Everyone knows London’s expensive. Rents are one of the highest in the world, transport sounds costly (although in my opinion you get a lot for the money you pay, so it’s not that bad, especially not at £6.40 for a day in zones 1-2), cheap food is hard to find or not as you can read in my previous post, Cheap Food in London.
But is there anything that you can do for under £10 in London and have a good time?
It may seem there isn’t, but you just need to do some research. Here’s my list of things to do in London for free or for under £10.
1. Visit a market and taste the samples. Borough Market is probably the most famous one of all. If you can stomach the crowds and moving at a pace of an injured snail, then head there from Wednesday to Saturday. There is no entry fee, obviously, and most traders offer free samples, so you can try different types of cheese, spices, meat products and so on. If you’re more than slightly peckish, they also sell warm food and you can get most of it for under £10. Then head to the Southwark Cathedral, sit on the wall and do some people watching, it’s fun.
Borough Market is also conveniently located on the Southbank, so once you’ve had enough of being pushed around by strangers, you can get some more space by the river.
2. Walking around on the Southbank is one of my favourite things to do, the views are great and if tired, you can sit on the steps of The Scoop, next to the City Hall. The Scoop is a kind of outdoor amphitheatre and quite often they have free festivals, film screenings, etc. It’s mostly on the first come first served basis. They also provide a list of all their festivals and events, so if you’re planning a budget trip to London, have a look.
3. In September, this year it’ll be on the 19th and 20th, London is a host to the Open House London. If you want to save money, but still see some fantastic sights, these are the dates you should mark in your calendar. We’ve been going to this for 2 years now and plan on going in the future. Ever wondered what the Foreign&Commonwealth Office looks like inside? Or the Banqueting House? Or the City Hall and The Bank of England? Or any other historic or modern building, gardens, parks? The list of places offering free admission is almost never ending. The Guide for this year will be available online in August. A note of warning though, head out early as the crowds get big, last year the queue for The Bank of England almost made its way around the whole building, so good walking shoes and knowledge of the good old British queuing etiquette is essential ☺
4. London also never disappoints with its festivals. In the summer there are too many to write about, but Notting Hill Carnival is probably one of the best known ones. It’s on end of August and it’s known as London’s biggest street party with a variety of performers, colourful floats and lots and lots of happy party people who come to soak in the atmosphere of this Caribbean inspired event. The first day is always Children’s Day, which is a bit less crazy than the main event on Bank Holiday Monday. So, if you want some of that Caribbean feel and can’t jet off to that part of the world, come to Notting Hill, munch on the delicacies on sale on a number of stalls, throw out some moves to the sound of steelpans bands and do your best not to get swept away by the crowds.
London really has an abundance of festivals and it’s unfair that I’m leaving so many out, but if you’re keen on attending one, go online and do some research, Time Out and similar online publications have a list of all the events.
5. If you feel like a bit of culture, The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, offers some tickets for £5, just check online. You’ll not end up with the best seats in the house, but the experience’s there and the building itself is pretty spectacular.
6. Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank is another culture-filled place you can visit. If you don’t mind standing, you can get tickets for £5 for its summer performances. You’ll not only get to see some very English plays, you’ll also end up in the historic and unique Globe Theatre and to top it all, you’ll still be on the bustling Southbank.
7. A trip to the Houses of Parliament can also be free (guided tours cost £20, audio tours £18). You can go to the public gallery of the House of Commons and watch our politicians debate. Even Prime Minister’s Question Time is open to general public and yes, it’s also free. You’ll need a ticket for the Question Time, but you can still queue without it, however, the entry is then not guaranteed.
8. Museums and galleries in London are generally free, unless you want to see a special temporary exhibition. If you’re after a fun night out, go to the Science Museum Lates. This is a free entry event on last Wednesday of every month open only to adults. And Lates tells you the time, it’s late or in the evening. Explore the museum, join in the demonstrations or party at the Silent Disco with a glass of your favourite drink. There’s also a new comedy on if you can spare £5.
