10 money-saving tips for your trip to Britain
There are plenty of ways to save money when you travel in Britain, and we don't just mean all those free museums and galleries - although they're brilliant too! Plan ahead to take advantage of money-saving initiatives and kids-go-free events with these ten top tips.
1. Buy before you fly
Many top attractions in Britain are cheaper when you buy tickets in advance. Check out visitbritainshop.com before you travel for discounts on travel tickets, tours, attractions and more. Visitbritainshop.com is the official shop of the British Tourist Board.
2. Cheaper rail travel
One of the best ways to get around Britain is by rail, especially if your route snakes through some of the beautiful countryside, mountain ranges, and rolling hills that shape the nation’s landscape. Booking early is a sure-fire way to save on rail travel, but did you know that regional train companies often offer special discounts too?
Families heading to Dover, Canterbury and other places in Kent and East Sussex should check out Southeastern Railway's Kids for £1, which allows up to four kids to travel for £1 each with one adult, off peak. Two kids can travel for free with each adult under Scotrail's Kids Go Free scheme, and tickets also give one child free entry to some popular Scottish attractions.
The Explore Wales Pass, available in advance from railway stations and agents, offers unlimited travel on all rail services and most local bus services in Wales. It can be used on all local bus services in and around the Brecon Beacons National Park including Beacons Buses. Be sure to check the site for terms and conditions, as some services aren’t included, and days vary on train and bus travel.
Read more: southeasternrailway.co.uk, scotrail.co.uk, and arrivatrainswales.co.uk/
3. Sightsee for less
Explore the sites of England’s eclectic capital city for less with the London Pass. Discover the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, ZSL London Zoo and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for less than 50% of the individual entrance prices.
If you’re planning to see a number of Britain’s most iconic heritage sites, it’s worth buying a heritage pass, offered by the National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Scotland. A nine-day English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass (£30) gives free entry to over 100 sites, including Stonehenge, Dover Castle in Kent and Hadrian’s Wall.
Buy a seven-day National Trust Touring Pass (£26) and you can visit any of the Trust’s 300 historic houses and gardens, including Chartwell, former home of Winston Churchill, Castle Ward in Northern Ireland’s County Down, and magical Welsh castle and world famous gardens at Powis Castle and Garden. After a couple of visits to properties the pass starts to pay for itself, so go to a third and you’re saving. Scotland has its own National Trust Discover Ticket, priced at £31.50 for seven days.
4. Free heritage
Britain’s history spans the ages, with remnants surviving today in the form of historic houses, stunning castles and ancient sites. With so much heritage to explore, it’s worth knowing some handy hints and tips on how to visit these places for free.
Every September thousands of historic monuments and buildings, especially those usually closed to the public, throw open their doors for free. Special junior programmes are also available.
Read more: heritageopendays.org.uk, doorsopendays.org.uk, discovernorthernireland.com, and cadw.gov.wales.
5. Wear the kids out for free
All of Britain's 15 national parks are free to enter, and there's plenty to keep little ones busy (nationalparks.gov.uk). The Brecon Beacons National Park Mountain Centre stunning views, kid-friendly walks along an adjacent moorland ridge, and a large, well-tended field that's perfect for letting off steam (breconbeacons.org).
6. Cheap theatre
If you’re after cheap theatre tickets, head to the official TKTS booth (tkts.co.uk) in Leicester Square where you’ll find great seats in theatre at half the normal price. The booth is operated by the Society of London Theatre, the industry body that represents London theatres.
Another way to bag some bargain tickets is at The Royal Court Theatre (royalcourttheatre.com) in Sloane Square, offering standing tickets every night for 10p. You have to be quick, as these are first-come-first-served and there are only eight of them available each night.
A trip to London isn’t complete without a visit to the vibrant West End. The Theatre Passport is a great way to see some of the best shows the West End has to offer for just £28.25. The Theatre Passport entitles you to the best seats available in a selection of participating West End Shows, including popular London musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, and plays including The Woman in Black.
7. Cheap eats
Sign up to OpenTable for access to a devoted page of specials - including half-price deals - at eateries across Britain.
Grab a treat for your taste buds and your wallet by heading to one of London’s markets. Venues at Portobello Road, Camden, Greenwich, Spitalfields and Brick Lane among others offer a great range of affordable and delicious street food from every corner of the world.
