There is no need to drag on about how amazing London is. It is amazing and everybody knows. There is only one single aspect, which isn’t really that amazing: London is way too expensive. And I am not talking about property prices. Whether it’s a beer, a meal or a cinema ticket. The prices are draw-dropping – and not in a good way.
However, after many visits to the city I have learned how to enjoy London even as a poor student. Today, I will let you in on my little secrets so that you can (literally) afford this city more often.
First of all, if you are flying into London and it’s not Heathrow (which is basically the only airport within the London Zones) do not take the train to the city. It may be the quickest way into London, but it is defiantly also the most expensive. I therefore usually take the bus into the city centre, which is a lot cheaper. Depending on your arrival airport you can take the easyBus, the Terravision or the National Express.
Nevertheless, always check the internet for train voucher codes, as some train providers have regular online promotions and if you are only in London for a short period, you may want to make use of every single second.
When you arrive in London and you need to take the London Underground to get to your final destination, buy an Oyster Card, which is a pre-paid ticket for London transport. Also make sure, that you do not travel during peak times (Mo – Fr, 6.30 am to 9.30 am and 4.30 pm to 7 pm) if it is not highly necessary, as it is more expensive during these hours.
The good thing about an Oyster Card is, that the single fares are a lot cheaper and that there is a daily price cap and once you have reach this limit you will not have to pay for the journeys that follow.
When in London you will want to do all that typical British stuff, which usually starts with breakfast. In most hotels, b&b’s and hostels you will not be able to get around a full English breakfast. If, however, your accommodation only offers boring continental breakfast or if breakfast is not included, you may want to hit the city for some sausages and baked beans.
A good and authentic place for a nice and greasy breakfast is the “Regency Café” (17 -19 Regency Street, SW1P 4BY), which offers a good sized breakfast for about 6 pounds. Another place one could go to is the “Frankie and Benny” chain (www.frankieandbennys.com), which is basically an American styled Italian restaurant, but with great British breakfast options starting at four pounds.
If you’re thinking of spending your day at the Westfield Shopping Center in Shepherds Bush, you may want to consider “the Central Bar” located in the West 12 Shopping Centre opposite the Westfield. It may not be the nicest looking place, but the food is yummy and the prices are dead cheap.
As food may be the most expensive thing in London, I would also recommend using one of the many „Meal Deals“ local supermarkets offer. In many corners you will find a small Tescos, Sainsbury, Waitrose or Marks&Spencer, where you will be able to buy a drink, a sandwich or a salad and a snack for a set price (usually about 3 pounds). Enjoying a „Meal Deal“ is very common in the UK and is therefore a good and cheap way to experience the local, normal culture.
A great, but not really British lunch-idea for London (during the week) is “Pizza Hut”. But not just any “Pizza Hut”, but the one located right next to Piccadilly Circus, where you can enjoy an unlimited buffet until 3pm for only 8 pounds. It may not sound like the place to be whilst visiting London, but if you are able to get a table by the window, you will appreciate this cheap lunch suggestion.
Another more British place for cheap but good food is the Yates on Leicester Square. Here you will find typical dishes, such as fish & chips, British beef steak & ale pie and Cumberland sausages with mash.
By the way, in London you can literally walk into any kind of pub and expect good food. You should especially check out a pub for Sunday roast and pint of lager or cider.
Let’s move away from food and focus on cheap activities, that you may want to do during you visit.
If you want to squash as much in as possible at low cost, you should check out the London Pass. The London Pass makes a lot of sense if you are thinking of visiting more than three pricey attractions in London on one day, as you pay a fixed amount and have loads of activities included – plus you are able to skip the line at several attractions.
However, if you are interested in football – London is the place to be. Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and many more big teams regularly hold games here and pubs are usually crowded on match days. If,however, you are not necessarily interested in a big club, where a common ticket may cost you up to 90 pounds, you should check out the smaller London Clubs, which also give you a feeling of the football atmosphere in the UK.
I personally would recommend visiting a game at Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham Football Club. Fulham is one of the oldest Clubs in London and its Stadium is located on the banks of the River Themes, which makes a visit appealing even to people, who aren’t crazy about football.
The nights and evenings in London are epic and you will easily be able to find a club, but if you are looking for something more laid-back you may consider going to the movies or one of London’s famous theatres.
Obviously, these things do not come cheap. I usually suggest buying things in advance to save money, but when it comes to theatre or musical tickets in London, you should be patient and wait. Lots of spare tickets will be sold for half the price shortly before the play/musical starts. Just walk around Leicester Square and you will find loads of booths selling cheap tickets. However, if you are travelling in a group this method is only recommendable if you are comfortable with the idea of not being able to sit together in one row.
If you are more into movies, you should check out the ODEON Tottenham Court Road. As a student, teen, senior or child all movies will be charged with only 6.50 pounds, which is dead cheap in comparison to the cinemas on Leicester Square, where I once paid 22 pounds for a single ticket (which really wasn’t worth it at all).
Last but not least, some general tips for saving some quid. First of all, you should make sure to always carry your student ID with you (if you have one), as the UK generally offers a lot of special deals for students. If you need to change money, either use your debit/credit card at a bank and withdraw all the money you need at once (as you will be charged a fee for every single withdrawal) or just walk down Oxford Street, Regent Street or around Leicester Square and look out for signs outside local souvenir shops. These souvenir shops may not look as trustworthy as a bank, but they mostly offer a good exchange rate. By the way, don’t directly go for the first shop you see, but try to compare the rates with each other first.
London will be more expensive (flights and hotels) on weekends, public holidays and during special events. If you are not all that keen on visiting London whilst a specific event, try to check out what’s going on and avoid major dates such as New Years and the Christmas Period.
That’s all for know, but if any of you have been to London recently and have more tips on how to save money in like the most expensive city ever – feel free to share your ideas, tips and experiences!
Text: Josephine Hillebrand-Perry