There’s no doubt about it, London can be an expensive city.
It was one of the most expensive trips I’ve been on, but that’s primarily due to our weak Canadian dollar. Thanks to the Canadian dollar, a casual weekend trip to the US is becoming less and less of a deal. What a bummer.
Don’t let this deter you though, because I have good news!
Yes, with some good research and planning, it is possible to visit London on a budget. You might even find that London is more budget friendly than other major European cities.
Now let’s break it down.
I’ve read other blog posts about how to do London and Edinburgh on a budget, but many of them suggest staying at a hostel.
Staying at a hostel is perfectly fine, but at the end of the day, I prefer to have a private bathroom and privacy in general. Some hostels offer a room with a private bathroom, but I find that their rates can be more expensive than staying in a budget hotel.
I’ve also seen blog posts mention that they were able to visit London or Edinburgh on a budget because they had used their air mile points to get a free flight, or travel points to get free accommodations at a hotel.
That’s wonderful for someone who has accumulated air mile points or travel points, but it’s not much help to those who have not.
I do collect air miles and travel points on my credit card, but I didn’t use them for this particular trip.
OK let’s get to the real deal.
I traveled with my sister and this was the price per person in Canadian dollars.
$698 (flights) + $138 (train between London and Edinburgh) + $464 (hotel) = $1,300 CAD
This is approximately £624 GBP or $924 USD.
Notice how I didn’t include any spending money in this calculation.
I find that what each person spends their money on during vacation is personal. For this trip in particular, the bulk of my spending money went towards sightseeing and attractions. For others, it might be shopping or dining out.
Everyone has their own preference, which is why I decided to not include it for the purpose of this post.
To give you a rough idea though, I went through about £450 in spending money for the 10 days I was traveling. This was less than £50 per day, which included: sightseeing, attractions, transportation, food, shopping, etc.
I flew direct to London Gatwick Airport with Air Transat for $698. This is not the best price I’ve seen between Toronto and London, but it was the best deal at the time when I booked (approximately two months before my departure date).
When flying to London, you have the option of flying into Heathrow, Gatwick or London City Airport. I have flown into Heathrow on a layover, and Gatwick when I actually went to London.
Both airports are nice, however Gatwick is a great choice since it’s less busy than Heathrow.
Tips to save money on flights to The UK:
1. Sign up for Skyscanner price alerts. Enter your destination and dates and you’ll receive an email each morning letting you know if the price has increased or decreased.
2. Consider bundling your flight and hotel with third party websites like Expedia. You could save up to $300 by bundling.
3. Be patient. Good things come to those who wait, but don’t wait too long otherwise you might miss a great deal!
Related: 23 secrets to booking cheap flights
During our time in London, we stayed at Ibis Budget London Whitechapel and Travelodge Vauxhall. By booking early, I was able to get a great price. They were both in good locations, which provided easy access to the Tube.
While I was in Edinburgh we stayed at the Tune Hotel Haymarket. It was not located along the Royal Mile, but it served as a great base in Edinburgh and was across the street from Haymarket Station.
For 9 nights / 10 days our hotel costs were $464 each ($928 total).
Tips for saving money on accommodations in London and Edinburgh:
1. Start looking at prices as early as possible.
2. Consider traveling during the off season. Read my post on why winter is the best time to visit London.
3. Stay close to the Tube. It’ll save you time when getting around the city.
4. Check prices on third party websites such as Expedia or Hotels.com
5. Consider staying at a hostel or Airbnb. Click the Airbnb link to save $40 off your next stay.
GATWICK TO LONDON
Once we arrived at Gatwick Airport, we bought round-trip Gatwick Express tickets (you can purchase this from the South Terminal).
It’s cheaper to buy round-trip Gatwick Express tickets than if you purchase a one-way ticket. The return ticket is valid for one month after your purchase date.
