London may seem expensive, but with some sound planning and insider tips, it’s easy to keep costs low — Time to catch some musicals, explore world-class museums, and immerse yourself in one of Europe’s most diverse city! Skyscanner and Pohtecktoes share an itinerary on how to cover London on a budget without having to miss out on the main highlights!
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2016 and is accurate as of the time of writing. London is great to visit because it’s one of those cities that has something for everyone. If you have a wide variety of interests, London is perfect.
Unfortunately, it’s also notoriously costly. I’ve been to London once before, and it wasn’t cheap. This time though, I was determined to make it work on a budget while still experiencing what London has to offer. Budget travelling isn’t about sleeping in dingy hotel rooms and surviving on bread. It’s about making smart travel choices.
During my 5 days in London, I spent a grand total of £223 excluding accommodation*. With the British Pound trading at one of its lowest to the Singapore Dollar (£1 to S$1.73^), that’s only S$386! And this also included a musical, the Harry Potter Studio Tour, and a couple of good meals.
*If you’re worried about accommodation racking up the cost, use the filters to check out some affordable beds via Skyscanner or read on for some recommendations at the end!
^Exchange rate is accurate at time of submission.
London is beautiful both in the day and night. Elizabeth Tower or better known as Big Ben for the bell inside the clock tower at night.
I arrived early in the morning at 5:50am on my flight from Singapore to London (British Airways, in case you are wondering). This was perfect as by the time I dropped my bags off, there was still an entire day for exploration.
Heading to London City from Heathrow Airport is as easy as taking the MRT in Singapore. I took the Piccadilly Line on the London Underground for £3.10 as it’s the cheapest option. It’s also only 10-15mins longer than the express trains that cost £22 per trip.
Pro-tip: Get the Oyster Card from the station if you plan to travel by public transport. It’s significantly cheaper than single trip tickets.
When visiting a new city, my favourite thing to do is to simply walk around and soak up the vibes. It’s nice because you often end up chancing across something you didn’t plan for — like a queue outside a theatre.
As a Singaporean, it’s impossible for us to resist queues. Thankfully this instinct came in handy and we scored discounted tickets to the highly rated musical Kinky Boots.
Front row seats for the evening show at only £20 a ticket.
For most of the musicals in London, there are usually limited discounted tickets released daily if you’re willing to queue in the morning. Alternatively, you can get them off websites like LastMinute.com or ticket booths at Leicester Square.
View of the British Museum from the outside.
There are dozens of free museums in London as well, and we ended up at the British Museum. It’s quite possible to spend an entire day here as it showcases artefacts from all over the world, chronicling human history, art, and culture — if that’s the sort of thing that interests you.
Taking a break at Hyde Park, one of the largest royal parks in London with @jemmawei.
While food in London isn’t exactly cheap, there were still plenty of affordable options all around. You can find £5 breakfast sets at numerous chain restaurants as well as beer pints at just £3!
Ending the day with some cheap beers at the bar Cittie of Yorke.
If you need a data plan, check out giffgaff. It’s the cheapest at only £10 for 2GB. The best part is that you can preorder a free SIM card and have it delivered to your accommodation before you arrive.
- British Museum, free
- Hyde Park, free
- Kinky Boots Musical, £20
- Burger at Leons, £5
- Chinese takeaway at Chinatown, £4.50
- Mac & Cheese at Meltroom, £5
- 2 Beers at Cittie of Yorke, £6 (£3 a pint)
- Oyster Card Top-up + refundable deposit, £25
- Data SIM card (2GB), £10
Met up with @jemmawei and @smashpop to explore the various sights around London. One thing I love about London is that there are many free world-class attractions. From exploring museums to watching the change of guards at Buckingham Palace, there are lots to do without spending a cent.
There are also lots of spots perfect for taking OOTDs. Credit: @smashpop
In the afternoon, we headed towards Borough Market to hunt for street food. It’s London’s oldest food market, and also where you can find fresh produce from artisan producers. Think speciality dishes, craft beers, fresh oysters, and street food highlighting London’s diversity.
Fresh oysters at a bargain. There was even an oyster and prosecco combo at a discount!
Flavoured fudge for those with a sweet tooth.
Find out more about Borough Market here.
We then spent the rest of the day around the hipster neighbourhoods of Shoreditch and Spitalfields. It’s interesting how many of the industrial warehouses were converted into art galleries, cafes, or creative shop fronts. Fans of Banksy will also find plenty of buildings with his trademark street art. There’s basically something cool to see and eat at every street corner.
The old Truman Brewery, now home to many creatively run shops, restaurants, galleries, and markets.
Traditional Jewish-style salted beef bagel from Beigel Bake. It doesn’t look like much, but tastes really good and sinful.
Found the beautiful Libreria bookshop with a wide collection of curated books. You can’t use your phones here!
