Secret London: 50 tips for surviving London as a student

student shopping at flea market

How to get the best of London

Living in the capital is unlike living anywhere else. The capital is a huge place to explore, and it's full of new things to uncover.

These 50 tips, from students who have lived and studied in London, will help you handle the big city like a pro...

Get out of Zone 1

1. Explore London: don’t limit yourself to Central London. Often the most interesting pubs, bars, restaurants and theatres are a little further out.

2. Think of London as an assortment of small communities rather than a homogenous city. North London is nothing like East London.

3. Scope out your local Wetherspoons! ‘Spoons just out of centre, in more residential/less touristy areas drop their prices.

Travel smart in London

4. Travel is expensive! Save 1/3 on travel with the 18+ Oyster card and the 16-25 Railcard. Link them together for the biggest discount. You can find out more in our article on a student's guide to travelling around London

5. Try to walk more, even if you do have a travel card. It’s the best way to learn the city, and in some cases it may be quicker to walk! A tourist takes the tube from Leicester Square to Covent Garden; a Londoner walks up Long Acre and is there in half the time, with half the bother.

6. Never get into an unlicensed taxi, always pre-book and agree the rate before you get in. Stay safe and don’t get swindled.

7. If you’re travelling every day during rush hour, get a monthly pass. Otherwise, it is best to do a quick bit of maths to work out if you’re better off topping up. Particularly if you travel off-peak and have linked your 16-25 Rail Card to your Oyster.

8. Take the number 38 across London, from Clapton Pond to Victoria, and soak it all up.

9. Download Citymapper.

10. Buses are flat rate. If you are tight for cash, take more time and take the bus.

11. See if you can walk to the next zone before hopping on the tube. It could help you save.

Students in Chinatown

Make the most of studying in London

12. Get a British Library or Wellcome Library Reader’s Pass for access to books that you can’t access from your uni library.

13. Use those passes to check out their manuscripts too!

14. If you need a place to study but your library is overrun, check out the Wellcome Library’s Reading Room. Part exhibition space, part reading room. Also good if you need a bit of a rest.

15. If you’re looking for part-time or summer work, use whatever services your university has on offer.

16. If you do work part-time, make sure it’s a low maintenance affair: your degree should be your priority.

Rent smart in London

17. Don’t try to rent in Zone 1, it’s overpriced and not worth it. Even with the cost of commute, you’re likely to live in a nicer place for less money if you look a little further out into zone 2 and 3.

18. That said, factor travel time into your house hunt. Even if the distance appears short on the map, actual transport links can be deceiving

19. Live in a three or four person group to cut costs and get a nicer home – this often equates to a £50-£100 or more saving each month. You can find out more in our article on a student's guide to renting in London.

20. There are many commuter maps online where you can input your preferred max commute time. It will then show you everywhere you can live.

21. Many property search engines also either have a commute search or a draw-your-own-map search which can also be useful.

22. When viewing, try to group viewings by area so you can spend some time exploring the area.

23. When searching, try to time it for just before the end of term. Many students will be moving into different houses, in with different people and some finalists may be moving back home. This is when you’re likely to have the most choice.

24. There's no point searching for a property in London until about six weeks before you plan to move in. Two months, I would say, is the absolute max.

25. If you are moving out alone or in a pair try to team up with other people in a similar situation. Find houses with spare rooms, or find other people to search with. Spareroom is particularly good. I did this during my Master's. It worked like a charm and saved me a great deal of cash.

26. However, avoid at all costs renting a room in a shared house directly from an agent. These are scams. Only go for a house where a room is being advertised by the current tenants: it will be cheaper and safer and often the houses are nicer and more sociable.

students laughing together on street

Student London by day

27. Visit London’s historic markets: you can still get a bargain on Portobello Road.

28. Get in touch with nature: visit squares, parks, royal parks. You can even camp in Epping Forest.

29. The vast majority of London museums are free, though some exhibitions may charge. But…

30. Many of these offer a generous student discount

31. Check out the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square for cheap tickets and seasonal specials. They often do sing-alongs.

32. The British Library isn’t just for studying. It has a permanent exhibition in the Treasures of the British Library Gallery and a temporary exhibition space. Recent exhibitions have focused on the British Punk Scene and Alice in Wonderland.

33. London is often weird and wonderful. Why not visit the dinosaur statues at Crystal Palace or hang out in the Horniman for natural history, object handling sessions, an aquarium and other eclectic fun.

34. If you want something a little different: the pre-auction item viewings at Christie’s are free and open to the public, allowing rare items to be seen close-up before they are potentially bought into private collections. At Sotheby’s, it is the auctions that are free and open to the public with no obligation to bid.

35. Visit Primrose Hill for a breathtaking view of the London skyline. This is particularly lovely at sunset.

Student London at night

36. If you’re worried about the London scene not being ‘studenty’ enough, don’t forget to take advantage of your student union. Most have bars and they are the natural congregating spot for students - freshers in particular.

37. Also be sure to keep an eye-out for local clubs. Many will have a student night.

38. The recordings of many BBC shows are free to attend. All you need do is sign up online and queue. Whoever is turned away, gets priority next time.

39. For a night out that’s a little different, check out Museum Lates. Many London Museums are open late on the last Friday of every month. They will host special events, set up a bar and have a DJ present. Entry is generally free, though specific events may be ticketed.

40. Download Happy Appy for all of London’s happy hours.

students waiting for tube train

Living in London on a budget

41. Fancy food on a budget? All Itsu salads and sushi is half price 30 mins before closing.

42. Find BYOB (bring your own bottle) restaurants if you fancy a dinner out. It dramatically cuts the cost. Brixton Foodhall is awash with BYOB eateries while throughout town many curry houses also offer BYOB.

43. Research your meals! There are countless articles for cheap eats and many of these are frequently updated. TimeOut has one organised by area, and the Londonist has another for 20 great meals under £20.

44. If you find yourself in Central London and want a drink that won’t bankrupt you, try a Sam Smith Pub for a decent pint of ale. You can’t move for them in the West End.

45. Many theatres offer up to 70% off unsold tickets to full-time students. Bring your Student ID.

46. Alternatively, in the morning, try for day seats for a bit more of a guarantee. Each theatre operates differently so do your research. The Book of Mormon has an online raffle, many others force you to get to the box office first thing in the morning.

47. Join Young Barbican for discount (or free!) tickets to shows and exhibitions.

48. Don’t forget the £10 previews at the Old Vic either.

49. Be sure to check if your council has a reused furniture sale. Most do! The furniture is donated by locals who are either moving or no longer have need for the item. Furniture is typically fixed, cleaned and then resold at a fraction of the price with proceeds largely being reinvested into the council.

50. When in doubt, ask if there is a student discount. You can find out more in our article on seven reasons studying in London is more affordable than you think

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