Young Australians really love London. We flock to England’s capital like sheep and for good reason. It’s one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cities. But the fun comes at a price – London is the world’s most expensive city to live in. Have your wits about you, though, and there’s no shortage of sneaky London life hacks to comfort your weeping bank account and make life a little easier – whether you’re there for a visit or an extended period of time.
#1 Buses, not the tube
It’s tempting to traverse London on the incredibly efficient Underground system that makes Melbourne’s Metro look like a horse and cart, but after the novelty’s worn off buses are the way to go. They’re just $2.70AUD per trip compared to the Tube’s $4 (or $5.15 in peak time) and essentially serve as a free guided tour of London along the way. Plenty of buses run 24 hours too – which the tube won’t start doing until September 2015.
There’s an app for that! No, really – there are some apps that will completely save your sanity. CityMapper is Google Maps’ cooler and more genius brother telling you multiple ways to reach your destination, different forms of public transport, timetables and walking times.
Tube Exits For London sounds incredibly weak, but with over three million journeys being made across the Underground every day, this is actually a game-changer. It’ll tell you where to stand and whether you should board a front, middle or rear carriage so you’re right at the exit when you reach your destination. Surprisingly handy for weaving through the masses.
Fancy a night out in London, but totally clueless as to where to go? Hype! will help you out. Pick a region of London and it’ll suggest something to fill your night – a cool bar, an art gallery, a gig, you name it.
#3 Cheap theatre tickets
London’s world famous theatre district, the West End, has something for everyone – especially if you know how to score tickets on the cheap. Booking in advance during preview seasons will knock a small amount off, as will the heavily advertised half-price ticket stands in Leicester Square – but the best way to get highly discounted tickets is to buy day tickets.
Turn up to the theatre’s box office before 10am (along with all of the other hopefuls) and you’ll usually find quite good seats for under $45. If you’re under 25, Matilda The Musical is the best show to do this for – you have to rock up very early to dodge the queues, but you’ll grab a seat for $9.50.
#4 Shard bar
There’s no denying that the newest addition to London’s skyline, the Shard, has a brilliant view of the city – but it’s far from thrifty. Thirty minutes up the top will set you back $55 and let’s be honest – nobody has time for that. Why not pop up to its 52nd storey bar, Gong? There’s a minimum spend of $55, but alongside the views you’ll get the most delicious daiquiri you’ve ever had.
#5 End-of-day supermarket food
British supermarkets are magical lands. Head into the cheaper ones in the hour before they close and they discount ALL of their fresh food. Croissants for 40 cents? Don’t mind if I do! The food-to-go section is another Narnia-esque wonderland. A sandwich/pasta/salad, crisps or fruit and a drink combo will only set you back $5.50.
#6 National Express
Heading out of London for a day trip is a brilliant idea, but will probably cost you a kidney and your first-born child. The National Express, however, is a godsend. They have coaches that run between most towns and cities in the UK for just a fraction of your train fare – I got to Bristol (two hours west) and back for $25.
#7 Take advantage of free stuff
So many of London’s brilliant cultural attractions are completely free and the perfect way to spend your days. The Tate Modern, Saatchi Gallery, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum – the list just goes on.
#8 Free public toilets
London likes to charge you to use the *ahem* facilities – it’ll usually cost you between 55 cents and $1.85 to use loos in train stations and some shopping centres. Hotels, free museums and parks are your best bet for a freebie.
#9 Walk – don’t trust the Tube map
The tube map, drawn to scale, makes everything look REALLY spaced out – in fact, some stations are literally within five minutes’ walk of one another. Here’s where CityMapper’s your best friend, saving you money and awkward elbow-in-face situations on crowded Tubes.
#10 PAYG Oyster limit
Yeah, Oyster cards are way overpriced – but if you really must use the tube multiple times in a day, the lovely people at Transport For London have capped off your fare to ensure you DON’T have to sell your worldly belongings just to get around. A maximum of $15 (or $13 if you travel off-peak) will keep you going all day in central London zones 1-2.
#11 Boris bikes
London’s famous Boris Bikes are one of the cheapest – albeit most testing – ways to navigate London. $3.70 will get you 24 hours of unlimited rides of less than 30 minutes each; just keep chopping and changing your bike every half-hour and you’ll be riding around all day long.
#12 Eat your way around the markets
All you have to do is pretend to be a connoisseur of gourmet food and you can basically lunch for free. Borough and Broadway are your best bets, and will provide you with all the free bread, cheese, mustard, fudge and even booze samples you’ll ever need. There’s no way you’ll walk out without emptying your pockets, though – those places are addictive.
#13 Brick Lane Indian
The Indian restaurants lining Shoreditch’s Brick Lane come alive by night, and it’s pretty much the only place in London where bartering is not only accepted but welcomed. Don’t say yes to the first man on the street who offers you 10 percent off your meal – I walked 19 restaurants down, each with a guy out the front tempting us with a better price than the last – and eventually got 30 percent off the entire meal and unlimited free wine. Score.
#14 Waitrose Card
If you’re in London for any extended period of time, this is a must. Usually reserved as a supermarket for posh mums, a Waitrose card –which is free – will get you a free cup of tea or coffee every single day. And if you (inevitably) spend more than $9, a free newspaper, too.
(Lead image: Ianan/Flickr)
Matilda is a British-Australian-French freelance writer. She has flat-packed IKEA furniture in London and Melbourne, and no idea what's coming next. She’s written for The Guardian, FasterLouder, mX and Grazia, and really likes hot chocolate.