Just the very mention of the word London sends shivers of anticipation down my spine.
The history, those tall ancient buildings, the razzmatazz, the bustle and Royalty. London’s got excitement and interest in spades, but it can also be very expensive.
Most of us going to London on holiday will probably arrive via Heathrow Airport, and from London travel on to other parts of Great Britain.
So today, I’m going to give you a quick guide to help you conserve your money as you navigate your way from Heathrow to London and beyond – things which helped me on my recent holiday in England.
Tips for London.
I love visiting London for a dose of culture and history, and I’m quite happy wandering rather aimlessly around the streets, map in hand, discovering new alleyways and age-old corners. Yes, getting used to the throng of people and the pace always hits me between the eyes like a cannonball, but once I settle into it, I can look beyond the people at street level and upwards to be awed by all that ancient beauty.
If you only have a short time in London I’d suggest getting a feel for it by hopping on a Open Top Double Decker bus tour. It will give you the best route of the city to encompass all the most important landmarks and you can hop on and hop off. Perhaps at Southbank, below, where you can see another kind of double decker bus! Great to have a quirky, and healthier pop-up for fast-food, don’t you think?
How to Save Money in London
Tip: To save a bit of money at lunchtime in London – take a picnic and take advantage of one of the beautiful parks.
I love that the actual city part of London is much smaller than I always imagine. I can understand how it’s sometimes referred to as London town because it once was before all the sprawling suburbs sprang up and actually it’s heart is quite walkable if you have time.
Tip: Save money and walk around the central part of London, or buy an Oyster card (if you’re going to be there some time) or a Day Rider for the tubes and buses.
It’s easy to navigate. With a tube map to hand and a free map of the city, you can easily get around to the points you really want to see in a couple of days, as long as you don’t intend to linger longer that is at museums or art galleries.
Find free things to do
There are so many free things to do. Those wonderful museums and parks! Colourful carnivals and street markets. You can while away many happy hours on wet or sunny days without spending a penny. Check out 101 things to do in London on the TimeOut site.
Take advantage of the variety
The London Eye. What a marvellous birds eye view this gives of London. Not free to ride on, but I just love looking at it.
There are so many different quaint English pubs, lively bars and cosmopolitan restaurants. There is so much choice. Save money by sussing out a few before you get really hungry.
Theatres … just their names suggest the excitement of a great night out. For half price and discount theatre tickets head to Leicester Square and grab yourself a bargain.
The history. It’s free, most of it. So wander and enjoy. So much history, and lots of it ingrained into my psyche. I’m sure it’s the same for you … I mean who hasn’t heard about or seen pictures of at least one of the following: Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Jack the Ripper, The Tower of London? What about St Pauls Cathedral, Big Ben – shall I go on?
Find something quirky – like a peaceful rooftop bar in London
I love the unexpected things to do as well. My daughter introduced me to the South Bank and a small tucked away rooftop garden with a bar where we sat amongst flowers, vegetables and herbs looking across the Thames to the London Eye. Who’d have known?
“Let’s have Pimms,” I said. “Pimms is elegant, ladylike and thirst quenching.”
“Barman. Bring us a pitcher of Pimms,” my daughter replied.
Hehe! So we sat and chatted about life the universe and everything sitting on that rooftop bar while we munched on various nibbles, quaffed Pimms and ate all the cucumber and orange at the bottom of the jug for dessert. In reality, that was an inexpensive and very happy afternoon well spent!
Tips for Heathrow Airport
I’m a lover of National Express coaches which conveniently take me from the airport terminal to my Mum’s house in Devon, almost door to door, for about $45 – that’s a six hour journey all up. Trains are more expensive and I have to change at Exeter (and go up steps over a bridge). So with my heavy suitcase I’d rather hunker down on a coach with a good magazine and a picnic.
I stayed at The Travelodge Hotel, 2.5 miles from Heathrow on my final night in England as I needed to be at the airport quite early in the morning and didn’t want to worry about rush hour traffic jamming up the M25 and possibly being late for my flight if I stayed with family near London. It was great and cost me 77 Pounds. If you Google ‘cheap hotels near Heathrow,’ you’ll come up with several all along Bath Road which skirts the perimeter of the airport. The Travelodge gave me a clean, spacious room (no frills) a large comfy bed, a clean bathroom, an A/C which cut out the airplane noise and a great night’s sleep before my onward journey. I also looked at similar priced hotels like The Ibis and Renaissance in the same area. Anyway, they are all near the airport if you need a place to lay your head.
Tip: Make sure the hotel you choose is on the Hoppa bus route
The convenient Hoppa Bus
The Hoppa Bus runs to several of the hotels around Heathrow – there are 7 Hoppa buses servicing different hotels. They run every 40 minutes from the terminals and cost 5 Pounds or 9 Pounds for a return. I loved that the two I caught had really friendly and helpful drivers. Unlike normal buses which would be much cheaper if you knew which ones to take, they don’t stop everywhere, only at selected hotels, so they are faster and more convenient if you don’t know your way around. Oh, and the bus drivers were really friendly, patient and helpful.
To get into central London from Heathrow is pretty easy too. Once you are back at the airport you either have the option of jumping on the Heathrow Express which is expensive at 21.50 Pounds, but takes only 15 minutes, or the London Underground Piccadilly Line which takes 45 minutes to the centre of London, and is 6 Pounds for a single or 12 pounds for a day rider which gives you unlimited rides on tubes and buses all over London for the day.
Tip: Heathrow falls under zone 6 when you look at tube prices.
