London was recently crowned the most expensive city in the world, according to Expatisan’s annual Cost of Living Index. It seems oddly fitting; London connotes images of luxurious afternoon teas and glittering royal jewels, however for those of us living in the most expensive city in the world, and for those planning visits, this new appellation is not particularly well received.
Expatisan’s index took note of this as well. In their data, based on 12,232 prices entered by 1,396 different people, here are just a few of the figures one might encounter during a day out in London:
• Daily menu in the Business District- £13
• Basic dinner out for two in neighborhood pub- £29
• Dinner out for two in Italian restaurant with wine and dessert- £63
• 1 cocktail drink in downtown club- £9
And just to give these figures some further context for American readers, that basic dinner for two at the local pub for £29 would equate to roughly $48. That £9 cocktail on the other hand will set you back about $15. Perhaps it’s just my economical student mindset, but unless said cocktail is served in a gold-plated souvenir cup I am really not that interested.
London’s prices are not entirely unheard of; in any big city, whether it is in the U.K, Europe or anywhere else, there is going to be an inflation of cost. The trick though is finding a few ways around such wallet-crippling figures and getting creative!
Here are a few tips I’ve cultivated during my time here:
1. Take advantage of Food Markets.
When I first arrived in London, the numerous local markets that popped up on tiny backstreets and various corners overwhelmed me—their size and variety was unlike anything that I’d seen in the States. And for every local market, there is a much larger and well-known hub as well.
Borough Market, for example, is located in Southwark, and has more choices than one could ever need. The market is renowned for the variety found there, and a quick walk through is not nearly enough to grasp the immensity—I’d recommend devoting at least an hour or two! You’ll find Indian, French, and British delights (just to name a few), and every meal I’ve had at Borough Market has cost less than £6.
Somewhat smaller in comparison, Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell also has delicious lunch options from over twenty vendors each day. One of my friends swears the Indian food she had from Exmouth (£5 for a huge portion) was some of the best food she’s had in London. Ask around when you arrive, or do a little research on the food markets that are easily accessible. You not only get a great, affordable lunch, but a fun and authentic London experience!
2. Check out sites like Groupon to see what deals they’re offering.
I try to look at Groupon once every couple weeks to see if there is anything that looks particularly enticing. Often sites like Groupon get a bit of a reputation for offering deals that are hit-or-miss, but I think if you do enough research before purchasing it can be well worth it! One of my recent Groupon purchases was a voucher for two burritos and two beers at a local Mexican restaurant for £8. The food was great and my friend and I were both quite happy! A quick perusal of the website, and you’ll find things like “Italian meal for two with drinks- £24” and “Wine tasting for two, with cheese, for £24.”
These are just a few selections of course, but after checking out both restaurants on their respective Trip Advisor pages, I was pretty confident in the plethora of good reviews I found. Groupon can be very helpful when planning a trip to London. The site often bundles things like dinner, so you’re paying a set rate for two people, and can give a bit of direction if you’re not sure where to eat in such a big city. But, again, be aware and always research the restaurants offering these deals before you book! There’s nothing worse than overpaying for soggy fish and chips.
3. Make sure to eat breakfast!
It’s a terrible cliché, but it really is true—breakfast is the most important meal of the day! And when you’re trying to eat on a budget in London, it is even more important. I know it can be so tempting to forgo breakfast in favor of hitting the streets and the attractions in the city as soon as you can, but trust me, breakfast is not something to miss. Many hotels in the city include—or offer—a full English breakfast. This will include: eggs, bacon, sausage, and side dishes like grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, along with toast and potatoes. If your hotel offers this—great. If not, though, venture out onto the streets and find a local café that does.
The street closest to my flat boasts five cafes that open each morning for breakfast, and they all offer the full English breakfast for £5 or less. After eating such a hearty breakfast, it’s often possible to skip lunch in favor of a snack—or a luxurious afternoon tea—and then have a nice dinner later on. Eating breakfast ensures that you get a proper breakfast experience in London, that you’re fueled for the day of traveling around and that you won’t overpay for soggy fish and chips when you’re ravenous and desperate for lunch!
Unfortunately, when traversing a big city—especially one that is unfamiliar—there will be times when you sit down to what you expect to be a great meal only to be served the dreaded fish and chips I mentioned (can you tell I have a complex about this yet?). It happens. But with a little planning and exploring, it does not have to happen often! Take advantage of the variety London has to offer and don’t be afraid to get creative!
Do any of you have more tips for eating out in London? Or, any dining horror stories to share? Please leave a comment below. I look forward to reading them.
Danielle is an American student currently studying for a Masters degree in London. She has an affinity for most things British, including: tea, crowns, Shakespeare and even The Tube.