The Gatwick Express is not the cheapest option, but it’s one of the quickest routes to London Victoria Station (non-stop 30 minutes journey time).
Alternatively, you can take the Southern Train from Gatwick South Terminal to London Victoria Station at a reduced rate, however this can take up to an hour since it has multiple stops.
Taxi and private shuttles are the most expensive and usually take the longest. Unless you have no other choice, I don’t recommend them.
HEATHROW TO LONDON
The quickest option to get to London is to take the Heathrow Express. The journey time from London to Paddington Station is 15 minutes from Terminals 2 and 3.
The most cost-effective option is to take the London Underground. The Piccadilly Line trains run from all terminals and the journey time is approximately 50-60 minutes.
TRAIN BETWEEN LONDON AND EDINBURGH
We took the Virgin Train from London to Edinburgh and back while visiting The UK. Their Standard and First Class tickets are released twelve weeks before departure, and that’s when they are at their cheapest.
I checked the prices of tickets one day, and when I went to book the following the day, the price had increased. This taught me a good lesson.
Even though I paid $138 for round trip tickets between London and Edinburgh, I could have paid even less if I had booked earlier!
Shoulda woulda coulda!
Alternatively, you can fly to Edinburgh from London, however the train is so quick and convenient (4.5 hours journey time), and you don’t have to worry about arriving early at the airport or the hassle of going through security.
GETTING AROUND LONDON
Getting around London couldn’t be easier with the London Underground. I picked up a Visitor Oyster Card when I arrived at Gatwick Airport. You can also choose to get a regular Oyster Card instead, depending on your transportation needs.
Not only do you save money when you travel on the Tube using an Oyster Card, but it also has a daily cap. This means that you can ride the Tube as often as you wish in a single day for £6.40 between Zones 1-2 (prices vary if you travel outside of Zones 1 and 2).
Even though London is a very walkable city, riding the Tube saves time when getting to and from your next destination. Plus, it’s easy to use!
I watched a Youtube video on how to use the Tube before I went to London and this was very helpful.
GETTING AROUND EDINBURGH
Since many of the main attractions in Edinburgh are relatively close to each other, we didn’t find it necessary to use the public transit. Instead, we walked everywhere we needed to go.
However, if you didn’t bring comfortable shoes, or you’re short on time, Edinburgh has buses and trams that are affordable and easy to use.
You can pay using exact change when riding the bus (unlike London where you required an Oyster Card). Visitors also have the option of purchasing an unlimited ride pass for the day, which costs £4 (which can be bought from the bus driver).
SIGHTSEEING AND ATTRACTIONS
Fortunately, many of the big museums are free to enter in London. You can explore their permanent collections for free, or choose to purchase a ticket to visit their exhibitions.
Of course, free entry to these museums wouldn’t be possible without your help, so it’s appreciated if you donated a small fee during your visit.
My favourite museums to visit in London were the British Museum, the Victor & Albert Museum and the National Gallery.
Now, not everything is free to visit in London, otherwise it wouldn’t have the reputation for being such an expensive city.
A good way to save money though is to take advantage of London’s 2for1 offers. Days Out Guide offers 2 for 1 entry to over 150 top London attractions, restaurants, theatre exhibitions and more.
For us, this was the mother of all deals that we found, and it saved us a small fortunate. We were also able to visit a lot more attractions that we had anticipated since we received the 2 for 1 discount.
2 for 1 attractions that we visited:
- London Eye
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Tower of London
- Tower Bridge Exhibition
- The Monument
- Westminster Abbey
While we would have loved to visit more attractions, these were the only paid attractions that we had time for during our stay. Now I have another excuse to go back to London, right?
If you’re traveling alone or with a group, you may want to consider using The London Pass. This includes free entry to over 60 London attractions, a free Hop on Hop off bus tour, an optional Oyster travelcard and more.
Many of the popular museums are free to visit in Edinburgh, such as the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland. Click here for a full list of free attractions.
