3 DAYS IN LONDON ON £100
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As one of the most expensive cities in Europe to live in, London has dawned a title of overpriced cocktails, snobby restaurants and unbelievably expensive hotels. And as someone who lives just outside of London I try to actively avoid visiting as I always end up spending way too much money on seemingly something that would have cost me half the price anywhere else in the UK.
In saying that, however, I know there are some gems in London and I decided to make it my mission to see how much £100 could get me in this tycoon of a city over the course of 3 days (2 nights). I would be avoiding the over priced business areas like Canary Wharf and Kensington and trying to find some more of the hidden sides of London which didn't cost a fortune. I also wanted to make sure I wasn't doing the free 'classic' touristy things like watching the Changing of the Guards and walking down Oxford Street, because quite frankly, those things aren't that interesting to me and I think there is so much more to London.
Over the course of this blog I will break down exactly what I did, how much it cost and my thoughts on if it was worth the budget, and finally a cost breakdown at the end. I was pleasantly surprised by how much further my money went than what I had originally thought before embarking on this trip and I've come to realise that you can do London for cheap if you know where to look. The transport and accommodation will definitely be the hardest part of sticking to a budget, how it is doable.
There were two costs that I didn't include in the £100, firstly was the train journey to and from London, which cost just over £30 return. I felt as if it were unfair to include it as that would have been a third of my budget gone before we had even started. The second cost I didn't include was my second night of accommodation, which was free because I stayed at my friends house that night (it is a little bit of cheating, I know).
Day one was jam packed start to finish. First thing was arriving into London from my home in Oxfordshire, which took a little over an hour and a half and cost £17.80 one way (which I didn't include in the £100 as I previously mentioned). I arrived into Paddington station and then walked to my hostel in Edgware, which was around 15 minutes away. I decided to stay at Phoenix Hostel, which was close to the station as well as everywhere I was planning on visiting for the first day of the trip.
The hostel was clearly undergoing a revamp due to the quiet nature of winter and COVID, which mean the reception was pretty messy, with paint cans, plastic sheets and stuff thrown about everywhere. The receptionist was a very welcoming gay man and we had a good chat before I headed to my room, but that was pretty much the end of what I enjoyed about my stay. I had booked the largest room available which was a 15 bed and only paid £12.60 for the night, which was a lot more reasonable than the £20 + of a lot of the other hostels I had looked at.
The room was pretty dingy and I was sharing with two men who were living at the hostel pretty much full time. It was very basic, with three tiered bunk beds and vinyl covered mattresses, so whenever you rolled over the bed crunched. My night's sleep wasn't overly pleasant and one of the men had the worst chronic snoring which kept me up through out the night, however in saying that it is a cheap option and there was nothing inherently 'bad' about my stay, it just wasn't enjoyable. If you were very limited on options and cash, I would recommend Phoenix Hostel, otherwise I think you can find better hostels in the city.
For those wanting to visit London and have a more enjoyable stay, I would recommend SoHostel (Soho), Wombats (Tower Hill) or Generator (King's Cross)!
You can read my full Hostel Recommendations blog post here!
During my time in London I mainly relied on the tube for transport. Fast, efficient and easy, the tube is by far the best way to get around the city, any time of day. London has one of the best metro systems in Europe and nothing is ever too far away from a tube stop, which is why I love it so much! Over the 3 days I used contactless on my debit card, which I just tapped on the gate machine at the start and end of my journey.
There are two main options you can use when paying for the tube, the first is an Oyster card/contactless, which is what I used. An Oyster card is a prepaid card that you use specifically for tube journeys, you can easily buy these at the tube or train stations. Your card will be charged per journey until it's 'capped' for the day. The cap depends on how many zones of the tube you travel through, ranging from 1 - 9. I only used the tube in Zones 1 -2 (the centre of London), so my daily cap was £7.20.
The alternative to using an Oyster card/contactless is to buy a travel card. This works the same as a train ticket and you just insert it into the barriers when entering and leaving tube stations. These range in prices depending on a lot of factors, but they generally work out cheaper than an Oyster card if you will be travelling a lot per day and over multiple zones. You can also use a travel card if you're travelling from out of London, as it counts as part of your journey - eg. If you're travelling from Reading or Oxford into London, that train journey would be covered, too.
You can read more about London Travel Cards here.
Here is a TFL (Transport for London) page on travel card costs.
