Good old London town. It’s a city with history crammed in every crevice: iconic buildings centuries old, cobbled streets, the scene of protest and change and culture and art. There’s just one problem: it’s also a place where merely glancing in the window of a shop is liable to burn a hole in your pocket. However, it is possible to keep costs down. You just need to know where to go, and where you’re better off avoiding.
1. Most of the culture is free
One of the great things about London is how many of its greatest assets don’t cost anything. The Natural History Museum, the National Gallery, the Science Museum, and the Tate Modern art gallery are all sites worthy of several hours browsing time, and all of the main exhibitions are free.
2. The most iconic spots are walkable
London’s skyline is dotted with famous sights: the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London, among many others. Tours of these places cost a lot, but walking among them is completely free and very doable. Stroll along Southbank to view the city across the Thames, then cross the river to wander past 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace all within a few kilometers. Check out Walk London for an idea of good walking routes.
For views of the city from above, forget paying for a trip up the Shard – you can head up the hill in Greenwich park and get a panoramic view of London from in front of the Royal Observatory for free!
3. Wander through London’s most vibrant areas
Some of London’s most celebrated attractions are its markets – and visiting is free, if you can just resist the temptation to buy everything you see. Borough Market and Spitalfields market are great for food from around the world (and it’s easy to wangle a free sample or ten), while Camden Market and Portobello Road are icons of London in themselves, selling everything from futuristic clothing to antique crockery.
If markets aren’t your thing, though, there are plenty of areas that are worth a wander round. Notting Hill (yep, like the film) is beautiful, Little Venice is lovely, and you can easily get a whole day’s entertainment wandering around Covent Garden, where street performers and buskers set up to amuse the tourists (donations optional). Any of London’s parks are also worth a picnic stop – St James’s, Morden Hall, and Hyde Park, to name just a few.
4. Transport is a cost that can be worked around
Getting the tube is a fun way to get from place to place in London, but the cost of it can quickly mount up. Use contactless payment (yep, just your ordinary debit or credit card) to get the cheapest prices – rather than buying a day travel card – but if you can, get the bus. Buses in London are £1.50 for any journey, and if you make a second journey within an hour of first getting on, there’s no extra charge.
5. Entertainment is a big draw, but don’t bother paying full price
The West End is a great day out for tourists and Londoners alike, but it’s incredibly expensive if you buy on the day, direct from the theatre. Instead, head to Leicester Square and visit the TKTS stand, to see what shows are offering discounts in the next few days, and it’ll be way cheaper. Or even better, check out local playhouses like Stockwell Theatre, which put on five star amateur dramatics plays, at less than half the price you’d pay for the bigger venue names.
Equally, while venues like the 02 arena host big names in music, smaller venues have free live music, and you just might get to listen to the next big thing while you sip your pint. Try Village Underground in Shoreditch, or The Garage in Islington.
6. Be smart about when and where you eat
Eating out in London can be pretty pricey, but if you know where to look there are still some awesome cheap eats.
In general, heading out of central London is the best bet. Go south to Tooting to find incredible Indian food on every street corner, east to Brick Lane for a taste of award-winning Bangladeshi cuisine, or check out Chinatown for, well, some great Chinese food.
If this doesn’t give you enough options, there are a couple of apps than can help you in your quest for delicious budget food. Try Too Good to Go, an anti-food waste app that advertises when places are selling off their last bites of the day for super-cheap, or Tastecard which gives two-for-one deals on loads of different restaurants.