Lovely London isn’t the cheapest city you could choose for a city break (in fact it was recently found to be one of the most expensive) – but it’s London. Like New York and Paris it’s just one of those cities where you just need to accept that it’ll be a pricey one, but worth every penny. That said, there are some amazing free and cheap things that you can do, see and eat there. Here are ten particularly good things to do in London on a budget.
When I was a child I was only allowed Cornflakes or Rice Krispies, with the ‘good’ cereal banned except for special occasions. Maybe that’s why the Cereal Killer Café appeals to me so much; it’s quite literally like all my Christmases have come at once. It’s a bit daft and it’s very nostalgic, and you can get a big bowl of cereal with flavoured milk and toppings from £4-£6. This might seem like a lot to pay for a bowl of cereal, but really – where/when else are you going to do it? Get a cereal cocktail if you’re feeling adventurous, and always go the whole hog with a stacked hot chocolate too; they’re frankly ludicrous (in the best possible way). Enjoy your sugar rush.
Always a perfect way to get your bearings in a new place and best of all, totally free, walking city tours have taken over cities all over the world and London is no exception. Free Tours By Foot do some really nice tours, and they have a brilliant choice of different kinds of London walking tour you can take, from the classic city tour to my own personal favourite, the street art and graffiti tour. As with all ‘free’ tours, the idea is that you pay what you can afford and what you thought it was worth. Be nice.
The Changing of the Guard ceremony is a weird and wonderful spectacle that’s about as traditionally British a thing as you could possibly experience. For visitors looking for cheap entertainment, it's one of the must do things in London a budget. You know the one, big black hats, bright red coats and absolutely no smiles whatsoever? The Buckingham Palace Guard Mounting lasts for about 45 minutes and happens at 11:30, but it doesn’t happen every day all year round. If you’re not visiting in summer, you can check the schedule here. Don’t forget your camera for this one.
Borough Market is London’s food heaven. It’s not just about the food there though, it’s a proper little slice of London life. The people, the atmosphere, the buskers – all of it makes Borough Market a thoroughly lovely place to wander around. If you’re the sort of person who likes to get chatting to new people you’ll be in your element. If you get peckish, follow your nose (and the sweet smell of freshly baked things) to the Bread Ahead stall for a doughnut; they’re only £2.50 each, and my word are they good. The caramel with salted honeycomb is top class. Enjoy another sugar rush.
The British Museum is big. You could easily spend a whole day here wandering around (oh, wear comfortable shoes by the way) so if you don’t have that time to spend, my advice is to do a bit of research first, and plan to visit the bits that really interest you the most. If you visit the website there’s good information for seeing the best stuff within a three hour visit. The ancient Egyptian pieces are very, very cool – but they’re also really popular, so prepare for crowds. Totally worth it, though.
The UK is the 5th biggest tea drinking nation in the world, and Twinings is one of the UK’s most famous tea brands. Their tea shop, ‘216 Strand’, has been selling tea for over 300 years, and you can go there and sample their gorgeous teas while learning a little more about the history of tea in Britain. There’s no obligation to buy anything, but why wouldn’t you want a delicious, comforting little souvenir to take home with you – you’ll get plenty for a tenner. Their Earl Grey is tough to beat.
London’s park game is very strong indeed, with loads of big green spaces around the place where you can go to lie about in the sun, relax, do a little boating, hire a bike, play football, and/or escape from London’s madding crowds. St. James Park and Hyde Park are two obvious and great choices, but if you want to go a little wilder, head out to Bushy Park or Richmond Park, and go hang out with the bellowing deer, the herons and the kingfisher. Careful in mating/rutting season though, the deer can get a little rambunctious.
Yet another free museum in London, the RAF Museum has a great collection of over 100 aircraft on display, as well as loads of information about the history and heroes of the Royal Air Force over the years. You can see Spitfires, Tiger Moths, a Vulcan bomber, and an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet among other things, and don’t miss the new ‘WWi in the Air’ exhibition. There are two very cool flight simulators that cost £3 to try, and a 4D cinema that costs £4. Have a go on all three for your tenner.
There’s a place on Brick Lane called Beigel Bake. Beigel Bake has been making beautiful bagels since 1977, and it’s become a bona fide London institution. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it serves up some seven thousand bagels every day. It’s every bit as popular with the business lunch crowd as it is with the 4am booze-hunger crowd because, quite simply, it makes amazing salt-beef sandwiches. The beef is cooked as perfectly as the bread is baked, and put together with a smear of mustard and a pickle it’s pretty much sandwich nirvana. And it’s yours for between £3.70-4.20. I’d usually say ‘get two’ but these are really filling. If you’re in London on a budget, you can’t do better.
London’s Natural History Museum houses a superb collection with hundreds of excellently curated and interactive exhibitions… and it’s totally free to visit. If you’re a fan of dinosaurs, or if you’re the parent of one (a fan, not a dinosaur), then you genuinely couldn’t pick a better place to go – the Dinosaur Gallery is brilliant, with a roaring T Rex, a Triceratops skull, and loads of information about ow the dinosaurs lived, and died, here on earth. Don’t miss the blue whale model in the mammal room either!
And that's how you can visit the English capital without spending a fortune, just follow our guide of great things to do in London on a budget.
Flights to London
- Dee Murray