On a Budget: London

St Paul's Cathedral from Millenuum Bridge.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images

Good times don’t always come with a heavy price tag. Follow our advice for affordable fun in the British capital.


Buy an Oyster Card: This is a smart card on which you can store credit for ‘prepay’ fares, a Travelcard or both. The card is valid across London’s entire public transport network. It is available for a refundable deposit of £5 and can be topped up at any station, travel information centre and shops displaying the Oyster logo.

Hire a bike: London’s Barclays Bikes, nicknamed Boris Bikes after the mayor Boris Johnson, have 400 docking stations around the city. A bike access card for 24 hours sets you back by only £2, but that doesn’t mean you can keep the bike for the whole day. Each ride has to be within 30 minutes.

Take a bus: London’s low-floor red buses are cheaper than taking the Underground, offer views of the city and have recently been made easier for visitors to use. The Oyster card is valid on all buses. Bus journeys cost a flat fare (non-Oyster/Oyster £2.20/1.30) regardless of how far you go.

Overhead of main hall, Natural History Museum.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images


Museums: There’s no charge to visit the permanent collections at the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum. The British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern are also free. Some have temporary exhibitions which you do have to pay for, but the permanent collections are free and a great way to while away any rainy days.

The Serpentine in Hyde Park and a glimpse of the London Eye.
Image courtesy: Visit London - Pawel Libera

Parks: When the weather is good, London’s green spaces are wonderful for passing lazy days. From huge Hyde Park with its lake, the Serpentine, to Hampstead Heath with amazing views over the city from Parliament Hill and ponds that you can go swimming in, to historic deer park Richmond Park in the southwest, there are so many options both in the centre of the city and further out.

Walking Tours: There are city walking routes covered at www.walklondon.org.uk  all free as it is self-guided. Or there are guided walking tours, some free (though tips are encouraged) and some paid, but quite cheap. Another good website offering such tours is www.freetoursbyfoot.com.

Opera: Midweek matinees at the Royal Opera House are usually much cheaper than evening performances and restricted-view seats cost as little as £7. There are same day tickets (one per customer available to the first 67 people in the queue) from 10am for £8 to £40. Half-price stand-by tickets are only occasionally available.

The inside of the globe theatre.
Image courtesy: Visit London - Pawel Libera

Theatre: For West End productions you can buy half-price tickets (cash only) on the day of the performance from the official agency TKTS (www.tkts.co.uk; 10am–7pm Monday–Saturday and noon–4pm on Sundays) on the south side of Leicester Square. The booth is the one with the clock tower; beware of touts selling fake tickets.

Shakespeare’s Globe is a great way to see cheap theatre. You can get standing tickets for £5 any day of the week and it is a great building – a replica of the original Globe Theatre that was built in 1599.

The dazzling interior of St Paul's Cathedral
Image courtesy: St Paul's Cathedral

Architecture: You can also pass some free time exploring the old churches of the City or the modernist monuments of the South Bank. And there’s no charge for looking at fabulous buildings such as iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey or the Palace of Westminster from outside.

Camden Lock Market, Camden.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images


Street food at markets: There are many open markets across London where you can find a range of cheap food to eat. For example at the Sunday UpMarket in the Old Truman Brewery, you will find not only young designers selling their wares, but also a mind-boggling array of street food from all over the world. You can try anything from a Brazilian stew to Italian rice balls and Indonesian satay. Portions are big, the food is delicious, and you can get a full meal for £3. Other such popular markets are Borough Market, Camden Market, Spitalfields Market, Berwick Street Market and Chapel Street Market. There are a few restaurants where you can grab a bite for as little as £10,


Most attractions offer family tickets and discounted entry for kids under 15 or 16 years (children under five are usually free). For a day out with the kids, invest in a joint ticket for Madame Tussauds, London Dungeon and London Eye (adult/child £65/48). Tickets are cheaper when bought online. Travel is free for kids under 16 on buses, under 11 on the Tube and under 5 on trains. A visit to the park or a local farm is a great way to enjoy the outdoors.


Get inspired by our London travel guide.

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