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40 London MoneySaving tips

Bag cheap attraction tickets, travel & free tours

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Nick and Megan F | Edited by Steve N

Updated 15 Aug 2017

LDN intro

London may be calling, but if you go spending willy-nilly, your time in the Big Smoke could cause more pain to your wallet than a swift kick in the crown jewels.

Fortunately, we've 40 London MoneySaving tips to help, including how to bag a free guided tour of the Houses of Parliament and a selfie outside Number 10, cheap tube tricks, a central London hotel from £20/night and a flight over the Thames for £3.50.

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please give us feedback and suggest improvements in the London Tips forum thread. Also see our 30+ New York MoneySaving Tips, 40+ Costa del Sol Tips, 36 Barcelona Tips, 30 Paris Tips, 21 Rome Tips and 26 Amsterdam Tips.

Take a FREE guided tour of the Houses of Parliament

parliament

The Houses of Parliament are one of London's most iconic sights. And a tour allows you to see where some of the biggest decisions that affect the British public have been made for hundreds of years, plus gawp at astonishing art and architecture.

A normal tour costs £28 per adult (see full prices). Yet if you're a UK resident and plan ahead, it's possible to book a totally free guided tour of the House of Commons, House of Lords and Westminster Hall via your MP. Known as 'democratic access tours', these are provided free of charge to help promote knowledge of how democracy works in the UK.

Demand is high, so the catch is you'll need to book in advance – you can do so six months ahead – and you'll need to be flexible with dates and times. Tours last about 75 minutes and run at various times (see full info here).

To book, contact your MP. Find out who he or she is and how to get in touch on the Parliament website.

Get to London for £2.50 return – or even less if you're lucky

If you're coming from elsewhere in the UK and it's a fair distance to the capital, chances are a coach will be cheapest.

Megabus has long been the go-to firm for ultra-cheap tickets, and if you time it right you can take advantage of its £1 fares. So factoring in the 50p booking fee, you could end up travelling from Manchester to London – and back – for the princely sum of £2.50. In rare cases you might even be able to bag a ticket for free and just pay the 50p booking fee.

These fares go quickly so you'll normally need to book a few months in advance, but even if you miss out you can usually find tickets for under a tenner.

Of course, travelling by coach is not for everyone. And it can be slow – Manchester to London is a bum-numbing five hours, compared with two hours five minutes on the train. But the luggage allowance is generous – one normal-sized suitcase up to 20kg and a piece of hand luggage – and some services have Wi-Fi. Plus the price is pretty much unbeatable. See our MSE Megabus deals page for more.

Slash the cost of staying in the city – eg, no-frills hotels from £20/night

Accommodation is likely to be your single biggest expense when visiting London – nowhere in the country is it more costly.

hotels

See our Cheap UK Hotels guide for full tips, including the top comparison sites to check and how to earn up to 13% back via cashback sites. But it's also worth trying the following:

  • Bag a no-frills room from £20/night. If you're partial to a bit of orange, Easyhotels* offer basic accommodation – expect rooms with limited (or no) natural light and possibly to be asked to pay for things like towels, Wi-Fi and housekeeping. Prices start at £20/night for a room with a double bed, and there are seven London hotels to choose from, including at Paddington, Victoria and Old Street.
  • Find city-centre uni digs outside term time. Two websites – University Rooms and TravelStay (filter search results by 'Hotel Type') – list halls-of-residence rooms left empty during the holidays. It's possible to stay central, eg, London School of Economics halls in Holborn start at £52.50/night for a double, with private bathroom and breakfast.
  • Go hostel hunting. London is home to a huge number of hostels. They can be significantly cheaper than a hotel and aren't all as grimy as you might expect. Many offer private rooms and some even include breakfast and internet access in the cost. For example, the Hyde Park View Hostel in a central location offers dorm beds from £16/night and a double private room with en-suite for £70/night. See UK hostels for more info.

Cheap tube and bus tips – travel off-peak, NEVER buy paper tickets and under-11s go free

The Transport for London (TfL) network is made up of the tube, rail, overground, buses and trams (plus the Thames Clippers), all of which can be navigated using paper tickets or by tapping in and out with a reloadable Oyster smart card or contactless debit/credit card.

london busses

Getting to grips with TfL's complex pricing system can seem impossible – and getting it wrong can cost you dearly. Though once you know the basic principles it's possible to slash travel costs. Here are our top five tips:

  1. Never buy a paper ticket – Oyster or contactless is cheaper. Unless you're coming in and out of London on the same day – in which case you'd get a National Rail Day Travelcard – paper tickets cost more. Paper tickets for a single journey on the tube cost an eye-watering £4.90 (and are no longer valid on the bus), while a single trip on an Oyster card in Zone 1 is £2.40.

    What's more, use Oyster or contactless and what you'll pay in a day is capped. Paper day travelcards can be more than double the Oyster daily price cap.
  2. Travel off-peak and save up to 50%. Avoiding tapping in on the tube or train before 9.30am or between 4pm and 7pm can also cut travel costs, though peak hours can depend on your route and mode of travel. Use the Single Fare Finder to check.

