Cost of Living in London

This post was inspired by Andrew’s great post Is NYC Really That Expensive? and an article in today’s issue of Timeout “My Priceless London”.

I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Housing prices in London are so high you are left to wonder how anyone can afford to buy their homes in this expensive capital. According to some sources, London’s real estate market is the 3rd most expensive in the world after Monaco and Hong Kong. No wonder so many people choose to rent but, unfortunately, rent is not cheap either. In fact, rental prices are eye watering. To give you an idea, an average rental value in Shoreditch is ~£500 per week, not including bills.

Another huge expense is transportation. If you use underground in Zones 1-2 like I do, be prepared to part with £116.80 for a monthly travel card. Rates keep going up every year too which isn’t helping. I keep thinking about cycling to and from work but London rush hour traffic puts me off completely. Maybe one day.

Once you’ve paid your rent or mortgage and bought your travel card, living in London can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Sure, there are many über-expensive restaurants around, high profile events, private members clubs and designer boutiques. It may seem that to be able to enjoy yourself in London you must have a small fortune. This could not be further from the truth and today I thought I’d share my favourite things to do in London that won’t break the bank.

MY FAVOURITE OUTDOOR ACTIVITY

London has so many beautiful parks; it’s impossible to ever get bored exploring them. My favourite is Hyde Park. It hosts many festivals, outdoor concerts, fairs, one-off big or small performing arts events and markets throughout the year some of which are free to attend. My absolute favourite is Winter Wonderland with a lot of fun shows for both adults and children, the giant observation wheel, an ice rink and a fantastic Christmas Market.

MY FAVOURITE ATTRACTION

I don’t have a favourite attraction as such. I love the London skyline and the best place to admire it from is probably aboard a ferry. There are commuter ferries that run between North Greenwich (that’s where the O2 Arena is) and Chelsea Harbour called Thames Clippers. They are relatively inexpensive and will cost you £4.30 one way if you are a travel card holder or £6.50 if you are not. The views you get to admire along the way are fantastic and well worth the money! Take a Thames Clipper from the Chelsea Harbour, preferably in the evening as the London skyline is so much prettier at sunset. The Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge, the Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral are only a few of the attractions you will get the chance to see from the comfort of your seat onboard. £4.30? Totally worth it in my opinion! As a side note, a year ago I used to commute to work by ferry. I miss those times!

MY FAVOURITE RESTAURANT

I love my food! Lucky for me, London’s dining scene is so diverse I can never get tired exploring it. I feel right at home here. There are so many great places to eat that will not break the bank. I have many favourite places to eat, but one of my most favourite and affordable restaurants has to be Dishoom in Shoreditch (there is one in Covent Garden too, but I prefer the one in Shoreditch). I happen to love Indian food and this is just the right place for me. My share of the bill rarely exceeds £15 for a nice dinner (excluding alcohol as I only drink soft drinks). The latest food craze in London is ramen. Shoryu Ramen is an affordable restaurant in Soho serving delicious ramen noodles. There are many other affordable restaurants out there. Eating out good quality food does not have to be expensive (I have got a list of new affordable restaurants that I am dying to go to!)

MY FAVOURITE GROCERY STORE

Groceries are not as expensive in London’s stores as many people think. Sure, if you go shopping for food in tourist areas you grocery bill will be quite high. These stores are there for the tourists, not for the locals. My favourite supermarket chain has to be Tesco’s. I used to live near a massive 24-hour Tesco’s for about four years back in the day and I got so used to it, I prefer it to all other supermarket chains. I’d say Tesco’s is on the cheap side when it comes to grocery shopping and that’s fine by me! My food bill is relatively low; you can read my post How I Spend Very Little on Groceries if you have not done so already. My favourite shop to splurge on healthy food and drink is Holland & Barrett (they also have a loyalty program, which you can use to collect points and later convert them into vouchers to use in store). A few weeks ago I splurged on a pack of Organic Green Tea Chai. It brightens up my mornings in the office!

MY FAVOURITE FOOD MARKET

I am a sucker for food markets. It shouldn’t come as a surprise really as I love anything to do with food! My favourite food market is Borough Market. I just love the atmosphere there. I don’t have to buy anything to have fun. Just strolling along the stalls and checking out all the pretty things they sell is a fun experience for me. Borough Market is very popular with the locals and there are plenty of pubs and restaurants nearby to catch up with friends. Again, you don’t have to spend a fortune. Grab a beer and have a laugh with friends. You can’t put a price on that! When you are ready to head home, go for a little walk and head towards the Tower Bridge, it’s a pretty sight.

These are just a couple of things I enjoy doing after work or over the weekend in London. London is an amazing city and has so much to offer whatever your budget is. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a fantastic time in London (whether you are a tourist or a local).