9. The best way to see London is on foot – well, if you enjoy walking and have a decent pair of shoes. For about £10 you can buy City Walks London cards and then head out on short walks past all the sights. If you are prone to getting lost, join the Unseen Tours for a £10. This are tours led by homeless, ex-homeless and vulnerable people in London, so not only will they teach you facts about the city, but you’ll also do something good.
10. You can also hop onto the waterbus as the tickets for a 50 minute journey from Camden Lock (where you can grab a “cheap” bite to eat) to Little Venice cost £8.30. You’ll enjoy a slow journey on the canals through London ZOO and past some amazing houses.
11. If you can’t spend £24.95 for The View from the Shard or £26.96 for the London Eye (both prices if you book online), you can go to the Monument close to St Paul’s Cathedral and climb its 311 steps for £4. It was built to commemorate the great Fire of London and offers decent views. You can even get a joint ticket for the Monument and the Tower Bridge for £10.50.
12. If you’re after a free view over London, book a free visit to the Skygarden. They release tickets in two weeks advance slots and you’ll have to book them quickly. Skygarden is located at 20 Fenchurch Street and it contains three storeys of public gardens and amazing views over the City of London.
13. Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square is a hidden gem with tickets priced from $4. They do Christmas Carol, Froze, Grease sing-a-longs, so it’s all good fun. Don’t expect the most recent blockbusters though.
14. Animal lovers head to Hackney City Farm, entry is free. They also have educational courses, such as pottery (£15 fee), mosaic making and events for children.
15. A fan of the great sleuth, Sherlock Holmes? A visit to the 221b Baker Street museum will set you back £10, but it will allow you to step back in time as the study is still kept in the Victorian era style. The entry to the gift shop is free though.
16. Abbey Road for all the Beatles fans. Walking across the road is free, you’ll just annoy the local people and please be careful as there’s loads of traffic. The studios are near the crossing and the CCTV camera images are available online, so you can search for your crossing shot online. If you can’t go, Abbey Road Studios and Google have recently released Inside Abbey Road Studios, so you can do an online tour and test your skills as a sound engineer.
17. Visit Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, the biggest Hindu temple outside India. You can get a free audio guide (a £5 deposit is required, but you do get it back). Mandir boasts incredible architecture, Arti ceremony if you’re there at 11.45am or you expand your knowledge of Hinduism.
18. London’s Parks. Hire a deck chair in Hyde Park for £1.60 for an hour and enjoy a spell of sunshine. Or sit in the grass for free, stroll past the Serpentine, pay £10 for 30 minutes on the pedal boat or listen to people speaking at the Speaker’s Corner. Go and look for the Peter Pan statue, different memorials or the bandstand. You can also do the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk by following 90 plaques set in the ground of the 7 mile long walk.
19. Take the boat to Greenwich. Thames Clippers give you plenty of options for your start and end point, if you want to travel between London Eye and Greenwich, it’ll cost you £7.15 if you pay cash, but if you put money on the Oyster card the price is less, and it only costs you £4.75 if you have a Travelcard.
20. Chiswick House and Gardens. The entry to the gardens and conservatory is free of charge and you can enjoy sunshine in the beautifully restored 18th century gardens. If you want to visit the villa, the entry is £6.30, so still under a tenner. If you get a bit peckish, the café serves sandwiches, soups and such. The café is a modern contrast to the house built in 1729 by Earl of Burlington to showcase his art collection.
A bonus treat…
Hidden in the legal part of London are Lincoln’s Inn Fields and next to them Lincoln’s Inn. Lincoln’s In Chapel has choir and string concerts followed by a dinner, which will cost you £65. However, a regular series of lunchtime concerts takes place on Tuesdays (term time only) and the entry is absolutely free. These lunchtime concerts feature the young musicians of the Royal College of Music.