So how much did I spend on those 3 days for the tube? Well, all up I spent £21.30, which equates to £7.10 a day, which makes sense considering that daily cap on contactless. In saying this, however, transport did use a substantial amount of my £100 budget, so it's something to be weary about when planning your trip and costings. If I had added my train transport to and from London, it would have been £51.30, over half my allocated budget! If you don't mind walking then you can definitely save some money, and the perks of walking through central London is that you're never too far away from any of the big monuments.
THE EXTERIOR OF THE WALKIE TALKIE
SKY GARDEN - FREE
The first stop on my trip was to the Sky Garden. Located in the Walkie Talkie, one of London's iconic buildings, the Sky Garden is the highest public garden in the city. Admission is free, however you have to pre book a ticket (I would recommend doing this a few days or more in advance as the sessions book out). Once you arrive you scan your QR ticket before going through security then into the elevator up to the 35th floor where the Sky Garden is located.
Up the top you have 360 degree views of all of London's skyline and monuments, while on the inside it is full of lush green garden, a cafe/bar and a restaurant if you choose to stay and chill for a bit longer (although I would imagine the food is pretty expensive). There is also a balcony that you can walk out onto to see the Thames, the Shard and Tower bridge a little better. Unfortunately the day I visited was rather gloomy but it was still a great time!
BRICK LANE - FREE
After the Sky Garden I walked over to Brick Lane, which took a little over 20 minutes. Brick Lane is one of London's coolest spots to visit, and their weekly markets make for a great place to wander or eat. With fruit and veg stalls, food vendors serving dishes from all over the world and dozens of cute artisan shops, vintage clothing store and cafes, there is so much to choose from! The markets are on every Sunday from 9am - 5pm and are free to walk around, however I would recommend bringing some cash (or most places take card), so you can try out some different foods and make a whole day of it!
There is also some amazing street art and graffiti scattered around which you'll notice as you walk around, so make sure you wander down some of the side streets and try and find some cool spots for photos.
I visited around midday on a Sunday, so as you could imagine it was pretty packed, even with COVID. The markets spread out pretty far down one long stretch of road, as well as having multiple little warehouse type spaces, each with different vendors, and all of them were bustling with people, so getting there early to avoid the lunchtime madness is probably advisable!
KAHAILA COFFEE SHOP - £4.40
To hide from the chaos of Brick Lane I stopped off at Kahaila for a quick espresso and vegan biscoff cookie. I paid £2.40 for the espresso (a little pricey if I'm honest) and £2 for the cookie, which substituted as my lunch for that day. When doing my research after visiting I also found out that Kahalia works very closely with a number of charities, which I thought was great!
The inside was super cosy and warm, and when looking at the menu they also had a great selection of veggie and vegan foods to choose from, delicious!
THE MAYOR OF SCAREDY CAT TOWN (SPEAKEASY) - £2.81
Liverpool Street was my next stop and this was going to be one of my highlights of the day. Speakeasy's are the pinnacle of excitement, especially when it's your first time! And for me, this was my first time EVER going to a speakeasy, so I really didn't want to make myself look like a massive idiot by getting it 'wrong'. Located inside The Breakfast Club on Artillery Lane, The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is hidden behind a regular looking Smeg fridge.
I couldn't tell you why I was so nervous going in, and I ended up hovering outside for a few minutes to pluck up the courage to enter. However when I mentioned it to the Host on the door he (obviously) knew what I was talking about and lead me straight through. He lead me through The Breakfast Club and through the Smeg fridge door, down the stairs and straight into the Speakeasy, which was this really funky cocktail bar with dim lighting and a mix & match interior.
I only ordered a lime and soda as I didn't want to go over my budget, which came to £2.81 (including service charge). Even still it was really nice to sit in there for a while before heading to my next stop.
It's free to enter The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, although if you're going during the evening I would recommend pre booking online to ensure you have a table.
INSIDE THE MAYOR OF SCAREDY CAT TOWN
INSIDE THE MAYOR OF SCAREDY CAT TOWN
STAND UP COMEDY SHOW AT THE TOP SECRET COMEDY CLUB - £1
I've always enjoyed stand up comedy, however I had never even considered going to a stand up show, especially not on my own. When researching, the Top Secret Comedy Club came up time and time again, and after doing a little research I noticed that they do shows for as cheap as a £1. I took this as a sign to give it a go, and I am so glad I did!
