Do I Need Cash In London? A Comprehensive Guide

Travelling to London can be an exciting experience, but it also raises important questions for visitors around money. Chief among them is whether or not you need cash while in London, or if cards are widely accepted.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: While credit/debit cards and contactless payments are widely accepted in London, carrying some cash can be useful as a backup and for certain situations like taxis, markets, and small shops. But overall, London is largely a cashless city.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about whether and when you need cash during your upcoming visit to London.

The Popularity of Cashless Payments in London

London has become a hub for cashless payments, with more and more people opting for digital transactions over cash. The city’s tech-savvy population and the convenience offered by cashless options have contributed to this growing trend.

Contactless Cards Are Common

One of the main reasons for the popularity of cashless payments in London is the widespread use of contactless cards. These cards allow users to make quick and easy payments by simply tapping their card on a payment terminal.

They are widely accepted in shops, restaurants, and public transportation systems across the city. In fact, according to the UK Cards Association, contactless card payments accounted for more than half of all card payments in the UK in 2020.

Using contactless cards offers numerous benefits to Londoners. It eliminates the need to carry around cash or worry about exact change. It also saves time as transactions can be completed in a matter of seconds.

Additionally, contactless payments are secure, with built-in fraud protection measures, making them a preferred option for many.

Mobile Wallets Are On the Rise

Another reason for the popularity of cashless payments in London is the increasing use of mobile wallets. Mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, allow users to make payments using their smartphones.

These wallets store credit card information securely and can be used to make payments at contactless payment terminals.

The convenience of mobile wallets has made them a popular choice among Londoners. With just a few taps on their smartphones, users can make payments without the need to carry physical cards. Mobile wallets also offer additional features such as loyalty card integration and transaction history tracking, making them even more appealing to users.

According to a study conducted by eMarketer, the number of mobile payment users in the UK is expected to reach 27.3 million by the end of 2021, representing a significant increase from previous years.

Where Cash Is Still Recommended

While London is a city that heavily relies on electronic payment methods, there are still instances where having cash on hand can be beneficial. Here are a few scenarios where having cash is still recommended:

Tip-Based Services

When it comes to tipping in London, cash is still the preferred method. While some establishments may offer the option to add a tip to your card payment, many prefer to receive cash directly. This is especially true in smaller, independent restaurants, cafes, and bars.

By having cash readily available, you can easily show your appreciation for excellent service and support the hardworking staff.

According to Visit London, a leading travel website, it is customary to tip around 10-15% of the total bill in restaurants, cafes, and bars. However, it’s always a good idea to check if a service charge has already been added to your bill before deciding on the tip amount.

Markets and Independent Shops

If you plan on exploring London’s vibrant markets, such as Camden Market or Borough Market, or visiting independent shops, having cash will come in handy. Many of these smaller, local businesses may not accept card payments, or they may have a minimum spend requirement for card transactions.

By carrying cash, you can effortlessly make purchases without any hassle.

Furthermore, using cash in markets and independent shops allows for a more personal and authentic experience. You’ll have the opportunity to interact with the vendors, negotiate prices, and truly immerse yourself in the local culture.

Backup in Case Cards Fail

While London is a modern city with a well-established banking system, there may be rare instances where card payments are not possible. It’s always wise to have a backup plan in case your cards fail or encounter technical issues.

Carrying a small amount of cash can provide peace of mind, ensuring that you can still make necessary purchases or cover unexpected expenses.

Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to carry a mix of cash denominations. Smaller notes and coins are useful for smaller purchases or for tipping, while larger notes can be used for larger expenses.

Remember, having cash on hand in London is not essential for everyday transactions. However, in certain situations, it can be convenient and beneficial. By being prepared and having a combination of payment methods, you can navigate the city with ease and enjoy everything it has to offer.

Getting Cash in London

When traveling to London, it’s important to have a plan for obtaining cash. While many places in the city accept credit cards, having some cash on hand can still be useful for smaller purchases or in case of emergencies. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to get cash in London.

ATMs/Cash Machines

ATMs, also known as cash machines, are a convenient way to withdraw cash in London. They can be found throughout the city, including at airports, train stations, and major tourist areas. Most ATMs accept major international debit and credit cards, so you should have no trouble accessing your funds.

However, it’s important to be aware of any fees that may be associated with using foreign cards at ATMs, as these can vary depending on your bank and the ATM provider.


If you prefer to withdraw cash from a bank, London has a wide range of banking options available. Major banks such as Barclays, HSBC, and Lloyds have branches scattered throughout the city. You can visit a bank branch and use your debit card to withdraw cash from a teller.

Keep in mind that bank branches may have limited hours, so it’s a good idea to check their opening times before heading to the bank.

Currency Exchange Offices

If you need to exchange currency, there are numerous currency exchange offices in London. These offices offer the convenience of exchanging your money for British pounds without the need for a bank account.

However, it’s important to compare exchange rates and fees at different offices, as rates can vary. It’s also worth noting that some currency exchange offices may have a minimum or maximum amount that they will exchange.

It’s important to keep your safety in mind when obtaining cash in London. Be cautious when using ATMs, especially in busy tourist areas, as these can be targets for theft. Always cover your PIN when entering it, and be aware of your surroundings.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to notify your bank of your travel plans before leaving, so they don’t mistakenly flag your card for suspicious activity.

Tips for Using Cash Wisely in London

When traveling to London, it’s important to have a good understanding of how to use cash wisely. Here are some valuable tips to keep in mind:

Use ATMs With No Fees

One of the first things to consider is where to withdraw cash. London has numerous ATMs throughout the city, but some may charge hefty fees for withdrawals. To avoid this, it’s recommended to use ATMs that don’t charge additional fees. These can be found in major banks or at designated free ATMs.

It’s also a good idea to check with your own bank to see if they have any partnerships with banks in London, as this may allow you to withdraw cash without any fees.

Watch Out for Pickpockets

As with any major city, it’s important to be cautious of pickpockets when carrying cash. London is no exception. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas such as tourist attractions or public transportation.

Keep your cash in a secure location, such as a money belt or a hidden pocket. It’s also a good idea to avoid displaying large amounts of cash in public, as this may attract unwanted attention.

Carry a Mix of Denominations

Having a mix of different denominations can be beneficial when using cash in London. While most businesses and establishments accept cards, there may still be some places that only accept cash, especially smaller establishments or street vendors.

By having a mix of denominations, you can easily pay for small purchases or use exact change when needed. It’s also helpful to have smaller denominations for tipping or paying for public transportation, as some buses may not accept larger bills.

By following these tips, you can make the most of your cash in London and have a hassle-free experience during your visit.


London may be increasingly cashless, but carrying some cash as a backup can give peace of mind and allow you to access certain services. With contactless cards and mobile payments so convenient, you likely won’t need large amounts of cash daily.

But having options with both cash and card will make your London trip smooth and hassle-free.

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