    For example, going from Zone 5 to Zone 1 is £4.70 at peak time but £3.10 off-peak (£2.05 using a National Railcard or Gold Card). Daily price caps can be £5 more at peak times than off-peak, too. Plus, some railcards can be loaded onto your Oyster card for an extra third off off-peak journeys and daily price caps.
  3. Use contactless for Mon-Sun capping (and to save time). Most know contactless cards can be used on the TfL network, but few realise this also benefits from Monday-Sunday (NOT weekly) capping – a benefit you don't get on Oyster. The cap for journeys made Mon-Sun in Zones 1-2 is £33 – whereas seven daily caps come to £46.20.
  4. Kids travel free (or at a discount), but may need a photocard. Children can apply for a Zip Oyster photocard to ensure they get the best rates, though won't always need one. Apply via TfL – cards are dispatched within 24 hours.
    • Under-11s travel free on the bus/tram and with accompanying adults on the tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and overground, but will need a Zip Oyster for most rail services.
    • 11-15-year-olds travel free on buses and trams and pay a child's rate on other services with the Zip Oyster. Alternatively you can get a 14-day Young Visitor discount (half the adult rate) applied to a normal Oyster card at a station.
    • 16-17-year-olds need a Zip Oyster and then pay half the adult pay-as-you-go rate on all services, or a child's rate on seven-day or longer travelcards.
  5. Check if you're due an Oyster refund. Oyster card users may be owed cash for one of three reasons:
    • If you fail to touch out and are charged for a longer journey than you made. You can claim up to a year's overcharges (some have got £70).
    • If you've old Oyster cards you no longer use. You could reclaim a share of the estimated £223 million stuck on unused cards.
    • If your tube's delayed. You can claim for delays of 15 minutes or more deemed to be "within TfL's control".

    See our Oyster Card Refunds guide for full details and how to claim.

Take a 10-min flight over the Thames for £3.50

emirates airline

A helicopter ride over the Thames is a fantastic way to see the capital's sights, but normally costs at least £100. However, there's a MoneySaving alternative...

Take a 10-minute ride on the Emirates Air Line cable car over the river and you'll enjoy similarly stonking views, with highlights including the Cutty Sark and Canary Wharf.

The cheapest fare is just £3.50 one-way (£1.70 for a child) using your Oyster card. See details about the Oyster above, and bear in mind this won't count towards any daily/weekly caps.

Without an Oyster card it's £4.50 each way for adults, £2.30 for children. Or for about £5-£6 more you can buy a combi-ticket, which covers a return trip on the Air Line and the Emirates Aviation Experience (including exhibitions, a game to see how quickly you can get an aeroplane ready for take-off and a chance to sit inside the cockpit, but not the flight simulator).

See the Emirates Air Line website for more info.

Get to and from the airport for less – eg, Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus for just over £3

Despite their names, most of London's airports lie far from the city, dotted in all directions. Getting to and from can be pricey and could cost more than a cheap-as-chips flight.

If on your own, trains can often win on price but you still need to know where you're going at the other end. Taxis can become excellent value if in a large group as you pretty much pay the same price as if you were on your own rather than having to buy multiple train tickets.

The right mode of transport can be a trade-off between convenience, travel time and price.

To cut the cost of public transport, it's important to book right. For example, check Virgin East Coast* when buying train tickets online (no booking fee, and you can book tickets nationwide), and for coaches, try Easybus, National Express* and Green Line.

For Heathrow, the 15min+ Heathrow Express is £22, yet opt for a slower train and it's just £10.20. Cheapest of all, take a long ride on the Piccadilly tube line (46 minutes to Piccadilly Circus) and you pay just £3.10 with an Oyster or contactless card.

Prices compared

Here's a quick summary of the different ways of getting to central London from the different airports. Prices and times can vary, and remember if you're going back the same way, a return may be cheaper.

There IS such a thing as a free lunch – plus eat at 100s of restaurants half-price

Discount food schemes and apps flourish in London thanks to the sheer number of participating eateries.

  • Snap deals app Happiour is a favourite at MSE Towers. Particularly strong in the Soho area, it gives daily deals on lunches – often 50% off or 2for1, though from time to time it lists flash freebies. You choose the deal you want in the app, then it'll show you a code you take to your eatery of choice. MSE Weleid's benefited, enjoying a totally free hot box from healthy food chain Pod.

    CityMunch, another free app, also offers daily discounts on lunch and evening meals. Generally discounts range from 20-40% off, and it has a wider selection than Happiour.

  • Restaurant booking sites such as OpenTable or Lastminute.com* let you filter by offers, including 50% off or set menus for £20 and under. See best places to book online for more info.

