London on a budget: how to enjoy the capital this summer without breaking the bank 

In partnership with Zopa

Don’t despair if foreign travel isn’t on the agenda this summer – there are plenty of amazing sights to be seen right on your doorstep. Which is why we’ve partnered with Zopa to bring you some top tips on enjoying London on a budget. 

OK, we’ll admit it: London and budget are two words seldom seen in the same sentence. Because yes, the capital can be exorbitantly expensive. But that doesn’t mean London on a budget is impossible. From travel to sightseeing, there are plenty of purse-friendly ways to enjoy one of the greatest cities in the world this summer – it’s just about looking in the right places. Luckily, we’re on hand to help. In partnership with Zopa, we’ve rounded up some foolproof advice on getting the most out of your trip to London, without blowing your budget. 

How to see London on a budget 

Go contactless

It goes without saying that public transport is much cheaper than Ubering (or worse, black cabbing) everywhere. And while walking is much cheaper still, tapping in and out with your debit or credit card is your best bet if you want to cover all corners of the capital during your trip. 

Credit: Zopa

The underground can be expensive if you’re buying single fares throughout the day, but using your Zopa card will mean you can keep close track of your journeys, while knowing exactly how much you’re spending. While an Oyster card will cost you £5, your existing debit or credit card works almost identically – without incurring any extra charge, or causing any embarrassing faff at the turnstile when you’ve forgotten to top up. Like Oyster cards, contactless cards have a capped fee of around £8.50 per day, meaning you’re unlikely to pay more than that for a day’s travel around central London. 

With a Zopa card, you can apply online and manage everything in their easy-to-use app . And don’t worry if you’re visiting London from further afield: there are no fees for spending abroad or going over your credit limit. Plus, your card will always be safe and secure because you can instantly freeze it in the app. (Credit card representative 34.9% APR Variable).

Know your bus routes

Open top bus tours can be incredibly fun – just ask Joey and Chandler from Friends. But if shelling out for a tour isn’t quite within your budget this time round, knowing your central London bus routes is a great hack for seeing the key sights all at once. (Just make sure you get a good seat on the top deck.) 

We especially love:

  • Route 15: An iconic London bus route that passes through the likes of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St Paul’s, Fleet Street, Waterloo Bridge, the Strand, and Trafalgar Square. 
  • Route 9: A pretty way to see the Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park, Piccadilly, St. James’s Palace, and Trafalgar Square. 

And with Tfl’s bus hopper fare allowing you unlimited journeys on buses and trams within an hour of touching in for just £1.55, you’ll be able to stop for a quick tour of any of the sights that take your fancy along the way. 

The best things in life are free 

Some of the best things to do in London are free. With around 26 of the city’s museums allowing free entry, you could happily spend days in London without paying for anything other than accommodation, food and travel. Whether you’re an art lover – in which case Tate Britain, Tate Modern, National Gallery, the V&A, and the Royal Academy are a must – or a history buff – see you at the British Museum, the Museum of London, and the Imperial War Museum – London has something for everyone. Of course, certain exhibitions charge an entry fee, but we promise that there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than wandering the galleries and having coffee by the river. (British weather permitting.) Note, though, that as we emerge from lockdown, you’ll likely need to book a slot in advance. So get in there early. 

Take in the great outdoors

Sure, we might be biased, but we reckon that London has some of the best parks this side of the globe. For all its bustle, you’re never too far from a green space in London, and the city is dotted with plush, leafy sanctuaries perfect for escaping the noise. From renting a lawn chair for as little as £2 in Hyde Park, to having a picnic overlooking the entire city on Hampstead Heath (followed by a swim in the outdoor ponds), there are so many ways to take in some of the city’s famous beauty spots during your trip. The problem is deciding just which ones... 

Go thrifting 

In terms of shopping, London has just about everything: from landmark luxury department stores like Harrods, Liberty, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges, to flagship high street favourites. But it’s the city’s selection of thrift and vintage stores that will forever have our hearts. Browse the rails at Camden Market, Portobello Road and Old Spitalfields for unique gifts, clothes and homewares, or hit up some of London’s best thrift stores for one-off finds. The East End is your best bet for thrifting, with places like ATIKA, The Brick Lane Vintage Market, Rokit and Levisons Vintage Clothing all within walking distance of each other. A must-see, even if you’re just browsing with a coffee in hand. 

Who are Zopa?

Credit: Zopa

 Zopa have been turning money on its head since 2005. Customer focused with no catches, Zopa offer access to simpler, better-value loans (15.4% representative APR) and credit cards (34.9% representative APR variable) to take the hassle out of money management.

Their no-nonsense credit cards put you in control – just apply online, and manage everything in their simple app. As well as getting instant payment notifications and real-time balance updates so you can keep close track of your spending, you’ll be able to prepare for some of life’s more unexpected expenses with a credit Safety Net; an innovative feature that lets you set aside some of your available credit balance should you need it.

 Zopa’s loans are just as straightforward – often offering some of the lowest rates around. If five-star reviews on Trustpilot aren’t all the convincing you need, check your rates on the Zopa website in less than three minutes. (And no, this won’t affect your credit score at all.)

 Money management? Smashed it.

Happy sightseeing.

Kate McCusker

Kate McCusker is a freelance writer at Marie Claire UK, having joined the team in 2019. She studied fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins, and her byline has also appeared in Dezeen, British Vogue, The Times and woman&home. In no particular order, her big loves are: design, good fiction, bad reality shows and the risible interiors of celebrity houses.