If you’re a student, make sure to bring your student card with you since many of the paid attractions in Edinburgh offer a student discount. I used my student card and was able to save money this way.
Some attractions offer an online (advanced purchase) discount. Keep in mind though that you will be charged in GBP.
I have also seen vouchers available on websites like Groupon, which offer discounts to some of Edinburgh’s popular attractions.
Eating out can easily become your biggest expense if you’re not careful with your planning.
Before heading to the UK, I read a couple of guides that mentioned fish and chips were considered a budget option.
I rarely eat meat though and when I arrived in London, I saw that the typical price of fish and chips at a pub costs around £10-14. To put this into perspective, that would come to $20-28 CAD and here in Canada fish and chips usually costs around $10-14.
This was clearly not something I would consider as a budget option.
I am a bit of a foodie, but I do try to search for the best value for my money when dining out.
I ended up eating a lot of pizza, pasta and vegetarian burgers – as these were the most budget friendly meat-free options for me.
If you have access to a kitchen (either at your Airbnb or hotel), groceries in London are pretty affordable, which is a great way to save money instead of dining out.
Alternatively, grocery stores also offer pre-made meals (such as sandwiches or salads) for affordable prices too.
For breakfast we decided to skip the typical English and Scottish breakfasts and instead ate granola bars that I brought from home each morning. If we weren’t in the mood for a granola bar, we headed to a local café for a muffin or pastry.
Sit in usually costs more than take away, so keep this in mind when you’re out and about.
By being able to eat a granola bar in our hotel room (most mornings), this saved us both money and time, so we were able to get an early start to our day.
Since we were visiting in November, day light hours are shorter (it got dark at around 4:00 PM), so making the most of our day was crucial.
For lunch we would usually grab something quick, such as a burrito or a sandwich.
Sometimes we would go to a sit down restaurant and order one of their affordable lunch specials.
If we did eat at a restaurant, we would order a big meal (since it was usually cheaper than their dinner prices) and this would fill us up for both lunch and dinner.
If we were still hungry at dinner, we would go somewhere for a snack or dessert.
If we didn’t have a big lunch, we would head to a pub for dinner. We tried to find meal options that were under £12 each, such as pizza, pasta or vegetarian burgers (as I mentioned above).
Instead of walking around to check the menu at each restaurant, I used Yelp to find a high-rated (and affordable) place near my current location. This worked like a charm for us!
If you have time to do a little planning, I suggest signing up at Quandoo, where you can make reservations at a restaurant online. Sometimes they offer discounts or vouchers to places, which is a great way to save money.
Since our first hotel in London was close to Brick Lane, we were looking for something within walking distance for dinner. I made reservations on Quandoo for La Cucina and was able to receive a 50% off voucher when you order two courses.
Tips for dining on a budget in London and Edinburgh:
1. Avoid eating at restaurants in the tourist areas. You’ll be surprised how affordable places are when you walk just a few blocks away from the main tourist intersections.
2. Use Yelp or Tripadvisor to find affordable and high-rated restaurant options.
3. It’s OK to make lunch or dinner your sit down meal — but not both in one day.
4. Grab a delicious meal at one of London’s open air markets on the cheap.
Ways I could have saved even more in London:
1. Stay at a hostel to save money on accommodation costs.
2. Stay at a place that had access to a kitchen so I could cook my own food, and subsequently save money.
3. Visit less attractions and tourists spots. Even with the 2 for 1 voucher, it still adds up!
4. Book my train tickets between Edinburgh and London earlier. I mentioned that the price went up since I booked later.
5. Book my flights to London earlier. Even though I got what seemed like a great price, I have seen even lower priced flights to London in the past. I booked two months before my departure dates, but sometimes deals can be found 3-6 months before your planned trip.How I had a 10-day holiday in London + Edinburgh for only $924Click To Tweet
Over to you — what are your tips for visiting London & Edinburgh on a budget?
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