Visiting London on a budget

Whether you’ve visited London dozens of times before or you’re planning your first trip there, it’s undeniable that the city can be quite an expensive destination. From eating out to paying for entry into magnificent monuments, the costs can all add up.

As a former resident and now a frequent visitor to the city, I thought I’d share five free or super cheap ways to make the most its delights without spending an absolute fortune.


1. Go up the Sky Garden

This is my absolute top-tip when planning a visit to London! While the world-famous Shard offers up panoramic cityscape views, it’s also quite pricey at £32 for a ticket. The Sky Garden at the top of the so called ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building on Fenchurch Street is a much better alternative as you get the same amazing views for literally nothing.

All you have to do is book a free time slot in advance on the Sky Garden website and then turn up just before your allotted time. Slots go fast, though, and they’re released online every two weeks so make sure you book at least nine days in advance of when you want to visit.


Interiors and view from the Sky Garden


2. Skip the Thames riverboat tour and simply take the TFL ferry

Keen to see London’s most iconic attractions from the river? Instead of shelling out for one of those riverboat tours, all you need to do is get on one of the TFL-run ferries that travels up and down the river all day long.

Tickets cost around £5 and you can use your contactless card or Oyster just like you would on the tube or bus. Depending on the route, they tend to run at least every half an hour, plus they go all the way up to Greenwich if you fancy a walk around the park or Naval College grounds.


The pretty streets and pubs of Greenwich that can be reached on the ferry


3. Visit a whole host of free galleries and museums

Unlike a lot of big cities around the globe, the majority of London’s museums and art galleries are free to visit. Check out some modern art at the Tate, learn about the city’s genesis at the Museum of London or discover facts about the world at the Natural History Museum.

Occasionally, you’ll have to pay a small supplement to enter certain temporary exhibits but the rest of the art, artefacts and knowledge is complimentary. 

4. Travel into the city by train for 2 for 1 attraction tickets

If you’re arriving in London by train, make the most of the rail network’s 2 for 1 deals on hundreds of London attractions. Seeing sublime sights like the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace or Kew Gardens close up can be expensive if you’re travelling in a group but this deal cuts the cost in half.

There’s also 2 for 1 deals on things like restaurants and theatre tickets if historic palaces aren’t your thing. All you have to do is browse which place you want to visit on the Days Out Guide website and then download and print off the relevant voucher. You’ll need to keep hold of your rail ticket too to gain admission into your chosen attraction. 


Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast – both included in the 2 for 1 attractions


5. Wander around one of city’s many markets

London is jam-packed with great markets, many of which detail the city’s long and fascinating history. They’re a great way to soak up the hustle and bustle of the capital while spending as little or as much money as you like.

Take a wander through the tempting stalls and cafes of Borough Market — one of the oldest food markets in the capital — or head to covered Leadenhall Market to view its ornate Victorian facades (although note the shops are all closed on weekends).

Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is the place to go for antiques (it’s the largest outdoor antiques market on the planet!), while picturesque Columbia Road Flower Market in Bethnal Green — located on what was once the city’s most notorious Victorian slum — sells dozens of varieties of fresh flowers and plants on Sundays.


The incredible Leadenhall Market


Bonus tip: Go to Pizza Union for food

If you’re arriving or leaving the city from Euston or Kings Cross station (or simply staying in that area), Pizza Union is a must for cheap yet delicious pizza. The wood-fired pizzas start at less than £4, plus there’s a range of toppings to suit meat eaters, veggies and vegans.

They also serve up cheap cocktails (and bottles of prosecco for just £16 which is a real bargain in London!). Don’t forget dessert, either  — there’s tasty gelato (the pistachio one is sublime) as well as pudding calzones stuffed with mascarpone and Nutella.


Let me know if you have any other great budget tips for London in the comments below!


A long weekend in Budapest

I usually prefer to head to cities in the winter and beachy destinations when it’s warm, which is why I opted to visit Budapest in the middle of December. Thankfully, it’s a city with much to offer during this chillier time, from the heart-warming wintery food to the thermal baths Budapest is famed for.

With affordable flights and a journey time of under four hours, it’s definitely possible to experience Budapest in just a couple of days. That’s what I did, and here is my (hopefully!) useful guide to visiting Hungary’s handsome capital.

First of all, what’s there to see in Budapest?

There’s innumerable things to see and do in this beautiful city. As mine was just a short trip, we picked out some of the major attractions and a couple of less obvious ones.


To bathe or not to bathe?

Budapest is famous for its thermal spas that are popular spots for both tourists and locals alike. I didn’t actually experience any during my trip as the bath house we wanted to go to (Géllert baths) wasn’t open to both males and females on the day we chose to visit. If you already have a bath house in mind, it’s vital that you check in advance if they have gender-specific visiting days!

I was advised by a couple of friends that the huge outdoor Széchenyi baths is one of the best options (plus it always tends to be mixed bathing days). However, after doing some research online I couldn’t help but think it looked like a glorified public swimming pool! I liked the idea of somewhere a little smaller and less crowded which is why the Art Deco Géllert baths at the bottom of Géllert Hill would have been my top choice.

