London, like Sydney and Auckland for British Backpackers is ground zero for those backpacking around the UK and quite often those on working Holiday Visas from Australia. It can be an expensive place to visit but the countless unique experiences that greet the 30 million international visitors each year are well worth the cost.
It’s a busy hive of activity, culture, history and opportunity for those willing to jump in head first! It’s also a great starting point for visiting the UK as a whole and is also surprisingly family friendly for those backpacking families too.
How Much does Backpacking In London Cost?
London is expensive! There is no way around that, in fact compared to the rest of the UK it is practically its own economy with “London Wages” being a thing and sheds costing more to rent than an entire 4 bedroomed house up north! It can be a hard place to visit as a backpacker on a tight budget, just like Australia and New Zealand it is a harsh reality check from the free and easy feel of travelling around Asia. Here your money just doesn’t seem to stretch quite as far as it did before!
Visiting expensive countries on a budget is always a challenge. It can be stressful trying to fit everything in to a tight financial situation! You’re desperate to experience all there is to do but at the same time you’ve got to eat and have somewhere to stay!
Budget wise you can get by on around £60-70 a day ($70-80) by staying in a hostel with a free breakfast, cooking meals in the hostel in the evening, riding the tube and walking as well as taking advantage of the free or cheap activities London has to offer!
That’s a lot of money for most backpackers! That kind of budget in Southeast Asia could afford you a nice hotel, restaurant food, tuk tuk rides and a tour!
Backpacking In London:
Top Things to do in London
Walk Along The Thames and Westminster Bridge
Nothing beats a stroll along the Thames, taking in the mixture of historic and modern building that make London the incredible city that it is today. From the imposing Tower Bridge to the space age Milellium Eye the banks of the capitals river are a sight seeing haven and a hub of activity at all hours. Start over at the Tower of London and walk down past City Hall and finish at Westminster Bridge where you can take in the iconic Big Ben! It’s also possible to do some cheap boat tours along the Thames too!
Head up The Monument
The Shard might cost a fortune and the Millenium Eye might not seem worth the outlay, but where else do you take in great views of London? From a-top The Monument that’s where, a perfect budget option for backpacking in London! For only £6 you can climb the 300+ steps up the monument to the Great Fire of London just across London Bridge (Yeah the one that burnt down in the song!) Here you combine great value, history and exercise too! The views from the top down the river and over the city are unbelievable!
Visit the Museums
Many of the cities museums have free permanent collections open to the public to view. From the famous dinosaurs of the Natural History Museum to the priceless works at the National Portrait Gallery and even the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum can all be seen for free! Amazing!
Some of the museums with free entry to their permanent collections are:
The British Museum, National History Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, The National Gallery, Science Museum, Tate Modern, Museum of London, Imperial War Museum, Horniman Museum and Gardens, National Maritime Museum, The Wallace Collection, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, RAF Museum, British Library and many more.
Explore Camden Town
Camden is the alternative heartland of London, full of fun and quirky markets, independent shops, record stores, clubs, bars and restaurants. It really is a cool place to hang out, grab some food, catch a band, have a drink by the locks or just people watch! There is also a lifesize statue of Amy Winehouse here too! For those backpacking in London it’s also a hub for hostels too.
See The Changing Of The Guard at Buckingham Palace
Visiting the inside of the Palace is an expensive outlay, however you can stand and watch the Changing of the Guards for absolutely nothing! You don’t need to miss out on what we British do best just because you’re on a budget, no, you can still take in that pomp and circumstance!
Taking place in the Buckingham Palace forecourt at 11am daily from May to July and on alternate days for the rest of the year. You can also catch the same ceremony at 11am (10am on Sundays) daily at Horse Guards Parade too. For anyone backpacking in London seeing the palace and the guards is a must do!
Wander the Parks
London has some incredible parks and gardens right in the busy city centre that are pure escapism from the bustling machine that is London. Not only are these green spaces a perfect place for a wander in nature but many of them contain their own particular stories of history and culture as well as well maintained gardens and public art works too.