The performance was around an hour and 20 minutes long, with an MC, 2 comedians and an intermission in between. There is a bar so you can order drinks, which are also fairly cheap, and you can order straight off your phone using a QR code at the end of each row. Each row also had been separated by clear pieces of perspex, to help make sure people weren't coming into contact too much.
At the end of the show you're encouraged to leave a tip based on 'what you thought the show was worth'. They accept both card and cash and you can give from £1 - £50+, so although it's technically not £1, I think it's worth giving a little extra for a tip. I ended up leaving a £5 tip on card, making the total for the show £6.
You can check out the up coming shows at the Top Secret Comedy Club here.
INDIAN VEG - £9.95
The last stop of the night was dinner at a place called Indian Veg in Angel. After such a big day I was pretty ravenous at this point, so an all you can eat Indian buffet sounded pretty good to me. The buffet includes all the classic veggie curries as well as salads, roti, rice and some sweet banana balls that were really yummy! For all you can eat its £9.95, so you can definitely get your money's worth if you get a couple of platefuls.
NATIONAL GALLERY - FREE
Most galleries and museums in London are free to enter, which makes for a great opportunity to explore some really beautiful pieces of history. I chose to visit the National Gallery as I love that very whimsical style of artwork they show (the exhibitions change every few months), and it was a great way to start the morning.
The National Gallery opens at 10am and I would recommend booking a ticket for the morning to avoid the crowds. I would imagine due to COVID they limit their capacities immensely however when my friend and I visited it felt like we were the only people in there, which made the whole experience feel a lot more intimate. Anywhere between 1 - 2 hours is enough to enjoy the art and you're also allowed to take photos of most of the paintings, although there are some which are labeled which can't be photographed.
You can pre book your National Gallery tickets here
PAUL ROTHE & SON (LUNCH) - £6
Paul Rothe & Son is a family owned deli located right off Oxford Street on Marylebone Lane, seemingly untouched by the ravages of time, especially in the bustling city of London. It's vintage looking facade is matched with delicious freshly made sandwiches, soups, jacket potatoes, etc, that you can pick and choose from over the deli counter. Everyone working was super friendly and helpful and it almost felt like you were sitting in your grandparents living room, with 101 different types of jams, retro vinyl seating and a cosy feel all around.
I opted for a hummus and salad sandwich, which cost £3.50. It was simple, but everything just seemed so fresh and tasty that I easily could have eaten a couple more. I was still feeling a little hungry after that, so had a small bowl of potato salad to treat myself, making the grand total £6 all up for lunch. If you're on the go they also do takeaway options!
BARBICAN CONSERVATORY - FREE
Barbican conservatory is the second largest conservatory in London after Kew Gardens and is located in Barbican, which is right in the heart of the city. It was opened in 1984 and houses over 2,000 different species of plants which you can walk through and enjoy. It's free to enter (again, you have to pre book a ticket), and it's a great place to wander around and take photos! I would recommend between 45 minutes to an hour to enjoy everything, then you can opt to grab a coffee at the in house cafe in the Barbican.
I went just after midday and it was seemingly very quiet, although I imagine it could get pretty busy in the summer months. As always, I always prefer mornings and would recommend a morning slot to ensure you're not overwhelmed with crowds.
SOHO COFFEE CO. - £3.20
At this point in the day it started raining pretty heavily and so we found shelter at SOHO coffee co. while the rain subsided. At this point my friend Harry joined Esther and I. I got a oat milk flat while while we chatted, which cost £3.20, a little expensive and maybe a waste of the budget, but when it's cold and dark sometimes you just need a warm drink to soothe the soul.
PING PONG BOW BELLS - £15
After the coffee I started thinking about what we would have for dinner before heading to our last event for the day (which we will discuss next). Harry, Esther and I got on the topic of how much we all loved Chinese food and I thought we should look up if there was an affordable option near by. Low and behold I found Ping Pong Bow Bells, a Chinese Restaurant just around the corner from St Paul's Cathedral, and even more to my delight they do a happy hour during 3pm - 6pm which includes half price dim sums and cocktails.
We headed over and indulged on a variety of small dishes to share, each ranging from around £1 - £2.50 with the 50% off. Harry and Esther both dived into the half price cocktails while I sipped on wine, which was also half price, meaning the house was £10, which we split between the three of us. A lot of Chinese food was consumed and I only ended up spending £15, which isn't bad at all.