Hungry Londoners flock to Borough Market on the South Bank to buy foodie treats including artisan breads, pungent cheese and handmade chocolates. There are plenty of samples on offer and there’s a tasty array of street food vendors selling everything from Ethiopian wraps to pork pies from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. For a quieter alternative, head a little further east to Maltby Street Market, where you’ll find producers selling
their wares under railway arches in Bermondsey every Saturday.
Along with cosy fires, real ales and cider, a reliable constant in most British pubs is hearty grub. Ranging from approximately £7 to £15 for a main course (depending on whether you’re in a traditional ‘boozer’ or a fancier gastropub) the plates are almost always stacked satisfyingly high. One of London’s ultimate bargain restaurant is Brasserie Zédel, just off Piccadilly Circus. The vast, Art Deco-style basement dining room looks more chic than cheap but offers a two-course fixed-price menu for a purse-friendly £9.75.
Monday is often Britain's quietest dining night, when most locals' wallets get the night off. That leaves restaurants with seats to fill, which means offers aplenty. Take a culinary voyage at Liverpool's Titanic-themed 30 James Street hotel, offering a free starter or dessert with every main course come Monday nights. On the same evening in Bristol, south-west England, seeing bar-and-kitchen Prego charge only £6.95 per pizza.
For a truly British dining experience, visit a ‘chippy’ and order battered cod or haddock and chunky chips doused in salt and vinegar. It’ll be cheap (typically £5 – £6), cheerful and generously-sized. With an estimated 10,000 shops across the country, you’re never far away from a fish and chip fix.
Vegetarian restaurants are often cheaper than their carnivorous counterparts, and Britain boasts some excellent options.
8. Free events
Britain has a lot of free events to offer. Find here many of free events sorted by region and month.
9. Helpful, money-saving travel apps
This nifty app (citymapper.com) is free to download and is as helpful as having your own personal chaperone. The app plans out the fastest route between any two points in a city, as well as a variety of other transport methods in case you have a preference for tube (in London), train, car or bus, or any route preferences.
Even better, the app also tells you how much your will cost, an added bonus for those wanted to keep costs to a minimum. The app is currently available in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
If you need to calculate currency on the go, try the XE Currency App (xe.com). This handy, and totally free app, allows users to access live exchange rates, view historical charts, and calculate prices on your smartphone or tablet. Now you can work out just how much of a bargain those holiday buys are.
National Rail app
If you’re planning to tour Britain by rail, the National Rail app (nationalrail.co.uk) is an excellent route planner to help you find your way around. You can buy tickets, check out departure times, plan your journey from any station in Britain, and keep an eye out live arrivals and departures.
If you’re looking for accommodation on a budget, try the Hostelworld app (hostelworld.com). It has 33,000 listings of hostels, Bed & Breakfasts and budget hotels with more than 3.5 million user reviews. Browse through a variety of accommodation options, complete with photos, pricing and ratings so you can find the right bed for the right price.
When in Britain, an absolute must is experiencing the nation's culinary offer. For those looking for purse-friendly dining try Tablepouncer (tablepouncer.com), a relatively new app that lets you take advantage of unfilled tables at restaurants. Perfect for the spontaneous at heart, the app offers discounts at restaurants for the same day or day after. Starting its life in Bournemouth, south England, the app now covers London, Bristol, Bath, Brighton & Hove and Southampton. Manchester and Liverpool are next.
Download the National Trust app (nationaltrust.org.uk), where you can discover days out in Britain’s beautiful countryside at more than 550 special places from the comfort of your hotel room. Find historic houses and gardens, archaeological sites and monuments, coastlines and countryside, all within reachable distance of your current location.
Key information such as opening times and prices is shown, and you can even see if there are any events happening at nearby places. Most importantly, if you end up in a remote location everything you need to plan a visit is available offline. Try searching by postcode or location, and browse the many treasures that Britain has to offer.
10. Use discount web sites.
When booking your flight, accommodation, car rental, or airport parking, use discount web sites, compare prices, and book the cheapest deals: air tickets, cheap rooms, car rentals, and airport parking.
Some attractions may also offer special online deals. For instance, canny visitors to London's Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace are wise to check the website (hrp.org.uk). Entry was half price when booked online in winter this year and last. And while it's not unusual for under-fives to get free entry to attractions, at Kensington Palace everyone under 16 enjoys the privilege.
There are plenty of ways to see the best of Britain on a budget, especially between June and September when many of the country’s top universities offer accommodation with free high speed internet for less than £30 a night. Many of these rooms are available to non-students.
Adapted from VisitBritain September 2016.