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London on a budget

I see this sort of question in Facebook travel groups all the time:

“How much money do I need for a week in London?”
“What budget should my daughter allow per day in London?”
“How much money do I need for a holiday in Europe?”

The answers always vary wildly because everybody’s spending habits are so different. Nobody knows how much YOU will need. It totally depends on how you spend money.

It drives me crazy when people say things like, “You need to allow £200 pounds a day in London. Any less than that and you won’t have any fun.”

I regularly see figures bandied around for a week-long holiday that would be enough to have us travelling for months. And the fun-o-meter would be going off the scale.

So if you’re thinking you have to miss out on travel because you don’t have enough money, maybe it’s time to think again.You can actually travel for very little.

There are 4 things to consider.


1. Where to Stay


How much to allow for accommodation in London?

This totally depends on what you personally feel comfortable with. There are heaps of ways to sleep for free but some people feel happier to pay for their bed.

We stayed with our friends Chris and Kate. If we didn’t stay with them we probably would have stayed with our mate Stompy. We know Chris and Kate and Stompy because they’re circus performers, and for more than 10 years we’ve been involved with the Western Australian Circus Festival. We’ve made friends from all over the world.

If you don’t have friends in London (yet) there are ways to meet people. With the proliferation of Facebook groups there’s a huge opportunity to hook up with like minded types that might offer you a spare bed. Sometimes you just have to ask.

Couchsurfing can be a good way of meeting people too.

Or you could camp. Chris and Kate told us about a guy who has been living in the woods near their house for about a year!

If you don’t feel comfortable with camping in the woods or staying at someone’s house you might think hostels are the obvious choice for budget travellers. Don’t overlook Airbnb though, especially if there are two of you. It can turn out to be about the same price.


2. What to eat and drink


You have to eat whether you’re at home or travelling, so we reckon you can argue that food is not really part of the ‘budget’ unless you’re behaving differently to normal.

For example, we normally prepare all our meals from scratch, and we continue to do that while travelling. We rarely eat out. London is cheaper than Australia when it comes to supermarket food so it costs us less to eat there than at home.

If we were eating at restaurants every day we’d need to budget separately for that.

London supermarkets have the most amazing selection of sandwiches and salads and other lunch options. We get so excited by the choices because we don’t have anything like it at home. For the filming of this video we decided to go all out and treat ourselves to the luxury of buying lunch prepared by someone else.

We got:

  • Butter Basted Roast Chicken & Lincolnshire Sausage sandwiches
  • Oak Smoked Salmon & Cream sandwiches
  • 1.5 litres of soda water
  • 2 bananas

The whole lot cost us £5.89. Lunch for less than £3 each. Cheap as!


3. What to do


London is full of free things to see and do. It blows our minds how many things you can do without paying a penny. It’s one of the things that makes London so great.

You could easily spend a week doing all the things we did in this video. We raced around like lunatics shooting footage because we only had 24 hours before we flew out. We had been to most of these places in previous visits but nevertheless we found it really hard to leave each place quickly.

We visited:

  • Greenwich Meridian
  • Old Royal Naval College
  • Tower Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • St Paul’s Cathedral
  • The British Museum
  • The National Gallery
  • All Hallows by the Tower
  • Big Ben / Westminster
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Hyde Park
  • Oxford St

In the video I also included a couple of photos from previous years (Paddington Station and the pedestrian crossing at Abbey Road) because they’re other great free things to see and do in London.

You can spend half a day wandering about in All Hallows by the tower. It’s the oldest church in London. The line of molten lead that can be found in the crypt below the church is incredible. The church was firebombed during World War II and nearly burned to the ground. The lead from the roof melted all the way down and you can still see it today.

The British Museum is completely and thoroughly excellent. You could easily occupy a full day there and still miss some things.

 A couple of hacks:

  • St Paul’s Cathedral costs £18 to visit, unless you join them for one of the services, in which case it’s completely free.
  • The Greenwich meridian is a line, not a single point. You don’t need to pay to go inside to get your Instagram shots because the line continues right through to the other side of the building (and on around the world). They don’t much like people using tripods though – we were told you were only allowed to take ‘accidental photos’ if you haven’t paid to go inside.


