Cost of food and transportation in London

Kelley and I are struck by how there seem to be far fewer tourists and people overall in London compared to our trip last November. With the exception of the crowds at Camden Town over the weekend, the museums, parks and Underground have seemed less crowded. We have encountered far fewer Americans in London. I wonder if it is because Americans feel priced out over the cost of vacationing in London?

On the London Underground yesterday, as we changed lines from the Central Line to the Piccadilly Line at Holborn Station, we followed two English women talking about their week vacationing in London and how they were hard-pressed to keep their food expenses under £50 per day each.

This is our ninth day staying in central London. Here are an accounting of our expenses. We have spent far less than £50 for our daily food expense for the two of us combined.

Free Hotel Nights are our biggest money saver in London

Of course, the biggest expense in London are hotels. Our cost for hotels is nothing since we have stayed every night using Club Carlson 2-for-1 reward stays and IHG points and free night credits earned from the IHG Into the Nights promotion last fall 2014. Our free hotel nights at The May Fair, InterContinental Park Lane and Holiday Inn Camden Lock were priced around $500 USD per night on average. Free hotel nights is what made London affordable for us this trip. That took some advance planning to pull off.

National Express Bus Service includes 2-for-1 vouchers to London attractions

We arrived on RyanAir at London Luton Airport LTN from Copenhagen. The cost of National Express round trip bus tickets for the two of us from Luton Airport to Victoria Station was £21 at £10 each and a £1 online booking fee.

An added benefit of taking National Express into London are 2-for-1 vouchers valid during the stay in London to several museums, River Thames cruise and even Planet Hollywood dining. We have not used any of the 2-for-1 offers yet.

London Underground with Oyster Cards

An Oyster Card is the prepaid debit card that you can buy for £5 at any London Underground Station and a variety of other places. We had Oyster cards from our last trip. There are machines for topping off the balance and it is a simple process to do with a credit card. Rides on the Underground are £2.30 or £2.90 for Zones 1 and 2 which gets you to most of central London’s sites. We have walked to most locations due to the heat and stuffiness of the Underground in July. Cost for Underground transportation has been about £30 all-in for the two of us.

Most museums in London are free.

Most museums in London are free. On this trip we have been to the London Natural History museum, The Wallace Collection and the Museum of London. Our feet were too tired at the end of the day for a tour of the Tate when we were in the neighborhood of St. Paul’s Cathedral after hours in the Museum of London.

Last November we visited the National Portrait Gallery, The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

We paid £9 each for the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace to see the horses and royal carriages.

Coronation Carriage

The Gold State Coach used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

We saw the Queen for free during the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Britain. We saw Prince William three times, once at the 7 July, 2005 Memorial in Hyde Park for the commemoration of the 10th anniversary.

July 7 flowers-2   7-July Memorial

beside The Queen at the Battle of Britain commemoration at Buckingham Palace and later that day driving his car on Constitution Hill road. The police motorcycle escort rapidly shutting down all street traffic as we were at a crosswalk island in the center of the road had me snapping photos of the car. When the image was magnified on my computer, we could see Prince William was the driver of the Jaguar.

Much of our time has been spent in London’s Royal Parks enjoying the gardens and green spaces in summer.

Entertainment has been inexpensive.

The High Cost of Food in London

The May Fair Hotel Continental Breakfast is £22.50 and English Breakfast is £29.50.

Lemon sole on the dinner menu is £28. Sirloin steak 10 oz is £25.

Eating food is what can eat your travel budget away quickly in London. Our biggest expense this week was one meal at a pub where we each paid £14 for fish and chips and £5 each for one pint of beer. That was a $60 meal and not particularly filling either.

Piccolo Bar in Mayfair is between the InterContinental Park Lane and The May Fair Hotel and we have had several takeaway hot breakfasts and sandwiches for under £5 each. This place is quite popular with police officers and taxi drivers.

Almost all our meals have been grocery store food from Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons.

I prepare seafood at home for about six to eight meals each week. What I enjoy in London is the abundance of Indian and Middle Eastern foods. Sainsbury’s has a meal deal for two Indian main dishes and one side for £6. Combine the Indian food with a packaged salad from £1 to £3.50 and we have our staple diet. Cherries, strawberries and blueberries, along with apples in the lobby of most hotels keeps us nutritionally fit. Fruit is expensive in the central London markets, averaging about £2 for a small container or about $6 per pound. InterContinental Park Lane gave us a complimentary fruit basket during our stay there. Baguettes and brie provide our treat and those are far cheaper here in London than in the USA. A baguette for £1.05 and a slice of brie for £2 makes a great snack.