  • Discount dining scheme Tastecard offers 50% off or 2for1 at almost 7,000 restaurants nationwide – 573 of which are within three miles of Piccadilly Circus. Membership isn't cheap at £79.99 a year – though currently you can get it for £39.99 including one month's free trial. Otherwise newbies can get a free one-month trial and monthly membership for £4.99 a month (watch out for its cancellation policy though). Students can get three months free via Unidays.

'Drive' the DLR and enjoy stunning views of the Docklands and east London

DLR

The Docklands Light Railway connects east London to the City, and runs across the Docklands, as the name suggests.

Its elevation and lack of an engine at the front give first-class views and the impression you're on an (admittedly rather slow) roller-coaster. DLR trains are driverless – so if you're lucky and bag the prized front seat, you can 'drive' and enjoy uninterrupted views.

On a pleasant day the DLR offers a great cheap tour. The Greenwich section gives you Canary Wharf and Island Gardens (if you get off at Mudchute, you can use a foot tunnel under the river to get to Greenwich). The Woolwich Arsenal section goes past the Thames Barrier; the Beckton section provides a good look at the single, lagooned runway of London City Airport.

Journeys are covered by your Oyster card, and for the most part cost the same as regular tube journeys.

Nab Shakespeare theatre tickets for a fiver

parliament

London is chocka with West End theatre productions, with dozens of shows on offer every night. Tickets to some can cost £100s, so it's not necessarily a cheap pastime – but do it right and any worries about price should prove to be much ado about nothing.

Here are our dos and don'ts for getting your bum on a seat for less (with thanks to MSE Rosie, a regular playgoer who regularly deploys her MoneySaving skills in London's theatreland).

DO check for super-cheap tickets – some are just a fiver if you stand

DON'T buy tickets from touts, or non-regulated ticket booths

DO check offer sites for deals

DON'T forget to check for concession discounts

DO check the seats first

DON'T forget to factor in extra fees

DO try the TKTS booth in Leicester Square

DON'T ignore previews – see essentially the same show for much less

DO compare prices with the official theatre site

DON'T forget to try off-West End shows

Go on a free DIY walking tour of London

It's often said the best way to see a city is on foot, and with lots of neighbourhoods to explore and green space to stretch your legs in, that's certainly true of the capital.

A huge number of companies offer London walking tours of varying quality and price, but with the right know-how you can do it yourself for zilch. The Free Tours By Foot website has a range of self-guided walking tours, including useful interactive maps with pre-plotted points.

For a historical perspective, Walks of London has tours devised by author and historian Richard Jones. Of course, look for the ones that interest you – our favourites include the Harry Potter Sights tour, which provides background on the relevant scenes and moments from the books for every stop, and the informative Jack the Ripper tour, with gruesome images added for good measure.

Enjoy cut-price fresh food in the evening – eg, 75% off sushi, 50% off Harrods smoked salmon

Many chains serving up a ready supply of fresh food in the lunchtime rush hour offer huge discounts on their food come evening, in a bid to clear shelves before shutting up shop.

This trick's most useful for sushi lovers out there. But you can also score hefty discounts on other food which just won't keep. Here are a few examples:

  • The Japan Centre* next to Piccadilly Circus offers up to 75% off sushi and other takeaway items such as bento and curries from 8pm to 8.30pm every day (depending on stock).
  • The Itsu half-price sale on sushi and salads runs daily half an hour before closing (check individual branches' closing times online).
  • Sushi light-eats specialist Abokado runs 25% off "nearly all" of its menu across its 29 London stores from 5pm every day.
  • The Harrods food hall is by no means MoneySaving, but it's high up the list for many visitors – and it slashes its (admittedly steep) prices later in the day. Harrods won't say what its discount policy is, but the LottyEarns blog reports finding discounts of up to 50% on coconut macaroons, smoked salmon, meat and more.
  • Sushi restaurant Wasabi discounts its food by 50% at the end of the day. It says it does this 30 minutes before closing in participating stores - see the website for more details and locations.
  • Super-healthy food-to-go eatery Pod offers 50% off all fresh food – so salads, wraps, yogurt pots and more in the last hour before closing all branches (bar Old Bailey, Monument and Queen Victoria Street).

Find cheap tickets for big-name footie teams

For many, nothing beats the pulsating atmosphere of a filled football stadium. And with London home to no fewer than five Premier League teams in the 2017/2018 season, if you want to watch a match you've plenty to choose from.

football

Sadly, tickets to the top tier of English football don't usually come cheap – for example, tickets for non-members to a Chelsea home game start at £41.

How to find tickets

Tickets to Premier League, cup and European games must be purchased directly from the home or away club, or from an authorised ticket reseller. Remember...

The unauthorised sale of regulated football tickets – by touts outside the grounds or unauthorised ticketing websites – is illegal in the UK. What's more, you could end up with a fake ticket and no rights.

Tickets to European or cup matches can be easier to get hold of and cheaper than Premier League games, though they're often mid-week. Check upcoming fixtures (tickets for the away section are always sold by the visiting club).

