Money and Costs
Pound sterling (£)
Budget: Less than £85
- Dorm bed: £12–30
- Market-stall lunch or supermarket sandwich: £3.50–5
- Many museums: free
- Standby theatre tickets: £5–25
- Santander Cycles daily rental fee: £2
- Double room: £100–200
- Two-course dinner with glass of wine: £35
- Temporary exhibitions: £12–18
- Theatre tickets: £15–60
Top end: More than £200
- Four-star or boutique hotel room: more than £200
- Three-course dinner in top restaurant with wine: £60–90
- Black cab trip: £30
- Top theatre tickets: £65
ATMs are widespread. Major credit cards are accepted everywhere. The best place to change money is in post-office branches, which do not charge a commission.
ATMs are everywhere and will generally accept Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus or Maestro cards, as well as more obscure ones. There is almost always a transaction surcharge for cash withdrawals with foreign cards. There are nonbank-run ATMs that charge £1.50 to £2 per transaction. These are normally found inside shops and are particularly expensive for foreign-bank card holders. The ATM generally warns you before you take money out that it will charge you but be vigilant.
Although many London ATMs are largely tamper-proof, always beware of suspicious-looking devices attached to ATMs, including tiny pinhole cameras. If you are unsure about any particular ATM, find another one.
The UK did not adopt the euro and retained the pound sterling (£) as its unit of currency.
One pound sterling is made up of 100 pence (called ‘pee’, colloquially).
Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50, while coins are 1p ('penny'), 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. Loaded with features to thwart counterfeiters, a new dual-metal, hologram-decorated, 12-sided £1 coin entered circulation in 2017.
The best place to change money is in any local post-office branch, where no commission is charged.
You can also change money in most high-street banks and some travel agencies, as well as at the numerous bureaux de change throughout the city.
Compare rates and watch for the commission that is not always mentioned very prominently. The trick is to ask how many pounds you’ll receive in total before committing – you’ll lose nothing by shopping around.
Credit & Debit Cards
Londoners live off their debit cards, which can also be used to get ‘cash back’ from supermarkets. Card transactions and cash withdrawals are generally subject to additional charges for foreign cardholders; check with your provider.
- Credit and debit cards are accepted almost universally in London, from restaurants and bars to shops and even by some taxis.
- American Express and Diners Club are far less widely used than Visa and MasterCard.
- Contactless cards and payments (which do not require a chip and pin or a signature) are increasingly widespread (watch for the wi-fi-like symbol on cards, shops, taxis, buses, the Underground, rail services and other transport options). Transactions are limited to a maximum of £30.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Hotels Pay a porter £1 per bag; gratuity for room staff is at your discretion.
- Pubs Not expected unless table service is provided, then £1 for a round of drinks is sufficient. Do not tip at the bar.
- Restaurants Service charge often included in the bill. If not, 10% for decent service, up to 15% if exceptional.
- Taxis Londoners generally round the fare up to the nearest pound only.
Many restaurants add a 12.5% ‘discretionary’ service charge to your bill. It’s legal for them to do so but this should be clearly advertised; do, however, examine your bill.
In places that don’t include a service charge, you are expected to leave 10% extra unless the service was unsatisfactory. A tip of 15% is for extraordinary service.
You never, never tip to have your pint pulled or wine poured in a pub.
Some guides and/or drivers on Thames boat trips will solicit you – sometimes rather forcefully – for their commentary. Whether you pay is up to you but it is not required.
You can tip taxi drivers up to 10% but most people just round up to the nearest pound.