We have plenty to eat, very little wastage and we are eating healthy. Far healthier than pub food. Marks & Spencer market has a seafood deal for two packages from a variety of foods for £6. We had garlic prawns and smoked Scottish salmon for a couple of meals. We get by with daily shopping and no refrigeration in the luxury hotels due to electronic mini-bars making chilled food storage unavailable. There are numerous grocery market chains in central London, especially near London Underground stations. Sainsbury’s is across the street from the May Fair Hotel. Marks & Spencer less than five minutes walk to Green Park Underground and Tesco Express is slightly farther, on the way to Piccolo.

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer at Green Park Station.

Beer Prices in London Markets

Beer is our other expense. We drink plenty of tap water, so beer has been our only purchased fluids. Sainsbury’s sells Stella Artois 660ml bottles at the discount price of 3 for £5. No tax and no bottle deposit, so the price of beer in London is actually less than the cost of Stella Artois in California at most markets. 

For those who want to indulge in British beers, the Marks & Spencer beside Green Park tube station has a large selection priced in Mix & Match 500 ml bottles 3 for £6.

Morrisons supermarket in Camden Town, five minutes walk from the Holiday Inn Camden Lock, sold cases of 20 small 286ml bottles of Stella Artois for £11.

The women I overheard yesterday who struggled to keep food expenses under £50 per day were probably not buying grocery store food.

Kelley and I have averaged about £35 per day for food to feed the two of us in London with a combination of takeaway hot foods, store bought foods, one budget buster pub meal and all the beer we desired.

Morrisons Camden

Morrisons in Camden, London. Any 4 beers for £6.

Drinking in public is commonplace in Europe. A picnic in the park or beside the canal or River Thames with food and beer or wine is a pleasant way to dine on warm summer days in London, rather than sitting in an expensive restaurant. Most of our meals are eaten in our hotel room, since we have the luxury of spending most of this trip in luxury hotels.

Planning all those cheap hotel stays over the past few years to earn Club Carlson points and IHG Rewards Club points has returned great dividends for our European vacation.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. Having lived in London for a while and traveled through Europe during that time I found that once we decided not to do the Pound to Dollar or Euro to Dollar or what ever the currency to Dollar we were able to actually enjoy it more. Yes, there are some things that are more expensive and yet some things were surprisingly much cheaper, like avocados. We live in Los Angeles and found that avocados at Sainsbury were usually cheaper than in California!

  2. No, I don’t think Americans are feeling priced out of vacationing in London. Although London is expensive, the Pound has decreased in value about 10% compared to this point last year. I’m guessing that more Americans are foregoing Britain to the land of the Euro, where they can get even more bang for their bucks. With the dollar’s value increasing about 25% of that to the Euro over the last 12 months, it would make sense if Americans chose to visit the continent over the UK.

  3. Agree with Bubba Hotep that the Euro/dollar exchange rate makes the continent more affordable. We just returned from 10 days in Portugal – now that is a real bargain spot. Hotels were cheap enough to pay cash rather than redeem points. Meals were huge, and relatively inexpensive. Plus, we were able to take advantage of many senior discounts for admissions (having just attained that “status”).

    However, we will spend 10 days in London and Dublin in late November, so that will give us an opportunity to compare value. 8 of our 10 nights are booked (Club Carlson 2-for-1 rates). The other 2 will be airport stays on arrival (using miles and taking daytime eco flight from EWR to LHR) and departure (from Dublin) so have yet to investigate the options.

    But, since we rarely dine out at home, I don’t think we will be eating grocery store take-away. But we will find non-hotel options for breakfast as we did last year in Brussels and Amsterdam when we also used Club Carlson 2-for-1 stays with no included breakfast. And, since we are staying in Covent Garden, will probably have a few meals in Chinatown.

    I will also look into attractions we might want to visit and see if it is worth getting the National Rail Travelcard with 2-for-1 discounts. We got them on our Nov. 2013 London visit and saved approx. $170. on admission fees.

    Appreciate your posts and your tips and advice on both London and Dublin.

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