An illustration showing price tickets
Image: Time Out / Noah Boon

Here’s how to live a bougie London lifestyle for student prices

You don’t need to splash all of your precious student loan to live it up in the capital

Amy Houghton

You don’t need us to tell you that life as a student normally has to involve a heavy dose of creativity when it comes to spending (or not spending) your money. And as the UK’s third most expensive university city, that’s especially true for those of you making the big move to London this year. 

Hold the panic, though. Sure, the capital is not always kind to the bank account, but trust us – the uni experience doesn’t need to be all baked beans, Wetherspoons and instant noodles. If you’re in the know, you can enjoy your fair share of culture and indulgence on a limited student budget. Not sure if you believe us? Here are some of the more affordable alternatives to London’s most sought-after spots. 

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You know the West End, try the Gate Theatre in Camden

Two actors with purple lighting
Photograph: Craig Sugden

It may not have the grandeur or worldwide reputation of all of the West End theatres, but the Gate Theatre in Camden hosts some of the best shows in the city (fun fact: it was once headed up by ‘Billy Elliot’ director Stephen Daldry). 

Student tickets are £12.50, or if you attend the first Saturday matinee of a show, you can go for just £1 as part of the theatre’s pay-what-you-can performances. There’s also a deal for under 30s where you can get any unsold ticket for £5 if you turn up to the box office from 6:30pm on the night. 

You’ve heard of Ronnie Scotts, try the Royal Albert in Deptford

Ronnie Scott’s is a landmark of the jazz world and that means it can get quite spenny. If you’re after a more affordable yet equally vibey jazz fix, head to Deptford on a Sunday evening to see newcomers jam alongside master musicians at the Royal Albert (the pub, not the hall)

Once a nightclub owned by Poppy Ajudha’s father, the pub has nurtured live music for more than a decade now. Kokoro, Ezra Collective and Nubia Garcia all passed through this southeast staple as young artists, so you’re in good hands. There’s no entry fee, but set aside some of your budget to account for a pit stop at the bar. 

You know the London Eye, try Sky Garden

Sky garden
Photograph: Shutterstock

You’re a Londoner now – it’s an unspoken rule that you swerve the London Eye like the plague. But when you’ve got a free alternative like Sky Garden on the 35th floor of the Walkie Talkie, that’s actually not too tricky. 

Not only will Sky Garden cost you nothing, but you have triple the time to soak up 360 degree views of central London than you do on the famous big wheel. If your student finance has just landed and you’re feeling a little spendthrift, you can purchase a cocktail once up there – but it’s not mandatory. Free tickets are released every Monday, so set those alarms.

You’ve heard of SushiSamba, try Okko on Broadway Market

A meal at SushiSamba is a bonafide badge of bougie-ness. But you’re paying for the skyscraper views as much as the food and as we’ve already established, you can get those for free. 

If you’re more fussed about what’s on the plate, SushiSamba is far from the only place in London where you can find a Japanese fusion menu. Though more humble in appearance, Okko on Broadway Market similarly represents the Japanese diaspora in South America and the Pacific with a mix of tacos, ramen, margaritas and saki. The prices don’t make you let out an involuntary welp, either. Win–win.

You’ve heard of Sketch, try the V&A Café

A cafe with arches and big lights
Photograph: V&A

If you’ve scrolled through Instagram in the past decade, don’t say you’ve never been tempted to visit Sketch purely for its multicoloured bathroom and egg-shaped cubicles. Unfortunately, you have to pay an arm and a leg to dine (and therefore do your business) there. 

But we all deserve to dine in ’gram worthy venues. How about somewhere with ornate golden arches and stained glass windows, that also takes its art seriously? The Victoria and Albert Museum Café might do the trick at a far friendlier cost. There’s also the adjacent outdoor oasis, Garden Café. You can sit in both without spending a dime. 

You know Everyman, try Genesis Cinema

A cinema exterior with light up signa
Photograph: Alamy Images

Most people think of the Hampstead-born Everyman chain when seeking out a more boujee cinema experience. But here’s a secret: Genesis Cinema in Bethnal Green (which in our opinion is one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world) offers the same decadence at less than half the price.   

For optimum indulgence, look for screenings in Studios 4 and 5: tickets cost £7.50 Monday to Thursday and £10 Friday to Sunday. Decked out with posh sofas, plush armchairs and a bespoke bar, you’re also getting much more bang for your buck than the £9.99 savers tickets at your local Vue. It’s a no-brainer.

You know London Zoo, try Golders Hill Park

In a lesser known corner of Hampstead Heath lives a collection of ring-tailed lemurs, kookaburras, wallabies and more. Golders Hill Park Zoo opened in 1905 and is one of just two zoos in London that are entirely free to wander around. 

You may not find any lions or giraffes a là London Zoo but with its walled garden, bandstand and butterfly house, this is a budget spot worth knowing about. Visit to switch off from the onslaught of uni assignments, for a sickeningly wholesome Sunday to offset the sins of the night before or for any (however ill-advised) roommate romances to blossom. 

You’ve heard of Kew Gardens, try the Barbican Conservatory 

The Barbican conservatory
Photograph: Shutterstock

Inside the Barbican’s brutalist concrete walls, you’ll find an abundant green haven.

The Barbican Conservatory also happens to be London’s biggest greenhouse after the Princess of Wales Conservatory in Kew Gardens. It’s got orchids, it’s got succulents, it’s got koi fish and unlike its larger counterpart, it’s completely free. You’re just going to have to plan well and book in advance.

Keep an eye out for things going on in this indoor oasis – right now there are five huge suspended sculptures on temporary display. If you live centrally, you’ll save a bit on travel too, journeying to zone one rather than all the way to zone three. 

You know The Savoy, try Two One Four

American Bar at The Savoy is a world renowned cocktail bar and a pinnacle of 1920s glamour and sophistication, once frequented by the likes of Churchill and Hemingway. Unfortunately, with cocktails starting at £22, you’ll probably have to wait a couple years (or ten) after graduating before you can afford to comfortably spend an evening here. 

In the meantime, though, you can broaden your cocktail knowledge at Two One Fourhidden underneath Flour and Grape in Bermondsey. This intimate bar is gin-focused but still offers expert concoctions of all the classics. From 5-6pm everyday you can indulge in a tipple from as little as £7.

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