  1. Purchasing direct from a club will mean you only have to pay face value, but while some tickets will be available for the general public, they're hard to come by, particularly for the big games. Tickets generally go on sale a month or so before the fixture (club members get priority access, but must pay an annual fee – eg, for Arsenal, this starts at £34).

    Many clubs, such as West Ham, also have their own ticket exchanges, where season ticket holders can sell on unwanted tickets – but again you'll need to be a club member to take advantage.

  2. Going via a reseller can be more expensive but is your best bet if the box office has sold out. Contact the club before doing this though to make sure it's an authorised reseller.

If you just want to experience being in the stadium, tickets to youth or reserve games or pre-season friendlies such as the Emirates Cup can be much cheaper – though won't have the same atmosphere of course. Alternatively, consider a stadium tour. They start from about £20, and Arsenal, Chelsea and Wembley Stadium tours are part of National Rail's 2for1 offer.

If you're simply after some live football to watch, there are lots of teams in lower leagues with grounds in Greater London. Some such as Brentford, Leyton Orient and Millwall are long-established clubs with proud histories. Tickets for lower-league teams can go for as low as a fiver, and can often be bought on the day.

Just fancy watching over a drink? MatchPint shows what pubs are showing which fixtures.

Apartments can beat hotels – especially if there are a few of you

It's possible to nab fantastic rooms or entire apartments for a fraction of the cost of a hotel by renting a place for your trip's duration. Plus if you're happy to cook, you'll save on meal costs.

For example, we found a private room with en-suite near Victoria station for £170 for two nights, compared with £310 in a nearby three-star hotel.

If you're in a group the savings can be even greater. We found a three-bedroom apartment for six in Islington with impeccable reviews for £870 for four nights – a nearby hotel for the same number of people over the same period cost £2,330.

For options in and around the city, try Airbnb, TripAdvisor* or HomeAway.co.uk*. For more options and full tips see Cheap Holiday Rentals.

Train ticket trick to bag 2for1 entry to the London Dungeon, St Paul's, the Tower of London & more

National Rail offers 2for1 adult entry to many of the capital's top attractions if each person has a train ticket to London with its logo on.

tower lDN

This is handy if you've taken the train to London. And if you've return tickets to a 'London terminal' station (eg, Euston, King's Cross, Paddington – see the full list), you can get the 2for1 entry multiple times for the duration of your trip.

Yet even if you haven't taken the train, you can use this deal to slash the price of visiting the London Dungeon, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and more. To get the offer, simply print off a voucher on the Days Out Guide website and buy two super-cheap single tickets to the London train station nearest the attraction from one stop down the line (you DON'T have to actually travel on the train).

For example, if you're visiting the Tower of London and St Paul's on the same day with a friend, buy two £3.40 single tickets from Hackney Downs to nearby London Liverpool Street and you'll pay £49.80 all-in, compared with £81.80 in advance.

Here are the need-to-knows:

You'll need to present your train ticket

Your single ticket needs to be to the 'nearest station' to the attraction you're visiting

The offer only works with National Rail tickets

The offer works in over 150 places – and it's not just attractions

You get 2for1 entry on the full 'at the gate' price

You can use the offer as many times as you want on the day of travel

Sky-high views at rock-bottom prices (or zilch)

At 310 metres, the much-touted Shard near London Bridge is the city's – and indeed the country's – tallest building. But with tickets costing up to £31 a pop, it doesn't come cheap. Fortunately there are plenty of great views of London that you can get for considerably less.

  • Primrose Hill. Free. Located north of Regent's Park, the summit offers a clear view of the City (even on cloudier days).
  • Alexandra Palace. Free. If you're venturing to North London, 'Ally Pally' has a great panoramic view.
  • Tate Modern. Free. Its sixth-floor restaurant offers London's best view of St Paul's Cathedral and the top floor of its Blavatnik Building is an open viewing terrace, boasting spectacular 360-degree views of the London skyline, including the Thames and as far as Canary Wharf and Wembley Stadium. You might have to queue during busy times. Use the dedicated lift from level 0.
  • sky garden
  • Sky Garden. Free (must book ahead). This green indoor space/bar occupies the 34th-37th floors of the 'Walkie-Talkie' (a towering building at 20 Fenchurch Street in the City of London nicknamed after its distinctive shape). You can book up to three weeks in advance for great views – though be warned, drinks are expensive.
  • The Emirates Air Line. Adults £3.50, children aged 5-15 £1.70 (using Oyster card), under-5s go free. London's cable car spans from Greenwich to the Royal Victoria Dock, with views of the O2 Arena and Canary Wharf's skyscrapers.
  • Monument. Adults £4.50, children aged 5-15 £2.30, under-5s go free. Built to commemorate the Great Fire of London on the spot where it started, get the blood pumping with a climb up its 311 steps for views of the financial district.
  • tower bridge
  • The Tower Bridge Exhibition. Adults £9.80 (£8.70 online), children aged 5-15 £4.20 (£3.80 online), under-5s go free. Gawk through the glass floor and walk across the top of London's iconic bridge, or explore its Victorian Engine Rooms. Tickets must be bought at least 24 hours in advance and are valid for one year from date of purchase.

