High tea, classical art, royal palaces, gin samplings, and fine dining are all activities that come to mind when you’re planning a trip to London—and they all come with a hefty price tag. But with a little local knowledge, you can still experience the “Londoner’s London” on a budget—crown jewels not included.
How to Have a Luxury Trip to London on a Budget
Key ways to see the best of London on a budget include finding discounts on shows, exploring vintage markets, and capitalizing on freebies all over the city.
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Wander London’s Markets
Skip the crowds and prices at Harrods and instead peruse stalls with vintage Barbour jackets, mink fur, and wellies in the stables and thrift shops at Camden Market. These classic luxury items sell for relatively inexpensive prices, plus it’s fun to just window shop here.
The city’s other markets are also a great way to shop in London on a budget. Sample fine cheeses and spreads at Borough Market; dig for classic novels at the Southbank Centre Book Market; score vintage finds at the Old Spitalfields and Portobello Road markets; or head to Brick Lane in artsy Shoreditch for coffee shops and art markets.
Get a Free Gin Lesson
Skip a gin tasting or distillery tour and instead grab a cocktail at The Distillery at Hilton London Bankside. The friendly bartenders are happy to chat about everything, from the restaurant’s location in a former fragrance factory and the Prohibition-era roots of a gin fizz to classical distilling methods and new-age gin labels.
Explore London’s Neighborhoods with a Self-Guided Walking Tour
Depending on which side of London you want to see, chose from this selection of free self-guided walking tours (the company also offers pay-as-you-go guided tours as well). From royal London to James Bond themes, a walking tour is the ultimate way to see luxury London on a budget. The most expensive neighborhoods in London include Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, West Brompton, and Notting Hill.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to walk, you can hop on the double-decker public bus (some of the vintage-looking ones are still in service) with this self-guided tour.
Bonus: There are even free, self-guided food tour options.
Stay in a Chic Hostel
European hostels are not like ones you’ll find in the U.S. (even though you shouldn’t rule out one on a domestic trip either). Design hostels are becoming more popular, with the Generator brand leading the way.
Check out its London location in the West End in Russell Square. Splurge on a private room (starting around $60 USD per night) for luxury on a budget. The private rooms offered are about the size of your typical hotel room with complimentary towels, private sink, desk and chair, and an option of an en-suite bathroom (at an additional cost). Travelers love the contemporary lounge and bar areas, cleanliness, free Wi-Fi, location, and “travel shop” that offers discounted tickets and a free guided walking tour.
See a Show at a Discounted Price
Nothing screams glamour like a night at the theater in London’s West End. While top shows mean hefty ticket prices, there are ways to see a show in London on a budget. Consider going for a matinee, purchasing a standing-room-only ticket, or going on a weekday—all of these options offer significant savings.
Go to High Tea a la Carte
Instead of booking an expensive afternoon high tea at The Langham or Fortnum & Mason, go to the Dean Street Townhouse in Soho, which offers a la carte pricing—so you can have high tea like a queen, but on your budget. Other places to have high tea in London on a budget include Orange Pekoe and even the rooftop on Selfridges during the summer.
Grab a Pint at a Local Pub
Head to one of London’s glitzy neighborhoods, like Chelsea or Kensington, and visit a local pub—my favorites in Kensington are Builder’s Arms and Queen’s Arms. You can mingle with locals, enjoy the outdoor beer garden (weather permitting, of course), and grab some fish ‘n’ chips. Prices at neighborhood pubs will often be cheaper than ones in touristy neighborhoods.
Visit Famous Sights … Most of Them Are Free (or Cheap)
London is famous for its free museums, and most of the royal parks and palaces are also free (at least to look at). Here are popular sights to see in London on a budget:
- Laugh at an Angel Comedy Show.
- Walk across Tower Bridge.
- Take in panoramic views at the Sky Garden.
- Walk across Millennium Bridge.
- Visit Parliament and tour the Palace of Westminster.
- Pose for a photo op at the iconic red phone booth and Big Ben.
- Go to a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
- Watch the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, or Windsor Castle.
- Visit the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys.
- Walk around Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and St. James’s Park. Read more about the Royal Parks, here.
- Take the Emirates Air Line across the Thames.
- Cross Abbey Road.
- Discover the East End’s art galleries.
- Walk around Trafalgar Square.
- View The Globe Theatre from the outside.
Stroll Through Museums and Galleries
See England’s rich and royal history through its art at the city’s plentiful, free museums and galleries, which include:
- Natural History Museum
- Victoria & Albert Museum
- Science Museum
- The Museum of London
- The British Museum
- Tate Modern and Tate Britain
- The National Maritime Museum
- The Queen’s House Greenwich
- The Bank of England Museum
- Grant Museum of Zoology
- The Old Royal Naval College
- The Imperial War Museum
- The National Gallery
- The Serpentine Gallery
- National Portrait Gallery
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Best Things to Do in London
- How to See Sprawling London in Just a Weekend
- The Art Deco Guide to London