When I think about London I think of soaring rents in posh neighbourhoods, the royal family and the banking district, hipsters who have overdrafts as big as the city itself. Two words I don’t think of: Budget Travel. When my flatmate told me how much rent she paid as a student in London for a room in a dubious Whitechapel flat that she shared with two housemates and a few more cockroaches, I almost fell off my chair. London is notoriously famous for the high cost of living and being a traveller passing through can be just as expensive. Accommodation, eating out, public transport and taxis, entry fees, ticket prices – add all that up and you end up paying more for a weekend in London than you’d spend in two weeks at home. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Some time ago, I introduced you to 10 awesome boutique hostels around the world and one of them was a hotel in Berlin, which is part of the Meininger group. MEINIGER Hotels manages 16 hotels in ten major cities around Europe and of course London is one of them. If a notoriously expensive city like London needs one thing, then it is a stylish but cheap hotel-hostel combination that is aimed at young travellers and gives them a top position to explore the city.

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Hotel Meininger

Staying at Hotel Meininger ‘Hyde Park’

The Hotel Meininger ‘Hyde Park’ is located in South Kensington, literally across the road from the Natural History Museum (a favourite among Londoners as well as visitors) and just a stone’s throw away from the V&A Museum, Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park. For sightseeing in West London this is a prime location, but even other parts like the East London neighbourhoods are within easy reach at the tip of your Oyster card. The area around hotel, particularly around South Kensington tube station is great for a leisurely walk and there are restaurants and ice-cream shops for every budget everywhere.

I arrived in London via train which was not only super cheap (£60 return from Glasgow) but also very convenient. Instead of having to make my way into London from a faraway airport I got off at Euston train station, a mere 20 minute tube journey from my hotel. Within an hour of arrival I was out exploring. But first, check in. When you book budget accommodation you don’t expect too much right? You get what you pay for. However, the service at Hotel Meininger could not have been better. Check in was super fast although there were quite a few people around waiting to check in or out as well, or wanting to buy something from the hotel shop. The cheapest option to stay at the hotel is to book a bed in one of the dorms (female-only available) which have a maximum of 12 beds (from £14 per person). I went for a double room with en-suite bathroom, which is available from £39 per person! And what can I say – the room was basic, yes, but bigger than many a £200 hotel room I’ve stayed in before!

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Hotel Meininger

There was a little welcome basket with wine, water, biscuits and fruit, a TV which I didn’t use, a hairdryer which did its job very well and plugs everywhere to charge all my electronics at the same time and still use them in my bed – how come hostels and budget hotels manage to do the plug-thing better than many luxury hotels?

The best thing about the room was the view though. My room was located on the 5th floor and faced east, which meant not only was I tickled awake by the sun in the morning, but I also had a gorgeous view over the Natural History Museum.

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger Hotels - Room View Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Hotel Meininger

The only downside of my room was probably that I could not regulate the air conditioning myself. I felt a bit too cold in my room – alas I forgot to bring my jammies or a proper jumper… However, a quick visit at the reception and the staff offered me to either turn the temperature up or the air conditioning off entirely.

As the hotel is located in a building that is also available for conferences and meetings (there are several meeting rooms spread out throughout the building) it is generally very open to large groups. I could tell that there were several groups of students and younger people around, possibly in London for exchanges or school trips, but it was never crowded or noisy.

The hotel offers an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet (with a massive jar of Nutella!) and packed lunches for takeaway, but as I love eating out when I travel I didn’t try the hotel food myself.

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Hotel Meininger Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Nutella for Breakfast

Top Tips: Doing London on a budget

You see, staying in London on a budget is actually super-easy – but what about the rest? How can you do London on a budget?

Use public transport, but don’t buy single tickets! It is much more efficient to get an Oyster card at one of the tube stations and upload some money to it. I charged mine with £20 which brought me through the entire weekend. Remember, busses are cheaper than the tube – but also get stuck in traffic more easily.

Have a big breakfast, so you can survive the rest of the day on smaller nibbles here and there. I ordered oaty smoothies in addition to my breakfast on both mornings, and didn’t need to munch again until 2 or 3 pm! My favourite pick: The Breakfast Club with several locations around town (make sure to come early in order to avoid the queues)!

Grab lunch at a market. If you spend a weekend in London, you will find that the best (and most budget-friendly) lunch can be found in the markets. Whether you head to Borough Market by London Bridge, Brick Lane Market in East London or Portobello Road in Notting Hill, make sure to stop by the food stalls for a cheap and quick bite. Alternatively, look out for meal deals and cheaper takeaway prices.

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger Hotels - Market Food

Forget the high streets – London is all about vintage and second hand shopping. Again, the markets are a prime location to find cheap but edgy clothes, jewelry and accessories. One of my favourite markets for shopping is the Old Spittalfield Market and the vintage stores of Beyond Retro.

Join a free walking tour. I can highly recommend the tips-based street art walking tour in East London with Free Tours by Foot London. Our guide Jessica walked us back and forth around Brick Lane, explained the background of street art in East London and pointed out a few spectacular murals in the area! You can find plenty of street art on your own, but the possibility to learn a bit more about the context and the artists always makes me choose these tours. I tipped £15, which is still very cheap for a great 2h walking tour!

Which brings me to: walk, walk walk! Although London is massive, many areas are actually really walkable. There is nothing better than getting lost in the lanes of Notting Hill or Shoreditch, and find a cozy cafe to sit down, sip a latte and rest your feet.

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Street Art Tour Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Walking Tour

Make use of the free museums. Many museums, such as the Natural History Museum or the V&A Museum are free of charge (mind the long weekend queues though!) – you can find a full list of free museums here.

Finally, with all the money you saved on food, entry fees and shopping so far treat yourself to one not-so-budget activity: the View from the Shard. The viewing platforms in London’s tallest building are located on its 69th and 72nd floor and you get a full 360 degrees view around London. The view is particularly spectacular for sunset as it dips icons like the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral or the Tower Bridge in a sparkling golden hue. Single advance tickets are £26 (£21 for students), but there are also packages which include a fancy glass of champagne. Find more info on their website here.

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - View from the Shard Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - View from the Shard

Travel Resources for London on a budget

One thing is for sure, in order to do London on a budget you want to book as early as possible and come prepared. I figured train tickets within the UK are cheapest if you book in the ten to three weeks in advance – before and after tickets are generally more expensive. To score cheaper hotel deals avoid bank holiday weekends or public holidays, and consider traveling Sunday-Tuesday instead of Friday to Sunday.

My favourite travel resources to research for a budget trip are other blogs and I find them by searching for destination hashtags on Instagram (e.g. #thisislondon), asking questions on the Travelettes FB group,  or consulting Pinterest. You can find a great collection of useful links and blogposts on my London Pinterest board!

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Take the bus

I hope to have proven to you that London is totally doable on a budget – if you book in advance and look out for deals you can easily do a weekend in the city for £200-300 including travel, accommodation and spending money. Find out more about Meininger Hotel ‘Hyde Park’ and their offers over at their website.

For more tips on free or cheap things to do in London on a budget have a look at my 48h city guide!

What are your top tips for London on a budget? Share your favourites and blogposts in the comments and I’ll add them to the Pinterest board!

Doing London on a Budget with Meininger - Columbia Road Flower Market

Disclaimer: I was invited to stay at Meininger Hotel ‘Hyde Park’ free of charge and received a free press pass for the View from the Shard. All opinions are however my own, honest and uninfluenced! 

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.