If you really must make it up the Shard though, at least do it for less. Rather than pay for a ticket, why not try its free-to-enter bar on the 31st floor? Be prepared for sky-high prices, but we still reckon a round of drinks will cost less than four full-priced tickets.

Driving in? Park and ride (the tube)

Parking's at a premium in central London, with some spots costing a heart-palpitating £15/hour. And while some hotels offer it free to guests, unless you're spending big that's the exception rather than the norm.

It's not just parking, either. Traffic can be a nightmare once you drive in, and you'll have to pay a stonking £11.50/day to enter the London congestion charge zone, which operates weekdays from 7am to 6pm.

If arriving by car a more MoneySaving option is to park further out, near a tube station. The helpful Park and Ride London website suggests station car parks based on what road you're coming in on and where in London you're heading, listing prices at each. For example, if approaching from the M1, you can park for 24 hours at Stanmore tube station for £5/day during the week, or £2/£1.50 on Sat/Sun.

What about evenings/weekends?

Sneak a peek inside Westminster Abbey, St Paul's and more for free – but be respectful

Some of the capital's most iconic sights such as Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral are also places of worship. And while tickets to visit them as a tourist can cost upward of £20, attend a formal service and you won't be expected to pay.

stpauls

You usually won't have access to all the areas you would with a visitor's ticket (eg, if you attend the chapel at the Tower of London you won't be able to see the rest of the tower). But it does give you the chance to look inside the abbey or cathedral and see it used for its original purpose.

Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral hold daily services, while the chapel at the Tower of London runs nightly and Sunday services. You don't necessarily need to be religious to do this – in fact, all the sites mentioned here told us people of all faiths are welcome.

Do remember a religious service is a time of worship, so be discrete. Disruption through chatting or overt photo-snapping won't be appreciated.

Alternatively, to experience a different kind of ceremony, the Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) Sikh Temple in West London also opens its doors to worshippers of all faiths. (You'll have to leave your shoes in a rack and be provided with a head covering, and it's preferred that you dress in a respectful way.) Find a list of other religious sites in London on TripAdvisor*.

Cinema tickets can cost as much as £21 – how to go for less

There are dozens of cinemas in the capital, but the cost of a trip to the pictures can be eye-wateringly expensive, with an evening or weekend ticket in the 'royal circle' at Odeon Leicester Square a whopping £21.

Yet if you're clever about it it's possible to slash the cost – here are our top tips for London cinemagoers:

    popcorn
  1. It's all about location, location, location. Generally cinemas in the West End cost much more (with exceptions, such as the Prince Charles Cinema) and £15+ a head isn't uncommon. Though head outside the centre and the price plummets – eg, at Peckham Multiplex (fiddly to get to, but only Zone 2) you'll pay just £4.99. Use the free Cinema Club app for showings/prices (though check the deals below too).

  2. tickets

    Nab 2for1 tickets. Use our Meerkat Movies trick to get 2for1 tickets at most chains on Tuesdays/Wednesdays for a year with a £2ish spend. This trick works at loads of cinemas in London – find your nearest.

  3. Scout out special weekday deals. Many cinemas offer cheaper 'off-peak' tickets before 5pm, but some do entire-day discounts.

  4. Students can save more – and even watch blockbusters FREE. If you've a valid student card, you can join the E4 Slackers Club for FREE monthly pre-screenings of blockbusters at Picturehouse cinemas, nine of which are scattered across London. Screenings can be late, and it's best to book at least a few days beforehand. Here are some other spanking student deals:

    • Extra 25% off student prices for NUS Extra cardholders at Odeons Monday-Thursday.
    • £5 Tuesday tickets at the Barbican.
    • If you're a real film fan, buy a £20 annual student digital subscription to The Times and you can get 2for1 weekend tickets at Odeon cinemas via Times+.
    • Under-26s can get £3 tickets on the door (available no earlier than 45 minutes before screening, assuming it's not sold out) to any film at BFI Southbank. Register online.

Free events galore – all year round

There are a plethora of events and festivals in London going on all year round. Stuck for something to do? Here are some freebies...

These can get busy, and to get the best out of your time there you'll probably want to spend a bit of cash, but they're all free to attend/spectate. For more ideas, check out Free-events.co.uk.

Get a free selfie at Number 10

number 10 door

Fancy playing Prime Minister and posing in front of No. 10 Downing Street? Well, doing it for real is tricky – the street is barricaded off and it's likely the closest you'll get without an official invite is the gates manned by police at the end of the street.

Yet it turns out the famed Downing Street door has a doppelganger – so you can quickly snap the ultimate London selfie and wow your friends on Facebook.

The door of 10 Adam Street – close to Charing Cross tube station and five minutes' walk from Covent Garden – is a dead ringer for the real deal, and tourists often stop to have their picture taken in front of it. You can do so from the street, though be mindful it's a working business office.

