From the breathtaking London Eye to the high-profile designer shops that flood its streets, London is an eclectic city that proudly represents England’s finest traditions. Vividly displaying an array of great architecture, iconic arts and design, and a mix of old and new trends, the city is as dynamic and fast-evolving as it can get.
But more than its euphoric shopping districts, London has something to offer for any kind of traveler, making it one of the most-visited cities in the world. Visit a museum, enjoy a plate of English delicacies, or simply read a book under its lush, green spaces–the heart of England surely won’t disappoint.
If it’s your first time to book a ticket to this electrifying city, you’ll find more than enough reasons to go back for the umpth time, thanks to its unique character. But for starters, here’s a complete travel guide to London:
What to Expect When You Travel to London
Currency: Pounds (£/GBP).
Transportation: London Underground Railway (Tube), Tramlink system, double-decker buses, cab/taxi
Credit Cards and ATMs: You can easily spot ATMs in London, but it’s always wise to carry cash so you can buy small items. Credit cards are accepted in the majority of its establishments, too.
Time Zone: Daylight Saving – UK (GMT+1); Greenwich Mean Time (winter months) – (GMT+0)
Socket: Type G
Weather: England has a temperate oceanic climate, which means it always pays to bring an umbrella in case of a sudden downpour. The warm months range between June to September, with the warmest climate usually falling in August. The average temperature during this season is at around 22℃, which can climb to up to 30℃. Winter, on the other hand, starts in December and ends in February. Winter temperatures don’t usually drop to -10℃, but it can fall to up to 1℃ during January, the coldest month of the year.
Best Travel Times: Peak travel season starts from late spring to summer (May to August), but the price of hotels and other travel expenses also escalates during these months. If you are traveling to London on a budget, springtime (March to May) is a great season since the city’s temperature is modest and the parks are greener than ever.
Traveling to London on a Budget: Travel Costing
Despite its reputation for being a luxurious city, traveling to London on a budget is not rocket science. Many backpackers spend a holiday in this European capital for reasons as high as its towering skyscrapers. While prices can vary from one establishment to another, here’s an estimate of the usual travel costing on London hotels, hostels, restaurants, and other typical travel expenditures.
London Hotels: Being the top-star city that it is, London gives you an unending parade of hotels. High-end London hotels can charge as high as £650 per night, but if you don’t want to go down that lane, there are budget, 2-star London hotels with rates ranging from £55 (off-peak) to £70 (peak season).
Hostels: Hostels are no stranger to travelers on a budget. Just like in other cities, the nightly charge of hostels depends on the maximum capacity of the room. Large hostels that can accommodate over 10 persons can cost £15 (peak) or £14 (off-peak) per night, while rooms that allow between 4 and 8 occupants charge around £25 (peak) or over £20 (off-peak).
A twin bedroom can cost over £70 per night, making it wiser to book London hotels since they are way cheaper especially during off-peak seasons.
Food: One of London’s charms is its diverse culinary scene. When dining in luxury stores and restaurants, prepare to spend a fortune for a 3-course meal (plus, of course, wine). Prices can range between £70 to £90, which can blow your budget out of proportion.
Mid-range restaurants, on the other hand, can charge anywhere between £12 to £25 per meal. Some open buffets and carveries cost between £20 to £50 per person, depending on mealtimes. Aside from authentic English restaurants, London is also home to other types of delicacies.
If traveling to London on a budget is the main goal, you can resort to street food like fish and chips, sandwiches, burritos, kebab, and pizza that cost between £5 to £12. Buying on grocery shops is also a great option since most of these stores charge discounted rates on prepped, frozen meals by the end of the day. Take advantage of it, especially if your accommodation provides access to a stove or an oven.
Traveling off-peak gives you an enormous advantage, budget-wise. Other than saving about ¼ of your total travel allowance, you can also avoid crowded tourist attraction during so. All in all, when traveling to London on a budget, prepare around £50 per day. Take your hotel and restaurant selections up a notch and you’d possibly spend double that amount. But if luxury is on your table, you can always book the finest hotels and restaurants by allotting around £350 to £400 per day.
Getting Around the City
Breathing innovation and modernity, London doesn’t fall short when it comes to transportation. From highly-efficient underground tubes to double-decker buses, countless options can help you get around the city. If you’re going to use public transport, it’s practical to buy either a Travelcard or a Visitor Oyster card, depending on your length of stay.
Visitor Oyster Card: A Visitor Oyster Card is a smart, contactless travel card that costs around £5 (+ postage). You can reload it on the Tube, London Overground, National Rail Stations, and DLR, and you can use it for all types of public transport. For a two-day trip around London, £15 worth of load will mostly cover your travel expenses. This card doesn’t only grant you convenience as it also gives you access to discounts on specific shops and restaurants. The load on the card doesn’t expire, but you also have a refund option in case you don’t see yourself visiting London anytime soon.
