Ahhh London. The Big Smoke. It is a city that draws over 19 million international tourists each year, making it the second most-visited city in the world. London is one of the most diverse and dynamic cities on earth and has so much to offer visitors…from an incredible history, to world-class museums, to an incredible restaurant scene, to some of the best theatre in existence. London really and truly has it all and tourists seem to agree. But even with so much tourism in this fantastic city, it still has the reputation of being an incredibly expensive place to visit. So how much will a London trip cost?
With the post-Brexit pound dropping to historic lows, London is no longer as expensive for visitors as it once was. However, it still isn’t even close to the cheapest destination to visit in Europe. Nevertheless, if you’re smart about where you spend your money, take advantage of discounted and free attractions, and visit the right places, it is surprisingly easy to visit London on a budget.
Having lived in this incredible city for a couple of years now, I’ve gained some great insight into the cost of travelling to London. Therefore, if you’re a budget-conscious traveller who wants to get the most out of your visit to the UK’s capital, then you’ve found the right place.
London Trip Cost: Accommodation
This first aspect of any London travel budget that you need to consider is the cost of accommodation as it is likely to take up the biggest percentage of your overall London trip cost. I am going to be frank here; traditional accommodation options in London can be incredibly expensive. This includes even the budget-traveller strongholds of backpacker hostels.
Let me break it down for you: the average price of a hotel in London lands in at £127 per night, and Central London prices are considerably higher than that. And if you want to stay in a hostel dorm in or around Central London (and you don’t really want to be far from the centre because you will inevitably end up spending quite a lot of time on public transport if not), then you can expect to pay at least £30 per night for that privilege.
If you’re travelling as a couple or with a friend, you might think you can save money by getting a private room in a hostel. However, Central London hostels tend to be just as expensive as a budget hotel, with prices clocking in at around £130 for the most basic of rooms.
It might seem a bit fruitless to expect to save any money on accommodation in London, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. Enter: Airbnb.
While entire private flats on Airbnb in London can be quite expensive, nevermind the fact that there is a considerable amount of controversy surrounding them (ie. they’re driving up rent prices and contributing to a housing crisis for people who actually live in London), renting a private room through Airbnb is an incredibly popular and cost-effective way to cut down on your overall trip to London cost.
On average, a private room on Airbnb located in or close to Central London will cost you around £35-50 per night, depending on the location. If you are splitting this cost between two people, it can actually work out to be quite affordable to stay in London.
Of course, you’re not going to get all of the amenities associated with staying in a hotel or hostel, however, you do get the added benefit of seeing exactly what it’s like for locals in London (it’s not nearly as glamorous as you might think!) while saving money at the same time. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can click here to get up to $40 off your first stay!
London Trip Cost: Transportation
London is HUGE and a surprisingly large amount of visitors seem to realise this. However, this will become immediately apparent as soon as you leave the airport (any of them) and realise it takes at least an hour to get to Central London. So basically, you’re going to be spending some money on transportation unless you are keen to walk about 20 miles each day.
So how much money should you factor into your total London trip cost? Well, that is honestly entirely up to you.
Getting from the airport to Central London
The first thing you need to consider when it comes to transportation costs is getting to Central London from the airport. Greater London is served by a whopping six different airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City, and London Southend only two of which (Heathrow and City) are actually technically IN London.
It is most likely that you will begin your trip at Heathrow or Gatwick airport, which is where the majority of long-haul flights arrive. However, if you’re coming to London from elsewhere in Europe and are flying a budget airline such as Ryanair, Easyjet, or Wizzair, you will probably fly into Stansted or Luton. We travel frequently and our trips are mostly limited to these airports. Though we have flown in and out of Southend a couple of times, we have yet to have the opportunity to travel through London City and I’m not even sure which airlines operate out of it.
There are trains from all airports that serve most major London stations and it is almost always less expensive to book these trains in advance. Make sure to do your research before you arrive to find out the best route to your accommodation and book try to book your train at least one week ahead of time in order to get the best deal. Expect the journey to cost around £15-20 one way. It is also cheaper to book a return ticket.
If you are flying into Heathrow, however, there is another option for transport into the city that, for some reason, is rarely marketed toward tourists. You might have only read that you have to take the Heathrow Express from the airport, which goes from the airport to Paddington Station in about twenty minutes. This is fast, yes, but it’s also quite expensive — even if you book in advance. It is also extremely likely that you’re going to need to transfer to the bus or underground in order to reach your accommodation unless you’re staying in Paddington itself — and you really shouldn’t be if you’re trying to save money.
