London is famously expensive. The city routinely tops most-expensive-city lists, and whole neighborhoods are famously owned by the world’s wealthy elite.
These sky-high costs of living can translate into an expensive travel experience. If you stay at fancy hotels, eat at ritzy restaurants, and do touristy things like the London Eye, visiting the city will be an astronomically expensive experience.
But there is another way. Incredibly, London’s abundance of inexpensive and free sites can actually make it one of the cheapest European cities to visit. Here’s how:
1. Hotels are really cheap in London.
A few visits ago, I stayed in the Victoria location of EasyHotel. It’s a decent location, and when I checked prices this week it had rooms for under 50 pounds. You have to book well in advance, but that’s still cheaper than I’ve found in, say, New York City.
EasyHotel is very cheap, but I actually don’t love it. It’s a chain, for starters, and I didn’t meet anyone or have more interesting experiences for having stayed there.
As it turns out, though, the surrounding neighborhood is filled with similarly priced independent hotels. I’ve stayed in a handful of them, usually just by showing up and asking about vacancies. They offer a no frills experience, but in general they’ve been cheaper and better located than similar quality hotels I’ve found in cities like Paris, Rome, or anywhere in the U.S.
2. Some of the best theater is the cheapest theater.
In London, you can go to the West End and spend a lot of money seeing high-profile musicals that are playing in other cities. If that’s your thing, great, but keep in mind it’s an experience that will be fairly similar to something you might do anywhere.
A better option — and a more characteristically London one — would be to either see something at the Globe, or on London’s Fringe. The Globe is plenty touristy, but the plays I’ve seen there have been genuinely good. And standing room tickets are a mere 5 pounds.
Even better is the Fringe, which is London’s equivalent of Off-Off-Broadway. I’ve been to a handful of Fringe plays and they’ve all been interesting, inexpensive, and in rooms that only hold 30 or so people. More than anything else I’ve done in London, going to Fringe plays feels like dropping in on a group of friends.
3. Even some of the paid sites can actually be visited for free.
The last time I visited London, I was with a group for which the budget was a major concern. We wanted to visit Westminster Abbey, but the hefty 20 pound admission ticket was not really doable for our group.
Luckily, however, you can actually visit West Minster Abbey for free by attending an evensong — which is a more rewarding way to visit anyway because it’s how the building was meant to be used. It’s cheaper, it’s better, and it’s one of the things that makes London great.
4. Many of London’s world class museums are completely free.
London’s museums are probably the single biggest thing that makes the city affordable. Many of them are must-see sites: the British Museum includes the Rosetta Stone; the National Gallery is filled with masterpieces; and the Tate Modern is one of the best contemporary museums anywhere. Others, such as the Imperial War Museum, offer deep dives into specific subjects.
In most cities, these museums would cost a fortune to visit. Visiting the Louvre and the Orsay in Paris, or the Met and the MoMA in New York isn’t cheap.
But in London the top tier museums are free, and there are so many of them that they could keep a visitor busy for weeks. It’s really quite amazing, and shows how even in expensive London an emphasis on art and history translates into experiences for every budget.
— Jim Dalrymple II