Guides

Frugal Travellers, Here’s How To See London On A Budget

London is one of the most notoriously pricey cities in the world, and it can be daunting to plan on a budget. But it’s possible to have a cheap London getaway if you know what you’re doing.

Here are a few handy hacks so you don’t have to skip the best bits.

Cheap London eating and drinking

One of the most hyped tourist spots, and with good reason, is the Borough Market. Freshly baked breads and pastries, charcuterie, French cheeses, truffle-infused oils, honey and butter, artisan chocolates and specialty coffee by Monmouth Coffee Company are all on show and at the pricier end of the market’s offering (do look out for free samples).

But head to the back of the market and you’ll find the bustling strip of grab-and-go stalls – like Pieminister’s pie, mash and gravy for £6.50 (AU$12) (there are veggie, vegan and gluten-free pies, too).

 

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If you’re in the mood for a sit-down lunch or early dinner while you’re here, and don’t mind lining up, head to pasta bar Padella. Pasta is house-made and fresh every day, and plates are generally between £4 (AU$7) and £9 (AU$16). Two or three are ideal for sharing between two people and the Padella Negroni is a very sweet £5 (AU$9).

The quintessential London afternoon is spent over tea and scones, and one place for it is the renowned tearoom and cocktail lounge sketch, in Mayfair. The complete afternoon tea affair in The Gallery is upwards of £50 (AU$91) and The Lecture Room has two Michelin stars, meaning the menu is expectedly steep. But it is possible to have a comparable lovely experience in London on a budget.

If you fancy the more humble cream tea (scones with cream and jam, and a cup of tea) for £15 (AU$27) you can head into The Parlour – usually no booking required. If you’re feeling like a cocktail try the The Glade, the mythical forest themed room. And the best part is you can still walk through the plush pink gallery on your way to using the famous, and bizarre, pod toilets. Classic and cheap London foodie experiences can be found if you know where to look.

 

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Cheap London arts and culture

Nearly all the big museums and galleries in London are entry by optional donation, and the permanent collections at Tate Britain, Tate Modern, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, V&A, British Museum and Natural History Museum, to name one or two, are worth a visit. Popular smaller art galleries – like White Cube, Saatchi Gallery and Whitechapel Gallery – also have free admission to their permanent collections.

White Cube gallery in London

For access to special exhibitions, people from 16 to 25 can sign up (free) to Tate Collective to get £5 (AU$9) tickets to any Tate exhibition. If you’re keen on ticketed exhibitions at other galleries, be sure to ask at the ticket counter if there’s any youth discount.

For theatre lovers or dabblers it can be a bit more tricky if you’re in London on a budget. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on ticket sites like Today Tix, where flash sales can mean big savings on West End shows. Persistently entering lotteries can also pay off if you’re lucky, especially for the most popular shows (like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).

Markets and churches

The Colombia Road Flower Market in East London is on each Sunday, full of reasonably priced blooms and plants, and worth a wander even if you’re not buying. There are plenty of cafes and pubs around the area, partaking in the vibrant atmosphere. And it’s a short walk from Hackney City Farm, where you can pop in for free to see the farm animals and wander the fruit and veggie garden.

 

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The colourful Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is packed with vintage clothes, antique jewellery, knick-knacks, merchandise, books and every other thing you can image a second-hand market to have. While you’re there, you can also go and browse (and get a photo in front of) the famous Notting Hill Bookshop.

Unsurprisingly, there’s no shortage of churches in London. A few to check out are Southwark Cathedral, near the Borough Market, where you can visit free for a service or a tour outside of service times (donations are appreciated), St Pancras Old Church and public garden, a village church whose site is thought to date back as far as the 4th century, and Westminster Cathedral. Here, you can also go up the Tower Viewing Gallery for £6 (AU$11) – a fraction of the price of some of the city’s skyscraper views.

Getting around London on a budget

A classic double-decker bus in London, a cheaper form of transport than the Tube.

To do all this, you can touch on to unlimited buses within an hour for £1.50 (AU$2.70) – beating the tube by nearly £1 per trip, and more if you’re travelling across zones – with the added bonus of seeing a lot of the city while you’re travelling. Be warned though, the buses are best when you’re not in a rush.

It’s possible to see London on a budget, you just have to know what’s what. If you’re looking for cheap London experiences, try our guide to the best free museums in the city.

(Lead image: Luca Micheli / Unsplash)