• Megan Kate

The 15 Best Free/ Cheap Things To Do In London | Budget City Guide

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

So, lockdown is starting to ease, how are we all feeling? After speaking to my friends and family there seems to be a real split between people who are desperate for a break and are hoping they'll be allowed to go on their August holiday, and then people who have cancelled all 2020 plans as they wouldn't feel safe even if they were allowed.

As much as I'm desperate to explore somewhere new again asap, David and I have basically come to the decision that the rest of 2020 is a write off; we're going to use the time to save some money for something epic next year instead. However, that being said, we're definitely open to a lot more domestic travel once the restrictions on public transport are eased, and I reckon that can be said for a lot of other people too. And so, I'm currently collating quite a few posts about UK travel ideas to keep us all going for the next few months, starting with London!

Now the English capital is known for being pretty damn expensive, especially compared to the competing big cities in the North, however there are a lot of things you can do for free, or at least really cheaply, while you're there. I spent 4 years visiting my friend at university in London while on a very, very tight budget, and so I spent a long time finding all of the cheaper options, and now I'm here to share them with you too!

St Paul's Cathedral

Sky Garden

Free. Sitting 38 floors above the city, this place has been nicknamed 'the best free view of London'. A combination of restaurant, bar and garden is always a good idea, and you'll never feel more fancy for free! You can book a 1 hour slot up to 3 weeks in advance via their website, but they do go very quickly so make sure you get on it asap. You can do a walk in visit if you haven't booked, but they only permit a limited amount of people in at any given time, so the queue can sometimes be hours long with no guarantee of entry anyway, so I definitely recommend booking.

See A Show At Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

£5. Yep, an unknown fact about this prestigious theatre is that tickets to stand in the front stalls cost just a fiver, for any and all shows! Is a visit to London even complete without seeing something Shakespeare? Visit their website to learn more and see what's on during your visit.

Ride The Santander Cycles

£2. These iconic red bikes are one of the most popular things to do in London, plus they're super cheap, AND the best way to see the city according to the locals. For nothing more than a £2 bike unlock fee, you can ride around wherever you like for up to 30 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to do a leisurely route around a park or zip from one landmark to another. After the initial half hour, every 30 mins after that will cost you an extra £2, so if you're enjoying yourself you could ride around for a good couple of hours for less than a tenner! Visit their website here for more detailed instructions on how to hire the bikes.

Visit A Secret Bar

The price of a drink, from £4.95. Now there are lots of these hidden around the city, but there's one in particular I need to recommend. I won't give too much away, but if you're heading over to Spitalfields any time soon, make sure you pay a visit to The Breakfast Club. This place not only does the best breakfast in Shoreditch, but it's also home to my favourite hidden bar in London. All you have to do is ask 'To See The Mayor' on arrival, and you'll be directed to a fridge.... they'll explain the rest. If you're not in the area, make sure you search for any hidden gems that may be near to where you're staying- you won't regret it!

Ride The Emirates Cable Car

£3.50. Travelling between the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula, these cable cars give you the opportunity to fly over the Thames and see London's Skyline in all it's glory (Or nosy at the people brave enough to climb the O2). I'd recommend going during sunset, or during one of their 'night flight' rides to see the city come alive after dark.

See The Sights

Free. The best thing about London is the shear volume of landmarks and attractions available, the city is so immensely rich in history. For a day of Parliament and Crown, head over to Westminster to see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament within a short walking distance, or do the route between Aldgate and Embankment stations stopping at The Gherkin, The Towel of London, Tower Bridge, The Shard, St Paul's, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square to see some of London's best offerings in one go. If you're new to the city, travelling solo or just fancy it, I'd definitely recommend doing a walking tour. Free Tours by Foot is a company I like to use all over the world, so make sure to give them a go- it's free after all!

The Shard/ The Gherkin/ Tower of London/ Neal's Yard/ Covent Garden

Create Your Own Album Cover At Abbey Road

Free. The Abbey Road zebra crossing is famous worldwide after featuring on the cover for the Beatles' album of the same name, but what you might not know is that the crossing itself is a Grade 2 listed landmark due to it's cultural and historical importance. Yes- the crossing is still there for you to see, just down the street from Abbey Road studios itself where the album was recorded. Head down there to explore, and remake the photo for yourself! Read more here.

Go Shopping

Free, if you have the will power. London is home to some of the most beautiful shopping locations in the world, which means even if you don't buy anything, shopping is an activity here. Head down to Harrods or Liberty for a taste of grandeur, or head down to Oxford Street to get a real sense of the city rush. Carnaby Street is the home of independent stores while Bond Street is where you can find all things high end and prestigious, and both streets are a London must-see.

