Broke in London? 8 ways to see the city on a budget
January 1, 1970
by Lynsey Free
It’s no secret that London is a hugely expensive place to visit, consistently ranking as one of the world’s priciest cities. However, traveling on a budget in the British capital is entirely possible; it just takes planning and creativity. Here are eight ways to enjoy the city on the cheap.
Visit some of the best museums in the world
From modern art to British history, London’s museums offer something for every taste – and most of them are free. The government abolished admission fees to most museums in 2001, in an effort to make the city’s cultural attractions accessible to everyone. Since then, tourists have been pouring into London’s museums in droves.
Top tip: The National Gallery is a must-see for art lovers, while the Science Museum is great for technology buffs. The Museum of Childhood is a trip down memory lane, showcasing popular toys from the 1600s to present day.
Enjoy a panoramic view from Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill is one of the richest neighborhoods in London, and home to many celebrities. But the biggest appeal of the area is the view from the park, which is entirely free. Climb up the hill and be rewarded with a panoramic landscape unmatched by any other place in the city. The London Eye, the Shard, and the Houses of Parliament can all be seen from the top.
Top tip: When you’re finished admiring London, wander down the picturesque Regent’s Park Road and join up with Regent’s Canal for a lovely waterside walk to Camden, a vibrant neighborhood which is home to the city’s more alternative crowd. The walk takes about 10 minutes and offers beautiful photo opportunities.
Eat huge portions of food for tiny prices
The outdoor food market at Camden Lock is a great way to enjoy delicious cuisine on the cheap. Street food from almost every country is offered, and the atmosphere is incredibly lively. Competition is fierce for vendors, so don’t be surprised if they try to lure you in with free samples. The portions are generous, and will set you back just a few pounds.
Top tip: Many of the stalls start discounting their food at about 4 p.m., so arriving for a late lunch is the most economical tactic.
Follow in the footsteps of the Beatles
When the Beatles used the famous Abbey Road crossing as the cover for their final album, they likely had no idea just how popular it would become. Tourists from across the world now travel to that same stretch of road, snapping photos in the same style as the famous band. Right beside the crossing is Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles recorded almost all of their albums and singles. The wall outside the studio is entertaining, covered with messages from adoring fans.
Top tip: Once you’ve finished touring Abbey Road, head over to St. John’s Wood Church Grounds, a peaceful and beautifully manicured park. History buffs can wander through the disused graveyard, which was established in 1814.
See a classic film in a vintage cinema
Located near Leicester Square, the Prince Charles Cinema is the answer to London’s outrageously priced chain theaters. This unique spot has become an institution in the British capital, beginning as a theater for live performances and evolving into a porn cinema before becoming what it is today. It screens everything from silent films to new-ish blockbusters, and hosts sing-a-longs for movies such as Grease and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Don’t worry about smuggling in food and drink; beer, wine, and other concessions are sold at the bar for perfectly reasonable prices.
Top tip: The cinema has two screens, one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs auditorium is charming, with traditional red velvet seating and old-fashioned curtains.
Explore East London’s colorful street art
Shoreditch has emerged as the creative heart of the city in recent years, largely due to its art-lined walls and buildings. Whether you’re after a funky street sculpture or a piece from the notorious Banksy, a wander around this neighborhood will be a feast for the eyes. Allow yourself to get lost in the beauty – just don’t forget your camera.
Top tip: Although numerous street art tours are offered at budget prices, maps and information on the area’s street art can easily be found online. The website ldngraffiti.co.uk has an alphabetical directory of artists.
Visit the zoo at Golders Hill Park
A trip to the London Zoo can be a great day out, but it doesn’t come cheap. There is, however, a free alternative for those in search of the city’s furriest residents. The zoo at Golders Hill Park offers a growing range of mammals and birds, including laughing kookaburras and ring-tailed lemurs. There’s also a butterfly house on site. The grounds of the park are gorgeously maintained, and offer a perfect setting for a picnic. Top it all off with a game of croquet or table tennis.
Top tip: Golders Green, home to a large Orthodox Jewish population, is renowned for its bagels and salt beef – both of which can easily be wrapped in a takeaway container for a picnic at the park. Sami’s is a favorite for salt beef, while Carmelli Bakery is known for its bagels and pastries.
See top talent at a rock-bottom price
The West End is home to some of the best talent in the world, and seeing them in a live performance needn’t be costly. Most shows offer on-the-day discounts at the box office, sometimes offering a limited number of tickets for as low as £10. Others theatres host a lottery each day, where great seats are offered for extremely low prices just a couple hours before showtime. Each theatre has its own policy, so be sure to check out the websites of the shows you’re interested in beforehand.
Top tip: If you want to make an evening of it, many restaurants in the West End offer great deals through set pre-theatre menus. Theatre and meal packages are sold through several sites, the most popular of which is lastminute.com.
What are you waiting for?
Despite London’s high costs, there are plenty of budget-friendly ways to enjoy the UK capital. From beautiful green spaces to internationally renowned museums, the city’s offerings and attractions don’t all require you to break the bank to have a good time.