The best option to get from Heathrow to Central London is to take the Piccadilly Line (which is dark blue) of the underground. It might take more time, however, it will save you a considerable amount of money (it will cost roughly £4 depending on the time/day you’re travelling).
There are signs for the tube around every Heathrow terminal and you can’t miss it. Take this time to purchase an Oyster Card (you will have to pay a £5 deposit, which you can get back upon returning the card when you leave) and load some money on it as well. This is your ticket to affordable transport all around London.
Cost of transport in London
Once you’ve figured out how to get from the airport into Central London, you’re going to need to factor in the cost of actually getting around London. As I mentioned earlier, London is a massive city and it is entirely unlikely that you can see everything you want on foot. Luckily, the British capital has an excellent public transport system that will get you everywhere you need to go. However, it just so happens to be the most expensive in the world.
Your best bet to combat high travel costs is to invest in an Oyster card, which you can get at any tube station and top off with however much money you might need. The benefit of using an Oyster car vs purchasing single-journey tickets or travel cards is that the Oyster has daily travel caps. This means if you are travelling within zones 1-2 in the transport system (and it is highly unlikely that you will travel beyond that) the maximum amount of money you will be charged per day is £6.80. When one single tube journey costs around £3, this can be a significant amount of savings.
Another way to save money on transit is to take the bus wherever possible. Any journey on the iconic red double-decker buses in London costs £1.50 no matter where in the city you are going. Another benefit is that if you need to change buses on your journey, you won’t be charged the £1.50 fee again if you switch within an hour.
A great way to keep on top of all of the best routes to your destination and to weigh the expenses of them is to use an app called CityMapper. This is what most Londoners use to get places and it can be invaluable to tourists as well.
Another tip to save money while travelling in London is to avoid taking black cabs whenever possible. These taxis, though iconic to London, are notoriously expensive and I know very few locals who use them frequently. If you need to get somewhere and public transport isn’t running (say it’s after midnight or there’s a tube strike), then use Uber. Uber is considerably less expensive than the traditional cabs and is fully operational in London, contrary to popular belief.
All in, you really should have to spend more than £7/day on transport when you’re visiting London.
London Trip Cost: Food
As one of the most international cities in the world, London has a thriving food scene and it is possible to get cuisine from nearly every single country in this one city. It is time to shed any preconceived notions about British food when visiting London because the restaurant and street food scene here is absolutely fantastic. It can, however, greatly impact your overall London trip cost.
While London is home to some of the greatest restaurants in the world, these can come with a steep price tag. It is, however, entirely possible to enjoy some of the best cuisine that London has to offer while still maintaining a tight travel budget.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to limit your eating out (in a restaurant, at least) to once per day. Stop by a supermarket and pick up some things for breakfast to make at your accommodation, or stay somewhere that offers breakfast in the room rate.
For lunch, the best way to save money is to take advantage of “meal deals” from local supermarkets. These include pre-made sandwiches, a packet of crisps or popcorn, and a drink all for around £3-4 depending on where you’re shopping. All major supermarkets offer these, but it is worth noting that Waitrose tends to be more expensive (they’re the posh supermarket). We would recommend looking at Sainsbury’s, Co-op, or Tesco.
Street food can also be affordable and London is blessed with a seemingly endless amount of street food markets. The most popular for tourists would likely be Borough Market near London Bridge, which is open every day but Sunday, and has so many food stalls that it can be incredibly hard to choose what to eat. Other popular markets include Brick Lane (open weekends), Broadway Market (open Saturdays), KERB Camden (open daily), and Southbank Centre food market near the London Eye (open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).
A street food meal can be more expensive than a meal deal from a supermarket, but you do get more option and a higher quality of food. Expect to pay around £5-10 for a meal from a food market.
If you want to eat out in London — and you should, there are a number of great restaurants in the city — follow the advice I say for literally every single city in the world: don’t eat anywhere near a main tourist attraction. Restaurants like these are catered directly toward tourists and can cost more than 20% more than a restaurant catered toward Londoners and savvy visitors such as yourself. Eating away from tourist sites can really cut down on your overall cost of a trip to London.
If you do go eat out, expect a main dish at a mid-range restaurant to cost somewhere around £12-15 and a starter to cost around £8-10. Add about 10-20% to that if you’re eating at a higher-end place.
