Visiting London for CHEAP

Candlewax SnowmanCandlewax Snowman Registered User new member
Hey there, H/A -- My friend and I are going to visit London in about ten months. We're aiming to go from Nov 30 to Dec 8 (though this is completely flexible -- the only thing set in stone is that we must be there on Dec 3, as we have tickets to see a play that night).

I've never been and neither has she, so we'd like to do the general tourist-y stuff (Abbey Road, visit Stonehenge, the Harry Potter studio tour, Shakespeare's house, etc). I was also looking and apparently there's a train to Paris via the EuroStar that only takes 2.5 hours to get there from London, so we figured we could hop over there for maybe two days and check out Paris Disneyland, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre.

She can afford anything -- she's saved up so much money it boggles my mind. I, on the other hand, am currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kosovo. I'm living on maybe 100 euros a month, and if I'm lucky, I can save mayyyybe fifty of that. I have a personal bank account with some money leftover from before my service, but it's barely anything, so the theme of this trip is DEAR GOD HOW CHEAP CAN WE GO?! This means hostels out the ass, so if you have a great, conveniently-located and cheap hostel you can recommend in London, that would be wonderful.

Beyond that, I'm mainly looking for general to specific advice from others who have visited London and done something similar to what we are planning.

I've traveled a bit myself. This will be her first time outside of America. I backpacked solo across China for three months last year, but that was different. I was moving at my own pace, bound by no schedule. This time, I'm using vacation from my PC service, and we have to shove as much as we can reasonably fit into the few days we have, so a relatively strict itinerary is necessary. In addition, in China, I had a nice pocket of money saved up, so I didn't have to worry too much about counting pennies.

Itineraries and schedules give me stress, which is why I'd like to get this planned and sorted away as soon as possible. Planning early also gives me a chance to estimate a budget, and the sooner I can save toward a specific goal, the better. I will say that, excluding my airfare to/from London, I'd love to spend no more than 700 or 800 euros. Like, MAX. *crosses fingers* Is this even remotely feasible?

So, yes! If you have any insider advice on places to visit, any nuggets of wisdom about the EuroStar/whatever, any catastrophic faults I've yet to envision, please, feel free to share! Any help at all is greatly appreciated, and thank you tons in advance.


  • flowerhoneyflowerhoney Registered User regular
    edited January 2016
    There's loads and loads of stuff you can see in London for free (especially if you like museums)! It also helps that imo, central London is very walkable. It all depends on what you want to see and what sorts of things you're interested in.

    Free museums include:
    Tate Modern
    Tate Britain
    The National Gallery
    The National Portrait Gallery
    The British Museum
    The British Library

    These are all great places with so much to see inside. There's also a lot of interesting places to see on the outside (which you could decide to pay to see inside but it's up to you) like: Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, and St. Paul's Cathedral. A lot of people like to see Big Ben/Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace as well (although I'm not sure you can go inside). Plenty of these things are conveniently located near each other, hence the walkability! Despite that, an oyster card is a necessity for taking the underground. I'm a hop on-and-off kind of gal so I always have a travelcard, and I don't think it's a bad idea to get a weekly travelcard for zones 1-2. This means you'll be able to take the buses and underground as much as you like for the whole week (careful if you leave central London though, the you'll need to pay extra with your card)

    Just fyi, Stonehenge is not in London but it actually near Bath, which is about a two hours train journey, and then another hour long bus ride. I would recommend doing that as a day trip in conjunction with the Roman Baths, which are pretty cool. Its not a cheap day out though, so keep that in mind!
    The Harry Potter Studio is also not in London, its actually in Watford (which is either a 20 minute train or an hour long train depending which one you take, like I painfully discovered this weekend) and it also isn't particularly cheap.
    If you want to go to the Globe Theatre, I don't personally think it's very special since original building burned down but if you were to see a play there it could be fun. Again though, Shakespeare's home is also outside of London in Stratford-upon-Avon (about 2 - 2.30 hours away).

    I would avoid Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, and Covent Garden as over-priced tourist traps unless you're just walking through those areas.

    Places like Camden, Shoreditch, and Soho are really fun for nightlife but you may need to do some research to find cheap bars and restaurants. I think Waterloo/Southbank is also fun area to eat and drink. Markets are also really fun to experience! There's the classic Brick Lane market, but you've also got Spitalfields, Borough Market, and Portobello Market.
    Personally, I would avoid west London as it can be really really expensive.

    I don't know about hostels but you could airbnb a try!! I think it's a really fun way to stay in a part of the city you wouldn't normally be able to afford.

    London is unfortunately a very expensive city but if you plan properly it won't be too painful. If you want to take an international train, I would recommend buying those ticket SEVERAL months in advance as the prices can get crazy if you leave it late.

    flowerhoney on
  • Dis'Dis' Registered User regular
    Cheapest way to visit London is to know someone to crash with - accommodation will be by far the biggest expense if you're happy to walk places/get a multiday travel card.

