Myths and Facts About London: Is It Expensive?

There's no place like London
There's no place like London

Right now I’m back to London, my most visited European capital so far (which is curious considering that I studied for over one year in a city located mere three hours away from Paris).

Each of my seven visits to London has been very unique in its own way, including the time I had a 24-hour layover with a severe sleep-deprivation and still had the energy to get out of the airport to explore the city because no matter how many times you visit a place, there’s always something new under the shining sun.

However, the most common question that I get asked is always “How can you afford traveling to London? It’s one of the most expensive cities on Earth!”. Granted, London has the potential to be very expensive but there are certain ways to make the most of your stay without going bankrupt.

Enjoy the following tips and remember to visit London next time you’re in Europe. Trust me, you’ll love it!

Westminster, London
Westminster, London

Myths and Facts about London: Is it expensive?

The first thing to realize is that the four main expenses that travelers have: accommodation, transportation, food and souvenirs. Yes, souvenirs, while most fellow travelers may not consider that souvenirs is one of the main four expenses, it is my personal experience that the regret of NOT buying that cool key chain might be greater than the price of the key chain itself.

When it comes to accommodation, a double bed in London can cost up to ₤100 per night while an hostel can cost around ₤20 per night in a 8-bed room.

The key of choosing the right London hostel/hotel is the location. The closer you get to the West End, the more expensive the prices are, however, the further you get from the historical center, you will spend more time and money in commuting to the places of interest.

The London Eye by Night
The London Eye by Night

In my experience, the ideal place to stay in London, providing that you’re mainly interested in visiting the historical and cultural sites, is in the area surrounding the Victoria Railway/Coach station.

The reason for this is not only an economical one but rather a practical one: Whether you’re traveling to London by coach or plane, you HAVE to pass through Victoria Coach station, plus, the Victoria railway station offers many daily trains to Windsor Castle and also has an underground stop, from where you can take the Victoria and District/Central lines to almost anywhere in central London.

Also, three of the most popular attractions of London, The Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace are within a few minutes from Victoria, if you want a cheap bite, there are many fast food places near the Railway Station.

Alternatively, you can visit some of the best coffee shops in London for quick and cheap meals.

Lions at the Tower of London
Lions at the Tower of London

Transportation in London: Is the Oyster card worth it?

Oh boy, this is a tough one. I admit I have only taken the iconic double-Decker buses once (mainly due to a lack of understanding of how the underground system worked) but I know a few bunch of fellow travelers who prefer this way of going from one place to another. For me, the best and only way to travel within London itself is the underground (often referred as simply “the tube”).

Sure, it can be chaotic most of the times but it is THE easiest metro system in the world to understand, instead of confusing users with the names of where the line terminates to indicate the direction, here in London is as easy as West Bound/East Bound for the District and Circle lines and North/South for the rest.

It’s very intuitive and easy to understand and it is cheap once you get the hang of it.

Picadilly Circus
Picadilly Circus during Christmas

A single journey for zones 1-2 (Central London) sets you back ₤4.8 if you pay in cash (ouch!), however, on my second visit, I learned that you can buy a day ticket for zones 1-2 for a very low price (check this site for the latest fares) . Generally, this means that you can take as many journeys as you like for the price of one and a half journeys. Amazing, isn’t it?

Even better since you can buy a similar day travel pass that includes overground (rail services) + underground (subway), which comes in handy when visiting Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace, since this option is way less expensive (and way faster) than using the Green Line coaches.

Just remember to buy a weekly Oyster card (5 pounds for the card itself, 30 pounds for one week of unlimited travel in zones 1-2) when you first arrive to London and stop worrying about fares and zones.

Easy as pie, young lad!

Medieval and Modern London
Medieval and Modern London

Long layover in London? Make the most of it!

Finally, if you are on a long layover in London, you can leave all your luggage at the Victoria Coach station for a small fee and have a complete time to explore London without any worries since the underground is a mere 5 minutes walk. Just be sure to retrieve before the closing hours of the luggage deposit office (22:00 hours ) since trust me, you don’t want to arrive to your destination without your clothes.

My best advice for travelers to London? Explore the city and its amazing sights at your own pace. Don’t try to do everything in one week or so because not only will you be rushed but you will also miss out on the wonderful experience of re-discovering London again and again.

After all, writer Samuel Johnson said it best: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”.

There's no place like London
There’s no place like London

Last but not least, don’t forget to use our Booking.com Affiliate Link of Wonders for making hotel reservations.