What about your city? What are your favourite things to do in your own city that won’t break the bank?

Cost of Living in London - Girl Counting Pennies

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49 Comments

  1. I remember going out of my way to look for Chinese food when I was in London, thinking it would be a cheap eat. While it was cheaper than a lot of other cuisines in the City, it was double what it would cost in Canada! But I did have the best Indian food when I was in London. I liked it better than the Indian food in India.

    I wonder, what are the salaries like in London? It seems like the cost of living is double than that in Canada; are salaries proportional?

    In Toronto, I love going to farmer markets and street festivals.
    Emily @ Urban Departures recently posted…How Much Does it Cost to Eat Out?My Profile

    1. That’s a bit odd as Chinese food is not very expensive unless you’re in London’s Chinatown where tourists eat. Indian food in London is the best! I totally agree!

      Average salary in the UK is currently £26500 per annum. I’d say it’s more or less proportional but if you’re earning an average salary you won’t be able to afford to rent on your own in London. You could find a fairly decent studio apartment for about £800-£1000 per month not including bills in Zone 2. Not sure it’s worth it though.
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

  2. I’ve never been to any London food markets but they sound great! There are also various museums which are free or cheap to get into if I’m not mistaken? I think using the Ferry is a great way to see the sights of London! As always, your photo is beautiful Eva, you have so much talent!

    Where I live in the country, it’s full of local nature trails, parks and stately homes to explore. Some you have to pay for but it’s not that much. In the village where I live, the local shops often host street parties for Christmas where you can go along and have a glass of mulled wine for free.
    Hayley @ A Disease Called Debt recently posted…The Gift of Debt: A Taste of FreedomMy Profile

    1. Aww, thank you Hayley, you’re so sweet! Come down to visit me and I’ll take you to Borough Market, I’m sure you’ll love it!

      Yes, some museums are free to attend. I’m going to the British Museum over the weekend. I looove me some mulled wine! I know, I know, I don’t drink alcohol, but mulled wine is soooo yummy, I can’t resist! 😛

      I think it’s great that in your village local shops host street parties over Christmas! That’s amazing! I also go to see when they turn Christmas Lights on! Love it!
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

  3. I really want to visit! LA is expensive, but nowhere near London, or SF and NY in the states. You can actually find cheeper places to live in the city, but it’s probably ugly and you might get shot. 🙂 My favorite free thing, and it will probably come as no surprise, is the beach.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted…D is for dating…and dreadMy Profile

    1. London is a great city to visit, it’s a shame people fall in tourist traps and get ripped off! If you worked in London, you could afford to live here 😛 That said, a lot of people live outside London and commute to work to Central London. I don’t like the idea, it’s too time consuming.
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

  4. I visited my best friend in Camden, London 2 weeks ago and she pays £1400 per month for a tiny flat with 2 bedrooms. I thought Leeds was expensive at about £600 per month for a 2-3 bedroom (nice) flat with decent sized rooms. I wrote a post about my visit to London on a budget- you may like it 🙂 My Budget Weekend in London

    1. If you are thinking of spending a couple of months in London, I’d probably suggest a short term flat rental somewhere on the outskirts. I see why so many people commute to London for work as it works out cheaper to work in London but live outside, I just hate the idea of commuting. 10-minute train commute to work on a busy morning is more than enough for me 😛
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

  5. I love Ramen and it’s one of those things that I’d much rather pay for at a restaurant than to try making it myself. I get the feeling I’d end up hating it if I had to finish off a huge batch, and hating Ramen is the last thing I want to do.

    Thanks so much for this look into the costs of London. Like with most places, it seems like once you get past the housing costs, the techniques of frugality can apply.
    Done by Forty recently posted…Budget PornMy Profile

    1. I used to live in Cambridge and although they say it’s an expensive city you cannot compare it to London. When I go back to visit my friends and we go out for dinner, I am always pleasantly surprised that everything costs less! Maybe I should consider working in London but living in Cambridge, hehe!
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

  6. Wow. London sounds expensive like Vancouver! One of the things I do love the most about Vancouver is all the food diversity to choose from. Many of the restaurants are affordable as well. I love ramen. So good but so bad for you haha. I would love to visit London someday and visit my Russian twin. 🙂
    Girl Meets Debt recently posted…KindnessMy Profile

  7. I was just in London in March. I tagged along with a friend who was going on business and it was a great deal for me. It was great to be back after so long. I live near New York City. Many people commute there from New Jersey where I live because you get more bang for your buck here but the commute takes a toll on you after a while.
    Practical Cents recently posted…Home Maintenance Costs: Year 1My Profile

  8. As you know my daughter lives south of the river (and seems to make it work!). She lives in a 5 person house share – all uni friends – but I’m not sure what she will do in the future. She doesn’t earn enough (just yet) to live on her own – housing costs are definitely the main driver when living in London.

