7 Secret Tips to Make Your London Vacation Cheaper and Easier

By Ron Rodney on 1 November 2009 (Updated 1 March 2010) 12 comments
Photo: Fun in London

London's one of the best cities in the world and you'll have a great time there. To make it even better here are 7 essential tips that'll make your visit cheaper and easier. Most visitors to London don't know about these tips and end up paying more for things than they have to.

1. 2 for 1 Offers

The Days Out Guide is one of those secret websites that's essential for any tourist wanting to visit London attractions. Instead of paying full price to see attractions such as Madame Tussaud's and the Tower of London, you can get in for half price with a 2 for 1 voucher.

All you have to do is register on the Days Out site and print off vouchers for the attractions you want to see. The only restriction is that you have to show a valid train ticket with your voucher at the attraction. However it's easy to get the train ticket. Just go to one of the overground stations such as Victoria, Charing Cross or Paddington and buy a Travelcard and make sure it has the symbol on it. Underground Travelcards do not have this symbol which is why you have to go to an overground station.

2. Hotel Reviews

Deciding which hotel you're going to stay at in London is easily one of the most important decisions you'll make. What most people do is head to Tripadvisor to help them make a decision. A few years ago you could do that and be pretty sure that the reviews were accurate. However over the last few months some people have been saying reviews are being written by PR firms for their client hotels. (Tripadvisor strongly denies this.)

Here's a tip to help you get around this problem. When you're looking at the reviews, first look at when the person became a member of Tripadvisor. If they've been a member from 2006 or earlier you can be pretty sure they're giving honest reviews.

For me, any reviews from 2007 onwards or from people who have only done one or two posts are as a good as worthless. Most of the hotels in London have been around for years, so look at those early reviews.

3. Exchange Rates

I feel so sorry for the tourists I see queuing up to be ripped off at foreign exchange booths in London or at the airport.

London is an expensive city, so you need to get the most for your dollar. To do this you really should order your pounds online. Travelex is one of the most reliable companies. You simply order online, and you can collect the currency at the airport.

Another alternative is to simply use your debit card in one of the ATM's at any bank in London. Check with your bank before you leave to see how much they charge, but it's bound to be cheaper than a foreign exchange booth.

4. Buying Booze

What do you do if you want to have a nice bottle of wine in your hotel room but don't want to pay the hotel prices? Most so-called London experts will say go to a supermarket and buy a bottle there. (This is absolute rubbish.)

The best (and I'd say, the only place) to buy booze in London is Gerry's on Old Compton Street in Soho. When I say you can buy almost any drink you've heard of, I'm not exaggerating. Prices are very good, and it's the only place you can pick up an authentic bottle of Prosecco for less than £10.

Also, when you decide to go out and have a drink, look out for happy hours. Many venues have them, but make sure you know what the restrictions are before ordering. The big sign in the window may say drinks are half price, but inside you find it's only on bottles of champagne! A way around this is to get the EPok London Pack, which includes a handy happy hour guide that lists bars and pubs with half priced drinks.

5. Free Walking Tour

London is huge, and a walking tour is one of the best ways to explore the city. If you're up to walking around for 3 hours, the Sandemans Free Walking Tour of London is a great option for you. The walk takes place every day, regardless of the weather, and you can just turn up and go.

6. Child-friendly Restaurants

Finding child-friendly restaurants in London isn't the easiest thing to do. It's not that restaurants in London don't welcome families; it's that many of them make no special arrangements for families.

One of the better chain restaurants for considering families is Giraffe. The cuisine is International, 2 course meals are about £15, and they have a special menu for kids and colour-in games to keep them happy. Their restaurants are nationwide, and the Southbank Centre and Victoria branches in London are good choices to try when you're here.

7. Taking a Taxi

London taxis have always been quite expensive, so Londoners only ever take them out of necessity. Tourists, on the other hand, look at them as part of the London experience. However, ask any tourist who took a cab along Oxford Street what they thought of the experience, and you'd have to cover your ears.