4. How to get around


London’s ‘Boris Bikes’ scheme is exceptional. ‘Boris Bikes’, officially known as Santander Cycles, are hire bicycles.

You pay £2 to access the bikes for 24 hours. You don’t need to organise this in advance, you just rock up to any one of the hundreds of docking stations with your credit card, hit the touch screen and follow the instructions.

The machine will spit out a docket containing a release code. Type that into the keypad near your chosen bicycle and wait for the light to go green, then pull out the bicycle and off you go!

HINT: Pick a bicycle with the seat already set at your desired level. I like level 5 and the International Man of Action goes for 7. You can change it, but who’s got time for that malarkey? There are things to see and do! 

The first 30 minutes of each journey are free. If you keep the bike for more than 30 minutes it will cost you another £2 for every 30 minutes. There’s an app to help find the nearest docking station. It tells you the number of bikes and spaces at each station.

We always make sure we return our bikes within 30 minutes, so it costs us £2 for the whole day.

HINT: Make sure you get the green light and the cha-ching when you dock your bike. 


The one drawback of the system? The number of bikes varies wildly during the day. In the morning there’ll be heaps in the outer areas but by lunchtime there are a lot less because they’ve all been ridden into the centre of London. Sometimes you’ll get to a docking station and find there are only 2 bikes left, but one of them is faulty. The app is good but it’s not always exactly right.

Similarly, if you’re in London around lunchtime you will sometimes find it hard to return a bike because the docking stations are all full. If you get to a full station you can tap the screen and get an extra 15 minutes. If there’s one space left and you have two bikes you’re a bit stuffed though. You have to return one then tap to get 15 extra minutes for the second one, so now you’ve got one human on foot and one on a bike. We used the app to find a station that had at least 2 spaces.

They do try to redistribute the bikes a bit. You’ll sometimes see a truck loaded up with bikes being moved from full stations to empty ones.


There are lots of great thing about cycling around London.

  • It’s a really quick way to get from one place to another.
  • You can therefore see lots of things in one day.
  • Unlike the tube, you stay on top of the ground so you get to see all the things in between point A and point B.
  • It’s fun!
  • It’s great for fitness.

We hired our bikes after lunch when we filmed the video that goes with this story. The next day we were chasing a few extra shots so we went to hire bikes again and discovered we still had over 3 hours of access left from the day before. We finished our filming without paying another £2 for bike hire!


Stop the Press!


I said above that Facebook groups offer opportunities to connect. I didn’t realise I’d be testing the theory on the same day I finished writing this story!

This morning my daughter flew from Perth to Auckland, then from there to Argentina. They were an hour into the second leg when engine trouble forced them to turn back, so she’s stuck in Auckland until tomorrow.

She had risen at 4am to go to the airport and by the time she discovered there was no hotel option (they were all booked out) she was in bad shape, vomiting from fatigue. Finally, in desperation, I posted in the Girls Love Travel Facebook group, which at the time had over 480 000 members. Within 8 minutes I was sending my daughter an address and she was getting into a taxi.

EIGHT MINUTES. That’s the power of a strong community. Within seconds of posting, other members were commenting ‘bump’, which told Facebook it was important and should be showed to more people. A very kind GLT member living in Europe saw my post and rang her mother, who lives near Auckland airport. The poor woman was sleeping peacefully like the angel she is, but she kindly offered to take in my daughter and set about making up a bed while waiting for her taxi to arrive.

What a beautiful world we live in.


Easter Egg in Video


There’s an ‘easter egg’ in this video. The first person to spot it and comment below is the winner. You won’t win any actual prize, but you’ll be the winner.

(I don’t mean the chocolate kind, but you knew that…)


Your Turn


What did we miss? Do you know of other fabulous free things to do in London?

Any budget travel hacks we missed?

Let us know in the comments below.