Hyde Park is a popular large park with its memorial to Princess Diana, a lake, rose garden and an easy to reach central location. You can also visit Speakers Corner, an area of the park set about in 1872 for free speech. Each day people gather here to listen to speakers demonstrate about anything and everything. The spot has been the site of Suffragette protests, anti war movements and even impassioned speeches by Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx!
Other popular parks include Regent’s Park with its boating Lake and outdoor sports facilities. Then there is Richmond Park with its wild deer. Or St. James Park close by to Buckingham Palace where we got engaged!
Find out more about the many parks London has here.
See Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral
Visiting the inside of Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s are again pretty expensive on a tour.
Westminster Abbey’s roots date back over 1000 years with the current building being mostly from the 1500’s. It’s a magnificent and awe inspiring site of Gothic Architecture. It has to be one of the most important buildings in the city, especially to our Royal Family where 16 royal weddings have taken place as well as being the resting place for 8 prime ministers, 16 monarchs and the unknown warrior. Heading inside for a tour will set you back a considerable amount but its not only free to take in the spectacular building from the outside but it is in fact free to attend a service as long as you are quiet and respectful.
Again on a similar note it is free to take in the wonderful St. Paul’s cathedral from the outside as well as attending a service. The famous domed building has been a feature of the London skyline for 322 years with the site being in use for well over 1300 years as a church! It’s been home to the wedding of Diana and Charles as well as the funerals of Winston Churchill and Admiral Nelson!
Sample Some of The Local Product At Borough Market
Borough Market is London’s best food market offering flavours from around the world as well as mostly fresh local cuisine and all within a stones throw of Big Ben! It is also mostly under cover too so a great thing to do on those rainy London days! A warren of lively passageways and alleys the historic area has been home to a market since the 12th century with the current building dating back to the 1850’s.
Top Things to do in London for Backpacking Families
Of course with kids in tow things can get a little more expensive but we’ve met plenty of backpacking families on our adventures around the world and thankfully London is one of the most family friendly UK holiday destinations. Despite its reputation as a big, busy and bustling city, it is actual a great destination for families with lots of fun activities for the kids that are also enjoyable for all age ranges too!
Buy A Combination Ticket For Madame Tussauds and The London Dungeon
The kids will no doubt want to visit the fun attractions of Madame Tussauds and The London Dungeons! From mixing with celebrities and royalty to exploring the Great Plague and the gruesome side of the capitals history they are both a lot of fun! However, for those on a budget they can run quite expensive especially for a whole family! But a trip to London wouldn’t be the same for the kids without visiting these two classic attractions so purchasing a combination ticket which will often also include other attractions around the city too is a great way to save!
Search for Harry Potter at Platform 9 & 3/4 And Explore the Magical Warner Bro’s Studios.
If your family loves Harry Potter then London is the place to come! For those on a really tight budget then you can take one of the Cheap Harry Potter walking tours to see all the filming locations around the city. Not only that but you can head on over to King’s Cross Station and see Platform 9 & 3/4 and pose with the disappearing luggage trolley!! There is also a Harry Potter shop nearby styled as Ollivander’s wand emporium!
For those whose budget stretches a little further kids and adults alike can visit the enchanting Harry Potter World at the Warner Brothers Studios. Here you can step into iconic sets, see many of the intritate original props and costumes as well as seeing some of the special effects and art work that went into creating the films.
Have a Blast At The Diana Memorial Playground
Inspired by the story of Peter Pan with teepees, pirate ships, musical instruments and a sandy beach this is one of London’s best free playgrounds. A fitting tribute to the lake Princess the are allows kids to get lost in their imagination and have a real adventure in Kensington Gardens.
See The Mummies At The British Museum & Dinosaurs at the National History Museum!
