London has a reputation for being expensive, and while it’s true that you can spend a fortune here on hotels and wining and dining, it’s equally true that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the world’s greatest capital city without bankrupting yourself. Here are some of our top tips for loving London without breaking the bank.
For something more than a dorm bed but less than The Ritz, chains such as Travelodge, Premier Inn and easyHotel offer great deals. Who cares about bland furnishings when rooms start from £25? If you do go for a hostel, they’re getting increasingly impressive these days, and private rooms can be very affordable. SoHostel in the heart of Soho is a great choice, as is Wombats City Hostel slightly to the east. Alternatively, you can always check out Airbnb and other houseshare listings: that way you might get to meet a local, too.
Free museums and concerts
One of the best things about London is its museums and one of the best things about the museums is that they’re nearly all free. The British Museum, National Gallery and Natural History Museum all cost nada, and they’re just the tip of the cultural iceberg. Other highlights include Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the Science Museum, the V&A and Imperial War Museum. And if you want to up your culture quotient without upping your expenditure, many churches and cathedrals have free classical concerts at lunchtimes. There’s nothing quite like listening to a harp recital in Southwark Cathedral while nibbling on your sandwich from Pret.
Eat at lunchtime
Speaking of lunchtime, it’s also the perfect time to try one of those great London restaurants you’ve heard about. Many of the top places offer set menus with the same food that you’d fork out a fortune for in the evening – but at reduced prices. To keep costs down at dinnertime while discovering just how multicultural this city is, seek out one of London’s ethnic eateries. Indian and Chinese restaurants usually offer good quality and low prices, though you can also find everything from Indonesian to Korean to Italian. Or for something more traditional but still cheap, fish and chip shops are still easily found: Poppie’s in Shoreditch is a local favourite.
You’ve been fed and now you want to enjoy London’s famed theatre scene. As long as you’re not particular about what you see, head for the discount ticket booth in Leicester Square. Tickets are sold for the next three days, and getting there as soon as it opens (Mon-Sat 10am, Sun 11am) means more choice. The cheapest cinema tickets in town can still be found at the Prince Charles, off Leicester Square, where recent releases, all-time classics and sing-alongs are all on offer.
Lose pounds, not ££s
London is a great place to get some exercise without emptying your wallet. The city's gyms often offer day passes but these can be pricey – and unnecessary, given the many free or cheap opportunities for keeping fit available.
If you're into running, the embankments along the Thames mean you can take in river views while giving your legs a workout (follow both sides of the Thames between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge and you'll have done a 10k), or head to one of the large parks for some fresh air and flowers. The city also goes from strength to strength in terms of being bike-friendly so make use of the bike-share scheme. You get the first 30 minutes for free, plenty of time for zipping between sights, and dedicated cycle lanes make it relatively safe, despite the heavy traffic. If swimming's your thing, then numerous options are dotted around town. A nominal fee gives access to the ponds on Hampstead Heath, naturally fed pools where you'll have ducks for company and be surrounded by trees and greenery. Alternatively, London Fields Lido is a popular place to practice your backstroke in hipster-friendly Hackney.
This article was updated in November 2018.