The Budget-Friendly London City Guide
Does London for a weekend sound insane? Many would say, “YES, absolutely”....but we’re here to convince you otherwise. There is absolutely a chance to do it within a reasonably small budget (for London). In the age of low cost carriers, travel to Europe from the United States has become both affordable and accessible. Of course, it’s not going to be $100 for the whole trip, but we hope to give you some ideas on how to get the most out of the city without taking a big hit in your bank account. Let us show you through a proposed 3 day itinerary and budget that won’t make you stay in super sketchy hostels where the employees steal your shit! (True story. Bye securely locked away and hidden Dior sunglasses and £60, still miss you).
Flights: ~$400 Round Trip
Wherever you’re flying from, chances are Norwegian and WOW Air will be the cheapest. On average, Norwegian flies to London from NYC for $400 or less! Low cost carriers like this are fantastic for their cheap prices, but once you start adding on luggage and seats, they start to match the price of other airlines. Our rule of thumb? If Norwegian or WOW Air are $100 less or more than other airlines, fly them, but otherwise the price difference is not worth it. Keep in mind that airlines are always fiercely competing and undercutting each other, so prices are usually all within the same range. We try to fly British Airways when we can. If you’re in the position for a more comfortable budget, go for Virgin Airlines for a beautiful flight experience!
Expert tip: Many good airlines now have cheaper flights, but if you check a bag it will cost you around $50. If you’re going on a short trip, pack everything into a carry on suitcase & backpack! You’re really not going to need those 15 pairs of shoes and a prom dress. Trust us.
Accommodation: ~$150 for 3 days
London is a huge city that takes time to get around. Always try to stay as centrally as possible, and if not, very close to a tube station: anywhere within zone 1 and 2 on the tube is the most ideal. The good news is that there are thousands and thousands of hotels in the city, so like flights, they are always undercutting each other. Here are a few options:
Grosvenor Hotel- 4 stars- luxury for a budget is the way to roll. We found this beautiful hotel last time we went to London for a really good price. Highly recommend if you are willing to splurge or find a great deal. If you are traveling with 3 friends, this hotel will easily be $150 each for 3 nights. Also, it is connected to Victoria Station, which is pretty much as central as you could be. Not to mention that it is a 10 minute walk from Buckingham Palace! Expert tip: book through Orbitz, but before you do, look up promo codes. Orbitz always does 10% off select hotels (and this one qualifies!)
Euston Square Hotel -3 stars- Clean and central. There’s really nothing crazy special about this hotel, but a good deal for the price. Average is $90-$100 per night, so split between you and a friend will fit into a reasonable price range for 3 days. The Euston Square tube stop is across the street, and it is walking distance to Oxford Street and Soho, where you’ll likely be spending a lot of time.
Clink78- Hostel- Here’s the thing with hostels that we’ve realized through our years of traveling: as a solo traveler, hotel rooms can be expensive, and hostels might be the only option. However, if you are traveling with friends, the price of a hostel is often the same price as a mid range hotel. Do research before you go, but if you choose to stay at a hostel, this is a great option! Clean, secure, and located in King’s Cross - you have almost every tube line accessible to you and the national and international rail.
Food & Drinks
Where to Eat
Peggy Porschen Cakes / Victoria -spend £10-15 - brunch, lunch, or just dessert. This cafe is a pink dream. The desserts are simply delicious and the latte art is beautiful! If you have trouble choosing a dessert, we highly recommend the vanilla cloud cake...you will be floating on a cloud made of cotton candy as you eat this scrumptious dessert.
Elan Cafe / Mayfair & Knightsbridge- spend £15-20- breakfast/brunch. let’s keep it going with this pink theme (because we are, TOC, after all). This is another one of London’s very popular pink cafes. BE WARNED that this place gets extremely crowded. We went at 9am on a Saturday and were able to get a table right away, but by the time we were leaving (10am), the line was down the block and they have a 45 minute table limit! Highly recommend the açai bowls - they taste like sorbet and are beautifully presented.
Pizza Union / Kings Cross- spend £10 or less!- The thing about Pizza Union is that it’s always a party. And we love that. An entire pizza pie averages for £5 AND they serve alcohol. We’re talking margaritas and mojitos for £3.50. Which is probably why it’s constantly packed and people spend hours there. Top pick for a Saturday night pregame!
Coppa Club / Tower Bridge- spend £20- ….a lot- You deserve a nice dinner overlooking the Thames River. During the winter, this restaurant puts up heated igloos covered in firefly lights outside for the ultimate experience...but they book up months in advance. Get all the appetizers to share for the table because they are ALL delicious.
Nando’s / Everywhere- spend £10-20- One quite literally cannot be in England and NOT go to Nando’s...it would be a crime. It’s an easy find for dinner because there are locations ALL over London. The restaurant is known for its chicken, but the hummus is the best hummus we’ve ever had (no exaggeration). They add their Peri Peri sauce to everything, which makes everything on the menu worth drooling over.
