5 Ways to Enjoy London on a Budget

by Beth Stewart in


My move across the world was exhilarating, scary, euphoric, and stressful all at once, but I made it. Now that I’ve been a London resident for a few months and I’m comfortably settled into my dream flat, I feel prepared to write about the city I love so passionately. London and New York are close cousins: cultural meccas, full of diversity and excitement and possibility. While both cities have electric vibes and loads to explore, going out often leads to a pile of debt after a week’s time! There are “tourist traps” in any major city, but now that I’m a proper local, it’s been my mission to scour London for great deals. After some seriously fun searching, here’s what I found: 

 

1. EATS.
 

Despite London’s astronomical housing prices, you can actually eat really well on a budget. Since the busy tourist areas like Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden have many overpriced tourist-aimed restaurants, it’s best to take recommendations from the locals. One of my favorite local haunts, The George and Vulture, has the atmosphere of a bona fide British pub, but makes authentic Italian style brick oven pizzas. On Monday evening, they have 2-for-1 pizzas and 2-for-1 bottled beers. You’ll find me there almost any Monday night because the pizzas are UNREAL. Similarly, I stumbled across one of my favorite happy hours while walking through London’s beautiful Soho and Fitzrovia neighborhoods. The Remedy Wine Bar has daily happy hour from 4-6 featuring many half priced bottles of wine and £1 oysters! The oysters are divine and the atmosphere is both relaxing and chic. While there are too many great options to name in one post, online resources like TimeOut London are a great starting point for meal deals.
 

2. SHOPPING.

For the luxury shopping experience, there’s nothing like Harrod’s, Selfridges, or some of the stores on Carnaby and Oxford Streets. For budget shopping, however, I prefer local street markets. Borough Market, located on London’s picturesque South Bank, is foodie heaven. There are countless food stands serving authentic curry (which London does particularly well), Egyptian, Thai, Spanish, traditional British fare, etc. for great prices. There are other stands where artisans (no pun intended) sell homemade baked goods, chocolates, and cheese. There’s even a booth exclusively for truffles! I recommend the pistachio raspberry cake from The Free From Bakehouse, which sells baked goods made gluten free, vegan, and refined sugar free and still taste absolutely incredible! Chapel Market is a no-frills street market in Islington, selling everything from clothes to produce to plants. I particularly love their selection of home goods, priced well below anything you’d pay in a store. My latest find, the super-charming Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill, has a little bit of everything, but specializes in antiques and vintage. On your way to the market, I suggest you stop at Bluebelles for a world-class coffee.
 

3. ENTERTAINMENT.
 

Since London is a hub for art, music, and theatre events, there’s something to see every night. If you fancy the London theatre scene, there are last minute deals available online for your favorite shows. The Royal Opera House outlines guidelines for cheap seats on their website, and the English National Opera sponsors reduced ticket prices and a post-performance event called ENO Undressed for new opera-goers. My favorite thing to do in London with a few hours to kill is roam around the museums. All of the permanent galleries, including The National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Museums, and British Museum (one of the best history museums in the world), are free and open to the public. The special exhibitions run anywhere from £8-£15, but they are well worth the price. If you find yourself at the Portrait Gallery, splurge on lunch at the Portrait Café upstairs- it’s one of the best views of the city!
 

4. DRINKS.
 

A quality glass of wine or speciality cocktail can be pricey in London, so drink deals are a must. There’s a great app called DrinkOwl that helps you find drink deals based on the day, area, and your preferred beverage. The popular coupon apps Groupon and Living Social feature great deals on club entry for those of you who like to hit the dance floor, as does The All Access Pass. The best drink deals I’ve found have been through simply exploring neighborhoods and stumbling across hidden gems. If I don’t have time for an impromptu visit, I’ll take a photo as a reminder to go back! 
 

5. GREEN SPACES.

London is not particularly known for its weather, but there are so many lovely green spaces to explore, even on a grey day! I often bring a picnic or grab takeaway from Pret, and spend a lazy afternoon outside. In Central London, St. James Park and Green Park are both stunning, and very close to lots of the tourist sights including Buckingham Palace and Parliament. Victoria Park in east London and Hyde Park in the west are great for runners- in fact, I ran a 10k in Hyde Park earlier this year and loved the course. Speaking of races, I ran my first half-marathon in southwest London’s Richmond Park and Kew Gardens last weekend. Richmond is an urban oasis, serene and teeming with wildlife. Well known to locals but lesser known to tourists, Richmond and Kew are perfect if you seek an inexpensive repose in nature, away from the London crowds. Side note: if any of you is interested in running the Richmond Running Festival half-marathon next year, I highly recommend it. Gorgeous scenery aside, you’re greeted at the finish line with a cold ale! Now that’s a serious deal.


If you haven’t been to London, I hope this post whets your appetite. I’m a proud resident of this glorious city, and it’s been a joy to share some of my favorite spots with you!