Saturday, 20 July 2019

How to Save Money at RootsTech London

RootsTech London 2019 Speaker badge, logo, RootsTech.orgIf you’ve already bought your ticket for RootsTech and made your travel arrangements, it’s time you saved some money instead of spending it.  First things first: if you need help with some elusive Scottish ancestors, come to my class at 9 a.m. on the Saturday of RootsTech, Room 7 15.  It won’t cost you anything extra (like all of the classes)! 

As a former London resident and a regular visitor to the capital, I’ve picked up some tips over the years and continue to get regular advice from London friends about what’s hot and what’s not.

Much of your savings can be done by planning ahead before you leave home.  Season tickets, maps, route planning, and tour slots can all be organised in advance.  Leaving everything until you arrive in London may take up a lot of your valuable time as well as proving more costly!  So prioritise your itinerary – must-see, nice to visit, not-so-important – and make the best possible use of your time while you’re there.

Using public transport

Save money and time by planning your city travel using the official Transport for London website.  Maps, ticket information, timetables and journey planning software are all free and easy to use.  You can buy a top-up travel pass called
Swiping an Oyster card for travel
an Oyster card which works on a contactless system and can be charged online, at a ticket machine, or in convenience stores.   Pay for your travel by tapping it at the beginning and end of each journey on the bus, tube, or riverbus.  Contactless debit or credit cards can also be used instead of the Oyster, but if you’re using a non-UK bank, there may be a surcharge for each transaction, so be careful not to overdo it.  Whichever method you use, check the directions carefully on the TfL website.
A tip from a native Londoner: if you have a UK Disabled Persons Railcard, speak to a member of underground staff to arrange discounts on all Oyster journeys on the tube. It takes less than a minute to set up!
A nifty time-saver is the Walking Tube Map, which lets you see the street distances between underground stations.  It's often quicker to walk than it is to trek down into the depths of the tube system, take the train one or two stops, then make your way through the crowds back to the surface.  And sometimes the nearest tube stop to your destination isn't the best one to alight at - for instance, Covent Garden can be really busy and only has lifts up from the platforms, so exiting the station can take a while.  The alternative stop is Leicester Square, only a short walk away.  Keep your eyes open for similar tips as well as service announcements, posted on tube station noticeboards.

Star Attraction: Enjoy a cable car trip (or several) across the Thames via the Emirates Air Line, not far from the ExCeL Centre. Your Oyster card will pay for this!


Free wireless internet is available in a lot of chain retail outlets such as fast food restaurants and supermarkets.  You may need to complete a quick one-time registration but normally the network will remember you next time you sign in.  Many hotels also offer basic wifi as a complimentary service, but some charge for it as an optional extra.  Others require you to upgrade to a more expensive tariff if you wish to stream video or music content.

✨Star Attraction: Avoid bank-breaking data roaming charges for downloading your London maps – just pick up a free one at your hotel, a tourist information office, or a travel centre for the tube map.  Old school!

Free Visitor Attractions

Many of the major historic attractions charge entry fees, including churches.  It’s hard to avoid but can become very expensive.  Some of the free venues are

Lambeth, SE1.  Open 10am-6pm daily.

South Kensington, SW7.  Open daily 10am-5.50pm

Trafalgar Square, WC2.  Open daily 10am-6pm, late on Fridays till 9pm.

Illustrated handwritten 15th-century Bible
Gutenberg Bible, c. 1455
✨Star Attraction: Treasures of the British Library 
The permanent Treasures exhibition is full of original priceless documents such as Shakespeare manuscripts and Magna Carta, as well as personal papers of the Beatles and Winston Churchill.  There is a handy free locker system where you can leave backpacks, shopping etc. but your bags will be searched on entering the building.
Euston, NW1.  Open daily, see website for hours.

Saving Money on Tourist Attractions

There are two organisations which have responsibility for many historic sites in England: The National Trust, and English Heritage.  (Note: They do not manage the many other stately homes and castles which are privately maintained and run)

The National Trust gives the option to either pay on admission, or purchase a membership (which also permits free entry to most National Trust for Scotland properties, if you’re planning on going that far).

English Heritage offers, as well as individual entry fees and season tickets, a choice of passes for visitors from outside the UK, which you can buy in advance or on a visit to a property.

The best solution is to investigate these organisations’ websites from the comfort of home, and decide if you have a preference for the properties managed by either one of them, then work out if buying a season ticket will save you money. 

You can visit royal properties in London under the auspices of Historic Royal Palaces.  This only includes certain properties within London (and not, for instance, Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle – they charge separately), but it may work out cheaper for you to buy an annual membership if you’re planning to visit at least three Historic Royal Palaces.

✨Star Attraction:  Admiring these buildings and photographing them outside
Victoria Fountain, Buckingham Palace, Guards military band
is absolutely free, as is watching the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace (get times and where-to-watch-it tips here).

Walking Tours

There are a number of different websites that provide details of free walking tours, either self-guided or with a volunteer guide.  Check some out at Free Tours By Foot or Transport for London’s Walking initiative.

✨Star Attraction: Consider finding a podcast to download that will help you explore independently.  The City of London (the square mile at the heart of the metropolis) contains some of the oldest and most fascinating sights, including Roman remains*.  Follow free visitor trails with a map or an app.

* Some in my favourite place, the Guildhall Art Gallery, another wonderful free attraction.


The TKTS booth in Leicester Square offers last-minute and discount tickets (not all their sales are discounted, though) for theatre productions, including selected West End musicals.  You can’t get these special offers online or by phone, or at the theatre on the night; you must buy your tickets at this booth.  A bit like Russian roulette, you have to take your chances that tickets for the show you want to see will be available.  But be flexible and you're more likely to bag a bargain!  Deals of the day will be posted online and you can check these out before heading off to Leicester Square.
✨Star Attraction: At busy times, you may have to wait a little while to get your cut-price tickets, but you’ve not visited London until you’ve spent time in a queue.  It’s part of the experience and costs absolutely nothing at all.  And incidentally, it's pronounced "Lester" Square.

London for Nothing

Plenty of websites describe the multitude of things you can do and see in London at no cost.  I’ve linked to some of these sites here but they’re by no means the only ones.  Always check if the information they contain is up to date by doing some online research or asking at a tourist information centre (see below).  And Google may be your friend, but always avoid the first few search results, which may be adverts and not necessarily the most helpful.

Official Tourist Information Centres

These are found around the capital – call in to one when you’re out and about and get guidebooks, advice, leaflets, and more. 

Lastly, and most importantly, have fun, and I’ll see you at RootsTech!


  1. The tip about UK people and disabled railcards also applies to holders of UK Senior Citizen railcards.....