbury Square | Photo by iStock.com/Michael Mulkens

You can easily spend a day in the BM, but you should make time to wander the leafy streets and squares of Bloomsbury. For a real oasis, head to the free (and little known) Japanese garden at SOAS (update April 2020 temporarily closed). Pop into some of the specialist free museums run by University College London, covering zoology, Egyptian archaeology and art. Heading north, you’ll also run into the Wellcome Collection, which has fascinating free permanent and temporary exhibitions, and the British Library, where you can see an original copy of the Magna Carta and handwritten Beatles lyrics.

South of Bloomsbury is the fabulous, and tiny, John Soane’s Museum, which is crammed full of artifacts and paintings collected by the man himself during his lifetime. It’s free and there’s usually a queue to get in, particularly on the extremely popular candlelight evenings.

If you’re curious about the area, there’s lots of points of historic and literary interest you can find about more in our guide to Bloomsbury. The TL;DR version is that it’s filled with small, interesting museums, city squares and blue plaques.

South Bank

South Bank didn’t really exist 50 years ago and is now one of London’s prime tourist spots. Sadly, a lot of it (the London Eye, Aquarium, etc) requires money, but it’s still a lovely spot to stroll by the river and browse the open-air book market in the shadow of the Southbank Centre. Head east and you’ll come to the Tate Modern (free), the vast modern art behemoth housed in a former power station. Even that wasn’t big enough, and an extension with free viewing gallery has been added recently.

London Eye and the Thames at sunset
London Eye and the Thames at sunset | Photo by iStock.com/Aleramo

Carry on east and you’ll pass Shakespeare’s Globe; finally, you’ll get to Borough Market, foodie mecca. It’s quite pricey these days, but wander the stalls and you’ll probably pick up a few tasters. Carry on further east and you’ll get to HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge and, over the river, the Tower of London, all of which cost nothing to admire and pose for selfies by.

City of London

There is little better than spending a day exploring the medieval alleyways of the City of London, particularly on a weekend when it’s far quieter. There are also several free museums and galleries to visit. If you like a bit of Brutalist architecture, it’s worth visiting the Barbican. It’s both a large residential housing estate and a cultural centre. The Barbican Centre is home to large concert halls, galleries, cinemas and a large lakeside terrace. It’s worth wandering around for the architecture alone, and usually has some free events including exhibitions and performances.

The Museum of London takes you on a journey through London’s past, while the Guildhall Art Gallery not only has a great collection of paintings but hides a secret: the remains of a Roman amphitheatre in its basement. All are free to visit — although the MoL is moving at the end of 2022, and will re-open in nearby Smithfield in 2026.

St Paul’s Cathedral is sadly not free, but you can get in by attending one of the services. Choral Evensong is popular, but obviously you can’t go poking about while you’re in there.

Saint Paul's Cathedral London
Saint Paul’s Cathedral | Photo by http://iStock.com/Chris Mansfield

Trafalgar Square and Westminster

Two more of London’s great free art galleries are located right on the famous square. The National Gallery is packed with old masters, while the National Portrait Gallery has paintings of famous figures from British history, from the Tudors onwards. Note that the National Portrait Gallery is currently closed through Spring 2023 for renovations.

Fountain at Trafalgar Square, London
Trafalgar Square | Photo by iStock.com/VV Shots

Visit the ICA just off The Mall if you’re craving something a bit more alternative (and less crowded than the big galleries). It promotes radical art and culture, and there are usually interesting exhibitions. Although they’re not usually free, you can nab tickets for around a fiver.

Head down Whitehall (you can see the clock tower of Big Ben from Trafalgar Square) and to the Houses of Parliament. If Parliament is in session it’s free to enter the building and watch a debate; just be aware there’s airport-style security on the way in. Medieval Westminster Abbey is, like St Paul’s, not free to enter but you can (respectfully) attend services in the same way.

Big Ben and Westminster in London
Big Ben and Westminster (home to the houses of parliament) | Photo by iStock.com/Leonid Andronov

Soho

Although it doesn’t have many specific tourist attractions, the whole area is an attraction in itself. Soho isn’t as grimy as it once was, and probably not quite as interesting, but there are still plenty of back alleys to investigate and weird things to encounter like the seven noses of Soho (read all about it in our Soho Guide), plus there’s an abundance of eateries (check out our Best Curry in Soho guide). Another place worth visiting is Cecil Court, which is believed to have been the inspiration behind Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. For more Potter stuff, you can also visit House of MinaLima on Greek Street which is run by two designers that worked on the film franchise, so you can take a look at some of the artworks and graphics for free.

Soho is bordered to the north by Oxford Street, for some window shopping, and to the west by Mayfair, to see how the other half live (especially the closer you get to Park Lane).

Shoppers in Soho, London
Shoppers in Soho | Photo by iStock.com/JasonBatterham

Buckingham Palace and the Royal Parks

Changing of the Guard is one of the most popular tourist events in London. We don’t understand why; it’s quite dull. Still, if you’re in the area you might as well join the crowds. Otherwise, spend time wandering the beautiful paths of the nearby Royal Parks. Don’t forget to look out for the pelicans in St James’s Park — they get fed every day at 2.30pm. Green Park and Hyde Park are also nearby.