Travel Card: A travel card is a paper ticket that you can use on all types of public transport in the city. Between the two, a travel card is more expensive if you intend to stay only for a few days. But if you’re traveling for 1 week or more, it’s more practical to buy a travel card, which costs £66 for 1 week. A travel card good for one day costs £13.50 or more, depending on your route.
Public transport in London is so efficient, you’d barely need to book a cab, which charges more or less £6 per mile. But if you find yourself needing one, you can conveniently book a cab online.
Our favorite: bicycling. As the good adage goes, there’s nothing more experiential than exploring a city on foot. But since London is a huge city, you won’t be able to maximize your trip without any means of transport.
You can find bicycle docks all over the city, and you can start renting one for only £2. Charges vary depending on the rental company, and you may need to insert more pennies the longer you use the bike. Just make sure you won’t run the red lights to avoid being penalized. Alternatively, you can book a bicycling guided tour, especially if it’s your first time to visit London and you don’t have any clue on where to go.
London Pass: Is it Worth it?
Be it a quick get-away or a week-long tour, getting a London Pass is a practical, time-saving way to travel around the city. The pass gives you access to 80 tourist attractions, with a one-day, Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour that brings you to up to 60 top landmarks, including the Piccadilly Circus, Tower of London, and the Westminster Abbey.
The validity of the London Pass is up to two years, and it only gets activated upon the first usage. Once activated, its validity runs from 1 to 10 days, so it’s wise to take advantage of your pass the moment you use it on your trip. You can also book a pass for multiple days if you’re after a smooth, hassle-free traveling experience. Book, pay, and show up–the London Pass gets your travel itinerary all ironed out for you.
Along with the free entrance to tourist attractions are discounted rates to theaters and shopping centers that come with the pass. It also gives you the option to skip some of the queues, making it a real time-saving gem. But as an extra tip to complete our travel guide to London, it’s always important to plan your trip, with or without a London Pass. This will help you fully maximize your stay in the city while managing your expectations.
To help you get a sense of the value of a London Pass, here’s a breakdown of its rates:
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Pro Tip: When planning your trip, list down the top major attractions you want to visit and make a tally of their entrance rates. You can’t visit all the tourist attractions in one day (that’s for sure), so plan your day and create a table of expenses. Visiting three or four attractions is enough for a day, and single entry to these can go as high as £27 per adult. Once you have the ballpark figures, you can then decide if a London Pass is worth it for you.
Extra Travel Tip before Buying a London Pass
Traveling to London on a budget? Lucky you, there are museums in the city that you can visit for free. If buying a London Pass is in your cards, you, being the wise traveler that you are, will skip the free museums on days when you have access to the pass.
You can purchase one or two-day passes and visit pricey tourist attractions by then to get the most out of your pass. Then, on your remaining days, visit landmarks that grant you free entry. You can also book a river cruise that gets you a whole new perspective of the city. With so many boating options available, you’ll find that the River Thames is just there, waiting for you to come aboard.
Fast Track Tickets
The London Pass is your ticket to a convenient touring experience, but it doesn’t cover all major tourist attractions. The London Eye and Buckingham Palace tours, for one, are not included in the pass, so you might want to consider getting a Fast Track or Skip-the-Line ticket.
Why? Queues in these world-renowned landmarks are frantically long. It can take you two hours in queueing alone, which can be disastrous if you’re a) traveling for a very short period, b) traveling with kids, or c) a combination of both.
Walking Around London
An extended stay in the city grants you the opportunity to explore its neighborhoods. If you plan to walk your way to some of its famous districts, wear comfortable shoes and prepare for some leg workout. You don’t have to brisk walk, but the lively shopping and culinary scene can keep you going the extra mile.
Planning-wise, it pays to explore London one neighborhood at a time if you prefer to travel on foot. For a diverse shopping experience, head out to East London, where you can see a colorful display of fashion items. Shop, grab a sumptuous breakfast, and people-watch–this area is so exhilarating, it can give you all the reasons to pack a bag come boxing day.
Not a fan of shopping? Pop over to Notting Hill and Portobello Road, where you can see a collection of classic antique items. If you want a sense of exclusivity, you can also pull a stop at Mayfair, a residential area with luxurious shops and restos.
London is divided into cities that flaunt a unique character, and this doesn’t end with these great neighborhoods. To keep your options open, below are other areas that can get you access to its top landmarks.
