How to Have an Awesome Time in London (on a Budget)

There are plenty of clever ways to save money on your trip to London.

There are very few cities that can compete with London. From culture and nightlife to dining and shopping, the British capital comes out on top time and again. The bad news is that all this comes at a high price—London is an undeniably expensive place to visit.

Luckily, with a bit of planning, you can experience the best of the city, like fancy cocktail bars, West End plays and designer labels, without breaking the bank.

Shop like a Celebrity

You can try the January Sales at destinations including Oxford Street and Carnaby, but for plenty of designer brands under one roof head to Bicester Village. This retail outlet village in the Oxfordshire countryside is just a 46-minute train ride from central London. British and international designer labels give discounts of up to 60 percent, making Bicester Village well worth the journey—your only challenge will be squeezing all your purchases into your luggage for the journey back to London. 

Bicester Village, UK
There are bargains galore at Bicester Village, the retail outlet village a short trip from London. (©Bicster Village)

The other route to getting hold of designer goodies for a fraction of the price is via charity shops (thrift stores). Try Mary’s Living & Giving Shops, a successful chain of 22 stores founded by the British retail consultant and TV star Mary Portas. There you’ll find one-offs donated by luxury brands and retailers including Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. All proceeds go to Save the Children.

There are plenty more ways to bag a designer bargain in London if you know where to look. Aquascutum, Joseph, Pringle of Scotland and Anya Hindmarch are just some of the glamorous labels with outlet stores in Hackney, East London. You’ll find 16 shops, plus The Box, which hosts events and sample sales, at Hackney Walk.

The Play That Goes Wrong, London, UK
Snap up a cut-priced ticket for a London show, including "The Play That Goes Wrong." (©Helen Murray)

A Night at the Theatre

A night out at the theatre is very much part of the London visitor experience. Top-price tickets to plays and musicals in the West End can cost up to £200, but you can see these shows for a fraction of the cost. All year round, you can pick up tickets for as much as 70 per cent off by queuing in person on the day of the performance at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. Around 40 different West End shows are typically available, including Les Misérables and The Play That Goes Wrong

The Get into London Theatre scheme (1 Jan to 9 Feb, 2018) offers further chances to catch these shows, with tickets available for £10, £20, £30 and £40 at specific performances. 

Social Eating House, London, UK
You can enjoy the dishes of Michelin-starred chefs for less, with a 3-coures set lunch at some top restaurants. (©Jason Atherton Social Eating House)

A Feast for a King

All that luxury shopping will have given you an appetite, and why not keep things classy with a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant?

Ordering à la carte at an establishment such as Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House in Soho, which was awarded a Michelin star back in 2014, will cost you a pretty penny, but book a table at lunchtime on a weekday and you can take advantage of a three-course set menu for just £26.50, or £33.50 if you throw in a cocktail. 

Lima restaurant, London, UK
Enjoy the flavours of Peru at Lima. (©Lima restaurant)

Similarly good-value deals are available at other stylish eateries across the capital. The options for the three-course lunch at Peruvian restaurant Lima in Fitzrovia includes ceviche, Andean potato stew, king prawn stew and dulche de leche ice cream. This menu, which is also available as a pre-theatre option, costs £24. Just down the road at Yauatcha, the dim sum teahouse from the team behind Hakkasan, you can get eight dim sum, plus a selection of macarons and teas, for £19.

Raise Your Glass

A lot of skill goes into making delicious cocktails—especially ones packed with innovative flavours and made using techniques popular in the capital. So a night out at a London cocktail bar can have a serious impact on your wallet. It doesn’t have to be that way, however, if you head along at happy hour (timings vary from venue to venue but tend to take place on weekdays, from mid-afternoon to early evening) to take advantage of drinks so inexpensive you’ll want to try everything on the menu.  

Dirty Bones restaurant, London, UK
Enjoy a cut-price cocktail at Dirty Bones. (©Dirty Bones bar)

Caipirinhas and mojitos are among the selected cocktails available for just £5.50 at Amigo Hour at Latin-themed Barrio, which has bars in Soho, Islington, Shoreditch and Brixton. Happy hour at London Cocktail Club’s nine locations means two cocktails for £12 across the enormous menu—with quirky offerings including a bacon and egg martini. Selected cocktails, meanwhile, are only £5 at the four locations of Dirty Bones—try the Littlest Hobo, a delicious combination of gin, lemon, passion fruit and cider. 

So order another round, and raise a toast to doing London on a budget, but in style.