London is an incredible city to visit with a lot to see and do — more than you can fit into one trip — but it can also be expensive if you’re not careful. We all know that eating out often costs more in capital cities than anywhere else, and the price of entry into all those cool museums and galleries can really add up. If you’re traveling on a budget you might be a bit concerned about the prices in London, but there’s no need to be.
It is perfectly possible to enjoy a trip to London while sticking to a budget. There are lots of things you can do for free in the city — turns out many of those cool museums and galleries are free after all — and if you seek out the right restaurants and bars, you’ll find there are deals to be taken advantage of and reasonable prices available. Here are eight fantastic things to do in London on a budget.
1. V&A South Kensington
A lot of museums in London are free to enter, including the Natural History Museum and The British Museum, but my personal favorite is the V&A. The Victoria & Albert Museum is located in South Kensington and is easily accessible by tube from anywhere in London. It’s a beautiful building, even before you dive into the displays of art, design, and performance. Wandering around the V&A is like a museum within a museum, the interior is so stunning.
The café, the world’s oldest museum restaurant, is the most beautiful café I’ve ever been in. It’s like a stateroom in a palace. Ornate columns and glittering chandeliers are embraced by gold-lined walls. Outside, the garden café is a charming courtyard that could easily be in Italy. Exhibitions are always changing, so take a look at what’s on before you go. Some exhibitions do come at a charge, but you can see most of the museum for free.
Price Range: Entry is free, but some special exhibitions will cost up to £20 per person to enter. You can buy these tickets when you arrive, but to be sure of entry to any exhibitions you especially want to see, book ahead.
2. St James’s Park
All the parks in London are lovely to stroll through and completely free, but St James’s Park has the added bonus of being so close to Buckingham Palace that you can enjoy the greenspace while taking in the royal views. It’s a lovely place for a picnic, though there are also two cafes in the park. Find the blue bridge on the lake and you’ll have incredible views of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and The London Eye.
The lake itself has been here since 1664 and is a lovely serene spot to take a few moments and just enjoy the ducks and geese. As you walk around the park you’ll see pretty displays of flowers, fountains, memorials, and statues, including The Tiffany Fountain, a 20-foot rise of water in the middle of the park.
Price Range: Free
3. Eat In Chinatown
Right in the center of London, close to The West End, Leicester Square, and Soho, Chinatown is a blaze of color and Chinese culture. A great arch welcomes you in and lanterns strewn from building to building guide you through the streets. There are some great authentic Asian supermarkets here where you can pick up Asian foods you won’t see anywhere else, and there’s a Chinese restaurant at every turn, but it’s also a lovely area for a wander and the perfect place to pick up some street food or snacks.
There are a few places offering takeaways, but I love the Chinatown Bakery down here. You can pick up a steamed bun for a reasonable price and wander through the streets while you eat. The bakery gets very busy and there’s a one-way system inside, so have an idea of what you want before you go in.
Price Range: It’s free to wander around Chinatown and soak up the atmosphere. You can buy steamed buns in the Chinatown Bakery for as little as £1.40 each.
4. South Bank Beach
Didn’t know London had a beach? It actually has a few, but South Bank Beach is my favorite. South Bank is a busy, cosmopolitan place to hang out, with pop-up markets, street food, and lots of cute cafes and ice cream parlors. It’s a nice walk along the South Bank, taking in the views of the River Thames and soaking up the atmosphere. But you can also take some time out here to enjoy the beach.
South Bank Beach is a real soft sand beach, and it really does feel like you’re by the sea when you sit on the sand and enjoy the view. But you’re not, so remember that you can’t swim in the River Thames here. It’s a lovely spot to relax in for a while and you’ll see some incredible sand sculptures.
Price Range: Free
5. Brick Lane Markets
There are many great markets to visit in London, but over the years some of these have lost their authenticity and become more touristy and more expensive. For a real traditional London market area, head to Brick Lane. Here you’ll find street food, food markets, vintage markets, record fairs, and the most incredible atmosphere.
Browse stall after stall while the aroma of world foods being cooked in the street food market wafts through the air. Find some bargains and enjoy some authentic street food in these old warehouse buildings. Out on the streets, performers play music, and the whole area takes on a party vibe. It’s a busy, vibrant place to be and there’s so much to look through you can end up spending hours here, but you won’t spend a fortune.
Price Range: Free to enter, but what you spend in the markets is up to you. There’s so much amazing produce, clothing, and crafts, it’s hard not to get carried away.
6. Hyde Park Speakers Corner
In Hyde Park, there’s a small area, a corner, where anyone can get up and give a speech, or just say what’s on their mind. Speakers Corner has been a designated place for public speaking since 1872. Karl Marx gave a speech here, as did George Orwell. It’s hailed as being the birthplace of free speech, due to the fact that public hangings once took place here and the condemned were invited to give a last speech. After hangings were abolished, the speaking element continued. Anyone can say anything here, and lots of people stop to listen. So, if you have something to say this is the place to do it, or you can simply pause and listen to what other people have to say.
Price Range: Free
7. Eat At Barrio Bar
There are a lot of fancy restaurants in London, but if you’re dining out on a budget it is perfectly possible to find small places that offer great deals. Barrio Bars are located all around central London — in Soho, Covent Garden, Shoreditch, Angel, and Brixton — so wherever you are, there’s one not far away. If you arrive before 4 p.m., you can catch their bottomless brunch, which is brunch that goes on all day. In the evening, the main menu is really reasonably priced. It’s not fancy — this is Mexican street food in a bar setting — but it’s pretty cheap for what you get and the drinks are two for the price of one during happy hour.
Price Range: Quesadillas are the most expensive item on the menu at £9, and fries are the cheapest at just £4. Cocktails are between £10 and £12 and are two for one all evening on Mondays, till 8 p.m. on Fridays, and till 10 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday.
8. Stay At Z Hotel
Like Barrio Bars, you can find Z Hotels all over London, in Soho, Covent Garden, Piccadilly, Shoreditch, and Holborn. And also like Barrio Bars, these budget hotels provide central locations for a good price, so you can stay in London while sticking to your budget. These are no-frills hotels, but the rooms have everything you need and with all the sightseeing you’ll be doing you won’t be in them long anyway.
Rooms are compact but have a TV, tea- and coffee-making facilities, and en suite facilities. What’s fantastic about Z Hotels is their locations. I stayed in the Covent Garden hotel and it was a 5-minute walk from everything I wanted to see and do. The gates were locked at midnight, and there are no staff around after this time, but your room key card lets you in the gates and into the hotel too.
Price Range: A single room at Z Hotels is £70 for the night. The Z Inside Queen is a bit like a cabin room, with no window, and costs £90 per night. The Z Queen, with a window, is £105 per night. These prices do increase at peak times, but you can get a great deal out of season. Breakfast is charged at £9.50 per person.