Okay we’re probably biased because London is our home (when we’re not travelling) but we love the city. It’s one of most historically proud cities on the planet and has an eclectic mix of different cultures and powerful music, art and design scenes. Sometimes elegant, sometimes a little rough around the edges but with many pockets of true originality and English eccentricity – London doesn’t tend to disappoint its annual supply of millions of visitors. One thing it isn’t though is cheap, sadly London is one of the most expensive cities in the world – only lagging behind cities like Tokyo and Paris in the big money stakes. Although it can be a cheap date if you know what you’re doing. Here’s our tips of where to head to if you’re staying in London, without blowing all your budget in one go….
Budget Days Out
You may or may not realise that London actually has some ‘big-ticket’ attractions that are actually free. The sprawling British Museum on Great Russell Street is a prime example; hundreds of galleries of artefacts from around the world, including the controversial Elgin Marbles, ancient Egyptian mummies and the iconic Rosetta Stone. Also give the Sir John Soane’s Museum a try, the former home of the neo-classical architect is now home to an assembled collection of interesting drawings and antiquities. For something a little quirkier try the Hunterian Museum which showcases a pretty macabre collection of anatomical and zoological specimens, although be warned this one should only be chanced if you’re strong of stomach (Becky nearly passed out)!
Of course visiting Art lovers will always be well catered for especially with the Tate Britain and Tate Modern galleries both offering free admission to be exhibitions and of course, the vast National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
If you’re blessed with a dry or even a sunny day then just enjoy the city for what it is. Talk a leisurely walk around colourful eclectic markets like Portobello, Spitalfields or Greenwich and soak up the atmosphere. Take a picnic in one of the city’s beautiful green spaces (Holland Park, Regents Park or Hyde Park are some of the best). London’s parks are always bustling, so look out for guided walks, pop-up cinemas and free concerts, all year round. Also make sure you include a scenic stroll along South Bank and take in the Royal Festival Hall, watch the skaters in the skateboard park below, and browse for second-hand books at the Book Market under Waterloo Bridge.
Eating out can be a quick way to burn through your holiday money, in any big city, and London is no exception. Look hard enough and you’ll find some real gems in this capital city. The iconic Beigel Bake on Brick Lane has become something of an institution, and its store-baked bagels are served 24 hours a day to hoards of hungry Londoners. With prices starting at around £2 for a smoked salmon bagel, it’s easy to see why this is a popular spot. Don’t be put off by the queue, it’ll move quickly!
Another London foodie landmark is the Italiano Coffee Company, or ICCO, on Goodge Street in the heart of Soho. ICCO offers delicious 11” pizzas from as little as £3.95. It can be noisy, and no-frills, but it’s tasty; if you can find a seat, sit and watch London’s trendy media-types go by.
London’s nightlife is world-renowned, but of course it comes at a price. There are, however plenty of ways to have a good night out without breaking the bank! The South Bank’s National Theatre runs an annual Travelex-sponsored scheme, where 95,000 tickets are made available at the very reasonable price of £12. The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square offers £10 tickets on Mondays – just head to their website at 9am and book for that day’s performance.
For under £10 you could join a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour (leaving from Tower Hill Tube station every night at 7pm), or head to the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square for late afternoon screenings at a very reasonable £8 for non-members and £4 for members.
Those looking for a cheap drink will find plenty of great bars with happy hours in London. Check out Slim Jim’s Liquor Store on Upper Street, near Angel Tube. A down and dirty style American dive bar with a rock n’ roll vibe, Slim Jim’s happy hour lasts from 5-8pm (except Saturdays), and ladies who hand over their bra to be pinned to the ceiling will be treated to a free drink! The Drunken Monkey in Shoreditch runs an infamous happy hour from 5-7pm on weekdays and 12-8pm on Saturday – with cocktails under £5 and a great range of Dim Sum to keep you well fed.
Where to Stay
London is filled with beautiful and interesting hotels although sadly most of these are out of the budget range of the average traveller. If you’re planning on staying for more than a couple of nights it’s probably best to avoid the budget bed and breakfasts as the standards vary considerably. Hostels are are often a good option for individual backpackers (check out the Best London hostels website) and for families, Home from Home offer some excellent self catering apartment options.