Everyone assumes that a trip to the Big Smoke will always be expensive – after all, England’s capital city is known to be one of the priciest in the world. However, as with all travel destinations, it’s more than possible to discover a low cost London that exists alongside the swanky and overpriced version! The trick lies in being organised, clever and being prepared to be flexible. With a few tricks up your sleeve, you’ll find you can enjoy a superb visit for a fraction of the price.
Here, we share some of our favourite tips gleaned from years of living, working and welcoming visitors to the Capital and our King’s Cross b&b.
One of the most important things to get right when visiting London on a budget is to get accommodation sorted without paying a premium. Firstly, be flexible. Where possible, don’t book breaks during peak price periods such as school holidays, Christmas, or major events such as the London Marathon. Demand at these times rockets and prices do the same.
If you can, including ‘shoulder’ days such as Sundays or Mondays in your booking. These automatically attract a lower price as they tend to be less popular with both business and leisure weekender customers. Sundays especially tend to attract the cheapest rates, and you’ll find that hotels tend to offer discounts if you book a slightly longer stay which incorporates a Sunday and / or a Monday.
Here at our King’s Cross b&b we always save our best offers for guests who book direct, and we’re not alone either. When you’ve got a shortlist of hotels, check out each individual website and look for their offers section. You’ll often find that the direct route pays off, with the provider keen to offer deals that keep you away from online travel agents. This is because sites such as Booking.com charge the accommodation a commission fee – and they are more inclined to pass that saving onto the customer and gain some loyalty.
If you can’t see any great offers, be brave and call up the hotel reservations team to ask if they will strike a deal with you for booking directly. You’ll be amazed at how often the direct approach works, especially if the hotel needs to book up final rooms at short notice.
Also, sign up to newsletters for deals and promotions. The California has its own newsletter, which includes flash sales and first dibs on our latest offers (plus a competition or two), so it’s well worth staying in the loop.
Read more: Book direct and save 15%
Generally speaking, it also pays to book far in advance and you’ll find cheap rates for rooms booked up to a year away, as competition – away from key dates of course – will be minimal. However, avoid booking beyond a year in advance, or you may accidentally pay premium prices because the hotel hasn’t yet adjusted its rates.
Alternatively, be brave and book extremely late – if you can cope with the uncertainty of course! Specialist sites, such as HotelTonight, are used by hotels with space to fill at short notice, and there are some great prices on offer. Bear in mind that The California uses this website, so you might just pick up an even more cracking deal than usual!
Read more: The California offers
In terms of locations, look for central London to avoid having to travel too far; you’ll save money on the room by staying out of Zone 1, but will spend it on cabs and public transport.
Whilst you’ll be hard pressed to ever find a budget price in central locations such as Soho, Westminster or Covent Garden, each area has a district nearby which is almost as good but costs way less than its popular neighbour. For example, our King’s Cross locale hasn’t traditionally been a tourist area, but is within easy walking distance of Bloomsbury, Holborn and Covent Garden. This means you’re still able to scoop up a bargain, but aren’t too far away from all the action!
Another good option is choosing a hotel located just south of the river, which has traditionally been less desirable for tourists. However a short walk over the bridge and you land straight into Soho or Westminster, depending on the bridge. Areas such as Lambeth and Waterloo are great options, and you’ll also be super close to Southbank and the Tate Modern during your stay.
A handy tip to bear in mind is to look at central hotels located in business areas at weekends. Those around Canary Wharf, King’s Cross and the ExCel Centre tend to be cheaper at weekends because business people aren’t in town.
Read more: King’s Cross maps
The Tube can rack up cost wise – and don’t even think of getting taxis! Happily, the London Underground now charges the cheapest price for your day journey automatically if you use a contactless debit or credit card; you don’t need an Oyster card if you are simply visiting for the weekend. But there are far less expensive ways to access cheap London! Don a pair of great trainers and walk as much as possible, or get a Boris bike (perhaps we should be calling them Sadiq bikes now?).
You’ll get to see everything, explore at leisure, and save a small fortune. Plus, many of the attractions such as the main shopping areas, entertainment spaces and museum quarter are in a small geographical space, so you can easily get around on foot. The bikes cost a mere £2 for 24 hours and are free if you hire them for less than 30 minutes, so these are great for zipping around on short journeys.
Another crafty tip is to forget expensive London Bus tours and take the 24, 11 or no.9 bus past the city’s main attractions for the cheapie price of a single fare! Finally, if you must take a cab, try Uber instead of hailing a black cab; you can even sign-up with a discount code to get around £15 free on your first fare. The app tells you estimates for each journey so there’s no guesswork either.
There are many inexpensive things to do in London. Many of the permanent collections at big museums and galleries are free or work on a donation basis. Head to Bloomsbury for the free British Museum; to Trafalgar Square for the National Portrait Gallery; and up to Knightsbridge for the Science Museum, the V&A and Natural History Museum.
There are plenty of others too and lots of information available. Look out for free permanent collections and check out other interesting destinations such as the British Library. For performances in the West End, look out for short notice cancellation re-sales for an absolute bargain – Timeout has plenty of useful information and listings.
Read more: The best galleries near King’s Cross
Don’t forget to visit the free – and exceptional – parks, such as Hyde Park, St James’s and Regents Park – all very close to the California. A particularly ‘wow’ park experience is a visit to the Sky Garden, located 155 metres up in one of the City’s skyscrapers, which is free but needs booking in advance. Finally, the big London markets are a great choice for cheap and amazing street food and local produce; Covent Garden, Camden, Columbia Road (the Sunday Flower market has to be experienced), or head to St Martin’s in the Fields for classical music renditions for free!
And if you need any further inspiration for how to experience London on a budget, check out the rest of our King’s Cross blog pages.