Ahh London, one of my favourite cities in the world, it was Samuel Johnson who said that he who is tired of London is tired of life, it is somewhere I love to come but alas have put it off for the past few years because of a fear of cost. However we ventured back down south last month, and as we are on a budget to save for our RTW trip, discovered it’s not always as expensive as it appears!
Ok, so firstly let me say that we have been to London many times and pretty much done all there is to do, or so we thought before we headed back down this time (Sometimes the free or cheap things are the most overlooked). We have been in the ridiculously overprices attractions and in many ways unlike other cities such as Budapest there is no way of getting around the fact that these places are expensive, and a lot of them you will want to visit. I like to get a balance between those things you really have to do when you visit a place and also seeing the things that give a place it’s unique character and charm and often go overlooked.
If you are travelling on a budget you want to make the most of your money you need to spend it in the right places. So take this guide as a basis for a budget trip to London but I will not begrudge you a trip up the London eye or into the Tower of London too, and hopefully after this guide you will be able to afford those experiences and also see some other amazing things for hardly anything!!
Transport in London is a little on the expensive side but in London you get a good service and wide coverage for your money. You can get a travel card for a week which will cost you around £31 (Zone 1-2) which gives you unlimited travel on the Tube, Bus, DLR and Overground services and will most likely cover you for all the places you want to visit. We stayed in Zone 3 so had to pay a little more, you can also buy an Osyter and top it up as you go if you plan on using the tube more sparingly.
I would say that the transport in London is great and I love using the tube, but don’t be tempted to over use it, if you can try and walk between sights, though the parks and down the streets, this way you will experience and see so much more.
If you are travelling to London via train read my post “How to get cheap train tickets” here.
Accommodation & Food
This will either be your biggest outlay or your cheapest. This is all dependent on who you know but of course but this advice goes for visiting anywhere, if you know someone who lives there then get in touch and see if you can crash at their place.
Besides the obvious savings, I feel that the experience of staying with people to be so much more fun than being isolated in your hotel room, you will get to know more of the ins and outs of the place and probably save money too from the great insider tips. We ended up staying in Tooting Bec with some old friends which is a place we would probably never have visited and ended up being a fascinating insight into how London is behind the tourism, and also offered some great places to eat for much cheaper than central areas. You can also cook for yourself if you stay with someone which also saves a lot of money!
There are also some great hostels in London which are usually quite reasonably priced for London accommodation, as always with a hostel you will usually be surrounded by like minded people with which to exchange experiences, plans and tips… and also usually a kitchen and free WIFI!
Ok, so here we have it, what we are all here for, the seeing of the sights of glorious London. London has so much to do and see but much of that will cost many £s, and if you are American, that means an even bigger dent in your wallet! Somethings are worth doing, others only really need to be seen!!
The London Eye
I have in fact been on the London Eye and it was a pretty amazing experience and all things considered not too expensive. These type of things do mount up though and end up expensive, but if I had to chose any it would be this! Now I have been up I am happy to admire from the ground this impressive construction and pity those in the long queue in the summer heat (Get there early and pick a nice clear day). If you must go on it then I would recommend picking up one of the combination passes which allows you entry into other attractions such as the Dungeons/ Madame Tussaud’s/ sea life if those are things you were planning on visiting too. For me seeing it from the banks of the Thames was enough this time but I do actually think it is one of those things that you should really do!
Head to the top of One New Change shopping centre instead for free and enjoy great views of the city!
The London eye, or Millennium Wheel as it is also known is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe and was the tallest in the world upon it’s completion in 2000 and is one of Londons unmistakable landmarks.
Nearest Tube: Westminster/ Waterloo
Average Cost: £20-30
Houses of Parliament/ Big Ben
Big Ben is one of the most iconic buildings in the world, let alone the UK or London and walking across Westminster bridge and along the banks of the Thames to see this magnificent building is one of those things which just doesn’t get old. It is actually possible to go inside if you are a UK citizen and make arrangements with your MP beforehand, which is something that my dad did a few years ago.
Other than that is is all about admiring the view and taking in one of the most important buildings in Britain and a symbol of the country. The clock tower was built in 1858 and is the worlds third tallest free-standing clock tower. The name “Big Ben” is actually the nickname of the bell inside the clock and not the tower itself, which as of 2012 was re-named the Elizabeth Tower to celebrate Lizzy’s Diamond jubilee!
Nearest Tube: Westminster
Average Cost: FREE!
Westminster abbey is literally around the corner from the houses of parliament and is a building drenched in the history of London and the UK, but, it costs around £18 to get it, which personally I find a little ridiculous. We have visited many churches here and there, especially this year, and many of them in other countries either have a very low entrance fee or in fact just a suggested donation and so we couldn’t really justify this audacious entrance price. But it is of course worth taking a walk by after Big Ben and seeing this great building for yourself.
Nearest Tube: Westminster
Average Cost: £18/ FREE
St James Park and Buckingham Palace/ The Mall
Within walking distance of Westminster Abbey is St James park. This is actually where me and shorty got engaged back in 2007 so I may be a little bias here, but it is a lovely little park and is a great way to walk back from the Palace after taking the Mall on the way up and seeing a different view of the area. It’s also a great place to have a picnic, chill out and recharge the batteries before recommencing in some hardcore tourism!
Buckingham Palace is somewhere you can’t miss when you come to London. Whether you agree with the Royal family or not, there is no denying it’s history and status. You can actually visit the inside of the palace and it cost around £31 and lasts around 2.5 hours. As a child I came to London almost every year with my grandparents and have been inside the palace a few times. It is a cool thing to say you have done, but I wouldn’t say it is really an essential thing to do. You can catch the changing of the guard from the gates for free and during the summer months this happens everyday (check online before for your dates) and starts at 11:00am, and that is something worth catching!
