The capital of the UK and one of Europe’s largest cities, London can sometimes feel a little intimidating, particularly on your first visit. So to help you concentrate more on the things that matter most, we’ve put together this list of tips to help you save time and money on your next trip to London.
Location Location Location!
London is huge. No really, it’s vast! So think about this before you book your hotel. Do you want to spend your whole time in the major museums? Then stay close to Kensington or Westminster. Perhaps you want to explore absolutely everything that London has to offer? Then plan for your hotel to be close to good transport links like King’s Cross St Pancras (great if you’ll be jumping on the Eurostar too) or Victoria Station. Maybe you’d prefer a quiet stay in a leafy London neighbourhood? Then try Bloomsbury or Greenwich. Prefer a close up view of the skyscrapers? Then choose either Liverpool Street or Canary Wharf.
Free Things To Do In London
Let’s face it – London is an expensive city – with inflated prices for main attraction like the London Eye and the Tower, it’s easy to forget that it is entirely possible to have fun for free in London. At the top of the list are the museums, with legendary museums such as the British Museum – home to the Rosetta Stone and a legion of Egyptian Mummies, the Science Museum with its collections of giant steam engines, analytical engines, and its fantastic space exploration gallery, and the stunning National History Museum with galleries devoted to the exploration of the animal kingdom, ecology, and the origins of man. All for free!
If you prefer to stay outdoors then try one of London’s many markets, from Borough Market just a few steps from London Bridge (free cheese tastings anyone?), to the colourful Columbia Road Flower Market in Tower Hamlets. Alternatively take a stroll through the lush greenery of Hyde Park or Green Park, or one of countless gardens that adorn each of London’s boroughs. For something a little different head up to the free London SkyGarden for incredible vistas of London from the Walkie Talkie skyscraper (be sure to book before you go).
Travelling Around London
Travelling around London can be costly, but thankfully there are numerous ways to cut down on travel costs. Firstly, if you want to get around the city quickly then you’re going to need to take the tube, so your first stop should be to pick up an Oyster card. For short journeys where time is of the essence then black cabs are a good choice but quite costly, whereas Uber is a good option for longer journeys where you either can’t or don’t want to take the tube or the overground. Travel cards are great if you’re staying for a week or more, but if you only intend to take the tube on certain days then save your money and get a day card. And remember there’s no need to purchase a day card as the costs are capped at the daily fee when you use your Oyster card or contactless payment card (yep, you can use your contactless bank cards – saving money on purchasing an Oyster Card).
If you intend to travel a long distance, such as from the London Eye or the Big Ben to Greenwich then the easiest option is to jump on the Oyster Boat (the Clipper) which you can use as a kind of sightseeing boat trip as it goes exactly the same route along the river as the sightseeing boats but for a fraction of the cost while still taking in many of London’s most famous sight. Expect to see everything from the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the Mayor’s Office, to the London Eye, Canary Wharf and the stunning converted docklands warehouses and skyscrapers that line the riverfront.
Of course the cheapest way to explore London is by walking and a great option is a riverside walk on the designated ‘Thames Walk’ pathways, or walks through the city centre and Westminster to see the Houses of Parliament and the idyllic Royal Parks. Be sure to include a crossing over one of the bridges such as the modernist Millennium Bridge to the Tate or the historic Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, and always take short cuts when you see them, cutting through the various arcades and back alleys of central London, exploring quaint bookshops, stunning churches such as St Paul’s and pretty tree-lined streets filled with cafes, bookstores and independent shops.
Tipping In London
In recent years its become more necessary to tip while dining out in London. But many restaurants now include a “service charge” of 12% (sometimes a little more or a little less) so use your best judgement. If the service wasn’t great then don’t tip, but if you enjoyed your food, your waiter explained the options and enhanced your experience then just like anywhere else, a tip of 10% will be more than welcome.
In pubs, cafes and bars it’s less usual to leave a tip but you might see a “tip jar” placed on the bar so feel free to drop your change in if the service or experience warrants it.
Shopping in London
Shopping in London is legendary, from designer brands, jewellery and luxury shopping across Selfridges, Harrods and the ornate shopfronts of Bond Street to alternative fashions in Camden, avant-garde designer wear in East London, antiques shopping in Notting Hill, fitted suits on Saville Row and everything from technology to fast fashion and souvenirs in Covent Garden.
Claiming Back VAT
If you are visiting London from outside of the EU, you will be charged 20% VAT that you can claim back once you leave the EU (but remember if you’re travelling to Paris next before going home you won’t be able to get your VAT refund until you leave Paris for a non-EU country). It can be a bit of a hassle to go through the process of collating your receipts and eventually claiming back your VAT but the returns can be impressive so it’s worth it.
To take the hassle out of the process, we recommend a VAT mobile app like Airvat, which handles much of the process of VAT refunds on your behalf. Simply follow the instructions in the app and for a small fee, you’ll have your money back in no time and with none of the stress.