London may be known as an expensive city, but it is also surprisingly easy to enjoy on a budget if you do a bit of research beforehand. Here are some of the easiest ways I know to save and the best places to explore without spending a fortune.
Museums and Galleries
One of the best things about London is the free museums. Very few cities have such a variety of museums available at no entry cost to visitors. From contemporary art at the Tate Modern on the Thames river, to the famed Rosetta Stone that is housed at the British Museum—there’s no shortage of sights to see.
The Science Museum and Natural History Museum house interactive exhibits and historic collections that will be of interest to any science or natural history fanatics. Next door to these two, you can visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, the largest museum of decorative arts and design. The Museum of London will give you a chance to explore the city’s Roman origin as “Londonium” right up to the modern times.
If you have an interest in art, you won’t want to miss the National Gallery, which includes works from masters such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Van Gogh. The Tate Britain gallery provides a mix of British art, including contemporary and 20th century works. You won’t want to miss the Imperial War Museum either, where you can delve into British war history.
If you’re trying to pick between them and you really want to get to know the city, I recommend The Museum of London, The Imperial War Museum and The National Gallery. The museums can be daunting to go through all at once so try to schedule a couple hours for each.
Food, Drinks and Markets
London is a foodie paradise, but it can be difficult to find reasonable prices unless you know where to go. If you’re looking to save money but still experience great food, the markets are a great place to start.
Top of the list is Borough Market, one of the oldest London markets and a must-visit for any foodie. While you’re there, make a stop at Monmouth Coffee for some people watching and a great cup of coffee. Old Spitalfields, Camden Lock and Portobello Road all have some excellent food stalls at reasonable prices, along with many other items that you can browse through afterwards (clothing, art, accessories, etc.).
Drinks and cocktails in London can cost as much as $18 each, but if you keep an eye out for happy hours, you can find deals on both food and drinks. The cheapest I’ve found is at Simmons (multiple locations around the city), where they offer wine, beer and spirits for as low as $4.70, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Sunday to Friday).
Another great place is Burlock in Marylebone, an underground Cuban-themed bar where you can find $9 cocktails daily from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Parks and Landmarks
If you’re lucky enough to be graced with a day of sunshine in London, you might want to skip out on the museums and spend a day relaxing in one of the many public gardens. Particularly beautiful are the Royal Parks, so you won’t want to miss Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. You’ll typically find a restaurant or cafe in these parks but bring a picnic lunch if you really want to save.
While entry to some of the other landmarks might cost you, an excellent way to enjoy the beauty of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey are through the Choral Evensong services that are held daily at 5 p.m. Normal entry for these two attractions is around $37 each, which doesn’t include the audio guide accompaniment.
For me, a trip is never complete without experiencing a great view of the city, especially at sunrise or sunset. The best place to do so for free in London is the Sky Garden, which provides a spectacular view at no entry cost. Just book your ticket ahead of time so you can ensure you have a timeslot.
These are just a few of the great places I’ve experienced. London has a lot to offer, so you’ll always be able to add more to your list as you explore.