5 years, 10 months ago
People visit London for many different reasons, but few flock here because it’s known as a cheap city break. In fact, London alienates many thanks to a reputation of being an expensive place to visit. This post should hopefully help to bust that malicious myth and take the pressure off your bank balance with a swathe of fun things to do in London on the cheap.
Get around for under £10.00
The best way to travel across all of London’s five transport zones quickly and flexibly – choosing from buses, trains and the Underground – is with a daily Travelcard, the price of which is £8.50 if you travel during off peak hours (after 9.30am). Buy one at any London train or tube station.
Total cost for a day’s transport: £8.50
Ride Shanks’ pony
Despite its size and sprawl, London is a very walking-friendly city with so much to see in short stretches of space. There are also some hidden gems worth discovering on foot like the Regent’s Canal, which includes the quaint Little Venice enclave of waterways. Of course, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park are free to walk through but don’t overlook other interesting parks. St James’ Park is a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace and is where you’ll find formidable pelicans. Holland Park is home to the Kyoto Park Japanese Garden, made more interesting by the peacocks found wandering around and the North London green spaces of Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and the park surrounding Alexandra Palace offer the best views of the city. And, for a park with a very different feel to it, there’s Postman’s Park, a tiny square tucked away in the City of London, where a collection of memorial plaques tell the stories of some of London’s real-life heroes (as recommended by one of our London Hosts).
However, don’t knock the idea of a walking tour if you like to be led. Street Art London Tours are led by young artists and street art connoisseurs who have watched the East London graffiti scene evolve into something the city is famous for. The cost for a four hour tour is £12.00. Alternatively you can see London from a very different viewpoint on an Unseen Tour, an expedition into one of four corners of central London, led by homeless or formerly homeless Londoners showing you what life on the streets of London is really like for just £7.00.
Total cost for all the walks above: £19.00
Eat, eat, eat!
You’re going to need some calories to keep you going with all that walking, and sustenance doesn’t have to mean a lot of cash. When you’re peckish, head to Brixton Village, an indoor arcade that is an extension of the famous Brixton Market. As well as housing a bunch of market stalls, it’s host to a wide range of late night cafes and restaurants including the crazily popular Honest Burgers (priced between £8 – £10). Alternatively if you’re north of the river, head to Chapel Market where you’ll find Delhi Grill, which serves delicious Indian food inside a modern restaurant at a very tasty price (£3.00 – £9.00 per dish). And if you’d like some famously British fish and chips, head west to Kerbisher & Malt in Brook Green, winner of Esquire’s best contemporary fish & chip shop in Britain, where you can eat for under £8.00.
credit: The Chin Chin Laborists
Make sure you leave room for desert and allow Chin Chin Labs in Camden to impress and educate with their ice cream made with liquid nitrogen by folk in white coats (cost around £4.00). And if you want to have a very British afternoon tea without the hefty cost of a 5-star hotel, head up to Tate Modern’s restaurant on the sixth floor, which lets you have afternoon tea for just under £15.00. Alternatively choose to have just a cup of tea and a scone for £4.75. You don’t have to pay extra for the spectacular view across the Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral. Still hungry? Well, don’t forget London is home to some great food markets.
Approximate total for three of the above meals: £30.00
Visit some interesting places
With over 100 free museums and galleries to choose from, why would you pay to visit one? Well, some of the more unusual and interesting museums are worth their small entry fee. In addition to all these wonderfully weird museums, you can visit Pollock’s Toy Museum (£6.00) near Goodge Street, home to hundreds of toys from the last few centuries; the Freud Museum near Finchley Road is a shrine to the work of Sigmund Freud and his family who used to live there (£6.00); and for something a bit different go to the Garden Museum in a stunning old church in Lambeth (£7.50) to surprise yourself with how historically green London has been. If you’re interested in London’s architecture but are craving something a bit different, have a mosey around Sir John Soanes Museum (free admission), the home of the neo-classical architect at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields – the largest public square in London – who made his home an “Academy of Architecture” before he died in 1837. Alternatively, pop inside one of London’s first modernist houses at 2 Willow Terrace (£6.00 for a tour), the former home of Ernö Goldfinger, a Hungarian architect who made his mark on London by designing many of the city’s most famous tower blocks, including the famous love-it-or-hate-it Trellick Tower in North Kensington.
You could also visit an often overlooked hub of activity for the whole family by spending a day at the Barbican, another complex of buildings famous for its modernist architecture. Here you can get an architecture tour (£10.50) or enjoy a child-friendly seasonal festival or exhibition (free) or on Sundays you can go inside the Conservatory, a tropical oasis complete with a waterfall and jungle sized plants (free).
Average cost for visits to two of the three above places: £14.40
Go for a few drinks and some more fun
While many will know that daytime activities in London can be very cheap – thanks to its myriad free museums and art galleries – it’s late night London that most people worry about. But relax, there are some great nights out on offer starting with a pint in a famous London pub. Aside from the so-old-it’s-part-of-it’s-name Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese near Chancery Lane and the famous Writers Bar in Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street – a one-time watering hole for Dylan Thomas and George Orwell – there is The Mayflower on the Thames Path in Rotherhithe, a 15th century pub that boasts some of Dickens’ handwriting on the wall, and The White Hart on Drury Lane, where Dick Turpin reportedly used to quench his thirst. If you’re more interested in a view without a swanky sky-bar price tag, head up to The Heights, a modern bar on the fifteenth floor of St George’s Hotel next door to British Broadcasting House where you will find amazing views of London. (A pint in these pubs will cost £3.00 – £5.00 depending on what you choose).
If simply sipping your drink in a cosy pub is not entertaining enough, then try Bounce at Holborn Circus, a huge underground bar/restaurant/club with 17 ping-pong tables, including one from the London 2012 Olympic Games. Serving up decent pizza and more fun than is expected from a bat and ball, this is £13.00 well spent for 30 minutes of ping-pong for as many people as you like. Alternatively if you were after an evening of live music then consider Jamboree in Limehouse, a venue that prides itself on welcoming up and coming artists with an entry fee of less than £5.00. Try and get there for their regular Monday night line up of East London’s best buskers (entry £4.00).
Approximate cost for a couple of pints, some ping-pong or some live music: £18.00
That makes the total cost for two days of getting around sight-seeing, eating and drinking in London a respectable £98.40, though you could easily spread this itinerary over a longer time. Have you ever visited London on a budget? What other cheap activities did you enjoy?
Featured image by Jacob Surland.