Nearest Tube: Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, St James Park.
Average Cost: £20/30/ FREE
Piccadilly Circus/ Leicester Square
Piccadilly Circus is like the Times Square of London and is really one of those places you can just go to and experience rather than spend money, although there is still plenty to do but you will likely pay a premium for food and souvenirs here when you can get much better and cheaper elsewhere. Its nice to just sit and watch the world go by here, the crowds of diverse tourists and the flashing lights of the famous billboards make this a great stopping off point. From here you can also walk down to bustling Leicester square and see where the stars gather for blockbuster premieres!
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Average Cost: FREE
Camden town is the vibrant and alternative beating heart of London where you can find all sorts of weird and wacky items, arts, crafts and diverse and authentic street food. If you want a souvenir or two you will also be able to pick them up on the market stalls around here much cheaper than in the main tourist centres. A visit to Camden is as expensive or as cheap as you like, just wandering around the endless maze of stalls and markets is an experience in itself, but it’s also a great place to pick up a unique bargain!
Nearest Tube: Camden Town
Average Cost: FREE
Other cool markets include Maltby Street Market and St. Cristopher’s place
St Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s again one of those sights which you can easily see from the outside without paying the £16.50 entrance fee which I feel is a little steep, and again can build up quite a bit if you pay to get in a few of these places similarly priced. The building is magnificent and is well worth a stop off whilst exploring the city and can be walked to either on your way to or from the Millennium bridge. The famous Cathedral designed by sir Christopher Wren is one of the most iconic sights of London with its dome and spires.
Nearest Tube: St Pauls
Average Cost: £16.50/ FREE
The Millennium Bridge is just a short walk towards the river from St. Pauls and has become one of the modern landmarks of the city and was even spotted in the recent film “Guardian Of the Galaxy” presumably because of its space age design. Nicknamed the “Wobbly Bridge” after it began swaying not long after opening this span offers some amazing views down the river of the City of London and also back across to St. Pauls.
Nearest Tube: Blackfriars/ Mansion House.
Average Cost: FREE
As with many things in London, Tower bridge is an iconic structure and is no less impressive in the flesh. Taking a walk across the bridge is a great way to see not only the details on this 120 year old bridge but also for some great views down the river too. One of the things I love to do is sit at the side of the river a while and wait for a while to see the bridge in action, opening up to let taller boats and ships through (You can see scheduled times on the official website). It is also possible to visit the inside of the bridge and up onto the upper walkway which isn’t actually that expensive either.
Nearest Tube: Tower Hill
Average Cost: £9/ FREE
Strangely not many people know that the monument actually refers to a real monument! But it is in fact a fluted column, designed again by Sir Christopher Wren, to commemorate the great fire of London and standing 202 ft from the spot where the Great Fire started on 2 September 1666. Constructed between 1671 and 1677, it is the tallest isolated stone column in the United Kingdom at 202 ft tall. What is cool about this is not only is it important historically, but you can visit the top for one of the best views of London, as well as one of the cheapest. Not only that but the experience is so much more unique than the skyscrapers, being reached by a narrow winding staircase of 311 steps, the top is a tight squeeze covered in mesh after a spate of suicides in the 18th and 19th century’s.Nearest Tube: Tower Hill
Average Cost: £4
Average Cost: £4
Or… Still wanting to go up to the top of the Shard but don’t want to pay ridiculous prices? Go to one of the bars “Aqua” and “Oblix” pay £8 for a drink and enjoy pretty much the same view!
Museums and Galleries
London is full of museums and galleries to visit, you could spend days going around each one of them, and good news for us is that the majority of them are free! Most of the main museums are also located close by each other in South Kensington such as the V&A, Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. The British Museum is also a great place to start holding a vast collection of a whole range of objects and artifacts from Mummys to the Rosetta Stone! The National Gallery and the Tate Modern are also great places to start for art fans offering up a diverse and intriguing range of works. The imperial war museum is also worth a mention and offers a sobering perspective on conflicts and their impact.
V&A, Natural History, Science Museum: Nearest Tube: South Kensington
British Museum: Nearest Tube: Holborn, Tottenham Court Road
The National Gallery: Nearest Tube: Charing Cross
Tate Modern: Nearest Tube: Southwark, London Blackfriars
Imperial War Museum: Nearest Tube: Lambeth North
Greenwich / Cutty Sark
Both Greenwich and the Cutty Sark are within walking distance of each other, although, Greenwich Observatory is up quite a steep hill so bear that in mind! Both the Cutty Sark and the Observatory have FREE attractions to visit but the main areas are all paid for.
The Cutty Sark is one of the most famous ships in the world, being one of the last and fastest tea clippers built she saw the end of this design of ships as steam engines took over. She is one of only three remaining original composite construction clipper ships from the nineteenth century and having travelled all over the globe is finally docked in London as a museum. I found that seeing the ship from the outside was good enough for us as the entrance price is a little steep.
Greenwich observatory, which played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation and is where Greenwich Mean Time begins is a great place to visit. Unfortunately we arrived 2 minutes after the building itself had closed but were still able to view the Meridian Line from a section outside of the gates. Not only is there a lot of history up here but it is also one of the best places to view London from, offering panoramic views of the city from the hill within Greenwich park. It costs around £10 to get into the observatory but there is plenty to see around here for free too.
Nearest Tube: Cutty Sark
Average Cost: £12/ £10/ FREE
So there you have it. I hope you have a great time in London, any suggestions for free or budget things to do please feel free to comment/ report back!!
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Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.