Walk up Castle Hill instead of taking the funicular

Unless you’re incredibly short on time or can’t physically cope with too much walking, I’d recommend skipping the queues for the funicular railway that takes you from the base of Castle Hill to the top. The zig zagging pathway up is equally as picturesque and gives you the chance to discover viewpoints you might miss if you take the more direct route.


View of the city and Fisherman’s Bastion

Once you reach the top, you’ll find stunning cobbled streets and beautiful attractions like the fairy-tale Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church with its rainbow coloured roof. Baroque Buda Castle itself is a stunning World Heritage Site that’s currently home to the Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum. They both have a small entrance fee but you can walk around the castle gardens free of charge.

Check out the Hospital in the Rock

Located below the surface of Castle Hill, this museum is perhaps one of the most captivating I’ve ever visited (and I’ve been to a fair few around the world!). It gets its name from its role as a hospital during the first and second world wars when it treated wounded soldiers during the city’s occupation by German and, later on, Soviet forces.

Explore a warren of underground tunnels turned into operating rooms and wards on an excellent guided tour before heading into the museum’s nuclear bunker. While there are some quite harrowing images depicting the aftermath of nuclear bombings in Japan, it’s also a thought-provoking reminder of how many people across Europe lived in fear of attack.

For an even more in-your-face history lesson, the morbidly named House of Terror — with its torture chamber basement — is worth a trip. Be warned, though, that most of the exhibitions aren’t in English (there’s paper translations at the entrance to each room, however) and that you have to follow a specific route through the museum instead of leisurely wandering.

See the whole city from above at the top of Géllert Hill

Another one of Budapest’s hills is Géllert, which has the city’s Citadella at its summit. It’s quite a hike to reach but well worth it for the unbeatable views. A lot of tour companies will offer transport up the hill but if you fancy a challenge, I’d definitely recommend walking the winding path instead.


The walk up Géllert Hill

An easy way of starting your journey is to walk across the Elisabeth Bridge and follow the path up past the iconic statue of Gerard of Csanád (the first bishop of Hungary). It’s quite a steep ascent but you can take it slow and stop off for a rest at various benches and viewpoints along the way.

Stroll down to the Hungarian Parliament Building

Admittedly, walking along the Pest riverside to this iconic building seemed like a picturesque idea but it was freezing on the day we did it! Nevertheless, we were rewarded with stunning views of the Hungarian Parliament and basically zero crowds.

On your way, you also pass the poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial that’s dedicated to Jewish people who were forced to jump into the freezing river during World War II by Arrow Cross militia.


Shoes on the Danube memorial


Useful bits and pieces

Great bites in Budapest 

Mazel Tov — This is a great restaurant in the Jewish Quarter with gorgeous décor — think lots of fairy light and plants — that had an interesting menu of wholesome Hungarian-Jewish dishes. I booked a table in advance online as I’d heard it can get quite busy (and it was by the time we left). The night we went there was also a live saxophonist playing which was a nice touch.

Fröhlich Kóser Cukrászda — I read about this Jewish bakery in a guide book and was a little hesitant to visit as I thought it might just be crammed with tourists. It was surprisingly authentic and relaxed, though, as well as being conveniently located around the corner from Dohány Street Synagogue. The perfect place for a sweet snack, we had mugs of genuinely decent coffee and shared impossibly fluffy sponge slices of coffee and vanilla cake.

Kuglóf — If you’re after somewhere to warm up after a refreshing walk up Géllert Hill, this cute and cosy café sits just across the river on the Pest side of the city. The menu was an enticing mix of filled sandwiches and pastries (the pistachio croissants sounded amazing!). Sadly, they weren’t serving hot food the day we went as the kitchen was closed but we did have some delicious mulled wine.

Street markets — For fans of street bites, Budapest has no shortage during December when there’s various festive markets spread throughout the city (including one with an ice rink outside St. Stephen’s Basilica). Sample delicious meaty baguettes or satisfy your sugar cravings with some chimney cake, a local dessert made by spinning flavoured pastry around a cone and suspending it over a warm fire. There’s also a couple of indoor food markets that are open all year round — I didn’t make it to any but a friend recommended trying the roast duck.


Dohány Street Synagogue

Where to stay

There’s obviously a handful of branded and independent hotels in the city (even ones overlooking the river) but you’ll also find Budapest an excellent place for holiday lets. I found a cute apartment on Airbnb located on the fringes of the Jewish Quarter that was ideal for our needs – and a fantastic price, too!

Getting from the airport to the city

I can hands-down say that our journey from the airport into Budapest was one of the easiest and smoothest I’ve ever undertaken. As our flight was due to land quite late, I knew we wouldn’t be able to get public transport very easily. Instead, we decided to take a taxi from the official taxi stand outside arrivals.

All you have to do is tell the person at the booth where you want to go. They then print out a ticket with your taxi’s number on it and the price of the journey. Within two minutes, our taxi had arrived and it then took less than half an hour (although it was the middle of the night so the roads were quiet) to get to our apartment. We then paid the amount on the receipt in cash.

On the way back, we decided to take the airport bus from the stop just down the road from St. Stephen’s Basilica. You pay when you get on the bus (it was roughly £5 each) and it takes around 40 minutes.


Budapest’s yellow trams

Let me know if you need any other tips on exploring this beautiful city in the comments!