Cruise the Thames for as little as £2

If you're looking for a, erm, wetter way of traversing the latitudes of the capital, consider the Thames Clippers. It's a river-bus service with routes stretching from Putney in the west to Woolwich in the east (see route map).

thames cruise

Prices depend on where you're going to or from, but fares can be as cheap as £2 if you qualify (under-5s go free – see a price list, including full-day tickets):

  • You save 10-25% tapping in with your Oyster or contactless card or booking ahead rather than paying at the ticket office/machine.
  • If you've a travelcard – either a paper daily/weekly/monthly/annual, or a weekly/monthly/annual travelcard loaded on to your Oyster card – you'll save a third off standard pricing.
  • If you've a Freedom Pass, it's cheaper still – from just £1.95 for a single.

This is much less than you'd pay for a traditional cruise on the Thames. With City Cruises, for example, you'd pay £14.25 for an adult return from the Tower of London to Westminster (£9.50 for a child), or you can buy a hop-on, hop-off 24-hour river pass starting from Bankside for £10 for adults and £5 for children.

Alternatively, if you fancy just a brief experience on the Thames, the Woolwich Ferry is free and runs regular services – crossings take about 10 minutes.

Head to a market for cheap-ish eats

There are few better ways to enjoy London's diversity than by visiting its food markets.

Brick Lane in London is famed for its curry houses but on Sunday morning its market takes over, featuring, for example, The Rib Man's smoky, succulent ribs. Alternatively, Borough Market is one of London's best – it's been running for more than 1,000 years.

Most London markets operate at weekends but some run every day of the week. And while many can't exactly be described as cheap, you'll eat well and still end up paying less for your lunch than at most restaurants.

Most start shutting up shop by 4pm – check their respective websites for full details. Here are some popular ones (click the icon in the top left for a list):

Staying out late? Don't assume you'll need to cough up for a taxi

night tube

Getting around London in the wee hours has never been easier or cheaper, what with the long-awaited introduction of the night tube in 2016, alongside other after-hours transport options. The feature-packed Citymapper site (also available as a free app) is invaluable for night-time navigation in particular.

On Fridays and Saturdays night services run on the Victoria, Central, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines to most stations, usually every 10 minutes throughout the night. Off-peak fares apply, and your day travelcard or Oyster/contactless cap covers journeys starting up until 4.30am.

If the tube can't get you home or simply isn't as convenient, London's night bus network is extensive (and cheaper) – though you may end up waiting 30 minutes or so between buses.

In the Big Smoke for your birthday? Claim your freebies!

There are tons of freebies you can claim from different retailers if it's your birthday, via their newsletters and loyalty schemes. And while this isn't specific to London, there is a huge range of participating stores in the capital.

Examples include TGI Fridays offering Fridays Rewards Club Members free cocktails, smoothies or desserts on members' birthdays for them and up to five friends, and Subway giving Subcard holders a free six-inch sub and drink on their birthdays.

See MSE's Coupon Kid Jordon Cox round up his top 10 birthday freebies in the capital, or our full birthday freebies page with 50+ goodies and discounts.

Stay outside the city centre for cheaper digs

The price of accommodation tends to shoot up the closer you are to the centre of London. So to keep the cost of your hotel or apartment rental down, stay further out and take advantage of quick transport links into the city.

For example, when we checked for a long weekend in March, the Travelodge in Covent Garden cost £307. Yet the same dates at the Croydon Central Travelodge came to £147. And while that may seem a long way out, from East Croydon it's just a 16-minute train ride then four tube stops to Covent Garden, and you can use your Oyster or contactless card to pay.

If it's more convenient for your plans to be located in other directions from the city, spots worth checking are Wembley in the north or Hounslow in the west.

Take the bus instead of the tube to save almost 50% on travel

For many the London Underground is the default way of travelling round the city, and it's often the quickest. Yet it's not necessarily the most MoneySaving option – staying above ground and taking the bus can sometimes save a packet.

A single contactless or Oyster fare on the bus is just £1.50, compared with up to £2.90 on the tube.

What's more, the 'hopper fare' introduced in September 2016 means you can now bag two journeys for the price of one. If you make another journey on a bus within an hour of your first one you'll only be charged £1.50, as long as you tap in with the same card and don't make a journey on another form of transport in between.

TfL has more information on fares, including concession prices, plus a full list of bus routes and tram routes.

Be a culture vulture at the Natural History Museum, Tate and V&A for free

Many of London's biggest and best museums are completely free to the public – so if you fancy exploring how rockets were sent to the moon at the Science Museum or gawping at a dinosaur's skeleton at the Natural History Museum, you can do it all for free.

natural history museum

Here's a handful of the top free museums (some may ask for donations and some special exhibitions may cost extra; if so it's worth checking if you can use the 2for1 train ticket trick):

The Days Out Guide has lots more suggestions – there are over 30 free museums in London in total.