The British Museum and National History Museum are two of the many free to visit museums in London (permanent collection). Here the whole family can be inspired by some of the most mesmerizing and fascinating historical artefacts! Seeing real life mummies and towering dinosaurs is bound to be a memorable day! Another great feature of these museums is there family activity days usually each weeking which feature interactive games and workshops! There are also activity trails around the museum, activity backpacks and even free art materials!
Take a Dip in The Serpentine Lido
Everyone loves to cool down on a hot and sticky London summers day and the kids especially love a swim. This family friendly and historic Lido is a cheap and fun day out! Not only does it feature the main pool but it has a paddling pool, climbing frame, sandpit and lawns!
V&A Museum of Childhood
Another great museum to visit is the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. It houses the largest collection of childhood objects in the UK. The museum dedicated to allow young people to explore items designed by and made for children. The collection compromises of toys, costumes and memorabilia dating from the 1600s to present day! It’s a wonderful trip down memory lane for the adults whilst the kids can learn how previous generations of children entertained themselves as well as having a go themselves!
Budget Tips For Backpacking In London
Stay in Hostel, Couchsurf or AirBnB
Staying in hostel dorms is a must for backpacking in London and it is unfortunately still very expensive for what is usually pretty bog standard accommodation. It can be a real disappointment after the incredible hostels that are on offer in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe but unfortunately with the astronomical property prices in London you don’t get much for your money here.
Having said that though it is worth doing some thorough research and considering which areas of the capital you do stay in. Paying a little more on the train or a fraction more for better quality accommodation with kitchen facilities can save you in the long run and make for a better experience.
Couchsurfing is also a great way to visit the capital for free. You might get a few nights here or there staying with a local which can not only save heaps of money but that local insight can be priceless too! It’s also good to have a local contact too if you’re planning on sticking around for longer.
Staying in an AirBnB with a local family too is another great way to save accommodation costs as there are often some real bargains to be had. You could also find somewhere within commuting distance and have access to that local knowledge too. I know this is something we’ve done in Melbourne and it resulted in work and friendships over time!
Make Sure Your Accommodation Has a Kitchen and Breakfast
A great way to save is to be sure your accommodation includes a free breakfast so you can fill up in the mornings without splashing out again. This is especially great if the breakfast is a buffet where you can potentially go up multiple times and then skip lunch!
Another money saver is to get accommodation with a kitchen which is quite common in hostels. This way you can visit the local supermarkets (Aldi and Lidl are great for those on a budget as are ethnic shops, avoid waitrose!) and cook your own food!
Stay Out in The More Local Areas Of The City
As we mentioned before, central London is VERY expensive! If you spread out a little into some of the suburbs or even the home counties if you are planning on living here for a while they you can really save on accommodation. Transport is expensive too and that has to be a consideration too especially in commuter towns but it is well worth investigating. It’s also a nice way to see some of the more local areas around the capital and discovering the communities there too.
Eating and Drinking in London
Eating out in London again can be bloody expensive! Restaurants charge a fortune and even those that are part of a chain will have separate inflated prices for the capital! However, visiting the smaller local cafes and takeaways is where you can really get a bargain.
Just like with supermarkets the ethnic takeaways are usually a lot cheaper. They can usually be found more in local areas of the city where there are certain ethnic communities rather than the centre of town. A kebab, fried chicken, pizza or a chip shop is a great way to fill up on a budget!
Check Out The Free Activities & Low Cost Things To Do in London
London has a lot of free activities and low cost things to do and may of them are frankly better than the expensive things and offer much more culture such as heading up The Monument rather than The Shard!
Check out our list of free and budget activities further down in the post!
Buy An Oyster Card and Also Walk… A Lot!
London transport is amazing and covers everywhere you might every want to go! Get an Oyster and make the most of it and explore all corners of the city! Also try to walk as much as you can to save on Tube fares but also to see so much more especially within central London! If you’re backpacking in London then you best get used to walking and using public transport!
Where to Stay while Backpacking in London
Best Budget Backpacker: Wombat’s CITY Hostel – London
The best hostel in London by far and well worth the slightly higher price for an absolutely amazing place! With a great free breakfast, a bar, kitchen facilities and a central location alongside spacious and well presented simple rooms it is by far the best offering the capital has. We also love the huge lockers too, ideal for keeping even your big bag in!