    Thanks for the Dishoom tip – we might try there next week!
    laura recently posted…Menu Planning {November}My Profile

    1. I knew your daughter lived in London but didn’t know she lived south of the river! This is where I live too! If I were younger and still at Uni, I’d love to share with my Uni friends, the more the better! 😛 Now I’m a bit “too old” to be sharing a house with 4 other people. I need my piece and quiet 😛
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

      1. Ha- she’s 26 and still living with uni friends…although she only finished Uni at 24. I’m very jealous of her right now as she’s on her way to Melbourne for a wedding – she wouldn’t let me go with her lol

  9. I live in Toronto, Canada and it is a very expensive city to live in. We had to move out to the suburbs in order to afford to buy a house and now our transportation costs have gone up to commute downtown to work everyday.

    The good thing about living in a big city is that there’s always something going on (street festivals, movie screenings, farmer’s markets) and lots to do that is either cheap or free. Toronto is also very multi-cultural so there’s a great variety of food as well.

    I will keep in mind your tip about the ferries whenever I happen to travel to London 🙂
    Morgaine recently posted…Savings Goals for 2014My Profile

    1. Thanks for your comment, Morgaine! I’d love to visit Toronto one day!

      A lot of people in London do exactly the same: they buy homes outside of London at an affordable cost and commute to London for work. I agree about the benefits about living in the big city; you will never get bored and that’s why I love it so much! 😉
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

  10. I’ve never been to London, but it’s definitely on my list of places that I want to visit. I’m in the NYC area, so I was totally nodding my head as I was reading Andrew’s post. I think it would be really interesting if people from around the world would do posts similar to yours/his. I’d love to live somewhere with a cheaper cost of living, unfortunately, bf’s job ties us to NYC (at least for now).
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted…Need a Vacation From Planning My VacationMy Profile

    1. I agree KK! It would be very interesting if people from around the world posted similar posts. I always do some reading before I go travelling and find these types of posts very helpful. I’m off to NYC in February next year and I’ve learned underground pass is much cheaper than in London which is really great! 😉
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Cost of Living in LondonMy Profile

  11. London IS expensive but the culture and lifestyle balances everything out. Also, the ability to fly to other countries rocks too. Btw, I love shopping at Tesco! I always buy 4 boxes of tea before returning Stateside.
    Michelle recently posted…Using My Sh$t October!My Profile

  12. Oh beautiful London! Its on my bucket list as one of those must visit places – well, and pray at the Westmister Abbey while gawking at the magnificent architecture.
    By all accounts life does seem a bit expensive there compared to where I live, but I guess with all those quaint and history-landed sites its only logical 🙂
    Then again, as you point out…one can always find cheaper alternatives to most things if they are willing to look around.
    Simon @ Modest Money recently posted…TradeKing Review – Exclusive Review of TradeKing BrokerageMy Profile

    1. You should definitely visit London one day, you will not be disappointed. It’s a great city! It’s a popular belief that London is extremely expensive and you need a small fortune if you want to visit it. This is so not true! Hotels can be a bit pricey in Central London, but it is also very possible to find more affordable accommodation or score a really good deal! Eating out can be pretty cheap. Sightseeing doesn’t really cost anything unless, of course, you want to take visit the Aquarium or Madame Taussaud Museum. But then again, there are lots of discounts where you can but a combo ticket and pay less. You won’t have to spend a lot if you do your research before visiting 😉
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…Fear to Spend MoneyMy Profile

  13. Hello! I popped over from my friend Cait’s blog (Blonde on a Budget). I’m just a reader, not a blogger, but I saw that you live in London (!!!) and had to come visit your blog. I’m American but am completely obsessed with London. I am dying to move there one day – it’s on the top of my bucket list. Unfortunately, making that happen seems all but impossible, unless I somehow find an American company with offices in London. I wish I’d been born British!

    Anyway, just wanted to pop over and say hi, and mention how totally jealous I am that you get to live in my very favorite city. I’ll add you to my list of blogs to visit. At least I can live vicariously through you!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, A! London is an amazing city so I am not surprised you want to move and live here! Although the weather is not great during winter months, the fact that London never sleeps makes up for this shortfall 😉 You can go out any time day and night and find amazing things to do! Musicals, concerts, film premieres – there’s always something going on! This is just one of the reasons I love this city so much!

      I hope that one day your dream will come true and you will get to move to London! 😛
      Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies recently posted…My Monthly Spending Report: January 2014My Profile

  14. ha i lived there for two years.

    yeah it is cool but only if you have no children and have a job as a qualified professional in the city.

    once you start thinking about marriage and children you have to move out of the city. it will be too expensive. but i think it is a great once in a lifetime opportunity.

    i was glad i did it. i know london like the back of my hand now.

    x

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