Going to a museum that charges? Time it right. Even those museums which have admission fees often do 'visit for free' nights.

No kids in tow? Try free adults-only museum 'lates'

For a slightly different vibe, a number of museums and galleries run 'lates' on certain evenings (usually Wednesday or Friday). They're often adults-only, and have alcohol and music on offer. Entry is free, but some may charge for some exhibits.

Bag free tickets for TV shows including Mock the Week and X Factor

Plan well ahead of your visit and you can sign up to be in the audience of some of Britain's biggest TV shows – or even try your hand at being a contestant.

To apply, you normally have to complete an online form and you'll be emailed confirmation if you're successful. Some shows pick a random selection of applicants if they have too many. The shows will often take a few hours to film and it's worth getting there early as, even if you've got a ticket, they will often send out too many tickets to ensure they have a full studio.

Some of the top sites to try include:

Cycle the city for £2 on a DIY sightseeing tour

Hiring one of London's 11,500 Santander cycles is a great way to see the city and pop from one attraction to the next – handily there's a collection point (known as a docking station) every 500 metres or so. There are 750 docking stations in total, spread over a huge area, from Camden in the north to Battersea in the south, and from Ravenscourt Park in the west to Poplar in the east.

santander bikes

You'll need to pay an initial £2 charge for 24 hours' hire, and the first 30 minutes of each journey is then free. After that it costs £2 per 30 minutes.

To keep it really cheap, you can just hop from docking station to docking station, swapping to a different bike before your 30 minutes are up, to avoid extra charges. If you try this though, you may have to wait about five minutes between rides.

You'll need a credit or debit card to hire a bike. See TfL's step-by-step guide on how to hire one, plus a handy tool to find your nearest set of bikes. You might also want to check out its range of DIY bike rides, including tours of sports stadiums, secret gardens and quirky sites.

TfL has some cycling safety tips and bear in mind you don't get a helmet with the bike. Unfortunately you can't easily rent a helmet – not least for health reasons, as lice can stay alive in them for 48 hours. But you can buy one for £6.49 from Decathlon (£3.99 for a child's helmet).

Watch the NYE fireworks for free

Watching the London fireworks from the banks of the Thames is one of the best ways to welcome in the New Year.

Tickets usually cost £10 per person and sell out quickly, but if you miss out or just don't fancy paying, the Evening Standard has some tips on where you can watch for free. A good high spot is Primrose Hill, while other bridges including Tower Bridge and Southwark Bridge are also good options, though get very busy.

Want to pay for tickets?

If you're happy to pay, tickets go on sale on 29 September. There are five different areas you can view from - two north of the river between Westminster Bridge and Temple tube station and three on the south bank, between Westminster Bridge and Waterloo Bridge.

It makes sense to choose the area that it'll be easiest for you to get to and from, as when the event ends it'll be very busy and choosing the wrong area will delay you getting home.

There's a DJ from 9pm and you can take your own food and drink, though there's a cap on the amount of alcohol. Find out more on the London Assembly website.

Keep fit for free at dance classes, tennis courts and boot camps

tennis court

If you're visiting London, one of the best ways to exercise is simply to walk, walk and walk some more. There's no better way to see the city, and no cheaper way to get around. But if you want exercise that is a little more stretching, there are plenty of free options.

Here's some to get you started, but let us know your favourites in our Get Fit for Free forum thread:

  • Free fitness classes. Our Parks runs plenty including Box Fit in Stepney Green Park and Yoga in Queen's Park Gardens. Time Out has a good list too including the Reebok FitHub at the Jubilee Hall Gym in Covent Garden or Sweaty Betty's in-store classes that run daily at various locations and times.
  • Try your hand at everything from aerobics to touch rugby. Get Active London lists more than 40 sports and where you can try them. Some sessions are free, such as yoga at St Mary's on Upper Street in Islington, and social touch rugby at Woodford Rugby Football Club in Woodford Green. Others cost up to about £10. See the Get Active London website for more details.
  • Find your nearest free 5k parkrun. They're on every Saturday morning. You need to register in advance initially but once registered can turn up to any parkrun event at any time without letting parkrun know. Find your nearest.
  • Play tennis for free. OpenPlay lists some courts and the House Trip blog has a few more. Some require you to book in advance online, but with many you can just turn up and play, though you'll need to remember your rackets and balls.

Watch a cricket match at Lord's for a fiver

Lord's

Watching a test match at Lord's won't be cheap, but you can still visit the Home of Cricket for as little as £5 if you go on the right day.

Entry to 'minor matches' (such as the Middlesex County Championships) ranges from £5-£20 depending on the match and day. You can buy tickets at the gate and Lord's says there are usually plenty of seats available.

Visit the Royal Parks for free

royal parks

London has some spectacular parks, which are completely free to visit. There are eight Royal Parks, which include the famous Hyde Park, Regent's Park and Kensington Gardens. There are also 14 'green spaces', owned and managed by the City of London, including Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest.

