The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to London on a Budget

Backpacking Guide to London on a Budget

Backpacking London is one of those things you should experience at least once. If it’s not already on your bucket list, it’s time to add it!

My journey with London, and indeed with the world of hosteling, began from a place of youthful inexperience and a keen desire to stretch my budget as far as it could go. My first choice of accommodation was a lesson in itself—a hostel that was, frankly, crappy. It was an eye-opening experience that highlighted the importance of where one chooses to stay. This initial encounter was one of the catalysts for starting Hostelgeeks. We like to help you steer away from poor experiences by spotlighting quality hostels around the globe. Throughout my numerous visits to London, I’ve learned not just how to pick better places to stay, but also to unearth the city’s countless treasures.

Back then, I had only one goal – saving as much money as possible. However, I soon discovered that sometimes, spending just one pound more per night could dramatically enhance my travel experience. This didn’t mean abandoning the spirit of traveling on a budget. It was about understanding how to smartly allocate my resources to get the most out of each trip.

This guide is born from my adventures and the lessons they’ve taught me—a compass pointing you towards must-visit spots and hidden treasures, all the while navigating the financial challenges of exploring an expensive city on a budget. With these tips, you’re equipped to have a fantastic time and get lost in what London has to offer.

Travel Costs: Detailed Breakdown

London is an expensive city. And the pound is a strong currency, so it makes it even a bit more expensive. But it’s possible to visit London on a budget. I have done it many times. The trick is to plan your activities and food wisely.

Suggested Budget per Person

  • Low: £40-60
  • Middle: £60-100
  • High: £100+

Detailed Costs


  • Low: Hostels or budget B&B: £17-35 per night
  • Middle: Mid-range hotels: £60-150 per night
  • High: Luxury hotels or upscale apartments: £150+ per night

Public Transportation:

Contactless payments offer the same fares as Oyster and also benefit from daily and weekly capping, which ensures you never pay more in a day or week (Monday to Sunday) than the cost of an equivalent travel card.

  • Pay-as-you-go with Oyster/Contactless Card (single journey within central zones): £2.40
  • Day Travel Card: £13.50
  • Weekly Travel Card: £36.10 (for central zones)

Entrance Fees:

  • Low (mostly Free Activities): There are plenty of free things to do in London, such as many of London’s top museums and galleries like the British Museum, Tate Modern…
  • Middle: £10-20 for paid attractions like the London Eye, Tower of London
  • High: £25+ for premium experiences and guided tours


  • Low: Street food or fast food: £5-10
  • Middle: Pub meals: £10-20
  • High: Fine dining restaurants: £30+ per main course


  • Low: Takeaway coffee: £2-3
  • Middle: Coffee or latte in a café: £3-4.50
  • High: Specialty coffee with unique brewing methods: £4.50+

Beer & Wine:

  • Low: Local beer at a pub: £4-5
  • Middle: Glass of wine in a mid-range restaurant: £6-8
  • High: Craft beer or special vintage wine: £9+

Important: visitors to the UK can benefit from tax-free shopping under certain conditions. However, the process and minimum spend required may differ. Check the latest regulations and procedures for claiming VAT refunds in the UK.

Explore London: Things to Do

Exploring London can be exhausting, as it is a big city with many things to do. It has iconic landmarks, sprawling parks, and world-class museums. I elaborate a 4-day in London itinerary, but I guess not everybody has 4 days, so let’s dive into the must-do’s.

Must Do

Ride the London Eye: For breathtaking views of the city’s skyline, a ride on the London Eye is a must. It’s a unique way to see London from above, including the Houses of Parliament and the Shard.

Explore the Tower of London: Dive into England’s rich history by visiting the Tower of London. Home to the Crown Jewels, this historic fortress offers a glimpse into the country’s royal past.

Walk Across Tower Bridge: Not only an engineering marvel but also one of London’s most famous landmarks, walking across Tower Bridge offers spectacular views of the Thames and the city.

Free Things to Do

Stroll through Hyde Park: One of London’s largest and most famous parks, Hyde Park offers a peaceful escape from the city hustle. Enjoy the Serpentine Lake, Speaker’s Corner, and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain.

Visit the British Museum: Home to a vast collection of world art and artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. The British Museum is free to enter and offers a deep insight into human history and culture.

Explore Camden Market (and the surroundings): Dive into the bustling Camden Market, where you can browse a vast selection of clothes, artwork, and food from around the world. Stroll around the market area, it is full of interesting shops and you can see lots of trends.

Change of guards: this is one of the most iconic traditions in London. This ceremony involves a formal handover of duty from one set of guards to another, complete with military bands playing traditional and contemporary music, and guards dressed in traditional red tunics and bearskin hats. It typically takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays starting at 11:00 AM. However, the schedule can change on special occasions, so it’s wise to check the official website for the most current information before planning your visit.