- Walking around Central London, free
- Walking around Shoreditch and Spitalfields, free
- Salted Beef Beigel at Beigel Bake, £4.10
- Fish & Chips at Poppies, £7.45 (we ordered a large portion and shared between 2 of us)
- 6 Oysters at Borough Market, £8
- Fudge at Borough Market, £3.50
- Drink at Barber & Parlour, £6
You can’t say you’ve visited London without delving into the world of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio. I set aside a full day for this because the studio is located in Watford, which is an hour plus away from Central London. Also because I’m a big (read: huge!) Harry Potter fan and would probably spend at least half a day inside the studio.
Outside the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour.
In front of the Sorting Hat from the movies. I wonder which house I’ll be sorted into.
Studio set of the Potions Classroom from the movies. The attention to detail is insane.
Green screen exhibit showing how the broomstick scenes were shot.
Remember to grab your butterbeer from the café inside!
Pro-tip: Pack your own lunch if you don’t want to pay for average tasting food at the studio. It’s not expensive, but just not very good for the price.
If you’re thinking of planning a trip there, do book your tickets early at the official website. The tickets run out pretty quickly and you might not even get them with more expensive third party agents.
For those who love steak, do check out Flat Iron, a value for money steak restaurant at Beak Street. You get a lovely steak with a simple salad and popcorn for just £10.
The most value for money steak restaurant in London.
- Harry Potter Studio Adult Ticket, £35
- Sandwich at Watford Station, £4
- Butter Beer, £6.95
- Flat Iron Steak, £10
- Harry Potter Studio shuttle bus (2way), £2.50
- Top up for Oyster Card, £10
If you’re also a hardcore Harry Potter fan like me, you’ll want to visit all the locations where various scenes from the movies were shot! Also a good way to visit the different sites around Central London.
St. Pancras International, where the exterior of King’s Cross station was shot.
The famous platform 9¾ inside King’s Cross station. There are even “wizarding” staff who would help you take a picture for free with a wand and scarf.
Millennium Bridge, another famous sight in London used for filming. Yes, I brought my souvenir butterbeer mug all around London.
Check this post out for a full guide on free Harry Potter filming locations and iconic sights around London.
As some of the locations are quite far apart, I opted to cycle around using the self-service Santander Cycles! For only £2, you get 24hr access to a convenient bicycle sharing scheme all around the city. The first 30mins of each ride is then free for the next 24hrs, so be sure to return the bicycles to a docking station within that time. Although there’s a 10min waiting time before you can get a new bicycle without a surcharge, it works out because I spend 15mins at each new location anyway.
Pro-tip: Download the Santander Cycles App to plan your route. It tells you where all the docking stations are, as well as availability of bicycles and docking stations.
The Santander Cycle docking stations can be found all over London so you won’t have to worry about not finding a parking spot.
Ended the day with a lovely lobster set meal at Big Easy. £20 for an entire lobster with chips, salad, and beer or prosecco! Back in Singapore, this would probably be double the price. Perfect way to indulge after an entire day of cycling.
Humongous lobster set at Big Easy Canary Wharf.
- Cycling around for Harry Potter Locations, free
- Chinese takeaway at Chinatown, £4.50
- Lobster at Big Easy, £20
- Santander Bike Rental 24hrs, £2
Because we were rushing around so much during Day 2, I decided to check out more of the sights on a free walking tour of Westminster area.
There are numerous companies running free London walking tours that work on a tipping system. Pay as much or as little as you like depending on how well you think the guide did. I personally think it’s a great way to get a quick understanding of the city without overpaying for a fixed tour!
The iconic London Eye is quite a sight up close.
- Free walking tour, £10 tip
- Sandwich from Tesco, £3
- Thai food pop-up booth at Tottenham Court Road, £5.50
- Top up Oyster Card, £5 (Top-up £10 but got a £5 deposit at the end)
Activities: £65 Food: £103.5 Transport: £44.5 Others: £10
Grand Total: £223
Where to stay in London
I’m a big fan of hostels as they are cheap, clean, and convenient. While some have infamous reputations, there are many that are really well-run. Here are a couple of recommendations. There are cheaper options, but these are affordable and very well rated!
Wombats City Hostel London
Price: from £20 Located closer to the east side of central London, this hostel is close to the Tower Bridge, City Hall, and the hipster neighbourhood of Shoreditch. Great place to meet people.
Great social spaces with comfortable rooms. Credit: Bed and Breakfast
Astor Hyde Park Hostel
Price: from £19 Just beside Hyde Park in an upscale neighbourhood, it’s also close to many world-class museums. Homely and cosy place!
Upscale location on a budget! Credit: StoryV
A trip to London doesn’t have to be expensive. While this budget itinerary could have been a lot cheaper, I made it a point not to be too extreme on anything. After all, it isn’t very fun to scrimp on every single thing while travelling.
For detailed tips on how to keep your budget low in London, check out our London Budget Guide: Travel for £60 a day including accommodation.