London has the slowest roads in Europe, and if you make the mistake of getting a taxi on Oxford Street, the Strand, or Haymarket, you'll be watching the world go by as you stay still. Treat yourself to a taxi ride because it's great, but avoid the above streets, and you're more likely to enjoy the experience.

If you follow these tips you'll save yourself a stack of cash and enjoy London a lot more.

This is a guest post by Ron Rodney, cofounder of EPok and writer of the blog 3 Guys on a London bus.

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Guest's picture
Brambly

You might find this link useful too: http://www.visitlondon.com

Guest's picture
MadJayhawk

Our advice:

Do not rent a car in London. Public transportation is great and inexpensive if you know the tricks. Get an oyster card. Look up different transportation options on the net. Jump in straight off and learn how their tube, bus, and train systems work. Ask questions. Everyone will help you. Do not be tempted to board buses without paying although you will see plenty of people do it. The transport police check. Car Park fees and congestion taxes will eat you alive in London.

Lots of B&Bs in London. Try one. Travelodges are reasonably priced and usually adequate. Premier Inn is another chain that are a little more expensive but better overall than Travelodges. Both offer fantastic deals in the off-seasons - 9 pounds 15 pounds/night etc. Try to get a hotel or B&B near a transportation hub like Victoria Station, Marylebone, etc. that offers tubes, trains, and buses. Makes life easier. We usually paid around 5-60 pounds/night for inexpensive hotels and B&Bs.

We got a London Pass and benefited from it although you have to really hustle to do so. It covers most every tourist attraction in London. It also has things in it that most people wouldn't normally go and see, like the canal tours. If castles outside of London are your thing then the British Heritage Pass is a very good deal. We used one for 10 days all over the UK. Most all of the UK's castles, homes, etc are members of the British Heritage system.

Renting a car outside of London is for the adventuresome. The roads in the UK with exception of the motorways which are excellent are very narrow and have nasty little curbs and absolutely no shoulders - terrifying for American drivers. Driving on the 'wrong' side of the road didn't bother me because I took my time making turns and talked to myself about what I was going to do next. Turns are the killers. Road signs in the UK are confusing and far and few between. Forget get about going around a block to get back to where you made a wrong turn - turn around as soon as you can on the road you are on. A GPS is an absolute necessity. If you get lost though, there is a great benefit - you get to meet a lot of friendly and helpful Brits. We met a lot of them.

Walking around in London or any great city is the best way to see it. Take the bus to a main area like Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Hyde Park (don't recommend going there) etc., get off and walk. Get in shape before you leave for London by walking at least 2 miles a day. Talk to the locals and visitors. They are great people. Very friendly and full of good information about what to see and do. One of the best pieces of advice we got was from a guy from Morocco on a bus. London is a very diverse city with residents from all over the world.

Most of the touristy stuff we saw is quite entertaining. There are some rip-offs (check out Trip Advisor) but generally you will have a great time.

Good, inexpensive place to eat: carveries. Usually 5 pounds although we did pay 3 pounds a couple of times. Good food in fake pubs although real pubs offer them sometimes.

Be prepared to have one of the best vacations in your life. Only thing better than London is Paris. Ah, Paris.

Guest's picture

Those were interesting and helpful. We're planning a trip next summer. Good info about ordering pounds online.

Thanks, John DeFlumeri Jr.

Guest's picture

and do not forget i to visit the food markets like borough market. i promise that you will talk about them for a long time to come

Guest's picture
Ralph

I was thinking about taking a trip to London next year. Thanks for the tips!!

Guest's picture
alex

Black cab drivers are not only licensed but they also know their way intimately around London, private hire or mini cab drivers quite often don't.