There are plenty of well-manicured, landscaped parks to wander around in central London – great for a picnic or a spot of sunbathing.

But go a bit further out and you can visit wilder parks, which have a more rural feel, as they're areas of countryside that have been protected from urbanisation as the city grew. For example, Richmond Park is popular for its wildlife (and great for spotting deer), and Hampstead Heath is known for its woodland and bathing ponds.

Feeling brave? Swim in the open-air

hampstead ponds

A number of London parks have open-air swimming pools or ponds, with some charging just £2 for an adult day ticket. Though you may want to save this for a warm day unless you're feeling VERY brave.

  • Hampstead Heath. The Bathing Ponds are open 7am to 6.30pm until 24 September. There are three ponds – men's, ladies' and mixed. It's £2 for a day ticket (£1 for under-16s and concessions).
  • Hyde Park. The Serpentine Lido is open 10am to 6pm every day in June, July and August, plus bank holidays and weekends in May. Tickets are £4.80 (£1.80 for under-16s, £3.80 for concessions). Arrive after 4pm and you'll get a 70p discount.
  • Richmond Park. Pools on the Park is open from 10am to 6pm during the summer on "good weather days". It's £4.90 (£4 for under-16s, £4.30 for concessions).

Let the kids sail the high seas at the Diana Memorial Playground

diana memorial

Ahoy, me hearties! If you've little ones with you on your voyage to London, this playground is well worth a visit.

Built close to Kensington Palace as a tribute to Princess Diana, it includes a huge pirate ship inspired by Peter Pan.

With over a million visitors a year, there can be queues at the playground and waits of up to one hour. The playground opens at 10am and on the hottest days queues can start to build up as early as 10.30am.

It's worth noting that only adults who are accompanying children under 12 are allowed in the park.

For more information, including opening times throughout the year, visit the Royal Parks website.

Taking the train? Bag the cheapest ticket every time – and check if flights are cheaper

Train is perhaps the best way to travel to the capital, avoiding heavy traffic and hefty parking fees. But with some return tickets from elsewhere in the UK costing upwards of £300, get it wrong and you could easily derail your budget for the trip. Here are our top tips:

trains
  • Book 12+ weeks ahead. Generally the further in advance you book, the cheaper it will be. So set up an alert for when your tickets go on sale.
  • Split your tickets. Bizarrely, buying multiple tickets for the same journey can be far cheaper. It makes no sense but our Tickety Split tool does the hard work for you.
  • Singles can beat returns. Another illogical saving, but it's worth checking if it's cheaper to buy two singles.
  • Find a £1.50 Megatrain fare. Bargain hunters can grab super-cheap tickets on 11 routes with Megatrain.

See our Cheap Train Tickets guide for full details and lots more tips.

Flying may be cheaper

If you've a long way to come, it can be cheaper to fly than take the train. For example when we looked a month ahead for a trip from Edinburgh to London, there were £15 Ryanair tickets for a 90-minute direct flight with hand luggage arriving at London Stansted at 8.25am, compared with a minimum four-hour train journey costing at least £68 to arrive before 11am.

Remember though that you'll need to factor in getting to and from the airport.

Bag a five-star hotel for a three-star price

Many booking sites such as Lastminute.com, Hotwire and Priceline offer top-rated 'secret hotels' in the capital at massive discounts. The catch is that you won't know exactly where you're staying until after you've paid – yet there's often an easy way to play detective and work out where you'd be staying BEFORE you book.

This can be fiddly, but do it right and you can save big, as Luke found:

I booked the five-star Grange St. Paul's Hotel in London for £109 – rack rate [ie, normal price] £215. OH YEAH BABY. - lukeyz2

See our Secret Hotels guide for full help.

Get a YEAR'S pass to Buckingham Palace for the price of a day

Entry to the palace isn't cheap, though if you're planning a visit anyway, buy your day ticket from the Royal Collection Trust and you can get free readmission for a year. Useful if you're planning another trip to the capital soon.

Adult tickets start at £23 for admission to the State Rooms, where the Queen and members of the Royal Family receive and entertain their guests on state, ceremonial and official occasions (it's £39.50 if you want to visit the whole palace, including the State Rooms, Queen's Gallery and Royal Mews).

Buckingham Palace

You can convert your ticket into a year's pass by asking them to treat your ticket purchase as a donation – just make sure you fill out your details and have your ticket stamped by a member of staff before you leave.

Legitimately dodge queues at top attractions

While we British are known for queueing, that doesn't mean you have to waste half your trip waiting in line.

Google's free Popular Times feature is a great way to check when an attraction, restaurant or even a gym is likely to be busy, and its live feed even lets you check just how heaving a place is right now.

For example, the Tower of London looks to be busiest between 12pm and 3pm on Saturdays, with the 9am to 10am slot being the quietest time to visit.

Of course, accuracy depends on what data Google has for a particular attraction, but it can be a useful guide to help you plan your trip. See MSE Jenny's blog for more information.

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