    Hostels can be cheap but vary wildly and should be booked well in advance. The cheaper ones might seem like a good deal but if you have to get the tube/bus in from the depths of Peckham it can eat up a good bit of limited holiday time.

    There are many things you can visit for free, and between Paris and London you can spend days just wandering around looking at stuff (which is very affordable). You are looking at the start of the Christmas season so there will be the joy of crowds and poor weather, oth you'll get to see the Christmas lights (Bond Street was great for that this year)

    Stonehenge and Paris are possibly more time consuming than you seem to be thinking. If you want to hit up Eurodisney as well as inner Paris I'd budget 3/4 days.

  • Pure DinPure Din Boston-areaRegistered User regular
    My favorite hostel in London was the Baden-Powell House. Fantastic location, near South Kensington tube stop. The only downside is that it seemed more cold and institutional than other hostels I've stayed in, and people there were not really social.

    This is the website you can book it from. Some of the dates it says you can get for like 12-15 pounds per night, though I've paid significantly more on holidays so be careful of that.

  • Conroy BumpasConroy Bumpas Registered User regular
    Stonehenge is not really near bath it's about an hour's drive away. London to Stonehenge is going to be around a 2 hour drive. As someone who lives near Stonehenge it's not that exciting its some big stones in a field next to a road with a visitor centre. So if you are in London you really need to decide if you want to spend a day doing that coz getting there on public transport is going to be expensive and time consuming. You could combine it with a mooch at Salisbury cathedral.

    But you could do more for less money in London

    The science museum and the natural history museum are free (donation)

    you want to get a good map that shows the tube stations and where they really are. as some are quicker to walk between etc

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  • ShadowhopeShadowhope Baa. Registered User regular

    I'm going to cover some of the same ground as flowerhoney, because she's absolutely right. Refer to her post. With that said:

    When you can, walk around London. It's a beautiful city, and well worth the walk. I'd recommend a trip that starts somewhere around the Tower Bridge (it's the pretty one), and then takes you across the bridge and past the Tower of London. From there, go by Tower Hill so that you can see a fragment of the old Roman wall, and then walk west to the Monument of the Great Fire. Keep going north until you see the Leadenhall Market, and then start heading west again to go by the Bank of England. From the Bank of England, follow Cheapside to St. Paul's Cathedral, and then go back south to the Thames and walk along it, past the Temple Gardens and to the Victoria Embankment. When you reach Charing Cross, turn away from the Thames and walk up Northumberland Ave towards Trafalgar Square, and be sure to catch the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery while you're there, as well as St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Take Whitehall towards the Palace of Westminster, past Downing St, and get the requisite selfie in front of Big Ben. Check out Westminster Abbey while you're there. From there, head west again through and past St. James Park to Buckingham Palace. That route manages to hit a decent portion of the prime tourist places, and should take a fair chunk (or all) of a day if you're stopping along the way. Getting some cheap sandwiches and eating them in Hyde Park is a pretty OK way to have dinner after a day like that.

    Or just go looking for London walking routes. There are tons of them that take you by tons of cool stuff. You can't walk far in central London without bumping up against something cool, impressive, historical, or all of the above.

    When you can't walk, take the tube. It's cheap and it's fast and it's convenient to everything in London. Whatever you do, make sure you dress appropriately for the possibility of precipitation.

    While not free (so far as I recall), the Victoria and Albert (the V&A), the Imperial War Museum, and the Churchill War Rooms were all worthwhile museum trips.

    It's entirely free to walk around in Harrods. Neat place. Neat area.

    If your budget covers it, catching a live show while in London can be a ton of fun. There's always big musicals playing, but you might will find better ticket prices - and a better show - if you go for drama or comedy. Or as flowerhoney mentioned, the Globe allows you to see Shakespeare in a way similar to how would have originally be performed.

    I think that my favorite single day trip out of London has been to Dover. It's about 90 minutes by train if I recall, and the castle at Dover is incredible. It's a bit of a hike from the rail station to the castle, up a large and steep hill, but the castle is totally worth it if you have any interest in that sort of thing, an honest to goodness large as life medieval castle that saw real battle (if you've ever sen the TV show Battle Castle, they did an episode on Dover). Another good day trip is to Canterbury, which has a rather famous Cathedral. If you do decide to go to Stonehenge, then I would recommend visiting Salisbury at the same time. They have a great Cathedral there as well, with a copy of the Magna Carta, and they have a cool weekly outdoor market that goes in all weather. Another consideration if you're going to Stonehenge: you might want to make that part of the trip overnight away from London, given the distance - Cardiff is nearby, and is also very close to some spectacular Welsh castles like Caerphilly. If you go to Bath, you probably don't want to stay in Bath, because it's really expensive if I recall, but nearby Cardiff or Bristol were much cheaper when I went.

    There's so much in London that you probably can't take it all in during a single trip. Read up, and then prioritize.

    People on the Internet are more discourteous than in the real world because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
  • BlindZenDriverBlindZenDriver Registered User regular
    Not the Harry Potter museum, but at the Kings Cross station there is a photo op with a 9 3/4 platform. Worth checking out if you happen to be in the area and if you're even slightly interested in architecture the station as such is also worth seeing.