The fares are set in stone so you won't get ripped off and the drivers themselves have huge knowledge of London and its attractions so stay away fromunlicensed, illegal private hire drivers (tip-they will usually approach you at stations, airports,outside restaurants, etc)

Guest's picture
Constance

Museums that receive government money in London are FREE (donations accepted) so if the kids want to see the T-Rex at the Museum of Natural History again, you can stop in on your way to the Science Museum to say 'hi'! Little kids will love the V&A Museum of Childhood.
Also, kids ride free on public transportation.
Our family loved Giraffe and Wagamama was also great (cafeteria style seating, kids' menus, crayons)

Guest's picture
Darren

As an upfront disclaimer - I live in London.

I don't understand why you say "Most so-called London experts will say go to a supermarket and buy a bottle there. (This is absolute rubbish.)".

If all you really want is a bottle of wine to drink in your room there really is nothing wrong with buying it in a supermarket.
Gerry's on Old Compton Street is a great shop if you are nearby or trying to track down something obscure but hardly worth a trek across town just to get a simple bottle of wine.

The rest of your advice is excellent by the way.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the tips.
London is such a classic city of the world yet so easy to get around. I loved living there for a while and always found the public transport great even though the locals often whinged a bit about it.
If you're there in autumn make sure you watch out for 'leaves on the line' which can delay the trains.

Guest's picture
leslie

Well, I could say that the best way to save money on your trip to London is to not go... but I know that just because my trip to the city didn't blow me away, doesn't mean that other people won't find it enjoyable.

So here's my tips...
-Definitely buy an Oyster card as it is good for the tube and the buses.
-All the museums are free!
-Do not take a ride on the Eye. It's boring, a rip-off, and a terrible photo opportunity.
-Visit the tower of London! You can probably find discount tickets to this online but even if it seems expensive, it definitely was one of my favorite things to see in the city.

Guest's picture
RezHub

I've found that using your debit card for purchases and to remove money from ATM's is the best way to exchange money. I ALWAYS stay away from currency exchange booths. They are a rip-off.

Also, if you're green-minded and looking for an eco-friendly hotel, check out our top green hotels in London: http://www.rezhub.com/GreenTravel/GreenHotels/tabid/119/all/true/country...

Guest's picture
Victoria

I'd really agree on the comment to get your fitness up before you tackle London. It would also be worth picking up an A-Z (you can get a compact version from newsagents or street vendors) so that you can get an appreciation for how things (especially the centre of London) fit together so that you're not catching and changing on the the tube to get somewhere that's 500 metres away from your destination.

Also, try and see if there's a bus to your destination rather than the tube, as its so much nicer to see where you're going rather than taking the tube.

*Don't get the Heathrow Express from the airport. Its a rip-off - just get the tube which also goes to Heathrow. If you're flying in/out from one of the other airports (Luton, Gatwick, Stansted) check as many of the other ground transport options as the train is ridiculously expensive.

*If you're out and about and want some lunch a lot of British supermarkets such as Marks and Spencer do pre-packaged sandwiches which are quite reasonably priced. Obviously you can make your own. For something a bit heartier, pubs and some restaurants have lunchtime specials.

*I found lastminute.com's British site really handy for buying tickets for plays and musicals. Start looking when you know what dates you're going to be there and sign up to their newsletter. The cheaper tickets are often for weeknights or matinees, but I rarely paid more than 10 or 15 pounds for all of the big shows.

*If you are travelling outside of London - for any longer journeys try and book your tickets well in advance so you can get the discounted seats.

*If you want to see some football (soccer), for the more popular teams, try and keep an eye out for early rounds of cup ties (FA Cup or Carling Cup) as these are not usually as popular as the regular games where you'll often have trouble getting a ticket and if you do it'll be very expensive. If you are just going for the atmosphere maybe try a lower division team where you'll get lots of true fans which will contribute more to the atmosphere rather than the premiership where a lot of fans are happy to sit back and be entertained. Do your research though as if you're not a hardcore fan you probably don't want to turn up to a West Ham-Millwall cup tie.