Where to drink
Tonight Josephine / Waterloo - spend £10 per drink- The ULTIMATE pink cocktail bar. This bar is definitely on the pricier side, but the good news is that there’s a daily happy hour from 5pm-7pm where drinks are buy one get one free! Choose the “Sink the Pink” drink for a fruity and flavorful spritz...choose the Skittle- infused vodka for a painless shot.
Vaulty Towers / Waterloo- spend £5 or less per drink- Seriously...quirky. Is it a haunted house? A circus? The lines become a little blurred once you’ve had a few drinks. Also, stay to have a meal-- the bar has a wide selection of tacos and burgers.
The Electric Ballroom / Camden Town - £10 at the door on Saturday/ £6 if you tag your friends on the event wall on Facebook - Saturday night is Propaganda night aka indie/rock club night. If you’re ready to listen to The Killers and Arctic Monkeys all Saturday night, this is the place to go.
One of the perks of London being such a huge city is that there is actually a ton of stuff to do for free! Of course there are tourist traps, but even the most touristy stuff doesn’t require spending a lot.
Buckingham Palace- FREE- Ok, so you can’t go inside for free, but what you can do is see the iconic changing of the guards ceremony for free every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 11am. The Palace is only open to visitors in the summer, when the State Rooms are available to tour. You likely won’t see the queen while you’re there, but Buckingham Palace is one of England’s most important buildings for royal and official events.
Hyde Park- FREE- You can spend an entire day getting lost in Hyde Park, or better yet, do it on bikes! They’re available to rent hourly all over the park for a starting rate of £2. Hyde Park looks a little grey in the fall and winter time, but Winter Wonderland COMPLETELY transforms it into England’s pop up version of Six Flags- I’m talking multiple ferris wheels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and booths that sell grilled halloumi. It runs from the end of November to the beginning of January.
Tower Bridge- FREE- You might think it’s called London Bridge, but really you’re thinking about Tower Bridge. Get off at the London Bridge tube stop, walk along the Thames and then onto the bridge and across. I recommend doing this at sunset, as the view from bridge are extra beautiful as the sky is golden. The best photo spot is (arguably) at the Girl with a Dolphin Fountain at the northern bank of the Thames. Don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything by not going to the Tower of London, but while you’re there, go to Coppa Club for dinner!
Westminster/ South Bank- FREE- the iconic London walk. Start off by getting off at the Westminster tube station, where you’ll immediately be greeted by Big Ben, but unfortunately, it’s under construction until 2021. From Big Ben, walk across to Westminster Abbey, the beautiful cathedral that is where the royal weddings take place. You can go in to pray from the back entrance for free, but normal entry is £20. From there, walk over to the Palace of Westminster to admire its beautiful architecture. Then, walk over the Westminster Bridge while you admire the London Eye and the bustling South Bank. DO NOT pay £25 to go on the London Eye! It’s a total rip off with screaming children as a cherry on top. End your walk at Waterloo Station where you can freely belt out “Waterloo” by ABBA.
Oxford Street- well it largely depends what your credit card limit is- Into fast fashion? Oxford Street is London’s prime shopping street to top shop until you drop. Great deals at that Topshop: their clearance section is HUGE. There are also not one but TWO Primark’s located on the street. Feeling like spending some big bucks? Try Regent Street for your designer needs. Into thrifting? Hit up Camden and go digging for hidden gems for more-or-less reasonable thrifting prices.
Notting Hill & Portobello Road Market- FREE- Yes, we’re talking about THE Notting Hill from the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts rom com. Stroll through the colorful streets and envision yourself in the movie, and trust me, there is an endless supply of colorful houses. Notting Hill also hosts the famous Portobello Road Market Monday through Saturday, primarily for antiques, but really for everything secondhand imaginable (plus produce). We do NOT recommend going on a Saturday as the road gets so crowded that it becomes difficult to walk.
Brick Lane Market- FREE- An artsy vintage paradise-- Brick Lane market is open only on Sundays from 9am-5pm. Walk through a smorgasburg of food, stopping at vintage shops along the way, then if that’s not enough for you, head into the indoor markets where you can find vintage apparel, accessories, art, and stuff you really did not think you needed until you saw it.
Afternoon Tea- Starts at £45- Afternoon tea is one of the activities that is worth a splurge in London for a proper experience. And if you’re going to splurge on it, you might as well get a tour of London on an adorable vintage double decker bus completely decked out in firefly lights! B Bakery’s Afternoon Tea Bus tours does EXACTLY that! Board one of their buses in one of two pick up locations, take your pick of tea, finger sandwiches, and delicious pastries, as you go on a bus tour to see all of London’s major sites. The tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours, and it seems like the finger sandwiches never end. You can also add on some fizz when you book the tour as the company offers prosecco and champagne along with tea. Cheers, mates!
And of course, make sure you have some time to just walk around and get lost in London! It is an incredibly beautiful place, and nothing quite beats discovering a hidden gem of a street or a peaceful and hidden cafe. Do you have any favorite London places/activities/tips? Let us know!
By: Anna Glinski