Looking for more free activities? I collected 62 free things to do in London.

Museums / Activities

Discover the Science Museum: Engage with the wonders of science, technology, and medicine at the Science Museum. It has interactive exhibits and historical collections.

Take a tour of the Warner Bros. Studio: Harry Potter fan here? Then don’t miss the chance to explore the magic of the Harry Potter films with a tour of the Warner Bros Studio. See the sets, costumes, and props up close and learn about the filmmaking process. If you don’t have time for a tour, just get to Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station.

Tickets You Have to Pre-Book

Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter: Due to its popularity, tickets for this magical tour sell out quickly and must be booked well in advance.

View from Sky Garden: For amazing panoramic views across London, book tickets to London Sky Garden. It is free, but it has to be pre-booked to get in. Book your tickets for free here.

West End Shows: This is not a backpacker activity, cause it is not cheap. But I went once for my birthday to the Lion’s King Show and it was A-Mazing! So if you have a special budget for fun things to do in London, try to catch a performance in London’s famed West End. I do recommend booking tickets ahead of time, as very often they are sold out.

Where to stay on a Budget

While London is known for its steep prices, there are parts of the city where we can find affordable accommodations. Here’s a guide to the best hostels in London on a budget.

Candem is one of the best places to stay, as it is an eclectic neighborhood. Known for its lively markets, diverse music scene, and street art, Camden is a haven for backpackers looking to experience London’s alternative side. Accommodation options here range from youth hostels to budget guesthouses, providing a wallet-friendly stay. My favorite place? Palmer’s Lodge Swiss Cottage. It has spacious dorms and also private rooms, a bar on site and the bus to the airport is just a few blocks away.

Eating and Drinking

The city’s diverse food scene caters to all tastes and budgets, allowing you to savor everything from classic British fare to international delicacies. Here’s your guide to eating and drinking in London.

Water: Tap water in London is safe to drink, and many restaurants, cafes, and bars will happily provide a glass of water free of charge if you ask.

Restaurants: London’s restaurant scene is vast and varied, offering everything from Michelin-starred dining to casual, family-run establishments. While dining in these restaurants can be a memorable experience, it’s often accompanied by a higher price tag. For those wanting to stretch the budget, have a look at Chinese and Indian restaurants specifically – they are normally the cheapest. One of my favorite places in Kings Cross is Roti King. Kebabs are also very cheap option and you’ll find shops almost on every corner.

Avoid: Tourist-heavy areas like Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, and around major attractions often feature restaurants with inflated prices and sometimes lower quality. Venture a bit further to find better value for your money.

Affordable Eats

Eat at Open-Air Markets: Borough Market and Camden Market are just two places where you can enjoy a wide range of affordable and delicious food from around the world. These markets offer the chance to try a variety of dishes without spending a lot.

Street Food: London’s street food scene is thriving, with markets and pop-ups across the city serving everything from gourmet burgers to vegan Ethiopian cuisine and kebab. Look out for food trucks and stalls in areas like Shoreditch, Southbank, and Brixton. There are also lots of kebab and burger shops dotted all around the city.

End-of-Day Discounts:

Chain Bakeries and Cafes: Look out for chains like Pret A Manger, EAT, and Paul, which often reduce prices on sandwiches, salads, pastries, and baked goods in the last hour before closing.

Supermarket Deals: Major supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer, frequently mark down fresh items that are nearing their sell-by date in the evening, offering everything from ready meals to sushi at reduced prices.

Discounted Food: several food chains across the city offer significant discounts on food towards the end of the day. My favorite one is Itsu, a sushi shop where everything is half-price 30 minutes before closing time. They have more than 70 shops all across the city.

Food Apps: Apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio connect users with restaurants, cafes, and stores looking to sell surplus food at lower prices.

Type of Food That Is Generally Cheaper:

Bakeries: Many bakeries offer delicious pastries, sandwiches, and cakes at reasonable prices. It’s a great option for breakfast or a light lunch.

Ethnic Eateries: London’s diversity is reflected in its food. Eating at Indian, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian restaurants can often be cheaper than traditional British eateries.

Where You Can Find the Most Affordable Groceries:

Supermarkets are all over the city and cooking is a good way to save money if you are staying in a hostel with a kitchen.

The cheapest supermarkets in London are Lidl, Aldi, and Tesc.

Cheap Nightlife Spots

Here are some cheap nightlife spots across London that promise a good time without breaking the bank. If you don’t wanna go out alone, stay at a party hostel in London and join their activities, such as beer pong, free drinks, or karaoke nights.

