Budget Travel Tips for London and the U.K.
I hated London.
There, I admitted it *end of writer’s block.*
Though I appreciate that I even have the opportunity to travel, London didn’t fit my usual travel style. I like cheap and I like weird when I go out of the country. London and the U.K. in general lacked both of these characteristics.
Since I did write an intro post before I left for this trip, I do feel obligated to share some of the ways I saved a little money.
The trip was 9 days total. We spent 3 days in London, then rented a car with no itinerary or hotels booked. We ended up going to Windsor, Salisbury, Stonehenge, Bath, Cardiff, some Welsh village I’ll never remember the name of (probably Gwylwynyllndiff), and the Cotswolds.
Even though the trip went over our normal travel budget, we saved by following the tips below.
Go to the free “must see” museums
We visited 3 of the main museums in London, all of which were free. These were the British Museum (antiquities), the National Gallery (pre-modern art), and the Natural History Museum (dinosaurs and such). Expect to spend a good amount of time in all 3. The British Museum is so large that it probably is a multi-day visit if you want to see the whole thing. The free museums are also a good way to stay dry in the rainy London weather.
Other must see sites in London and the U.K. can get a little pricey, so plan ahead to get the most out of your visits. The Tower of London, where you can see crown jewels, castley-things, and ravens, is over 20 pounds per person. Take advantage of free guided tours at sites like these and don’t rush to get to the next site or next meal.
For churches, I recommend attending a service to get in for free. We again paid over 20 pounds per person to see Westminster Abby, but figured out we could visit St. Paul’s for free by attending a service.
There are passes you can buy online to see several of the paid sites at a discount, but these ultimately didn’t fit our travel plans. If you do want to see multiple paid sites in one day, however, this can be a good way to save.
Get an Oyster Card and figure out the bus system
London is a spread out city, but it is well connected by the London Underground and the bus system. Instead of buying individual tickets for trips, load up an Oyster Card (start with 15 pounds or so) at one of the London Underground stations.
Also take advantage of the iconic double decker buses. It can be a little tricky at first to figure out which ones go where, but with a map or the powers of Google they are a good way to get around. Observe which ones stop closest to your hotel since lists of bus routes on maps can be incomplete.
Stay in a pub (yes that’s a thing) or a B&B if traveling outside of London
Out of the countries I have traveled to, the U.K. definitely had the highest hotel prices. To give you an idea, one place that we stayed at in Bath had shared bathrooms, no elevator to the 4th floor, and was still around $90 U.S. per night.
A cheaper option is staying in a pub, which often have a few basic rooms upstairs. These tended to run around 50 to 65 pounds per night, depending upon how popular they were. You may even get lucky and end up in a semi-haunted 15th century one like we did!
Side story: we stayed in a 15th century pub in Salisbury, which will remain unnamed since I don’t know if this is good or bad publicity for them. It had a few quirky characteristics that you may expect in a hotel that old (creaky floors, small doorways, uneven alignment of things). It was still a nice place to stay, but something about it resulted in my husband sleep-walking/sleep-screaming at 4 AM.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the cheapest travel option is usually to stay in a hostel or poshtel. We simply did not run into many of these on this trip, so pubs and B&Bs tended to be the next cheapest option.
Don’t bother spending on food
We went to London open-minded and didn’t believe the stereotype that British food is awful. We did our research- we watched Youtube videos on must-eat foods in London, read about classic British dishes, etc.
And guess what- we didn’t like pretty much anything we ate in the U.K.
Sunday roast? Skip it- bland and typically beyond well done. Fish and chips? We’re Floridians, so we’ve had better less greasy versions of this. Indian food? It’s far milder than it is in the U.S. Nando’s? Never a good idea unless you hate your intestines.
Go to a grocery store and load up on Cadbury eggs and cheddar- these were the most palatable foods in the U.K. But really- don’t worry about seeking out “British food” and stick to basic sandwiches and grocery store essentials.
Splurge on memories
One thing that we typically wouldn’t do in Europe is get a rental car. Most European destinations are well connected by public transit, so we typically travel by bus or Soviet-era train. This time, however, we rented a car because rental cars were cheaper than usual during the off season, and as avid watchers of Top Gear, renting a car in the U.K. seemed like the right thing to do.
Ultimately renting a car was the best part of our trip. We got to experience the horrors of left-side-of-the-road driving and ended up with only 1 traffic ticket. We also were able to go deep into the countryside listening to Jethro Tull on loop while waiting for sheep to cross the road- can it get more British than that?
So yes, look for spots here and there to save money, but also remember that you are on vacation, and spend where needed.
Readers: have you ever been to London or the U.K.? Any travel tips? And Brits who may be reading this- feel free to defend your nation’s food in the comments below!