Along with the rest of Europe, the UK is known for its expensive train fares and pricey domestic flights. As Brits, we wanted to share our top tips on how to travel England on a budget.
Growing up in England, we spent many hours working out the cheapest ways to get around the country.
With bustling cities like London, seaside locations like Brighton and Tenby, historic cities like Oxford and Cambridge and miles and miles of gorgeous countryside, the UK offers so much more than a red phone booth and black cab.
So here are our tips on how to travel England on a budget.
Updates March 2020
- Sign up for updates – Groupon, Hot UK Deals, Holiday Pirates and Secret Escapes are great websites to sign up for before any travel around the UK. We bagged ourselves £1 train tickets from London to Birmingham because of the Hot UK Deals updates. You may also wish to sign up for myvouchercodes.co.uk, vouchercode.co.uk and discountcodes.co.uk to get some great offers.
- Book in advance – Whether you are planning to catch a plane, bus or train; booking your ticket early almost always works out cheaper. A lot of company will sell a certain about of tickets for the cheapest price before the price begins to rise.
- Be flexible – Whether its a bus, plane or train, be flexible on the stations/airports you fly in-between. Trains to and from major cities around the UK can be much more expensive than a train from a lesser known station nearby the major cities.
- JourneyPro – This app allows you to plan a journey anywhere in the country but is perfect at navigating the London Underground. It is free to download and a bit of a life saver when you are lost in the big city.
- Holiday Pirates – The team at HotUKDeals have launched the Holiday Pirates website in recent years, offering cheap, last minute deals on holidays and hotels around the world but also across the UK. Not only do they offer some great trips and hotels but you can also get cheaper attraction tickets!
- Go in the Off Season – January through to March is cold and wet – the perfect time to save money on travel in the UK. Hotels, buses, trains and flights are a lot cheaper during these months than during the summer.
- Travel Smart –
Train is usually the most efficient way of getting around the UK.
It is cheaper than flights, offers more stops at those less known towns and cities and is faster than a bus journey. Tickets can be booked in advance and various railcards can be purchased to give you further discounts on individual journeys.
If you are travelling for some time in the UK, you may wish to look into getting yourself a BritRail card, that will also give you deals on attractions around the UK.
Use National Rail to find the best route for you then head to websites such as virgin trains and Megatrain to bag a cheap fare.
Often, the cheapest fares can be found on The Trainline’s Fare Finder.
- Get the bus – Buses are not my favourite form of transport but they are normally the cheapest option for travel around the UK.
Booking early with Megabus can bag you £1 journeys although at unusual times. National Express bus routes offer better times and comfortable coaches at a higher price.
These buses are worth using for short, 3-4 hour journeys! You can even choose to upgrade your bus to the Megabus Gold for a more luxurious bus ride.
- Fly – Flying around the UK can be expensive but is useful if you are traveling longer distances from one side of the country to another.
Smaller airports can offer cheaper flights around the UK, look out for; Stansted and Luton (when travelling from London), Bristol, Prestwick, East Midlands and Belfast. Stick with budget airlines and unusual flight times to get the best deal.
Kayak and Momondo are the best sites to browse but EasyJet offer some good prices but aren’t listed on these sites.
Why not fly over to Edinburgh from London? Emily Luxton shares how you can make the most from a weekend in Edinburgh.
- BlaBlaCar – Lift share your way around the UK with BlaBlaCar. Search the journey you wish to take across the country, along with your chosen date and get cheap journeys.
- Drive – The best way to get around the UK is to drive. Compare rental car costs on GoCompare and choose a company that allow you to pick up and drop off your car at different locations.
Petrol is more expensive than Asia and America but is about the same as most places across Europe.
The UK is connected by so many motorways with service stations to make your journey a more pleasant one! Just bring change and check for toll charges; some tolls require a pre or post payment online or a massive fine!
