“London is so expensive! There is no way you can go there and have a cheap holiday!” This is something that I hear a lot of people say, and I think it is time for people to realise that this does not have to be the case. In this article I will give you various tips on how to have an awesome stay in London, without having to spend loads of money.
The whole concept of flying with budget airlines is something that has become more and more populair over the past few years. The service usually isn’t great (at least that is my experience) but since you don’t pay a lot for your ticket, you probably won’t mind.
When looking for a hotel, hostel or guesthouse, a lot of people want to be close to the city, for a low amount of money. In London, this is pretty much impossible. Instead, why not look for a place that is a bit further away and take the Tube to the city centre? The London Underground is an incredibly fast system that can bring you from one side of the city to the other side, in less than 30 minutes (depending on where you are staying of course). By booking a hotel away from the centre, you can save a lot of money that you can spend on other things. Of course you will need to buy tickets to use the Tube, but if you calculate the traveling costs and compare it to the extra money you would pay for a hotel downtown, you will see that the first option usually is cheaper.
When traveling in London, I can recommend to buy an “Oyster card”. This is a card that allows you to put money on it and you will pay as you go. This is cheaper than buying day tickets for the tube and the Oyster card also allows you to travel on the bus, train and selected boat services. The Oyster card is available through several retailers in London, but you can also order it in advance from http://www.visitbritain.com. You can even order one with the money on it already, so it is ready to go, as soon as you arrive in London!
Free things to do in London
Free you say? Yes, free. I have come up with 3 awesome things that you can do, without spending money.
Museums & galleries
One of the things that amazed me most when I first went to London, was the fact that a lot of the museums are FREE. Here in the Netherlands you pay a small fortune to get the chance to see some art, in London you just walk in and check it out. You do have to buy tickets to view special, often temporary exhibitions, but the general collection is free for everyone. It is custom to give a small donation, which is something I always do, but if you don’t want to spend money, you don’t have to.
There are a few museums that I visited myself and that I can recommend to everyone.
Victoria and Albert museum: A HUGE museum filled with all types of art; photography, paintings, fashion, metal works, porcelain and so much more. You can spend an entire day here and not get bored. The V&A also has a lovely resatuarant (although a bit on the expensive side) and an inner garden where you can enjoy the weather and view the wonderful architecture of the building itself.
National Gallery/National portrait gallery: Situated next to Trafalgar Square, the location is perfect and the museum is easy to find. The National Gallery has a lot of paintings on display from bot well known and lesser known artists. The National Portrait Gallery focuses, as the name suggests, mostly on portraits. Both painting and photograhy, the works shown here as just marvelous. Ranging from Tudor England to modern times, there is a lot to see. The temporary exhibitions are also worth the money!
If you are not that much a fan of art, I can recommend “The Natural History Museum”. I have only visited once, but I loved it! Filled with exhibitions about dinosaurs, earthquakes, mammels, stones and basically everything that has to do with nature. It’s very educational and especially fun for kids.
*The V&A and The Natural History Museum are located right next to each other, so if you feel that you are short on time, you can see a bit of both in one day!
Markets are a great way of seeing things without having to spend lots of money. If you do have money to spend, you can splurge on lovely handmade or second hand goodies, if you don’t, you can still have a fun day out. London has a lot of markets, each one offering something special.
Camden: Camden Town/Camden Lock Market is a walhalla for people who love Rock ‘n Roll, gothic culture and the alternative scene. With hundreds of stalls selling clothing, jewelry and accessoires, focused mainly on the things stated before. Even if you don’t “belong” to the alternative scene, there is so much to see. People with piercings, huge mohawks and other funky hairstyles & a unique clothing style. Camden is the place to go for a great round of “people spotting”. Do make sure that you have their permission before snapping a photo, because some people might not like it if you take a shot without asking them first.
Also: Avoid Camden during the weekend. The place is super crowded and it will ruin your experience, so go there on a weekday if you can.
Spitalfields market: Spitalfields has 2 markets; One for handmade goodies and a flea market selling antiques and second hand items.
The first one is great for inspiration, but it is also an expensive one. Nontheless, it is great for browsing and seeing the creativity of all kinds of people.
The Spitalfields flea market is brilliant for finding unique items at a low price. Make sure you haggle about the price, because that is part of the experience. Also, why pay the full price when you can get something for less?
Walk around the city
In a city where modern architecture meets the classic style, where people from all kinds of backgrounds mix and where there is something to see on every streetcorner, why not walk around and enjoy all those sights? London has many famous landmarks (Picadilly circus, Oxford circus and the Big Ben for example) that you can visit and experience by just looking at them.
There are various travelguides and websites that offer interesting walks around the city, whether you are looking for Shakespearean London, London from the Tudor times or Modern London, if you do a bit of reasearch you for sure will find an interesting route to walk.
And even without research, just go as you please and I am sure you will be inspired by the sights you see and the people you cross.
I hope this article gave you some insight and tips on how to have a wonderful time in London, without ending up completely broke upon your return. For the first time visitors: I hope you will grow to love this city as much as I do!
For the people who have been to London before: What was your favourite thing to see? Do you have any tips on cheap things to do in London? Let me know in the comments!