Local’s Perspective: London on a Budget

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This article was written by Yasmin, a South African expat living in London for over a decade.


London has high flight taxes and its fares are not always that competitive so look at flying into a different European city first i.e. choose a non-direct flight. A change of plane in Madrid, Brussels, Barcelona, Paris, Zurich, Amsterdam or Frankfurt will only add a couple or so hours to your flight but will save a bundle. Also consider flying into an airport other than Heathrow.

London has five major airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, London City) and all have excellent transport links (bus, taxi, train) to get you into the city.

London Airports

You could also spend some time in the city you change planes at. For example, if your connecting flight is via Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam, spend a couple of days or more in these beautiful cities and once done, take the Eurostar train to central London. The journey time from Paris is two hours, two hours from Brussels and 5 hours from Amsterdam.

Hotels in London

Visitors to London tend to book hotels (e.g. Hilton or Waldorf) in central London (zone 1) which comes with a huge price tag. If a hotel room is simply a place where you put your head down at the end of a long day, shower the next morning and then venture out, look at booking with Premier Inn, Travelodge and Accor. Also, if you book a hotel in zone 2 to 5, the costs go down substantially. The train or tube journey into central London from zone 2 to 5 will vary between 5 and 20 minutes.

London Hotels

Premier Inn, Travelodge and Accor hotel rooms are well located, clean and suitable for two adults and two children under 16.


Accommodation Prices

This example shows the savings to be made. It was based on two adults and two children staying in one room for one week (9 Aug to 16 Aug). Amount shown is the total cost for the 7-night stay.
£201 Travelodge London Wembley (zone 4)
£234 Premier Inn London Archway (zone 3)
£426 Accor Ibis London Barking (zone 4)
£918 Park Plaza London Victoria (zone 1)
£1698 Holiday Inn London Oxford Circus (zone 1)
£1776 Hilton Tower of London (zone 1)
£3353 Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square (zone 1)

If you choose a hotel in one of these locations (Wembley, Barking, Tooting, Balham, Harrow, Whitechapel, Aldgate, West Ham, East Ham, Upton Park, Colliers Wood, Shepherds Bush, Stratford), halal restaurants and take-aways will be on your doorstep. An added advantage is the cost of eating in restaurants here are cheaper than eating in central London.

Attractions and Sightseeing in London

London is the perfect city to visit with kids as there is so much to keep them occupied and busy. To enjoy the best of London whilst ensuring your credit card does not get overused, consider a combination of fee-paying attractions and free attractions.

Attractions requiring payment: London Eye, Madame Tussauds, Tower of London, Warner Bros. Studio Tour, Tower Bridge Experience, London Dungeon, The Shard, Legoland, Chessington World of Adventures, Shrek’s Adventure, London Dungeon. Many of these attractions can be visited using “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” tickets. Look for vouchers on cereal boxes, chocolate wrappers and on these websites.


Free things to do in London

The Sky Garden offers spectacular 360-degree views of London. Book a free ticket here https://skygarden.london/

Majority of the museums in London are free to visit. Must see museums: Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A Museum, British Museum. The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum also have free activities for kids in the basement level.

Both the V&A Museum and the British Museum have impressive Islamic World Galleries.

Other museums that will keep the little ones entertained and busy are The Bank of England Museum, The Museum of London, Museum of Childhood and the Imperial War Museum. If you do a river cruise from Westminster to Greenwich, visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

More free attractions for children

 – Watch the street entertainers in Covent Garden.
 – See the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace (11am).
 – Observe the world’s oldest dinosaur sculptures at Crystal Palace Park.
 – Watch the pelicans being fed every day at 2:30pm at St James’s Park.
 – Meet ferrets, bunnies, alpacas and more at Vauxhall City Farm.
 – Watch Tower Bridge open. Usually at 1pm.
 – See the skateboarders in South Bank.
 – Get wet in the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.

A list of “101 Free Things to do in London” is available here:


Shopping in London

You’ll be spoilt for choice when shopping in London. First, two tips:
Tip 1: wear an old pair of walking shoes that you are happy to get rid of. Once you land in London, head to the Sports Direct store located in Piccadilly Circus and buy yourself a new pair of shoes. The range on offer is vast and the prices are low. See https://www.sportsdirect.com/
Tip 2: similar to above, pack some clothes that you are happy to donate to a charity shop when you leave London. This creates space in your luggage for your purchases and you will hopefully not suffer excess weight charges at the airport.