Trains versus coaches for long distances?
If you’re going to travel around England by train, book in advance. Try the The Trainline for cheap tickets. A much cheaper option is coach. For instance I booked (in advance) what was called a ‘Fun Rider’ coach ticket from Barnstaple in Devon to Victoria Coach Station in London, for only 13 Pounds. That’s six hours on the coach – it would cost far more to drive. Normally the cost to Heathrow is anything from 25 Pounds to 32 Pounds from Barnstaple as opposed to 36 Pounds to 99 Pounds on the train, which is only 2 hours shorter.
Tip: Take your own food and drink on the coaches
Hire cars – book online and in advance. I went through Rental Cars.Com and had a good experience with them, hiring a car from Hertz. When I wanted to renew the car for a few more days it was much more expensive to do it in England than had I done it through the agency online.
Sightseeing and Dining Out
If you’re a history buff, you’ll find loads of National Trust country houses, castles, parks and walks to keep you occupied. If you’re going to visit more than a couple it’s much cheaper to pay for an annual subscription to the National Trust, which is only about 60 Pounds and entitles you to visit anywhere for free – considering that a single entry to a National Trust property can be around $14 so becoming a member could save you lots.
Dining out. You’ll be surprised how good pub grub is these days. Pubs no longer only serve up sad pies and chips but will very often have inspired menus, so check them out before paying top dollar at fancy restaurants. I loved The Bricklayers Arms in Flaunden, Hertfordshire where we had a fancy meal at not too fancy prices.
Coming from Devon, I’m an adorer of the south west beaches and coastline. They are still free 😉 Go enjoy them, walk on them, swim in them if you’re brave enough!
For the warmest beaches you’re probably best of heading to Cornwall. Even palm trees grow down here. But don’t get too excited. Remember this is England after all 😉
North Devon has some great surfing beaches and the coastline is rugged and very beautiful. If you like walking then you’ll love the coastal walks.
Dorset is also very beautiful. It’s the area on which novelist Thomas Hardy based his fictitious Wessex …
The coastline is very very beautiful … and have I mentioned the word ‘green’ yet?
And historic Lulworth Cove (below) is well worth a visit for the beach and the walks. Tip – it gets busy in school holidays.
10. The Place I would most like to go and visit
The Lake District
So if you go, please send me pics and tell me all about it!
What money saving tips do you have and Where would you most like to visit in England?
I saw some quirky rooftop eateries with pre-loved clothes on a Television Show the other night and wanted to be there immediately.
Great article! Just a note on theatre tickets – I go all the time and I recently found a new site called SeatPlan.com which lists seat reviews for all the major theatres in London. It’s really easy to find the seat you’re sitting in at each theatre and loads of the seats have photos of the view so you can see how good the view is going to be. So good for getting the best value for money on tickets.
You should totally include them in your article, it’s a great site!
Hi Susannah, thanks so much for this tip – it’s a Great one.
Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
I took my kids on a bargain bucket tour of London. We rode the red double decker buses (not the touristy one) free with the travel card that came with our return train trip. There was a tube strike that day and the buses were hot and packed at times. So the kids got out and gladly walked 19km!!
We also found a five pound boat trip from the Tate to St. Katherine’s Dock and back to Westminster. We went under Tower Bridge and it opened. You can’t buy that 😉
I did not know The Houses of Parliament were crumbling. Glad I’ve been there done that. I have to say I don’t love London, never have though I lived there for four years. But Paris, ah, now that is worth the expense and crowds 🙂
Haha, I love your innovation! I bet they were glad to walk after that 😉 But as you say, riding the red double decker buses, why not. Have map can travel, hey? That boat trip sounds a good one. You are clever. Now I’m not so sure about Paris though – we were fleeced on the metro 😉
Loved the look of the rooftop bars. When I think of what I love about England, Country Pubs and City bars feature high on the list. It is not that I drink excessively … cough, it is just that they are so atmospheric and fun to be in. The 101 free things to do in London link is amazing. I’m sharing so that my budget traveller people can see it.
So glad you found the post helpful Jan. Yes, that 101 free things to do in London is good – wish I’d found it before 😉 I agree, rooftop bars are such fun. We have a couple in Perth which we love going to in Summer too.
Ta so much Jo… we are off in about 7 weeks…Can’t wait! Glad you had such a wonderful time.
Have a fabulous time Sue! Can’t wait to hear some of YOUR stories when you come back 🙂
I love the history of London and I could just stroll around all day taking it in. The hop on hop off bus is the ideal way to see London if you are only there for a few days (which was in my case). I also love the quirky little pub with such interesting names. I need to go back there. I have been to the Lakes District on a day trip. I’ll send you a photo!
Oh I would love to see a photo (or two!) Kathy! I really really want to get up there and go walking. Yes, there is just so much to see in London, you could spend weeks there and still not see it all, but it is lovely that we can get around a lot in a short time too.
Janet aka Middle Aged Mama
We had just four days in London and it took us 2 days to do the Hop On Hop Off double decker bus – so much we wanted to see! We bought an Oyster Card each, just so convenient and economical, and were soon navigating our way around London like old timers. I recommend downloading the CityMapper app, you enter where you are staying and where you want to go and it tells you which trains and buses to take – there’s even a wet weather option if you don’t want to go out in the rain! In that four days we also managed a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath. Can’t wait to go back!
Wow, you really filled your time well, Janet. Sounds like you made the most of every minute. Thanks for the tip about the App, that’s a really useful one to know – I shall definitely use it next time. Still so much to see.