I know everyone is thinking that London is super expensive. And it is. But it is so easy to do it on the cheap as well. So here is a rough and ready guide on how to get out and about and how I like to spend my frugal days. Also have a look at my how to get here and where to stay guide by clicking here.
I cycle everywhere which keeps costs low. There is a “Boris bike” scheme (this is a nickname because they are actually run by Santander) but the bikes are often clunky and heavy. Uber also do electric bikes which I hear are quite good which you can order on the Uber app. Central London, generally speaking, is quite safe for bikes because there are not that many cars and there are a lot of cycle routes but I’m not so sure about around the venue.
If you use your bank card or an Oyster card to travel, transport for London will automatically calculate the cheapest tariff for you at the end of the day. Click here for a good youtube video to show you how to buy and use your Oyster card. Let’s use the venue, which is in Zone 3, as an example (the London transport network is made of concentric circles with zone 1 in the centre and zone 6 on the outside). All-day travel from zone 1 (central London) to zone 3 (venue) and everywhere in between is capped at £9. If you travelled from the venue to zone 1 every day and did some extra trips in between, the weekly travel costs would be capped at £45.20 for unlimited travel on buses, tubes and trains between zone 1 to zone 3.
Two very important rules when using the tube (what we call the metro) are to STAND ON THE RIGHT ON THE ESCALATORS (so that people can walk on the left) and NOT TO STAND IN FRONT OF DOORS TO THE TRAINS (but to stand on the side to let people out). If you don’t do either of these, you will find someone like me pushing past you saying something really passive-aggressive – like a true Londoner. Also, just to let you know, when someone says “sorry” as they push past you, what they’re really saying is “get out of my way.”
For those of you who know me, I spend most of my waking day thinking about food. Therefore, I will do a different post for everything you need to eat when you are here. Eating out can get quite expensive so I will also cover how to eat on the cheap. Watch this space!
Free/cheap things to do
There are so many free things to do that it is not hard to live frugally in London.
Museums – The most important thing to remember is that all the long-term collections at major museums are all free. So it’s free to go to the British Museum (the Rosetta stone is here), The Victoria and Albert Museum (I love this one), Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and the Natural History Museum amongst others. There are also a few favourites like the White Cube and the Serpentine which do some pretty off-beat exhibitions at times (sometimes you have to pay for these ones). Plus they’re both in great locations, Bermondsey and Hyde Park respectively, that you can always pop in whilst seeing something else.
Parks – London is probably one of the greenest capital cities in the world because it has the Royal parks. Hyde Park is the biggest and is incredible at sunset because the sky fills with crimson over the Serpentine lake. You’ll see people playing sports, horse-riding and rollerblading here. I love St James’ park because it’s less busy but nonetheless beautiful. It’s tucked up by Buckingham palace so you can easily have a meander through whilst visiting Your Royal Highnessess’ humble abode. Regent’s Park is also really pretty and it has the bonus of having an open-air theatre. Kensington park is actually an extension of Hyde Park and is a lovely walk from Kensington HIgh Street to Notting Hill past Kensington palace. The best picnic place is definitely Primrose Hill, which is near Camden because you get a view over the whole of London but I am also a big fan of Hampstead Heath which also has great views but feels a little wilder than the manicured Royal Parks. If you’re feeling brave, you can also have a swim in the lidos in Hampstead Heath!!
Markets – There are four that I would recommend. The first is Portobello Market which has a very special place in my heart since I’ve been going there since I was 15 years old. You can buy anything and everything there from food, clothes and trinkets. On one end of the market is my favourite Brutalist building, the Trellick Tower, which is just off my most favourite street in London, Golborne road, and you can walk all the way down to Notting Hill from there as you meander through the market stalls and shops. Also note that the film “Notting Hill” was filmed around there. The second market is Borough Market near London Bridge which is predominantly a food market. There’s some inexpensive stalls to buy great food from and it still maintains the vibes of a bustling Georgian street market (it was built in 1756). It’s a great place to eat and drink and it’s only around the corner from the Old Operating Theatre Museum which is the oldest surgical theatre in Europe and also a great little museum. Another film reference but Bridget Jones was filmed in Borough market. A market off the beaten track is probably Columbia Flower Market. I don’t think this is one that tourist often go to but it’s a really super cute flower market in East London and a 20 minute walk from my flat. There are loads of of cute shops so even if you don’t want to buy flowers, it’s fun for a wander. It used to be quite a poor end of London with lots of workmen’s houses although it is quite a gentrified area now. The last market is Camden market. I used to go shopping here when I was at school but it then got quite touristy. It’s had a bit of a renaissance recently and I’m enjoying exploring the new shops and cafes in the local area. Camden is famous for its music history (Amy Winehouse used to live here) with lots of live band venues and the markets are a little bit more grungy and punky then the others.
Buckingham palaces changing of the guards – if you want to go traditional, you should watch the changing of the guards which is free to watch at Buckingham Palace. My recommendation is that you stand on the left as you look at Buckingham palace because the band will walk right past you. It is always at 11am but check the dates because it doesn’t happen every day.
Soho, Carnaby Street and China Town – I love wandering around Soho which used to be the London red light district but is now a buzzing restaurant and bar area. I would recommend a walk down Carnaby street which was made famous in the 1960s as a trendy spot to hang out. It always has great lights and decorations and most people I’ve taken there have fallen in love with it. It has my favourite (to visit but not to buy anything) department store, Liberty’s, which was built in 1875 and is a total joy to go window-shopping. We have a really bustling China Town which is also a spot that I like hanging out in and you can’t miss the red gates and red lanterns. It’s only over the road from Soho and round the corner from Leicester and Trafalgar Square so it’s easy to pop by!
Southbank and Globe theatre – I love a walk down the South Bank! Starting from the Milenium Wheel/London eye, you can walk east as you walk past the Oxo tower (stop by for an expensive cup of tea or a cocktail there but it will be worth it for the views); past the South Bank Skate park; past the BFI and the book market outside; past the Tate Modern Museum, the National Theatre, and the Hayward Gallery (Clockwork orange was filmed here); past Blackfriars train station (which is the BEST station in London because it runs across the river Thames); and past the Globe Theatre; all the way to Tower Bridge. I’m going to be honest and say that I’ve never been to the Globe theatre but if you’re into Shakespeare, this will be perfect for you. In 1997, the new theatre was rebuilt on the site of the original theatre and you can watch Shakespeare plays in the same way that people did in the late 16th century. The standing tickets are only £5 and the theatre is open air so be warned because the British weather is unpredictable!
As you can tell, I love London. The above are all places that I like to hang out so obviously it’s not the Bible to visiting London. If you have any particular questions, please ask in the comments section and I will do my best to answer!!