Best Mid Range Option: Double Room Homestay
This cosy Double Room is the ideal place for a backpacking couple wanting some privacy and to escape the hostel scene. Located close to a tube station and really well decorated and maintained it has a lovely cosy feel. Being within a home means you have access to a full kitchen, laundry and garden as well as the hosts being onsite to help and chat with you!
Best Family Option: Hyde Park Budget Apartments
An incredibly set out studio apartment with enough room for a family, full kitchen and central location it’s the ideal place for a small group. Each studio also comes with private bathrooms too which is important for travelling families. Located in Bayswater it is a favourite area of ours to stay with its many facilities and good transport links.
Backpacking In London Travel Tips
Best Time Of Year To Visit London
London can have wild weather year round but generally speaking it can get very cold in the winter and uncomfortably hot in the summer. London might not seem as hot as Sydney or Melbourne for the travelling Aussies but with thick old brick buildings, tiny windows and hardly any air conditioning it can be sweltering especially on the Tube! Similarly in the winter it can often drop below zero and snow isn’t uncommon!
For us the best seasons to come to London are early Autumn and lake Spring when the weather should be warm and fine and the crowds not too crazy to deal with!
Summer can be manic with visiting tourists as can Christmas time! Whenever you visit you should always pack for all weather and especially rain!!
London Transport Information
Backpacking in London: Getting In And Out Of London
London is one of the best connected cities in the world and is served by 6 airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, City, Stansted, Luton, Southend) with Heathrow being one of the busiest in the world! All the major airports are well connected to the city via the Tube, Buses, Coaches or Trains. However do consider that getting from Heathrow to Central London on the tube can be quite costly and using a National Express Coach (book beforehand) is a better budget option.
London is also the hub of the British Railways with the many different stations covering every corner of the country. You should check which particular station your service leaves from and also be sure to book well in advance. The cost of rail travel in the UK is famously astronomical, however booking 3 months before your departure can often result in some great prices. There are also a few other tricks like split ticketing too that can be employed to get around the high prices as well as getting a railcard.
With the Eurostar the UK is also connected via rail to mainland Europe with regular services to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam from St. Pancras International station.
Bus/ Coach Travel
A great budget option for backpacking in London and the UK is to take a National Express or Megabus. These buses again cover pretty much every corner of the UK and leave from Victoria Bus Station several times a day. You can even get international buses from here too.
The buses/ coaches offer really great prices though they will take a lot longer than the train (think between 5-7 hrs to Manchester rather than 2.5). If you search early enough or catch a special deal it’s possible to get fare for as low as £1! You can also get a National Express coach card for lower fares if you will be travelling often.
Transport Within London
London has a world class system of transport that is all linked on the one ticketing system: The Oyster Card (Oh how I wish we had something similar in Manchester where not even all our buses are on the same system!)
Once you buy your Oyster Card you can use it on the London Underground (The Tube), the buses and the Light Railways. Recharging your Oyster rather than buying single tickets is much more cost effective. Another thing to bear in mind is that London buses don’t accept cash any more, but you can pay on your card.
Using The Underground is by far the best way to get around the city with the many routes spreading to all corners of the capital and being interlinked at many points. The simple and easy to follow map shows interchange stations, routes and lines as well as zones where the fare increases with distance. Some routes also now operate for 24hrs a day!
London also has a great cycle rental system where they can be paid for by the hour. However London isn’t the most cyclist friendly city like many on mainland Europe so do bear that in mind!
London Cabs are also a great but expensive way to get around. The classic black Hackney carriages can be seen everywhere and can be hailed down unlike minicabs. Uber is also another way to catch a ride around the city.
Have You Been Backpacking In London? What Cost Saving Measures Do You Recommend?
Check Out the Other Amazing Things To Do In London Here:
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Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!