Save Money in London – Cheap Eats & Attractions in the UK

in Trip Locations

London has a reputation as one of Europe’s most expensive cities, and quite rightly so. Most Brits have had to leave the city’s lights for the suburbs, and if they can’t afford to live there what hope do us poor tourists have? The good news is that a short stay in the English capital needn’t clean out your bank account. This article gives you a few frugal travel tips for passing your time in this famous city.

If you want to see London, forget the taxis and hop on The Tube. The locals complain relentlessly about the Underground, bitching about signal failures, faulty trains, and strikes. But the truth is, The Tube’s actually one of the better public transport systems on the planet. Before you set off you’ll need to buy an Oyster card, a plastic alternative to those old paper tickets. The cards start from £10, including preloaded credit, which you can use on The Tube, national rail services and the Dockland Light Railway, the Overground, and local buses and trams. That initial outlay entitles you to the best value fares for the journeys you intend to make.

The Oyster card will also allow you to ride the number 23 bus for free. This route takes in some of London’s hot spots including Portobello Road, Oxford and Regent Streets, and Trafalgar Square. If you sit up the front of the upper level you can enjoy the sort of views that most visitors are paying tour companies for!

Once you’ve got your transport sorted you’ll need somewhere to go. As with many cities, London’s museums and art galleries offer a free way to pass a few hours. The British Museum is one of the city’s best, with big draw cards like the Rosetta Stone, a hall of Egyptian mummies, and sculptures from The Greek Parthenon.

The British Library sounds like a snorefest, but it’s not your typical library. While there are books and more books, some 14 million of them, there are also some fascinating artifacts on display at its Sir John Ritblat Gallery. I’ll bet your local library doesn’t have the Magna Carta, John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “A Hard Day’s Night,” or original manuscripts from Mozart!

The Tate Modern provides a refreshing change from some of London’s stuffier galleries. Many of its works are pretty wacky, but they’ll challenge your ideas about what is art, and what isn’t.

It’s also free to stroll around the Columbia Road Flower Market. You needn’t have a green thumb to appreciate the spread of roses and tulips, or the colorful characters who try to sell them. It runs every Sunday, and it’s just a short walk from the number 23’s Liverpool Street stop.

All that sightseeing will make you hungry, but don’t be too hasty to pull out your wallet. Instead take a stroll by London Bridge to the Borough Market. Food producers sell their wares here from lunchtime to twilight every Thursday and Friday, and all day on Saturdays. Of course they want you to buy, but there are enough free samples here to fill you up. The fresh pastas and gourmet cheeses are likely to be the tastiest things you’ve eaten on your frugal vacation!

If you turn up every day the stall holders may start to get suspicious though. London’s restaurants are expensive, but you can fill your tummy for a fiver with a kebab from a greasy takeaway store, a slice of pie from a pizzeria, or a bagel from the famous Brick Lane Beigel Bake.

As the day wears down there are a few places you can go for free entertainment. The Notting Hill Arts Club has great free live music between 2 and 8 every Saturday. Entry is also free at Islington’s Big Chill Bar, and if you can’t afford a pint you can spend less on half of one! If you feel like a few laughs, get yourself to one of the free comedy shows at the Queen’s Head in Piccadilly.

The UK's most famous clock, Big Ben

The UK's most famous clock, Big Ben

Before you leave London you’ll need to stop by its big sites to take the prerequisite vacation snaps. The good news is though, you need not step inside the attractions to really appreciate them. The best parts of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey are all at the front door. One exception is St. Paul’s Cathedral, the place where Prince Charles and Princess Diana exchanged their vows. Ordinarily you need to pay £14.50 to see more than the modest St. Dunstan chapel, but if you attend the Evensong service at 5 pm on Fridays you can enjoy the full glory of the church for nothing. If you pass by Buckingham Palace at 11:30 most mornings you can also enjoy the changing of the guard for nix. All those happy snaps should be enough to fool anyone you’ve enjoyed a lavish London vacation!

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