Camden Town

Renowned for its eclectic vibe and live music scene. The area is dotted with pubs and bars offering affordable drinks and often free live music or DJ sets. The Camden Head is a great example, known for its comedy nights and budget-friendly pints.


Brixton’s lively atmosphere extends into the night with numerous bars and clubs that cater to a budget-conscious crowd. Hootananny Brixton is a popular choice, offering live music ranging from reggae to indie, with free entry on many nights.


Peckham is quickly becoming one of London’s coolest nightlife spots, with rooftop bars like Frank’s Café, which provides stunning views of the city skyline. The area is home to many budget-friendly bars and is known for its art scene.


Shoreditch is the go-to area for an affordable and trendy night out. Bars like The Old Blue Last, a pub and live music venue, often host free gigs. Boxpark Shoreditch offers a unique experience with its pop-up bars, street food, and free events.


Hackney is full of laid-back bars and historic pubs where you can enjoy a night out without spending too much. The Chesham Arms is a cozy spot for a relaxed evening, offering a selection of craft beers and ciders at reasonable prices.

Student Nights

Keep an eye out for student nights across London, which often feature discounted entry fees and drink specials. Venues like Heaven, one of London’s most famous nightclubs, host regular student events at reduced prices.

How to get around

Navigating London, a sprawling metropolis brimming with iconic landmarks, historic neighborhoods, and an array of cultural attractions, is made accessible by its extensive public transportation system.

Getting Around London

The Tube (London Underground): The Tube is the quickest and most efficient way to get around London. It covers most areas of the city, with fares depending on the distance traveled. For the best value, use an Oyster card or a contactless payment card, which offers cheaper fares than single tickets.

Buses: London’s iconic red buses are a budget-friendly way to see the city. Again, using an Oyster card or a contactless payment card will save you money on fares.

Bicycles: The Santander Cycles bike-sharing scheme is an affordable and fun way to explore London. With docking stations across the city, it’s easy to pick up and drop off a bike as you please. The first 30 minutes of each journey is very cheap, making it a great option for short trips. I wrote a full route to discover London on a bike in my secret London travel  guide.

Walking: London is a surprisingly walkable city for those who want to explore its streets, parks, and riversides up close. In central London, many of its most famous attractions are within walking distance of each other.

By combining walking, the Tube, and bus services, you’ll master the art of navigating London efficiently and economically.

Cheapest Way to Get To and From the Airport

Heathrow Airport: The cheapest way to travel between Heathrow Airport and central London is by taking the London Underground (Piccadilly Line). It’s direct and much cheaper than the Heathrow Express or taxis.

Gatwick Airport: The Southern or Thameslink trains offer budget-friendly connections to central London from Gatwick. While not as fast as the Gatwick Express, they provide significant savings.

Stansted Airport: The Stansted Express is the fastest option, but buses by companies like National Express or Terravision offer much cheaper, albeit slower, alternatives.

Luton Airport: Similar to Stansted, Luton has express train services, but again, National Express and other bus services provide cheaper but slower connections to central London.

London City Airport: Being the closest airport to central London, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) provides an affordable and efficient link to the Tube network.

Best Time to Visit

When planning a trip to London, timing can significantly impact your experience, from crowd sizes to hotel prices. Here’s a guide to help you determine the best time to visit based on seasons, national holidays, and festivals.

High season: June to August. While the weather is warm and pleasant, this is peak tourist season. Landmarks and museums are crowded.

Shoulder season: April to May, September to October. Generally pleasant weather and fewer crowds.

Low season: November to March. Colder temperatures and more frequent rain. However, fewer tourists and cozy indoor attractions.

National Holidays & Festivals

  • New Year’s Day (January 1): Celebrations across the city, including the New Year’s Day Parade.
  • Easter (March/April): Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays with various Easter-related events.
  • May Bank Holidays: The first and last Mondays of May are public holidays, often marked by special events and activities.
  • Summer Bank Holiday: The last Monday in August, marking the end of summer with festivals and events.
  • Christmas (December 25) and Boxing Day (December 26): The city is beautifully decorated, and many special
  • Wimbledon Tennis Championships: late June to early July. Also, various outdoor festivals and concerts take place during these two months.
  • Chelsea Flower Show:  in May, dates change from year to year.
  • London Fashion Week: Occurs twice a year, with the main event in September focusing on spring/summer collections for the following year. The dates can shift slightly but generally span five days in the middle of September.
  • London Film Festival: Hosted by the British Film Institute (BFI) in October, the festival dates can change slightly each year. It typically runs for about two weeks, offering a chance to see a diverse range of international cinema
  • Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park: from November to January there are various Christmas markets in December are festive reasons to visit.

