Tools to Set Yourself Up in London
When I moved to London, I really wished someone could’ve given me some tips on how to set myself up. Everything from which phone provider to get, to which bank to go with. Since moving here as a student, I was on the hunt for good deals on everything. Being Australian, I have a lot of friends move over to London (London seems to be a rite of passage for Australians), and they constantly ask about any tips I have for getting set up.
So here’s a selection of some of my recommended apps, products and services that will help you get the best start to London.
A number of the suggestions here will also benefit people who are established in London. Unless stated, everything I recommend I have tried myself. I won’t endorse I product I haven’t trialled.
- Finding a room/house:
- spareroomco.uk – most people I know in London have found their place through this site. Make sure you pay for the early bird access though. This gives you access to properties a week before the free users. In a place like London, houses don’t stay around long and by the time they’re listed for free users they’re usually gone.
- zoopla.co.uk – this is the site that I used to find a place. It took me approximately three days to find my most recent place on this site.
- Phone provider:
- The cheapest option: GiffGaff. You can get 2GB for £10 a month, and it’s extremely easy to set up.
- If you’re planning on doing travel: 3’s ‘Feel at Home’ package. Your phone works in 60 countries (including all EU countries, US, Australia, Brazil, etc.) at no extra cost. But be warned, 3’s network coverage is pretty poor in London so you’ll want confirmation from the supplier that you can cancel your plan at any time.
- Metro Bank: Let’s face it – banks in the UK suck. They have poor customer service and can take up to a month to let you open an account. Metro Bank is the complete opposite – it places a focus on customer service and has disrupted high street banking in the UK. No fees, excellent customer service and they give you a card on the spot when you sign up at the bank.
- Monzo: this is a new fintech startup in the UK that gives you a debit-card, which you can easily top up using Apple pay or Android pay. It provides you with real-time updates (via its amazingly user-friendly app) on what you spend and it automatically categorises your spending. Essentially it’s a debit card and spending app in one. They don’t charge any foreign transaction or foreign exchange fees so it also makes it the best card to travel with. There are also no fees, and it’s easily got the best customer service out of any product I’ve used to date (and that’s a big call I know).
- Need a current account without having an address? Check out Monese. This is a useful app for anyone who’s just landed in the country and is yet to find a permanent address. I haven’t used this myself but students I’ve spoken to say it’s great.
- If you’re looking for ways to maximise your savings visit currentaccountsavings.co.uk. It’s an interest rate aggregator and calculator that suggests which bank accounts to open in order to maximise your savings.
- Food & Booze:
- Hare Krishna offer free lunches at the LSE main courtyard every weekday during term time. It’s pretty carb heavy, but having said that it’s completely free. This is the only free-food option I’ve discovered in London so far.
- Itsu (30 mins before closing): Itsu is ubiquitous – it’s almost as common as Pret. Their food is decent, but 30 minutes before closing every Itsu sells its remaining food for half price.
- TooGoodToGo: This app is a game changer. Restaurants and cafes have signed up to sell their excess food half an hour before closing. It’s an amazing initiative that helps tackle London’s food wastage issues and as a bonus, you can pick up an amazing meal for £2-3.
- LSE Fourth Floor Restaurant: Every weekday morning the Level 4 Restaurant at LSE charge £2.85 for a full English Breakfast including a coffee.
- Whitechapel High Street: Have a walk down Whitechapel High Street and you’ll find a slew of Bangladeshi takeaway joints that sell meals (with a soft drink) for £3-4.
- Not as cheap, but still pretty cheap:
- Leon: Have a pretty good breakfast meal deal – £4.25 for a coffee and a muffin.
- All Bar One: Have a decent breakfast special. They offer a breakfast and a coffee for £6 on weekdays (anytime before 1 pm). I head here when I’m feeling decadent.
- Wetherspoons: This is the place you need to go if you want a cheap beer and meal. A burger with a pint/glass of wine/spirit will set you back about £7. This is a real steal, especially given most bars will charge you £5 for a pint. Wetherspoons are everywhere, the food isn’t fantastic but you get what you pay for – a full stomach.
- Fancy an all-you-can-eat experience? My favourite budget buffet is the Indian restaurant Feast and Mishti (249 Whitechapel Road, E1 1DB). You get an amazingly tasty buffet meal for just £9.
- Michelin star dining:
- If you want to eat at some of the fanciest restaurants in London, you can actually do so for a reasonable price. A number of Michelin Star restaurants offer a decently priced lunch menu (even on weekends). The lunch menu at Texture, in Marylebone, will set you back £33 for three amazing courses, and Social Eating House in Soho serves a three-course lunch for £26.5. Given most crappy pubs in London charge about £13 for one main meal, the fact that you can get three Michelin star courses for a bit more than double is a pretty good steal.
- Getting around
- Ask anyone in London about the must have apps you need and they’ll inevitably tell you CityMapper. It’s a better version of Google Maps. It tells you how to get from point A to B using public transport but it provides you with much more detail than Google Maps like which train carriage you should use to be closest to the platform exit, and which exit at the station you should use. It’s also much better with live updates in terms of train delays.
- Uber: Uber, despite all its ongoing issues, is still cheaper than getting a black cab. It’s a no brainer here – just install the app and get moving.
- I love to travel – I typically travel to another country every 3 weeks. The app I use the most to find good travel deals is Holiday Pirates.
- My Holiday Guru and Secret Flying are also pretty good and worth checking out.
- Travel cheap to Paris or Brussels: Eurostar Snap is a hidden gem that not many people know about. If you want to travel on the cheap to Paris/Brussels (£25 one way), and you don’t mind what time of the day you travel, you can book a Eurostar Snap ticket up to a week before you travel and choose to travel in either the AM or the PM. Then, 48 hours before the day, Eurostar will contact you and inform you of the exact train time. Sometimes this might be the first train in the morning (5.40am) but you’ll still be saving up to £200 per journey.
- What’s happening in London
London is such a big place with so much going on. Here are a few apps/resources to help you discover events:
- Yplan: A discount app for events around town.
- Timeout: A classic website I constantly fall back on for reviews and deals for restaurants, events, pubs, etc.
- Songkick: Songkick analyses your iTunes playlist and alerts you if any of your favourite artists are performing closely.
I’m always on the hunt for new apps, services and deals. So if there’s anything I’ve missed just let me know in the comments below.