Plus, if you are driving, you can access the random but fun attractions and things to do along the way to each city and also take advantage of the cheaper, free parking chain hotels that are normally found on the outskirts of towns and cities.
- Bike it – When staying in London, rent a Boris bike and explore the great city at a cheap price.
- Get an Oyster Card – If you plan on staying in and around London for some time, it is worth getting yourself an Oyster card. The card itself costs £3 and you can top it up as you go. You use this card for the underground train and buses around London, with a £6.60 cap on it, meaning you will never spend more than £6.60 getting around this expansive and expensive city.
- Railcards – For those living, studying or working in the UK, you can get yourself a Railcard. There are railcards offering discounts for students, families, couples and seniors as well as those just travelling in the South East. A yearly fee gets you discounted prices on all train rides across the country.
- Walk – UK cities are accessible and easy to walk around. Opt for a walking tour to save money and see all your favourite sites.
Read World Inside My Pocket’s Walking Tour of London to get started with your plans.
- Flying to the UK – One option to save money, if you have plenty of time for your trip, is to fly via a different European city first. If you plan on travelling around Europe for an extend period of time, fly into a city like Amsterdam, Paris or Ukraine (with the national airlines) to get cheaper prices to Europe. You can travel via train or bus to England afterwards.
- Omio – Check out the Omio website to compare the best ways to travel the country. If you want to head from one area of England to another, or even travel across the UK, head to Omio and search your journey. This website will tell you the best options for you to choose from, comparing trains, flights, buses and coaches as well as the best times and prices to travel.
- Use the buses – Every city and town will offer some type of bus service and you can find these simply by googling the city or town and bus service. These buses get you around a place but often can take you from one town to another. Make sure you have change for your ticket though!
- Avoid express – There are a handful of airports in and around London, with many of them offering ‘express’ trains into the city centre. It will cost a lot more for this ticket and won’t save you much time either.
Heathrow – £36 for an express return taking 15 minutes or £21 for a standard return taking 30 – 40 minutes.
Gatwick – £35 for an express returning taking 30 minutes or £20 for a standard return taking 35 – 45 minutes.
- Book trains in advance – Use websites like Train Line to book your train ticket in advance. On the day tickets can be twice as expensive and good discounts can be found online.n
- Stay at Universities – This was a fairly new concept whilst I was at University but it seems to be getting more and more popular.
Websites like universityrooms.co.uk and speedybooker.com can be used to find university rooms in the cities and towns across the UK; the best deals are found in the summer months (June – September) and over Christmas and Easter, when students aren’t at University.
- YHA – YHA offers cheap hostels across the country and are known to be clean and fairly modern. Many of their hostels offer family rooms as well, ideal for families or group travellers on a budget.
- Chain hotels – Travelodge and Premier Inn are your cheap but clean, spacious and comfortable hotels in the UK. Head to their websites in advance of your trip and you can snag a room for as little as £29 a night. These hotel chains are in all major cities and towns and can also be found in the service stops off major motorways.
- Pay in dollars – If you are American, you maybe able to save some money by booking in dollars. Many high end hotels like Egerton House Hotel and Milestone Hotel offer guaranteed dollar rates, so check your hotels website for this first before booking.
- Air B’n’B – Just like the rest of the world, there are some great Air B’n’B options in the UK with some great prices to match. Plus, if you click here you can get £30 off your booking!
- Outskirts – When planning a trip to one of the small cities and towns, try looking at hotels just slightly on the outskirts. Local buses are convenient and inexpensive so booking hotels on the outskirts of towns may work out quite a bit cheaper.
- Caravans – Think of an RV – but smaller. In the UK, Caravans are popular for those wanting to park up in the coast or national parks. Caravan Parks are cheap and often offer restaurants, cafes, bars and even performances. There are lots of websites that allow you to search for the perfect Caravan for your trip.
- Camp in a garden – That sounds crazy, right? Camp in My Garden offers travellers a place to set up a tent or park a caravan in the homes of locals.
