When my friend from home suggested meeting up for a weekend in London, I was equally ecstatic and petrified. How does one conquer Europe’s third largest city in 42 hours…  on a student’s budget? I’ve heard from countless people and travel books and websites how expensive and time consuming London can be, and I nearly cancelled on her for fear of not having the money nor energy. However, we held our heads high, found loopholes left and right, and we now have a spectacular weekend to talk about for the rest of our lives. Here’s how we did it:

1.) Flying into London Stansted

Like any city of its calibre, London has a handful of airports to fly in and out of. You’ve probably heard of Heathrow, the largest and most trafficked, but have you given time to consider Stansted? A much smaller alternative that’s serviced by affordable airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet, Stansted offers a better arrival time-wise and money-wise. There are buses available to take you to city center for 7-15 pounds, or an express train that will take you to Liverpool St. Station (a public transit mega hub) for 15-30 pounds. You’ll be through customs and walking the streets within 3 hours!

2.) Our Amazing Hostel

The hostel we stayed at in London is now one of my favorites I’ve ever stayed in. Safestay Hostel at Elephant & Castle is an absolute gem. We had beds with clean linens for about $45 each for two nights. The staff were incredibly friendly and happy to guide us to good restaurants (like a hidden gem local market that was much better than Borough Market and that we were sworn into secrecy for). We also could buy all-you-can -eat breakfast bar for 5 pounds. Best of all, this hostel was close to Elephant and Castle Station which connected us to all of London’s hot sights for the price of public transportation (12 pounds a day).

3.) Skip the Traps

We found a few ways to save money and not find ourselves stuck in long lines. If you want a beautiful view of London’s skyline, skip the London Eye ($30 reservation or a little less if you’ll wait a long time) and instead go to Tate Modern Art Museum (free admission with a 10th floor viewing balcony). Pick up or make a picnic for lunch and enjoy it in St James Park, it’s centrally located among other landmarks so it makes for a perfect pause between stops. Also, the people-watching is strong and the greenery is beautiful! Avoid Picadilly Circus after 4pm. It’s like the Time’s Square of London and absolutely filled to the brim with tourists. We made the mistake of going there for dinner and spent more money amongst large crowds. Do find your way to Tower Bridge at some point, the crowds are simply worth it there.

4.) Pret A Manger

The Starbucks of England is a chain called Pret A Manger, and it is perhaps even better. Coffee, teas and foods galore make up this restaurant. I strongly recommend stopping by one of the countless locations for a quick sandwich (for your picnic^^^) or an afternoon latte.

5.) Enjoy the Walking

We walked just under 12 miles in our one full day in the Great Wen, however it felt like nothing. Walking along the River Thames or through Borough Market or along St James Park is so full of sights you won’t even remember your legs are attached to your body. Here are some of my favorite clips from our walkabout:

Tower Bridge with an obligatory Pumpkin Spice Latte

Westminster Abbey, as seen from the road, lacking in royal weddings at the moment.

We toughed out the crowds! Dinner in Chinatown

Jumping for joy outside of Palace of Westminster

Chilling on one of the Guardian Lions by Nelson’s Column in Trifalgar Square

All in all, it was a lovely excursion. Much thanks goes out to my friend for getting me to visit!