Answer Europe United Kingdom

Why London Is Actually A Pretty Affordable City

Frequently, London tops the lists for most expensive city in Europe, most expensive place to live, or even just most expensive destination to travel to. But is this actually true, or is it all what you make of it? 

People told me London was super expensive, that being a broke teenager in London I wouldn’t be able to do much. They brought up the strength of the British Pound in comparison to the US Dollar. I heard that everything was twice as much, and so I needed to save twice as much. These doubters clearly did not know me very well, because I can do anything I set my mind to–including traveling around London on a very small budget

Getting There

Plane, train, boat, or automobile

Paddington Station

London is actually a very accessible city for international travelers. From the United States, you can purchase flights that land at London’s Gatwick, Heathrow, or Stansted Airports–depending on the airline and point of origin. Flights to these airports can be super cheap on budget airlines like WOW Air, Primera and Norwegian. It is also very easy to get into central London from the airports via trains or buses.

If you’re traveling from within Europe, you can fly into any of the above airports, along with London’s City, Southend, and Luton airports. If you don’t like planes, you can take the Eurostar from Brussels, Paris, or the Netherlands now–not to mention all the train connections possible from the rest of Europe. There are even bus and ferry combinations that will get you to London for mere pocket change. No matter what method of transport you prefer, competition has made almost all of them affordable for everyone.

Getting Around

Slow down and enjoy the view.

London West End
London’s army of over 30,000 buses has the biggest reach in terms of transportation.

London may be most well-known for its underground network of subway tunnels, but this is not the cheapest or most pleasant method of transportation. Due to a lack of subsidies, the Tube is relatively pricier and not worth it for shorter trips. However, there are many alternate options for getting around London without spending a lot.

I have a whole separate post about alternatives to the Tube that I’m writing, but my favorite alternative was London’s bus system. By this, I’m referring to the iconic double-decker, bright red buses that dominate London’s streets. In addition to being able to get a view of the city, the buses are also very cheap and efficient. Though they’re not as fast as the Tube, you can get on and off much more frequently and save money too.

If you don’t like buses, London is also full of black cabs that can get you right to your front door without having to stop and deal with other people. These aren’t cheap, but American ingenuity has permeated the industry to some extent. This means ride sharing companies like Uber now offer similar services, and there are even black cab apps like Gett where you can receive a fixed rate offer ahead of time. There are no more costly surprises anymore.

Good Eats

High culture, low prices.

London Dining
Ethnic and fast food restaurants bring costs down for average people.

Food is another thing that doesn’t have to be expensive in London. If you’re looking for a Michelin star experience, you can find it quite easily. But most of use are just looking to fill our stomachs and be on our way to another adventure. If you’re like me, then there are hundreds of options for you, all depending on your personal taste.

Grocery stores are a great place to start. If you’re staying in a hostel or a place with a kitchen, you can buy groceries to cook your own meals for about what you’d pay in the States. If you’re not interested in cooking, stores like Sainsbury’s, Whole Foods, and Tesco offer fast meals that you can buy in-store ready to eat or heat up in a microwave later. I highly recommend also buying granola bars, fruit, and other necessities so you won’t have to purchase breakfast or lunch in the city. You’ll save plenty of money this way.

Fast food and cafes are another good idea for travelers trying to save money. If you want to go this route, check out places like Starbuck’s, Prêt à Manger (pre-packaged soups, salads, etc), and the various fast food restaurants around town like McDonald’s. You’re bound to find a decent meal for cheap, and you won’t have to waste all day sitting and waiting to eat in a traditional restaurant.

The last option that I recommend is the fast casual eateries that seem to have sprung up quite recently because of American influence. Places like Pizza Express are quite affordable for the average traveler if you’re looking for a sit-down experience. Nando’s, though, was my favorite. Good portions, good selection, and great prices. It also breaks out of the bland unseasoned British food you’re bound to come across in the English capital.

Staying the Night

And making friends in the process.

Hostels are cheap, friendly, and very close to central London

Most websites that try and tell you London is expensive quote the prices of full service hotels within central London. I’m not going to lie and say these aren’t expensive–they are. But they are not your only option. The way I see it, there are three main alternatives to this that will be lower priced while still providing everything you might be looking for in lodging. 

The first option is a budget hotel. Budget hotels are hotel chains like Travelodge or Ibis. They offer you the basics of a hotel–clean bed, private bath, safe room–while stripping down the rest of the services that you don’t need. These tend to be quite modern, but they are often outside the direct city center and will charge for breakfast and frequent room service. They’re a great alternative, though, as they provide exactly what you need and don’t charge for what you don’t need. Check out some options in London on TRVL and sign up for lower rates than advertised.

Another good choice is Airbnb. By now, everyone has heard of Airbnb: stay in someone else’s house for cheaper than a hotel and get a more personal experience. I’ve had great experiences staying in Airbnb apartments, and I highly recommend it. Each experience is so different in what they provide and the adventures you’ll have, but they are often cheaper than hotels for similar rooms and features. Sign up for Airbnb and find a unique stay that can match your interests and needs.

Lastly, keep your eye out for hostels. They provide a variety of different options–small or large dorms, private rooms, bathrooms ensuite–all for extremely competitive prices. A bed in a dorm with other students can be as low as $20 a night in London, while private rooms start at around $40. In addition to that, there is often a kitchen to cook in and community spaces to meet new friends. Check out my favorite hostel in London here, right next to bus and Tube stops that take you to Westminster in minutes.

Closing Notes

A message from the author.

London is exactly what you choose to make it. It can be an expensive, luxury travel experience if you’re looking for that. Or it can also be an amazing destination full of adventures to be had while still on a budget. If you can reduce some of the biggest costs of staying somewhere–Transport, Food and Lodging–then you can go anywhere you want without having much money. So don’t let the doubters hold you back by making you think London is too expensive. There are always alternatives if you’re looking.

How do you cut down on costs while traveling on a budget?


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