Skip to content Skip to footer

40 Cheap or Free Things to Do in London

Cheap London! The British pound may be expensive, but don’t let that keep you from saving money while still having a fun and affordable vacation.

Too many people put off taking a trip to London because the strength of the British pound tricks them into believing the city will cost too much. It’s just not so. Believe it or not, many Londoners bring home less than £30,000 (about US$38,000) a year, so even more than most places, London is well-equipped with budget options—from a long list of free attractions to cheap ways to get around—that make a visit much more affordable than the city’s reputation would lead you to believe.  

Cheap ways to get to London

1. Fly off-season. Airfare is cheapest in the winter. Fortunately, even though it’s actually farther north from the equator than most of the continental United States is, London has winters that are much milder than those in the North America.


2. Fly a discount airline. The likes of Norse Atlantic may charge for every little extra, but they will usually still save you money in the long run. And for more than half a century budgeteers have relied on Icelandair‘s cheap flights, which stop in Reykjavik long enough for you to leave the airport and take a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon.
3. Go to Europe first. London’s landing fees are some of the highest in the world, so consider stopping first on the mainland (in Paris, Brussels, or Amsterdam) and taking the Eurostar Channel Tunnel train into the heart of London instead. It only takes a few hours and could save you a couple hundred dollars. 

Embankment Tube stop | Photo: Jason Cochran

Cheap places to stay in London

4. Book hotels many months ahead. London is full of major hotel chains—Premier Inn, Travelodge, citizenM, Z Hotels, and others—where rates increase as space decreases. For prices well under £100, book the instant the rooms go on sale, 10 to 12 months ahead of time if possible. On the other hand, last-minute rates at corporate hotels are not a good value.

5. Get an inside or windowless room. Many hotels were inserted into heritage buildings that cannot, by law, be changed, which means some rooms will be less spacious and ideally situated than others. Ask for a unit at the back, or, at properties like Z Hotels and Hub by Premier Inn, you can get a deep discount by going windowless. You won’t be in the room much anyway.

6. Use an air-hotel package. A dwindling number of airlines and companies such as Gate 1 Travel buy hotel rooms in bulk and pass savings on to their customers. Sometimes it’s possible to get airfare and six nights in a hotel for about as much as it would cost to buy airfare alone by yourself.


7. Book a mom-and-pop hotel. Economic pressures are stamping them out fast, but they are frequently a better value than the dynamically priced corporate options. What’s more, most of these hotels include taxes in their quoted rates, whereas that’s a big expense the corporate chains spring on you when you least expect it. Here’s a list of some of our’ favorite cheap hotels.


8. Bargain for extended stays. Some family-run hotels (and even a few company-owned ones) may be willing to discount your room if you promise to stay for five or six nights as opposed to two or three. Ask the manager before booking.

9. Homestay. The great old British tradition of taking in temporary boarders is alive and well in the outer areas of London, where you can wind up paying as little as £30 a night if you’re willing to pay for a train ride into town each day. See The London Bed and Breakfast Agency ( or (


10. Rent a flat. Hiring a whole apartment can also be economical if you’re a party of two or more. All the famous rental websites operate here, and so do London specialists like City Relay ( and London Perfect (

Photo: Jason Cochran

Cheap food and drink in London

11. Do afternoon tea unexpectedly. The fancy hotels charge for soothing music and servile ambiance, but countless restaurants and museums do their own teas in their cafés for prices as reasonable as £10 to £20. Try the Cafe in the Crypt, the British Museum (pictured above), or the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

12. Eat sandwiches. Fast, good takeaway options are everywhere, sometimes three to a corner: Pret a Manger, Marks and Spencer Simply Food, and more all sell filling sandwiches for £4 to £6.

13. Don’t buy soda pop. A 2018 sugar tax made Coca-Cola even more expensive. You could pay the equivalent of US$4 for one now.

14. Drink beer, not spirits. England is a beer country. Spirits are served, but they invariably cost more and the pours are so tightly controlled you may not feel much for your money.

15. Check for service fees. Most restaurant bills now automatically tack on a service fee. If you tip on top of that, you’ll be tipping twice, which may not be your intention.

16. Eat to go. By law, takeaway food is taxed at a lower rate than eat-in food, so if you walk, you save.

17. Eat at a food market. Great dishes of freshly prepared gourmet food for £4 to £10 can be had at Borough Market, Maltby Street Market, Mercato Metropolitano, one of several Market Halls, and more. 

18. Bottled drinks are cheaper in drugstores and supermarkets. When you’re thirsty, head into places like Boots or M&S Simply Food. Their refrigerated cases are full of water, juice, and fizzy beverages—but often, for as much as £1 less than you’d pay at newsagents or sandwich shops.

