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Image: Time Out / Noah Boon

How to have an (almost) free night out in London

Being a student in London is pricey. But there are some ways to have a cracking night out for next to no money.

India Lawrence
Written by
India Lawrence

Listen, we know London is expensive. Going to uni here might seem pretty daunting for the old bank balance, and it could feel like it’s not only going to break your bank account but obliterate it into non-existence. But while you might have come to the capital to attend one of the world’s best universities, you probably came here to have some fun too. So let us tell you, you don’t need to stick to the SU to have a brilliant and cheap night out in the city – the kind of night out you’ll be telling all your pals about when you go home for Christmas. 

Picture this: you’ve just bumped into Francis Bourgeois at Jumbi in Peckham, and now you’re soaking up the view of the London skyline from the top deck of the night bus home. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that. This city has some absolutely banging clubs, with quite a few of them offering free or very cheap parties. Plus, there are actually multiple ways to get your hands on free drinks (if you’re savvy). So if you don’t know, get to know. Here’s how to have an epic London night out for almost no money. 

The pre-drinks

Having a sufficient amount of drinks at home (provided your stomach is lined, obvs) is one of the most important parts of a cheap night out. (Unless you’re a sober clubber, in which case, skip this step.) In this day and age, who can afford to be buying drinks out? Most student pre-drinks consist of chugging down a bottle of Echo Falls in the halls kitchen crowded around a tiny speaker. But that’s not the only way you have to live: with this itinerary you can kid yourself into a false sense of sophistication. You’ll be sipping on espresso martinis in swanky cocktail bars, or perusing art while you slurp a glass of bubbly. All for free. 

Let’s start things off with the tech. Take the Dusk app, for example, which unlocks one free drink every single day. From Simmons to London Cocktail Club, it includes all sorts of bars across the city, with quite a decent range of drinks on offer. After cashing in on your daily Dusk drink, you’re going to need the All Bar One app. This will only work once, but you will unlock a free glass of bubbles after registering. And London has loads of All Bar Ones. 

A person making drinks at a bar
Photograph: Shutterstock

There are also more inventive ways to get yourself free bevs, like rocking up to ‘private view’ openings at galleries where there is almost always booze going. This option requires a little more research. While there’s no chance bigger galleries like the White Cube will let in any old riff-raff, smaller galleries in the likes of Fitzrovia, Hackney or Deptford are much more accommodating: Castor Gallery, for example, often hosts prosecco and pastry brunches where ‘all are welcome’, while Guts Gallery in Lower Clapton typically has an opening evening for its exhibitions, which are also open invite. Generally, you’ll want to look out for events on gallery websites which include ‘PV’ – or even better, contact the gallery hosting the opening and ask if you can attend. Just make sure to don your best beret and floor-length leather jacket to fit in with the art crowd. 

Don’t fancy being a total freewheeler? There are options for cheap bevvies too. We know this city is notorious for the £8 pint, but there are still quite a few places you can get a beer for less than a fiver. Last year we found the cheapest pint in London to be only £2.50, and it wasn’t at Wetherspoons. We also asked readers where they found the cheapest pints and they came up with all sorts of great suggestions, so make sure to check that out. Or you can peruse this handy interactive cheap pint map, that collates all the prices of a beer at every Wetherspoons in the country. Bottoms up!

Cost: £0-£2.50 (multiply by however many paid drinks you consume)

The club

Once you’re sufficiently sauced, it’s time to move on to the main event: the club. It’s easy to get drawn into the sea of sticky-floored clubs in central London – but don’t be fooled by their flashing lights and promises of a ‘wild night out’. For that reason, we recommend steering clear of Tiger Tiger, Zebrano and anywhere women get in for free but men have to pay. Because in fact some decent clubs and bars – like The Cause, Egg, Night Tales, Blues Kitchen, Dalston Roof Park and Fire and Lightbox – all have regular free events. All you need to do is find out when they are (we recommend checking Resident Advisor or Dice) and sign up for a free ticket (be quick, because they go fast.) 

People on a dance floor
Photograph: The Cause / Sandra Ebert

There are also spots like Jumbi in Peckham, and Moko, its north London sister bar in Tottenham. For music heads, these bars run by DJ Bradley Zero are always free entry and have great tunes (think funky house, reggae, soul, hip-hop and everything in between) playing until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Cost: £0

The late-night munch 

You can’t end the night without a bit of sustenance to stave off the impending hangover, even though you’ll probably be skipping your 9am lecture anyway. But forget the sloppy £8 kebab from the various doner chains. If you’re in north London, head to one of Dalston or Green Lanes’ many Turkish restaurants for a lahmacun, AKA a Turkish flatbread pizza. With some being as cheap as £2, you can’t go wrong: it’s cheap, delicious and filling. And vegans, don’t fret! Loads of the Turkish shops offer plant based options too, like a veggie lahmacun or gozlëme. We recommend Gökyüzü (open till 2am, lahmacun for £6.50) and Diyarbakir Restaurant (open till 3am, lahmacun for £5).

People eating bagels outside of Brick Lane bagel
Photograph: Jess Hand

In east London, you can’t go wrong with either of Brick Lane’s famous 24-hour bagel shops, hawking doughy, freshly baked bagels to punters at all hours stuffed with smoked salmon and cream cheese or salt beef, mustard and gherkins. Head to either Beigel Bake or Beigel Shop for a stuffed bready circle for between £2-£6.50. A post-night out bagel is a London rite of passage. 

If you’re south, you can get a slice of margarita (it’s big) from Voodoo Rays Peckham for £4.30. Head west and Notting Hill Kebab does cheesy chips, or chips in a pita (trust us, it’s like a jacked-up chip butty) for just £3, and it’s open till 5am. Bear in mind that it only takes cash. 

And if you must go to Maccy’s, don’t forget that if you show your student ID when buying a meal, you can get a free cheeseburger, mayo chicken or McFlurry. We’re not kidding

Cost: £2-£6.50

Journey home

Uber? We’re not made of money. Plus, getting an Uber is harder than bagging Glastonbury tickets these days – and you don’t want to be shelling out £40 for a taxi during surcharge. Luckily, the night bus will only set you back £1.75. Just try not to fall asleep, lest you end up stranded at a bus depot in Tottenham.

A London bus at night
Photograph: Shutterstock

If you need to take the night tube, make sure to link your railcard to your Oyster to get sweet, sweet discounts. You can use this useful TfL single fare finder to work out the exact cost of your journey. 

Cost: £1.75

Total cost of night out: £3.75-£10.75

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