There are a few locations to choose from if you're wanting to indulge yourself, including South Bank, Soho, Covent Garden and St Pauls, which is the one we went to. It was pretty much empty when we were eating, however you can pre book if you're planning on visiting for an early dinner/dinner time.
JACK THE RIPPER WALKING TOUR - FREE ( + A £10 TIP AT THE END)
The final activity for the day was a free Jack the Ripper walking tour run by London with a Local and Strawberry Tours. Both companies host tours which are aimed at a younger crowd, with a more 'hip' genre of walking tours including Harry Potter, Ghost Tours and Rock n Roll.
Generally unless a walking tour is incredibly interesting, I do find myself getting rather bored midway through, however I was pleasantly surprised by how engaged in this tour I was. It took just under two hours and we predominantly walked around White Chapel, which is where most of the crimes of Jack the Ripper would have been committed. The group was small, with only four of us and our tour leader Olivia. The tour was much more focused on the victims of the murders, which was an interesting take on the story, something else I really appreciated about the tour.
Much like the stand up comedy, we were encouraged to leave a tip if we enjoyed our time on the tour. My friend and I left a £20 note between the both of us, meaning £10 each, which I didn't think was completely unreasonable considering how much we enjoyed it. We gave cash but there was also an option to tip on card too!
CAMDEN MARKETS - FREE
Camden Markets are another famous set of markets in... you guess it, Camden. The whole area has become famed for its markets, vintage stores, nightlife as well as its 'alternative' crowd it attracts. As you walk through the markets you'll notice a lot of punk shops selling all sorts of leather outfits, decked out with spikes and collars, not really my thing but definitely interesting. Other than that you can find cute little stalls with handmade goods, tonnes of different food vendors, cafes and Cyberdog, an alternative shop dedicated to rave clothing and festival outfits, with two 15 foot tall metal aliens standing outside and they often have caged dancers in the front room when you enter.
Camden is a great place to spend a day and chill, there are heaps of food spots to eat at as well as traditionally English pubs and funky bars. It's bustling no matter what time of year you go, especially with tourists, so be prepared to battle the crowds no matter what time of day! I was pretty exhausted by the third day and kind of enjoyed slowing down for a bit, after such a jam packed first two days.
RUDY'S DIRTY VEGAN DINER - £12
For the last meal of the challenge it seemed rude not to try out Rudy's Dirty Vegan Diner, located right in the heart of Camden Markets. This American style diner is everything from dirty burgers, mac n cheese, mozzarella sticks, loaded fries and even thick shakes... all vegan. For £12 you can have a meal deal which includes one main (burger or hot dog), fries and a drink, which was more than enough to indulge on!
So that is everything for those 3 days I was in London! I'm pretty impressed with how I spent my money, and how many options I had to choose from in terms of free or cheap activities. I did end up spending a fair amount on food (over half my budget), but as someone who loves eating, I would rather spend a little more and enjoy it than just opt for a £3 Tesco meal deal, although they can be a great option for those on a super tight budget.
1 x night at Phoenix Hostel = £12.60
TOTAL = £12.60
3 days x tube transport = £21.30
TOTAL = £21.30
Kahaila cafe - espresso and cookie = £4.40
The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town - lime and soda = £2.81
Indian Veg - Indian buffet = £9.95
Paul Rothe & Son - sandwich and potato salad = £6
Soho Coffee House - oat flat white = £3.20
Ping Pong Bow Bells - 1/2 price dim sums and cocktails = £15
Rudy's Dirty Vegan Diner - burger meal deal = £12
TOTAL = £53.36
Sky Garden = Free
Brick Lane Markets = Free
Top Secret Comedy Club = £1 + £5 tip
National Gallery = Free
Barbican Conservatory = Free
Jack the Ripper walking tour = Free + £10 tip
Camden Markets = Free
TOTAL = £1 (excluding tips)
1 x £5 tip for Top Secret Comedy Club = £5
1 x £10 tip for Jack the Ripper walking tour = £10
TOTAL = £15
GRAND TOTAL = £103.26
So the grand total of my 3 days in London was £103.26. As I said I definitely could of done it for cheaper, especially if I had chosen different spots to eat for food, however I think a big part of experiencing a new city is the food, and London is so culturally diverse that it's nice to experience different cuisines.
I really loved this challenge, it was something I have never really done before and I would love to do it again. I really had to think outside the box on where to go and what to do that wasn't too expensive or overly touristy. If you're ever in London, give some of these a try, I'm sure you'll have an absolute blast!
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