London is known for its designer shops and high-end boutiques but nabbing yourself great clothing and vintage accessories doesn’t always have to come with an eye-watering price tag. That’s right, treating yourself to something nice doesn’t have to hurt your pocket.

London Shopping

Some top picks for places to shop in style without splashing too much cash:

 – Primark (2 branches on Oxford Street) for clothes, shoes, kitchen and bedroom furnishings.
 – Tiger for home and kitchen accessories, stationary must-haves and party trinkets.
 – Sports Direct, JD Sports and Footlocker for football shirts, sports attire, athletic and hiking shoes.
 – H&M where you can grab yourself a few tops for under a tenner, cosy knitwear and comfy, basic tees.
 – TK Maxx has huge savings (60%!) on big brands and premium designer gems. So if you’re after a   Kurt Geiger bag or feel like treating yourself to a Karen Millen dress head here.
 – New Look caters to fashionable twenty-somethings and the stylish teen and has a huge varied range of clothing.

For bargain designer shopping, head to:

 – London Designer Outlet – Over 70 stores offering savings of up to 70% off RRP year-round. Stores include Adidas, Asics, Gap, Guess, Levi’s, Marks and Spencer, Nike, Superdry, North Face. It’s around 15 minutes by tube from central London.
 – ICON Outlet at the O2 – Over 60 brands selling goods for up to 70% off. Here you can find names such as Nike, Adidas, Ted Baker, Guess and Calvin Klein. It’s around 15 minutes by tube from central London.
 – McArthur Glen Designer Outlet Ashford is a 37 minute train journey from London. Here you will find discounted goods from 90 stores comprising luxury, premium and high street retailers. Stores include Marks and Spencer, Dr Martens, BOSS, Polo, Armani, Nike, Adidas, Puma, Asics, Calvin Klein, Guess, Hollister, Lacoste, Levi’s, Michael Kors, Superdry, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger.
 – Bicester Village Outlet is a 46 minute train journey from London. Here you will find discounted luxury goods from 160 designer fashion brands that include Armani, Balenciaga, Barbour, Diesel, Dior, DKNY, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Prada.

Halaal Eating in London

Note: You cannot bring meat, meat products, milk or dairy products into the UK.

London Food

If you book an apartment with cooking facilities, here are some areas in London to buy halal meat, chicken, sausages, patties etc.
 – South and West London – head to Tooting, Southall.
 – East London – head to Whitechapel, Upton Park, Ilford.
 – North London – head to Wembley, Harrow.
 – Central London – head to Edgeware Road.

In addition to butchers in the areas above, some branches of Tesco, Asda, Sainbury’s and Morrison’s stock halal food in their fresh meat and freezer section. These stores also have a world foods aisle where you can buy sauces, seasoning etc.

Online butchers like Tariq Halal Meats and Haji Baba will deliver to your apartment.

For a sit-down meal, head to:

 – Edgware Road / Marble Arch: Many Middle Eastern options. Some recommendations – Shawarma: Cafe Helen, Al-dar, Maroush. Thai: Spicy Basil. Persian: Patogh, Kish, Zaytoon. Turkish: USIA, Woody Grill, Diyarbakir, Istanbul, Azmar, Mangal. Iraqi: Serchanar, Kurdistan. Burger: TexAnn, Chico’s. Iranian: Kish. Others: Noodle Oodle.
 – Queensway Road / Bayswater / Westbourne Grove: Many options including the famous Khan’s and Nando’s.
 – Euston Square / Warren Street: A dozen restaurants located in Drummond Street.
 – Earl’s Court: KFC, The Halal Guys, Subway and many other options in the surrounding streets.
 – Whitechapel has many options. Recommended places are Needoo (in New Road), Tayyabs (Fieldgate Street), Lahore Kebab House (Commercial Road) and in Brick Lane (Masala Restaurant, Sheba, Aladin Restaurant, The Famous Curry Bazaar, Brick Lane Brasserie, City Spice, Meraz Cafe).
 – Tooting has many options. Recommended places are Dawat, Spice Village, Royal Mahal, Lahore Karahi, Lahore Spices, Al-Mirage, Royal Mahal and Mirch Masala.

I hope this information is helpful and wish you a safe and enjoyable visit and stay in London.
More information relating to visiting London is available at the website below.

About the Author

Yasmin is a South African expat who’s been living in London (UK) for over a decade. Her passion is travel, visiting new places, seeking hidden gems, local specialities, off the beaten track experiences, and jaw-dropping natural scenery. Her aim is to inspire others to travel, whether it’s by providing information and travel tips, or showcasing a destination through photography. (@postcard786)


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