- Westminster: A neighborhood where people mostly come and go, Westminster is the tourist hub of the city. It houses famous attractions such as Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and Houses of Parliament.
- SoHo: If you breathe music, fashion, colors, and everything in between, you should keep your night schedule open for SoHo, an electrifying lane full of pubs and jazz bars. Perfect for a night-out after touring around the city, SoHo is perhaps one of the most vibrant parts of the city.
- Covent Garden: To polish your shoe cabinet, visit Neal Street, which is an ultimate shoe haven. Covent Garden is also popular for its theater houses, making it a great spot for a bit of shoe shopping and theater sighting.
- Shoreditch: Remember that trip to East London? Let’s do a little bit more digging. Shoreditch, which is located in the east, is a concoction of fashion shops, vintage shops, restaurants, and bars.
- Camden: Be it tattoo parlors or music avenues, Camden is going to hitch you to the best of the lively scenes in town. Its laid back atmosphere makes it a great area for people-watching and food tripping.
Top Must-See Landmarks in London
No travel guide to London is complete without a visit to its top landmarks. A home of royalties, the city never fails to spark the interests of travelers. It fuses timeless history with sophisticated modernism, making it one of the rarest and most popular cities in the world. If it’s your first time to travel to London, here are some of the landmarks you should visit:
The London Eye
Rates: starts at £28
Operating hours: 11 am to 6 pm
Standing at 443 feet, the London Eye was the biggest observation wheel until China’s Star of Nanchang broke its record in 2006. Even if you’re traveling to London on a budget, you shouldn’t miss a ride on this famous tourist landmark–unless, of course, if seeing London at a different angle isn’t your priority.
The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Rates: £20.50 (without a guided tour); £25 (with guided tour)
Operating hours: 9 am to 5 pm (closed on Sundays)
The sight of Big Ben and Clock Tower from afar is already a tick on every traveler’s bucket list. But if you want to witness architecture in a century-old Gothic form, book a pass to the Houses of Parliament. Rare and classical, this landmark is the meeting place of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The Tower of London
Operating hours: 10 am to 6 pm (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)
Crowned as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, the Tower of London is a fortress engraved with overflowing history. Its walls have become witness to early imprisonment and execution back in the early days. Once a royal palace, this tower is now a landmark that holds the Queen’s Crown Jewels.
The Thames River
Guided boating tours are a complete hit in London because of its prominent landmark, the Thames River. Alongside the river are iconic establishments such as the Westminster Bridge, Tower Bridge, and Millenium Bridge.
One boat ride can give you a closer view of Westminster, the London Eye, and Greenwich. If you purchase a London Pass, you can choose between a 30-minute and a 3-hour ride along the river.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Rates: Free for service attendees; £18 for visits that grant access to the crypt, cathedral floor, and galleries
Operating hours: 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Traveling to London on a budget is feasible as long as you cut on possible expenditures. A service visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, for instance, waives your entrance fee. Inside the cathedral are a massive dome and unique architectural structures that can leave you speechless.
Rates: £27 to £45
Operating hours: July to October – 9.30 am to 4.15 pm; closed during the remaining months of the year
Buckingham Palace is no ordinary landmark as it is home to the Queen of England. It’s only open for the public when the queen is away, which runs from July to October. So if you visit London during these periods, grab the chance to feast your eyes on Buckingham Palace’s exquisite beauty.
If you’re visiting on months when it is closed, you can still take a quick photo outside its gates. The changing of guards, which is done regularly at 10.45 am, draws tourists to the palace. Just be careful of pickpockets during these times.
Travel Guide to London: The Other Side of the City
Tall skyscrapers, century-old buildings, and a great fashion and food scene–everything about London is just too good to be true. Other than its touristy spots, the city is also home to blooming gardens and parks that can leave you breathless.
Perhaps one of its most famous parks, our personal favorite, is Hyde Park. This 350-acre landmark has plenty of biking and walking trails. One glimpse of the park and you’d feel a deep sense of serenity, making it a great spot for sight-seeing or reading a book.
Other popular greeneries in the area include Regent’s Park, Kensington Gardens, and Greenwich Park. Ideal for extra travel days when you want to get away from the city’s eclectic scenery, these parks can help you find calmness and peace in the midst of a bustling city. The best part: these sights require no entrance fee.
A Few Parting Travel Tips
Honestly speaking, even when you’re traveling to London on a budget, you’d still find yourself spending a fortune. It is an expensive city, but it’s worth every penny. The best (and ultimately the only) way to cut on costs is to plan and book your tickets ahead of time.
Also, London is a big city, so don’t expect to travel to every corner in just a few days. Savor every landmark and make the most out of your trip by focusing on one important factor: EXPERIENCE.