- Guest Houses – Cheaper than hotels but often with a lot more character, Guest Houses offer cheaper options yet still offer similar amenities.
- Do your research – There are some amazing, cheap hotels around the UK. Do your research – use tripadvisor, booking.com and Air B’n’B to help you choose the perfect place to stay.
- English Heritage Pass – If you intend to visit some of the historical sites around the UK, you can save money on all the entrance fees and ticket costs by purchasing English Heritage Pass. There is a yearly fee but if you are here for some time, it maybe worth the price.
- Historic Scotland Explorer Pass – Scotland is an incredible place with so many castles, abbeys, ancient sites and museums. So save money by purchasing an Explorer Pass!
- The National Trust Touring Pass – With so many National Trust properties across the UK, it is hard to make a decision on which places to visit. Pick up a pass to save money if you plan to visit a few.
- Pass cards – The London Pass and the Edinburgh Pass are attraction cards that allow you entry into multiple tourist attractions in the chosen city but also offers great discounts in restaurants and theatres.
- Free Attractions – Like everywhere in the world, the UK offers some amazing FREE attractions. Museums in London are completely free to enter as are many castles, National Parks and Hike trails around the country. There are lots of free things to do in London to enjoy and explore.
- Book online – If you are visiting a popular attraction, it is worth looking at ticket prices online before you go. Prices online can be purchased at a reduced rate whilst also saving your ideal time slot.
- Coupons – Coupons are popular in the UK. Travel by train and pick up the 2 for 1 booklets from stations outside of London or head over to VoucherBin to get discounted deals.
- Walking tours – Take advance of the free walking tours around the major cities; find a local free tour on Free tours by foot.
- Visit the Cathedrals – Whilst in the UK, make sure you visit the stunning cathedrals in every city! Fun fact – cities in the UK can only be called a city if it has a cathedral. Anyway, these can date back all the way to the 15th century and offer stunning architecture for absolutely nothing!
- Shopping – If you want to enjoy a bit of shopping in the UK, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you are looking for luxury brands and designers, head to one of the many outlet malls around the country to save money on good quality items. Alternatively, if you are in the UK and find you need to make a quick purchase – maybe you forgot a scarf or need more socks, head to Primark. This is a very cheap store for quick, easy clothing items – just don’t expect them to last for more than a few months.
Food and drink
- Taste of UK card
These little gems get you discounts and deals across a selection of restaurants in the UK. You can get yourself a card from the website and the first 90 days cost just £1 – perfect for those touring the country.
- Walk away from the tourist attractions
This is the same in many places around the world, but to find the best and cheapest restaurants, pubs, hotels and hostels you’ll need to look further away from the central tourist attraction.
Travelodge and Premier Inns can be found in and around most towns and cities across the UK with decent private rooms at affordable prices.
Wetherspoon pubs offer cheap alcohol and food whilst chain restaurants are unfortunately often cheaper than independently run restaurants in the smaller cities around the UK.
- Order food
OK I can promise you that during your stay in the UK, there is a 90% it will rain! When it rains, it pours and puts you off getting all dressed up for a fancy dinner.
JustEat and HungryHouse are websites that allow you to search the menus of nearby restaurants who will deliver to your address. You can compare prices and read reviews on the website before ordering anything.
Get the TablePouncer app. Available in the major cities, this app is ideal for last minute dining. It offers you great discounts and deals at top local restaurants and reserves your chosen restaurant in seconds – helping you save money and time.
- Plan your food
One of the most exciting things to do when you travel is to wander the streets and walk into any restaurant, bar or cafe that takes your fancy.
Food in England is ridiculously expensive compared to most other countries in Asia, the Americas and even Europe. Plan ahead and use tripadvisor, blogs and google maps to locate and choose one or two great restaurants in your chosen area in your price range.
Have a look for the nearest supermarket (Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda are all budget friendly places) to stock up on snacks and breakfast/lunch food. Food at service stations are also expensive so make yourself sandwiches or budget for these extra prices.