Nomadic Community Garden

Free. This was a place my friend and I stumbled upon totally by accident during our last visit to Shoreditch, and we absolutely fell in love with it. Not only is it an Instagrammers dream with every inch of the space being a form of art, but it's such a great place for the community too. It's ran by a non profit, and was created as an inclusive place for locals to use previously abandoned space for social interaction and community building, which is an ethos I absolutely love. Read more about the project here.

Brick Lane doorway/ Nomadic Community Garden/ Old Spitalfield's Market/ Dinerama

Shoreditch Street Food Hubs

£7 average meal cost. As you can probably tell already, Shoreditch is my favourite area in London and so it's where I usually base myself during trips; because of this, I've spent a LOT of time looking for the best food nearby. Now I do have some singular favourites (I'm talking places like Rosa's Thai Cafe, Dishoom and The Book Club) but the cheapest and absolute best places to eat in Shoreditch are the food markets. You could spend hours walking around each one and discovering every little stall, or nip and grab a snack from each one like a mini food tour. First up, head over to Box Park, the world's first pop up mall, that's filled with lots of little independent bars and eateries all based inside repurposed shipping containers; the top floor is filled with dance floors, tables and fairy lights, making it the perfect place to relax on an early evening. They often have events on there too. Then head over to the area's most beloved landmark: Old Spitalfield's Market. This indoor market has been in operation for over 350 years, and it's rustic booths and sharing tables are just a few things that make this place so special. Finish your night off over at Dinerama, a lively street food hub split over multiple floors with dj sets, strobe lights and lots and lots of booze, this place is open until after midnight and is the perfect place to dance until morning.

Watch The Changing Of The Guard

Free. Usually every other day at 10:45am, the Changing Of The Guard is a must do if it's your first time in London- there is nothing more quintessentially English- and even if it makes you roll your eyes, you have to see it. The ceremony lasts around 45 minutes outside Buckingham Palace, but there are also smaller events outside places such as Windsor Castle and Horse Guards Parade too. Be sure to check the website on the morning you are planning to go as sometimes the dates are subject to change.

Visit A Museum Or Gallery

Free. The museums and galleries in London are second to none and most of them won't cost you a single penny. The Natural History Museum and the British Museum are among the most famous, the first is home to all things natural, as you'd imagine, with huge displays of dinosaurs, animals and precious stones for you to browse. Where as the British Museum houses anything involving human history, art and culture, including the largest Egyptian artefact display outside of Egypt itself. Head over to the V&A Museum for all things art, design and performance or maybe the Science Museum across the street is more your style. Each of these museums cost nothing, and both the Tate and National Galleries are completely free too.

British Museum Exhibit/ Natural History Museum Foyer

Camden Town

Free. This town of canals, cafes and curiosities is one of the most famous places to visit in London and once you've been it's no surprise why. The market hall is one of the best in the world, and you could spend weeks picking new and exciting street food stalls to try each day. The eccentric shop fronts and one off boutiques are not to be missed, nor are the bustling bars and music venues dotted around town that have been graced by the likes of Pink Floyd, The Doors and even Amy Winehouse, making the nightlife here unlike any other. Camden's beloved high street is a very 'hustle and bustle' kind of place but here there truly is something for everyone, with nearby Regent's Park and London Zoo offering luscious green space for those days when you want to take it a little easier.

Take A Breather At The Park

Free. Unlike most other big cities around the UK, London does actually have quite a lot of open space on offer, nicknaming it one of the 'greenest capitals in the world'. There are 8 Royal Parks within the city which are kept immaculately, as are the Royal Gardens, but there are also a lot of wilder areas such as nature reserves, city farms and woodlands. Make sure you take a walk (or bike) around one of these to get the best London experience possible.

Experience Local At The Markets

Free. A visit to London isn't complete without a trip to one of the markets. You can treat your taste buds over at Borough Market, shop all things vintage at Brick Lane or get yourself some fresh flowers from Columbia Road. Portobello Road is the perfect place to browse through antiques, and Greenwich Market is filled with jewellery, art and thousands of other unique gifts, you'll honestly be spoilt for choice. Visit London have a great list of all the best markets in specific areas so you can cater your visit to your day perfectly.

Camden Market/ Camden Canals/ The gardens and view at Sky Garden

And now I'm even more excited to get travelling around the UK as soon as we can, I definitely need my annual trip to the big city asap. I hope this list has given you a little insight on just how much fun you can have in London even if you don't have the biggest budget in the world, have you done any of these things before? Let me know, and make sure to head on over to my Instagram page to follow my real time adventures.

Meg x