    Bones heal, glory is forever.
  • WezoinWezoin Registered User regular
    Cheap awesome lunch in London on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday? Borough Market.

  • mere_immortalmere_immortal So tasty!Registered User regular
    edited January 2016
    Second the Victoria and Albert museum. We went down recently for my girlfriend's birthday and we spent the best part of a day in there, with still more to see.

    mere_immortal on
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  • ShadowhopeShadowhope Baa. Registered User regular
    Second the Victoria and Albert museum. We went down recently for my girlfriend's birthday and we spent the best part of a day in there, with still more to see.

    I think that I honestly preferred the V&A to the British Museum. If you're going to go see just one, I'd say to see the British museum, because there's so many iconic things in there (the Rosetta Stone! the Parthenon sculptures! the Turquoise Serpent! the Cyrus Cylinder! the Easter Island statue!, etc). But the V&A's collection is a lot more interesting, a bit more eclectic, albeit with a tendency to feel a little like the well lit basement of the world's most fabulous hoarder (I mean that in the best possible way).

    The Natural History Museum is across the street from the V&A if I recall; those two museums can easily eat up an entire day together.

    People on the Internet are more discourteous than in the real world because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
  • flowerhoneyflowerhoney Registered User regular
    edited January 2016
    Shadowhope wrote: »
    Second the Victoria and Albert museum. We went down recently for my girlfriend's birthday and we spent the best part of a day in there, with still more to see.

    The Natural History Museum is across the street from the V&A if I recall; those two museums can easily eat up an entire day together.

    V&A, Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum are all next to each and also all free! They're about a 10 minute walk away from Hyde Park as well, which is a fun fact. But yeah, they're all huge and filled to the brim with amazing stuff.

    I should say that all these free museums will have special exhibitions which you will need to pay for. They're normally pretty exciting though, and worth it if one of them matches your interests. Again, best to have a look at their upcoming events and book in advance if you can. It's not always necessary but sometimes a popular exhibition will be sold out on the day. The V&A had some of Alexander McQueen's work and tickets were sold out weeks in advance.

    @Shadowhope 's post is full of great advice!

    flowerhoney on
  • CelestialBadgerCelestialBadger Registered User regular
    I like wandering the "City of London" which is the financial district. Lovely buildings and architecture. Better for a dry day than a wet one.

    I also liked visiting the Churchill War Rooms which is the bunker that Churchill ran the war from. It has been turned into a museum. Ticket prices are not cheap. It is near Downing Street so you can take a look at that at the same time (it is not open to the public, so a look is all you'll get.)

    Take a boat down the Thames to Greenwich and lean about time.

  • Bad-BeatBad-Beat Registered User regular
    As a Londoner, these are just a couple of my preferences but others may disagree.

    Cheaper ways to view London:
    +Sky Garden @ 20 Fenchurch Street (Free but book in advance!)
    +Monument (£4pp and comes with a free certificate: ALL STAIRS and very narrow/steep)
    +Primrose Hill (free)
    +Greenwich Park (free) (Greenwich Observatory is also here and parts of it can be accessed for free)

    Boat cruises:
    +Thames Clipper (accepts Oyster card Max: £7.20pp and goes from Putney in the West to Woolwich in the East)

    Cheap Eats and Pubs:
    +Won Kee (Chinese in the heart of China Town. Known for it's hilariously bad service that they play up on)
    +Marie's Café (Thai restaurant after 5pm. Just off Waterloo station and looks like the most unassuming place ever)
    +Waxy O'Conner (If you like mazes, you love this pub. Slightly pricey as it's just off Leicester Square but well worth it for a unique experience)
    +If you can, (not sure if they only post to UK addresses) try and snag a £1 trial of TasteCard. It'll get you 2 for 1 or 50% off certain restaurant chains, which will obviously save a fortune! Just remember to cancel your trial afterward your holiday.

    Parks (free):
    +Richmond Dark (deer can be found here!)
    +Greenwich Park (on a hill that overlooks the East end of London)

    +National Rail 2 for 1 tickets. (If you use a National Rail day card (rather than an Oyster card) to visit places like London Zoo, Kew Gardens etc. you get 2 for 1 on tickets if you show a valid Day travelcard)(READ TERMS AND CONDITIONS!)
    +Waterloo to Tower Bridge walk. (Start at the London Eye and walk East along the south bank, past the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern. Either cross on the Millennium Bridge (outside Tate Modern) to St Pauls, or London Bridge and continue the walk East along the north bank, past Tower of London until you get to Tower Bridge). (Better to do it in this direction so all the best buildings are in front of you, not behind).

    +Tube: Easy to get around, but as others have said, it can be quicker to walk. This map shows the actual walking times between two stations to help you decide when to walk and when to get the tube:
    +Bus: Super frequent (every 4-5 mins on the high frequency routes) but can be slightly confusing to navigate. - Use this site to plan your journeys. Smartphone apps that'll help: Citymapper, Bus Checker.

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