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.
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.
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.
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.
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!