The food court in Marks & Spencers offer high quality food but at higher prices than most supermarkets.
Pubs offer daily specials and most towns and cities have a magical Wetherspoon’s (chain of British Pubs) that offer reasonably priced meals.
- Lunch menu
Like many places in Europe, there are some amazing restaurants in the UK, especially when you head into Central London. If you want a treat, head to these restaurants at lunch for a cheap lunch menu!
- Voucher Cloud
Another great app to use when searching for the best deals and prices. Voucher Cloud uses your location to share restaurant and attraction offers as well as supermarket deals.
- Eat Ethnic food
Scattered around the UK are some excellent ethnic restaurants, from Chinese to Indian, Middle Eastern to Pasta – there are foods from all over the world. These are often tasty, interesting and a lot cheaper than fine dining options.
- Dine at a pub
For a decent, hearty meal, head to the pub! Alcohol can be pricey in the UK but there are some great meal options for a pie and pint! Plus, you get to eat the delights of British food.
My personal favourite has to be Wetherspoons! A chain of pubs around the UK that offer cheap meals – A burger, chips and beer for £5.49!
One of the UK’s most popular meal is, of course, Fish and Chips!
Whilst you are in the UK, you need to stop and try this infamous meal whilst saving money – a bag of chips and a cod really don’t break the bank.
- Happy Hour
When visiting any of the University cities and towns, head to the bars. Many offer great promotions and happy hours, especially on the weekends.
Creative Tip: Afternoon teas are a must whilst in the UK and they aren’t just limited to London. You can find some great Afternoon Tea’s outside of London for cheaper prices and even ones that cater to Vegetarians and Vegans.
- Enjoy the chains – I know many people may disagree but when you are travelling on a budget, it is worth making use of the chain restaurants. Nandos is a popular choice in the UK whilst Pizza Express have some great two course deals. Also, don’t forget to head to Wetherspoons for a pint and a greasy plate of British food – it sounds awful but don’t knock it before you try it!
- Meal deals – Head to any supermarket and you will find some type of meal deal. These often include some type of salad, sandwich or pasta with a snack and drink for less than £4. This makes for a cheap, quick lunch or even a chilled out dinner with a few extra snacks.
- Use the markets – To travel England on a budget, make sure you visit the markets. Most cities will have some type of market (it may only be on for the weekend) and here you will find great food but fair prices. Don’t expect to find super cheap food here but expect good value.
- Pub food – can’t stress this enough, if you want a good, sit-down meal, head to the local pubs. Not the pub opposite Big Ben or the one in Covent Garden, head down the quieter streets and find local pubs. Food is good value and often very British!
Travel London on a budget
- Staying in London – Stay near an underground but don’t worry about the city centre. London has a comprehensive underground system that can be used to get everywhere. Use the Underground map to help you get around and don’t forget to down the map on your phone to help you when you are out and about.
- Thames Clipper – The Thames Clipper is a public ferry service which costs around £8 for a full journey; a much cheaper experience on the thames compared to the tours available.
- Cycle – Whilst in London, you can choose to cycle using the Santander Cycle Scheme. You will notice bikes dotted around the city and for £2 for 24 hours, you can cycle between the sights.
- Get an Oyster card – Whilst in London, get yourself an Oyster card. This means you can travel around the underground without having to buy an individual ticket each time but also, these journeys are capped so you don’t spend more than a set maximum. If you have a contactless card, you could use this on the underground and buses too.
- Skip the Shard and head to the Sky Garden – Skip the Shard, it is overpriced. Instead, opt for the Sky Garden, offering stunning views completing for free.
- Theatre tickets – There are lots of great websites that help you get discounted theatre tickets. Head to the theatre of your chosen show at 9.45/10am to see if they have any last minute tickets for that day or use websites like Last Minute or London Theatre Tickets.
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