Backpacker Essentials & Safety Tips

Safety Tips and Common Scams

Stay Vigilant: Like any major city, London has its share of pickpockets, especially in crowded areas like the Tube, tourist attractions, and busy markets. Always keep your belongings secure and be mindful of your surroundings.

Beware of Scams: Be cautious of common scams targeting tourists, such as the cup and ball trick or individuals posing as undercover police officers asking to check your wallet for counterfeit money.

Use Licensed Taxis: Ensure you only use licensed taxis or reputable ride-sharing services. Unlicensed taxis may overcharge or be unsafe. Look for the official black cabs or book through a trusted app.

Cultural Etiquette and Tips

Queue Politely: Queuing (standing in line) is a serious matter in the UK. Always wait your turn, whether it’s boarding public transport, waiting at an attraction, or buying a coffee.

Mind the Gap: When using the Tube, always pay attention to the “Mind the Gap” warnings to avoid tripping or falling when boarding or alighting trains.

Respect Privacy: Londoners value their privacy and personal space, especially on public transport. Keep conversations at a moderate volume and avoid unnecessary eye contact.

Things Not to Do

Don’t Block the Pavements: London’s streets can be busy. Avoid stopping suddenly or spreading out in groups on pavements, as this can obstruct the flow of pedestrian traffic.

Avoid Talking Loudly on Public Transport: Keep your voice down when talking on buses and trains. Loud conversations can be considered disruptive.

Don’t Ignore traffic lights: Always wait for the green signal before crossing roads. Jaywalking isn’t as common in the UK, and crossing against the signal can be dangerous.

Resources and Planning

Planning your backpacking trip to London with the right resources at your fingertips can transform your adventure, ensuring you experience the best of the city while managing your budget effectively. Here’s a comprehensive guide to tools, apps, accommodations, transportation options, and more, tailored specifically for your journey through London.

Oyster Card: An essential for using public transport, offering cheaper fares than buying individual tickets and daily capping to save you money.

Santander Cycles App: This enables you to hire bikes from the city’s bike-sharing scheme, offering an affordable and fun way to explore.

Citymapper: Offers detailed journey planning across all forms of public transport in London, including real-time updates and service alerts.

Time Out London: Keeps you updated on the latest events, exhibitions, and things to do, many of which are free or low-cost.

Budget-Friendly Passes

London Pass: Offers free entry to over 80 attractions, tours, and museums, plus fast-track entry at popular spots. It’s a significant upfront cost but can offer savings if you plan to visit many included attractions.

2FOR1 Offers: When traveling by train, keep an eye out for 2FOR1 entry deals to many of London’s top attractions, available by showing a valid train ticket.

Money Saving Tips

Oyster card / contactless payment card: Using a contactless payment card or an Oyster card when using public transport will ensure you save money. It offers much cheaper fares than single tickets.

Stay in a cheap hostel: many backpacker hostels in London will help you stay on a budget. It will not only be an affordable accommodation, they normally offer activities and can give you local tips on where to go to eat, drink…

Eat Like a Local: Take advantage of meal deals at supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, or Pret A Manger for affordable lunch options. Explore local markets for cheap eats.

Free Attractions: Many of London’s top museums and galleries, including the British Museum and Tate Modern, offer free entry.

Walk or Cycle: Opting to walk or use a bike for shorter distances not only saves money but also provides a unique perspective of the city. 


London is a city that rewards the curious and the savvy, offering endless opportunities for exploration and discovery within the reach of every backpacker’s budget. It’s also a journey through time, culture, and innovation, seamlessly blending centuries-old history with the pulse of contemporary life. With every step, every Tube ride, and every discovery, you’ll find yourself falling in love with this dynamic city. And with budget-friendly passes and savvy money-saving tips I mentioned here, this love affair with London doesn’t have to break the bank.

So, why wait? Let’s begin your London adventure,

We are 100% Independent: Some links on Hostelgeeks are so-called affiliate links. If you decide to book through these links, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support allows us to keep producing high-quality, independent content free of influence from hostels or external advertisers. Learn more here. 🙏

✏️ Read our Editorial Guidelines

Our Favorite Travel Resources 2024

👏 Booking Hostels: Always find better deals for Hostels on They compare prices from Hostelworld and

✈️ Cheap Flights: The first websites we always check are Skyscanner and Google Flights.

🤒 Travel Insurance Simplified: We always go either with Safetywing and Hey Mondo.

🤓 Smart Travel Tools you need to know: Find a list of our favorite travel tools.

Get your Smart Packing List (Free Printable): Knowing what to pack and what not to pack is key. Get our ultimate list of smart items to bring on your trip.

Download your Free PDF Packing List

Best Hostel Packing List