Notting Hill

Follow in the footsteps of Hugh Grant and co. and wander round the chichi streets of Notting Hill, admiring the colourful painted houses. Go on Fridays and Saturdays for the full flavour of Portobello Road market, when stalls selling antiques, vintage clothing and collectibles spill onto the streets. Head south to Holland Park for its peacocks and peaceful Kyoto garden, and pay a visit to the Design Museum (free). The area is also filled with some pretty, instagrammable streets and buildings, like the bougie, colourful homes on St Luke’s Mews.

The area is also home to the small Graffik Gallery, which is free to visit and specialises in urban street art by the likes of Banksy and Katherine Rupit.

Portobello Road in Notting Hill, London
Portobello Road in Notting Hill | Photo by iStock.com/ablokhin

East London

Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Dalston don’t quite have the underground hipster vibe of a few years ago, but it’s still fun to spot the street art, peruse flea markets and scoff some cheap eats — like bagels along Brick Lane. Bethnal Green has some cool craft beer pubs if you want to splash some cash (try Mother Kelly’s or The King’s Arms).

The V&A’s Museum of Childhood (closed until 2023 for renovations) is free to enter and on Sundays, Columbia Road Flower Market is a joy to behold (and Instagram). If you want to venture further out, catch a 388 bus to Stratford to visit the former Olympic Park.

Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Flower Market | Photo by iStock.com/elenachaykina

Greenwich

Since you’re venturing beyond the centre of London, the 53 bus goes from Elephant & Castle to the top of Greenwich Park. Admire the view from the top of the hill and take a selfie straddling the Meridian line, then walk into town to browse the market, visit the National Maritime Museum and Queen’s House (both free) and see the Cutty Sark clipper ship — from the outside (it costs to go in).

If you’ve got the time, take a trip on London’s only cable car for a fiver and cross the river to visit Trinity Bouy Wharf, which has the city’s only Lighthouse and less well known maritime attraction.

Greenwich London
Greenwich | Photo by iStock.com/frankix

Evening

If you stick to this budget, and only use buses on two or three days, you should have around £25 left to spend on evening entertainment.

Keep an eye on our events listings and other sites/apps like Eventbrite, Dice, Time Out and Skiddle for free gigs. Time Out also carries details of comedy gigs for free or a couple of quid. The Southbank Centre has free events every day, from talks to cabaret, poetry to music.

If you can handle standing for several hours, Shakespeare’s Globe has hundreds of £5.00 tickets for every performance. Not only do you get to see inside the recreation of the ‘wooden O’ theatre, you’ll catch a bloody good performance.

You can also try your luck at getting cheap theatre tickets either online or in person. If you’re in central London, go to the TKTS Booth in the middle of Leicester Square Monday through Saturday for discounted (20%–50%) tickets to major West End shows on the day of performance. It’s also worth scouting the Today Tix app for rush tickets (also for that day’s performance), as well as London Theatre Direct and Love Theatre.

discount theatre tickets on sale in London
Photo by iStock.com/pcruciatti

Alternatively, for a £6.00 film, head to the Odeon Covent Garden or Panton Street cinemas on Mondays (free membership sign-up required). And you can also get cheap cinema tickets at Vue West End (£9.99 any day, including evenings).

Drinks

Of course, there’s always the time-honoured London custom of going to the pub.

Alcohol isn’t cheap in London, but there are tricks. Look out for the many happy hour offers available all over. Time it right and you can pick up a cocktail for £6.50, bottle of beer for £2.50 or bottle of wine for £10.00.

Signs advertising craft beer in Southbank, London
Photo by iStock.com/flik47

JD Wetherspoon is a pub chain worth checking out if your criteria is cheap booze above all else. In a city where the £5 pint is becoming ubiquitous, ‘Spoons does pints of lager and ale for around £3 and bottles of craft beer for under £3.50. The pubs are deliberately ‘old man’-ish, but can be a cosy place to hunker down. The Penderels Oak is reliable, while The Knights Templar in the City is housed in a lovely former bank.

Sam Smiths, on the other hand, is a Yorkshire brewery that seems to have taken it upon itself to buy up London pubs and restore them to Victorian glories. You can only buy its own beers—ask at the bar for prices because some are definitely more expensive than others. Weirdly, Sam Smiths doesn’t seem to maintain a list of its London pubs, so other people have had to take on the task. We’d recommend the Fitzroy Tavern, the Princess Louise in Holborn, or the labyrinthine Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

If you’ve already reached your daily bus fare limit and you’re basically travelling for free, venture south to The Sultan in South Wimbledon. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but it’s owned by the Hop Back brewery and we have hazy memories of buying four pints and a packet of pork scratchings for a little over £10. Pop along, have a proper British ale and chat with the locals.

Most pubs now serve low alcohol and alcohol free beer and wine too, and a round is a bit cheaper for non drinkers.

Alternatively, if the weather’s nice, grab a couple of tins and head to a park. While London has various laws against street drinking, cracking open a few beers and lounging on the grass is a well-worn tradition in this city.

Further reading:

Last update March 2022 by ambiance

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