19. Skip the rice. At home, rice may come for free, but here, restaurants charge extra for it on the side.

Photo: Jason Cochran

Cheap transportation in London

20. Take buses. The fare is a third of what a cash fare on the Tube would be, and you get to see the city.

21. Get an Oyster card or pay for rides by tapping your credit card. The cheapest Tube and bus fares are not for cash payments, but for contactless payment. You should tap your credit card, payment-enabled smartphone, or pre-loaded Oyster card on the yellow sensors as you enter and exit stations to debit payment. It also works on commuter trains and buses around the greater London area, so you won’t have to keep going to the ticket office. Fares paid in cash to the ticket machines are charged at a much higher rate.

22. If your destination is two or three Tube stops away, walk. The Underground still goes at the same speed it did when it was built in the 1860s. Many times, you could have walked faster than it takes to descend to the platform, wait for the train, take it, and walk back up.


23. Transfer between buses. You can switch between as many city buses as you like within an hour and not pay another fare. 

24. Take public transportation to and from the airport. Every airport in London can be reached using nothing more than standard city railways—for Heathrow, it’s the new Elizabeth Line or the old Piccadilly Line; for City, take the Docklands Light Railway. Gatwick and the others require commuter trains, but they’re just as easy.


25. Take Thameslink from Gatwick. If you eschew the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and take the Thameslink to Blackfriars instead, you pay about a third as much. Victoria Station is just 5 stops away from Blackfriars on the District or Circle lines, and besides, you’d probably have to take the Tube from Victoria to your hotel anyway, so it’s not like you have to be taken to that station specifically. (The free Trainline app shows schedules and prices.) 

Mercato Mayfair food hall, off Oxford Street | Photo: Jason Cochran

Cheap attractions and shows in London

26. Visit free museums. Most of the great ones are free—the British Museum, the V&A, the Natural History Museum (pictured above), and many more. Here’s our roundup of 25 worth seeing.

27. Go on the museums’ open nights. You can extend your touring time by going to a museum during its evening hours. The major ones are open at least one evening a week or a month, freeing up some daytime hours for additional touring.

28. See one of the great churches during services. If all you want is to say you’ve been inside them, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral open their doors for free worship at posted times. You won’t be allowed to putter around and take in the exhibits, but you’ll save £20 or more each time, and you’ll experience both places via their intended purposes.

29. Indulge in museums’ free events. Most institutions justify their positions in the community by mounting healthy slates of chats and seminars that cost nothing to attend. For example, the National Gallery does 45-minute Lunchtime Talks on a changing topics each weekday, the V&A mounts at least 5 themed one-hour tours between 10:30am and 3pm, and the British Museum will even allow you to touch ancient items from its collection through its Hands On program. Check events schedules.

30. Stay in the West End, Bloomsbury, Holborn, Kings Cross, or South Bank. If you’re reasonably fit, you’ll find you can walk to nearly all the major attractions from these places, trimming your budget of expensive Tube fares. 

31. Take a walking tour.. Affordable—and ubiquitous—walking tour outfits charge as little as £15 for dozens of daily choices. In fact, there are so many options you could fill an entire vacation doing only these. One of the longest-running and most reliable is London Walks (, but our Frommer’s guide book lists many more.

32. If you’re going as a family, ask about Family Tickets. They yield cheaper entry rates when you all show up together. A majority of museums have these now. Some older mom-and-pop hotels also have Family Rooms, which they may call “Quints” or “Quads.”

33. Decline “Gift Aid.” Most museums’ posted admission prices are inflated by £1 to £3 because they include a voluntary donation that locals can write off—but foreigners can’t. Decline it at the box office. No one will judge you if you do; it’s normal to say no.

34. Get rush (last-minute) tickets for shows. Many popular productions have a limited number of discounted “rush” tickets that go on sale each morning either at the theatre or via an app like TodayTix, which officially handles distribution for many shows. You can see the big, sold-out hits for £15 to £25 each.


35. Buy advance (non-rush) show tickets ahead of time, also on TodayTix. The app posts deep discounts for most major West End and some Fringe shows, and you can start checking days or weeks ahead of time. 


36. Use TKTS. A few hours before showtime (but not right before), the TKTS booth at the south end of Leicester Square has a few more show discounts, some deep and some middling, but there’s always a wide selection.

37. Use the blogs to find out what’s going on. One in particular: You’ll find ideas in the regular Things to Do section of Londonist. (


Regent Street | Photo: Jason Cochran

Cheap shopping in London

38. Attend a festival. London is one of the most diverse cities on the globe, and that population supports a busy calendar that swings from one massive street party to another, including Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day in March, LGBT+ Pride in summer, the Caribbean celebration of Notting Hill Carnival in August, the Totally Thames festival in September, and Diwali in October.

39. Look for “3 for 2″s. In Britain, a popular sales gimmick at drugstores and bookstores is the 3-for-2 or 4-for-3 promotion—as in, buy two, get one free. The deals are usually marked by stickers on the front tables or with special signs on store shelves. You can save a ton.

40. Some newspaper purchases come with a free liter of water. Particularly at chains such as WHSmith, there’s usually a promotion in which purchasing one of the major daily newspapers means you can take an entire bottle of water for free. 

Get a lot more tips about seeing London cheaply in our award-winning Frommer’s Guide to London.