Same price for you and a small pocket money commission for this website of yours.

Sweet deal, uh?

Agree, disagree? Have you ever been to London? Would you like to? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!

The Ultimate London on a Budget Travel Guide
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11 Comments

  • first time in 9000 years I’ve heard Stonehenge referred to as a new wonder :-)

    BTW Hostels are much cheaper than that in London: £17 for a shared room at the Generator in Kings Cross (not the dodgy area that it once was), £18 at the St Paul’s YHA. Both in travel zone 1.

    Talking of travel, to really save money on travel everyone should get a Visitor Oyster card.

    Visitor Oyster Cards save on single journeys and on travel cards for travel on the underground, buses, on some Thames journeys AND save on restaurants and shopping in London.

    Some more tips from the travel industry are at http://www.theatrebreaks.co.uk/17-experts-give-advice-visitors-coming-london/

  • Disclaimer: I live in London. You’ll be surprised to know that a sunny day is not that rare  . Anyway, if you’re visiting the center, walking is really your best option. If you spend too much time underground you’ll be missing what the city as to offer. Also, I wouldn’t go for the weekly travel pass if staying less than 4 days. It’s not worth it. Regarding food. There’s plenty of cheap eat places (mostly take away) under 5 GBP.

    Cheers, enjoy!

  • As someone who has gone to university in London/will soon be working there, I agree with Hugo: walking is definitely the best way to see the sights and embrace the atmosphere of the city whilst saving money. (unless of course, you’re travelling 3 zones away!)
    I was tired of London after 3 years of it. As a busy, fast-paced city, it can get pretty draining (perhaps more so if you’re form the countryside like me) But for tourists spending a few days there, it’s a wonderful place that offers a variety of sights, events and cultures. And as much as the expense/people/traffic may annoy you, there will always be something that makes you want to come back again…

  • One way or the other there is no denying London IS expensive. Been stuck here for the last month and it’s costing me an arm and a leg… and that’s just transport and food (i’m staying with friends). Any day out in the city is expensive even for free activities like museums and stuff… i really don’t know how people live here full time, it’s crazily expensive

  • Hi! Welcome back to London! I live here and while it is undeniably expensive there are plenty of ways to experience the city without being hit with hidden costs. If you have a smartphone one app that you definitely need is Citymapper. It uses gps to find your exact location so once you type in where you want to go it will tell you how to get there by bus, taxi, tube, bicycle or on foot. It also tells you exactly how much it will be and how long it will take you, give or take a minute or two. It’s a free app and definitely worth downloading.

    Another tip for cheap things to do is to go on Twitter and follow @SkintLondon. They always have tips on restaurants running food promotions like burger giveaways or free coffees at chain stores as well as information about free or almost free things to do.

    Like Hugo, I’d say walk as much as you can. The Underground can be very disorienting so if you have the time and the weather is nice stretch your legs and take a walk. Otherwise the bus is a good way to sightsee on a budget. Most museums are free to visit and within easy walking distance of the centre of the city. Enjoy your stay!

  • I’m from London, and the expense is one of the reasons I’ve decided not to live there any more, though I do think as a tourist you can do things and eat cheaply if you know where to look. Fortunately most museums are free, for example. The real thing that pisses me off about how expensive London is is actually the public transport. You know you now can no longer pay in cash on a bus? You must have an Oyster card! I actually think, even with the “discount” the Oyster card gives you, the transport is still ridiculously expensive, and the pricing system is confusing as it depends on what time of day you travel, from where to where and even if you use overground/underground trains. If I can, I actually prefer to walk in London as much as possible!

  • One of the good things about living in Australia is that things like food in London did not seem that expensive, although accommodation was a killer. I also found walking around easy and cost effective. For food I saved money by buying bits and pieces in the shops and making it myself. There are some great value pub meals around the place too.

  • I’m in London until the end of January and fortunately I don’t have to worry about accommodation costs as I will either be house sitting or staying with family and friends. I was born here but moved to Canada when I was 11 and every time I come back I wonder how everyone manages to go out as much as they do. Having a kitchen certainly helps as the food prices in the grocery stores is actually very reasonable but the mark up in the restaurants is huge. My number #1 tip for saving money would be to go to a less costly grocery store like Sainsburys and buy your own food as much as possible. If you don’t have a kitchen you may have a mini fridge on your room or a community one in a hostel and if not buy canned or dried goods for breakfast and snacks and pop in to the shops to buy a sandwich for lunch. Combine that with lots of walking and you’ll save a bundle. Easy peasy!

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