London is an amazing, vibrant city and many parts of it never sleep. Like most European cities, it can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. Lewis and I have spent many days in London and Lewis lived in London for a while, so we thought it would be useful for those travelling to London to get the low down. I can honestly say that even after years of walking the streets of London, I still find things that I didn’t know existed, that’s what makes it so exciting!
Whats the key to cheap days?
The key to free or cheap days in London is how you get around. There is no need to use taxi’s in London unless you want take a ride in a famous London cab just to say you have! The tube offers cheap travel and will enable you to get anywhere in London. There is a great app for your phone called citymapper which will provide you with the different methods and costs of your travel. It will also tell you the different lengths of time including to walk or cycle. For those venturing underground, TubeMap is great but the tube is covered on citymapper so no need for both unless you want to browse the various lines and routes.
The cheapest way to travel the tube is using your contactless card rather than buying individual tickets or travel cards. There is a cap each day so it will never go over the cost of a travel card even if you use it a lot throughout the day. The exception to this is if there are a lot of you, double check the family travel card price as 4 people can often travel for the cost of 2.
If you want the cheapest way, walk everywhere. Not only will you save money, you will also get to see the sights as you walk. N.B. just remember to plan your route before hand, as walking backwards and forwards around London is tiring and time consuming!
The Royal Parks
London is full of parks! If the sun is shining (big if) there is nothing nicer than grabbing some time out and relaxing. There are 8 Royal Parks in London which add up to over 5000 acres and best of all, they are all free!
One my favourites is Richmond Park, not only is the setting idyllic, there are over 600 Red and Fallow deer roaming freely around the park which they have been since 1529. This is train ride away from central London unless you are staying in the area, either Richmond or North Sheen will leave you with a very short walk into the park.
Hyde Park is one of the most famous parks and at 350 acres, one of the biggest. Its home to the Serpentine Lake, Speakers corner (an area of free speech often filled with poets, speakers and story tellers) and the Diana Memorial Fountain. There are also a number of concerts and events held here throughout the year. For those visiting in December, Winter Wonderland is held at Hyde Park. With free entry, you can spend time soaking in the sights and smell of roasting chestnuts and smoking salmon. A tube stops right outside being Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch.
A short walk from Hyde Park, St James’ Park is home to the famous Mall and located in central London. Green Park is a short walk from St James’ Park and is ideal for relaxing.
A full list of all parks, opening times and facilities is located on the Royal Parks Website.
Eating Out & Markets
With the many nationalities and cultures that make London the fantastic city it is, the choices for food is equally as colourful. You can spend a few pounds to hundreds of pounds depending on your taste and ultimately your budget.
London is filled with all the usual chains of restaurants across the city but it’s the independent and London based eateries that for me are worth the visit.
Brick Lane close to Liverpool Street station is the place to go for Indian food with a plethora of one off stores and restaurants open 7 days a week.
One of our favourite places to visit is Borough Street Market near to London Bridge station. The market is a warren of congested passageways set partly under the arches and tracks of one of the busiest stations in London and yet feels like a different world compared to the rest of London. The aromas of burgers, seafood, cheese, paella, spices, teas and coffee fill the air and the hustle and bustle of market life makes for an unforgettable experience. Not only are you able to buy amazing food, you can also taste it for free! I often sample different foods and buy different bits and pieces as I go around from fresh bread, pate, cold meats and cheese, walk to one of the parks and have a picnic and watch the world go by. For me Borough Market is a must see of London. A tip to save some money is to go just before the market closes as the fresh bread and produce sells for half the price, ideal if you are not fussy about which loaf of bread you want or what pate you want to eat. There is an exotic meat stall so if you fancy some Zebra, this is place to come!
Another favourite of ours is Camden Market. The main part of the market is clothing but this place is ideal for souvenirs and food much cheaper than elsewhere in London. As the name suggests, Camden Market is served by Camden Town tube station on the Northern Line and is the place for eccentric people and unusual items.
There is a wide variety of street food stalls here selling everything from waffles to kebabs and is ideal for cheap food on the go. Due to the competition, stalls are only too keen to offer you free tasters of what they have to offer and on a good day, you wont even need to spend any money! If you do, for a few pounds you get a tray of delicious food which you can either eat on the go, or eat overlooking the canal and lock that is the focal point in this area.
As Camden Town is away from the main tourist area of London, the souvenirs are half the price of most London shops where you can fill your bags full of snow globes, red double decker buses, Big Ben magnets and T Shirts telling the world how much you love London. For the more retro amongst you, “The Stables” is ideal. Full of second hand and vintage shops, an ideal spot to buy one off items and complete your retro look. There is a great comedy club here so after a busy day you can relax and chuckle the night away. There is plenty of nightlife in Camden too for some late night parties.
