Updated: Aug 13, 2022
Read these tips on things to do during a budget-friendly vacation in London, England. Save money using cheap transportation options and free activities at museums.
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During my final year of Medical School, I decided to take a trip to London! At the time, I didn't have a ton of money to splurge (medical school is expensive), but I did have enough to get myself to the UK and back! Here we go!
Arriving to London:
I traveled to London on Norwegian Airlines. I had never flown Norwegian before, but I had a pleasant experience--especially for a $350 roundtrip direct flight from Boston! It's a budget airline, so if you want the cheapest rates, be prepared to forego your choice in seating, in-flight meals/snacks, and carry-on luggage that does not meet the weight requirements! I searched Google Flights in October for some of the cheapest dates to travel and found that traveling during the end of January was my best bet. I flew into Gatwick-London and took the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. It's really the most efficient way to get into the city from Gatwick. You can buy train tickets in the airport, and the ride is only about 30 minutes. Roundtrip tickets for the Gatwick Express were about $45 USD.
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In London, I stayed at the Generator Hostel. This was my first experience in an international hostel, though I had stayed in hostels in Miami and New Orleans. I had an amazing experience. I arrived before check-in and was able to store my luggage in a locker at the hostel for a small fee. There were plenty of spaces to meet new people (like the bar, lounge areas, library etc), and the hostel definitely catered to the 20s-30s crowd. It's also pretty clean. I stayed in a women only, 8-person room and had enough space. Breakfast is not included at this hostel, but for an extra $8 or so bucks per day, you can get it included. The hostel is also close to the London Underground (Tube) station and is in a very convenient location. Total cost for 6-day accommodations, including breakfast: ~$160.
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The most efficient method of transportation is the London Underground, AKA "the Tube." I picked up an Oyster Card at Victoria Station when I first arrived, and initially added about $25 USD on the card. Tube stations are everywhere, and the train system is really easy to navigate. I relied on the Tube for most of my transportation around the city. If you're feeling lazy, Uber is also available, but I only used Uber twice.
Kia's Top Things to See & Do:
1. The Magical World of Harry Potter
For all of my fellow Harry Potter fans, there are a few stops that are must-sees! Take a trip to the Platform 9 and 3/4 Shop at King's Cross Station. Take photos with the sign, though be prepared to wait in a long line. Also, pick up your favorite house's paraphernalia and browse the collection of wands and collector's items. If you have time, also make a visit to the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour. This was an amazing opportunity to get a first-hand look at all of the sets, props, and costumes from all of the Harry Potter movies. Be sure to try the Butter Beer and the Butter Beer flavored ice cream! If you want to visit the Warner Bros. Studio, be sure to reserve tickets a couple months in advance. By the end of October, January dates were already beginning to sell out on the website!
2. Hop-on Hop-Off Bus Tour
In London, there are a number of Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour companies that you can choose from, but I chose The Original Tour (this Tour has since be renamed, Toot Bus Tour). During the winter, the site was offering free 24-hour extensions for all purchases. For the price of a one-day tour, I received a 48-hr bus pass with a free Thames River cruise. Look out for deals, especially if you're traveling during the winter! There are a number of routes you can take, but I found myself on the yellow line the majority of the time. It's really the most comprehensive way to see all of the major sites, including Buckingham Palace, the various museums, drop-offs for the Changing of the Guard and Horseguard Parades, the London Eye, etc. I especially recommend this if you are particularly tight on time.
3. Check out a Show!
I couldn't go to London without seeing a play or musical, so I decided to bank on Aladdin in the West End at the Prince Edward Theater. There were actually many great options for seats and shows! I ended up purchasing a "partially-restricted view" seat at the theater and paid about $21 USD for the show. When I got to the theater, my view was almost completely unobscured (lol). Buy the tickets. Aladdin was great, and the Genie stole the show!
4. Carnaby Street!
In retrospect, I wish I had spent more time in this area of town. Carnaby Street and the surrounding area is bustling with shops and a variety of restaurants, both high end and very affordable. Here, I had the best food of the trip at an Indian place called Dishoom. Definitely check it out if you are in the area.
5. The British Museum:
Take advantage of FREE locales like the British Museum. Apparently, it's the second most visited museum in the world, and it's completely free to residents and visitors alike, except for a small donation that's recommended. No advance tickets needed. See ancient Egyptian mummies and artwork, the Rosetta Stone, a clock exhibit, relics from the Medieval period. It's all there. And pick up some nifty souvenirs at the gift shop.
If you're looking for some low-cost travel inspiration, check out this list of budget friendly destinations in the UK. You'll be surprised at how much fun you can have on a tight budget!
Ready to explore more activities near London? Click HERE.
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