It is worth noting, especially for American tourists, that there isn’t much of a tipping culture in London and often a 12.5% discretionary service charge is added to the bill anyway, so there is no need to tip any extra. If there isn’t gratuity already added, you really only need to tip if the service is truly exceptional. Servers are actually paid a living wage here, so it really can be a waste of money to tip.
All in all, you really don’t need to break the bank if you want to experience the food culture of London.
London Trip Cost: Activities
Now that we’ve covered such basic need as food, shelter, and transportation, it’s time to cover the cost of actually doing things in London.
There is a ton to do in this amazing city and, luckily for travellers, a vast majority of it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Sure, tourist hotspots like Madame Tussauds, the London Eye, and the Tower of London can charge quite a bit to enter, some of the most famous and best museums in the world are completely free. These include the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Science Museum among numerous others.
You could easily spend a number of days hopping from museum to museum in London and only spend money on your transport and food for the day.
Another great and affordable sightseeing option in London is to take a free walking tour. There are myriad tour operators throughout the city that offer different free tours through various boroughs and neighbourhoods. While the tour themselves are free, you do need to tip the guide — usually around £5-10 depending on the quality and length of the tour.
There are also a number of paid walking tours you can take, such as an East End street art tour or a tour of the musical history of Camden town that won’t break the bank either, usually these clock-in at around £8-12 depending on the operator. Often, it can be cheaper for you to book the tour online in advance, so make sure to do your research beforehand.
If you’re keen to go to the theatre while in London, note that West End tickets can be very expensive. However, there are definitely ways to get around the steep price. If you don’t mind sitting in the nosebleed section, it can actually be quite affordable — the cheapest tickets often cost around £30.
Another fantastic way to save on West End theatre is to enter a ticket lottery. Many of the top shows offer these where you can enter in to win some of the best seats in the house for around £20. How shows run lotteries differ, however, it can be worth doing a quick Google search of “west end show” + “lottery” to find out the process for whatever you might want to see.
Another great way to save on theatre is to look away from the West End. There are fantastic productions all throughout London and it can be a lot cheaper than staying in the main theatre district. Some theatres, such as the Hampstead Theatre in North London, offer £10 tickets to those under 30 and they have an incredible production quality and some big-name actors as well.
All in all, though, if you’re planning on keeping your average London trip cost low, you don’t really need to budget more than £10-15 per day on activities.
London Trip Cost: Entertainment
Now we come to the last factor you need to consider in your overall trip to London cost: entertainment. London has a famous nightlife and pub culture and no visit to the Big Smoke is complete without sampling it.
Well, unfortunately for budget travellers, booze prices in London can be exceptionally high. While that should stop you from heading to a cosy pub and grabbing a beer, it is worth knowing that a pint will set you back around £5 in Central London, often more depending on what kind of beer it is.
London is also famous for its cocktail bars, however, a cocktail in the city will set you back considerably more than a pint. If you head to one of the hip, subterranean, speakeasy-style cocktail bars that have become so popular in London over the past few years, expect to pay around £10 per drink. Often times, it is more depending on the esteem of the bar and where it is located.
If you want to have a great London drinking experience without breaking the bank, consider purchasing your booze from the supermarket or liquor store. A bottle of beer will cost around £1.50-2 and a decent bottle of wine will cost around £10-15. If the weather is fine, find a place in a park or a bench along Regent’s Canal or River Thames and enjoy your drink while watching London go by.
Not only do locals do this kind of thing frequently, but your bank balance will also surely thank you as well. One of the best ways to cut down on your overall trip to London cost is to limit how much and where you drink alcohol.
Average London Trip Cost
The above factors considered, here is how much you should expect to spend per person per day if you’re spending a week in London. This is assuming you are travelling as a couple so are splitting some costs. If you are travelling solo, expect some things to (namely accommodation) to cost a bit more.
Overall, you can plan to spend £55-70 per day while visiting London and not miss out on everything this incredible city has to offer.
Finally, also make sure that you factor in the cost of a travel insurance policy. We personally use World Nomads for all of our travels – click here to get a quote from World Nomads.
Many people think that London is an expensive place to visit and fail to do the proper research on how to adequately budget. If you are smart about where you spend your money and how you travel, your London trip cost can be minimal.
Are you planning a budget-friendly trip to London? Have you been? How did you cut down on your overall London trip cost? Let us know in the comments!