Petticoat Lane, near Aldgate Station again has a variety of street food available similar to Camden Town. It hosts London’s world famous Sunday market and sells mainly clothes for men, women and children, from street-cred clubwear to over-orders of designer goods and last year’s must-haves. One of its specialties is leather wear at the Aldgate East end and there’s bric-a-brac, household goods, in fact everything you could possibly think of plus some other bits and bobs too. The market is held in and around Middlesex Street on Sundays from 9am to 3pm, with a smaller market open on Wentworth Street from Monday to Friday. Confusingly, Petticoat Lane doesn’t actually exist any more – we have the Victorians’ prudishness to thank for that, wishing to avoid any reference to undergarments they changed the name to Middlesex Street in 1846. With more than 1,000 stalls lining the streets on a Sunday bargain hunters come in their droves, it’s a great scene worth the trip even if you’re not shopping. Nearby areas of interest include Brushfield Street where Spitalfields Market is held and which offers more in the way of quality. Petticoat Lane may be London’s biggest street jumble sale but for bargain hunting, with a bit of haggling thrown in, it’s the original and the best
Brixton Market is less famous to the wider world than the others but its a very popular spot. There is plenty to choose from here to eat with dedicated food markets and events and plenty of items on sale. The streets are filled with music and there is a great atmosphere, again ideal for vintage, retro, mainstream and low cost clothing. There is a lot more room to move around here and is less crowded than many of the other markets.
I know what you’re probably going to say, they are expensive but they don’t have to be. The sky bars of London provide you with panoramic views across the city and whilst that comes at a price for food and drink, it doesn’t have to. Many of the sky bars don’t charge you entry so there is nothing stopping you from merely checking it out to see if there is anything you want, if there happens to not be a drink on the menu you fancy, you can just leave but not before checking out the views. Most of the bars have a dress code which are more relaxed during the day than they are at night. There are so many in London but these are some of our favourites.
My personal favourite is the sky bar in the Hilton Hotel located near the Towers of London. They do the best porn star martini I have managed to find in London and again have great outdoor space to soak in the views and enjoy the chilled atmosphere.
Sushisamba is located a short walk from Liverpool Street Station and provides fantastic views of the city and the iconic buildings. There is an outside terrace which gives you some fresh air and a great spot for a selfie! The journey in the glass lift is an experience in itself as it rockets you up over the streets of London.
The Shard has a great sky bar but you have to pay entry and drinks and food are expensive. If you don’t mind spending some money, it is worth the trip but I would opt for Sushi Samba over this any day.
Culpeppers roof garden offers great views of the Gherkin at this idyllic inner-London spot, since The Culpeper’s rooftop space is used to grow vegetables for its kitchen, as well as for rooftop drinking with City views. The cocktails from the cute greenhouse bar are of real quality and pack in loads of herbs from the neighbouring beds.
Franks Café, Peckham’s most popular summer-only bar, unglamorously perched on a multi-storey car park, has gained such cult status that its reopening kind of heralds the start of summer. On freakishly hot days, expect to queue for ages to drink Frank’s Campari-based cocktails under the billowing red canopy and enjoy the alternative London skyline – spectacular at sunset. This is only open May to September but worth a visit if the dates match up.
Festivals and Events
If the dates match up, London hosts many fantastic events and festivals throughout the year. Due to the various cultures and religions in London, there really is something for everyone. Below are my top three but there are numerous events throughout the year.
The Notting Hill Carnival is the largest street festival in Europe and originated in 1964 as a way for Afro-Caribbean communities to celebrate their own cultures and traditions. Taking place every August Bank Holiday weekend (last weekend in August) in the streets of London W11, the Notting Hill Carnival is an amazing array of sounds, colourful sights and social solidarity.
London Pride is an annual LGBTQ pride festival and parade held each summer in the centre of London around Trafalgar Square and Oxford Street. It is one of the longest running in the country and attracts thousands of visitors each year. With a free area in Trafalgar Square with live bands on throughout the day and evening, it is worth a visit.
Trooping the colour is a ceremony performed by the regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies. It has been a tradition of the British Infantry Regiments since the 17th century although the roots go back much earlier. This is held annually in June to celebrate the Queens birthday and is a full of pomp and colour. Held along the mall, it’s a great opportunity to see the Royal Family, the Red Arrows and the British army in all its glory.
I have left this until last as this is what makes London such an interesting place. Throughout London, all museums have free entry (although some museums charge for certain exhibitions) which includes some of the fine art museums. The Natural History Museum, British Museum and Science Museum are definitely worth a trip!
Buckingham Palace is grand and opulent although it is usually very busy! If the British flag is flying, the Queen isn’t home. Look out for the Royal Coat of arms!
Clarence House is a short walk down the Mall and home to other members of the Royal Family, another spot for a selfie. At the end of the mall is Admiralty Arch, another great spot for photos.
A short walk down down Whitehall will take you past Horse Guards Parade, Downing Street. Imperial War Museums and onto Westminster, the home of Big Ben, Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey.
St Pauls Cathedral with the famous white dome, Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the various historic buildings of London provide a free opportunity to view architecture and take some top quality photographs.
There is a lot in this post and I could have gone on and on as there is so much to see and do in London. Have an amazing time and please share any suggestions or comments on the post.