Despite the fact that London was recently voted the 7th most expensive city in the world, 2013 has been a record breaking year for the capital in terms of tourism. Between January and June, the city welcomed over 8 million tourists and if the second half of the year matches this, London will overtake Bangkok as the worlds most popular travel destination.
So with London showing no sign of taking a back seat in tourism, it’s more crucial than ever to ensure you get the best out of your visit with these useful free tips and budget ideas.
London is unique among its capital counterparts in that it offers some of the world’s most prestigious museums and art galleries for free.
The British Museum is one of the oldest museums in the world and home to millions of objects from around the globe documenting the diverse human history and culture of our planet. The Museum is the home of many notable items including the Rosetta Stone, credited with deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the second largest collection of artefacts from Ancient Egypt outside Egypt including mummies, jewellery and notable statues.
Located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, you’ll find the Natural History Museum, the V & A and Science Museum. At the Natural History, you’ll be welcomed by Dippy, a skeleton replica of a diplodocus over 100 foot long whilst the Science Museum includes many interactive displays to keep children engaged, including science experiments in the Little Lab of Horrors, test driving Super-Smart Cycles and Launchpad which features 50 hands on shows and exhibits.
London is home to some of the greatest paintings in history and most can be viewed for free. The Courtauld Gallery includes Manet’s famous modernist work ‘A Bar at the Folles-Bergère’ as well as ‘Nevermore’ by Paul Gauguin. At the National Gallery you’ll find many notable works including ‘Sunflowers’ by Vincent Van Gogh and ‘The Ambassadors’ by Hans Holbein the younger whilst the Tate Modern includes Picasso’s ‘The three Dancers’ and Dali’s ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ in its permanent collection.
The lesser known Grant Museum of Zoology houses the collection of an avid Victorian collector of taxidermy, animal specimens and skeletons whilst Sir John Soane’s Museum is equally curious with salvaged architectural pieces of interest, paintings and objects acquired at auction including an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement. Free candlelit tours are also available to explore this beautiful townhouse by night.
For Family Days Out
If you’re visiting the English capital with children you’ll easily be able to keep them entertained without having to spend a fortune.
The British Royal Family is one of the main reasons why so many people choose to visit London and high on most people’s list is a visit to Buckingham Palace. Make sure you time your visit so you can watch the iconic Changing of the Guard ceremony which takes place daily (May to July) and alternate days thereafter at 11.30am (10am on Sundays).
Kew Gardens is free for under 16’s and there are loads of activities to get kids thinking and moving. The Rhizotron & Xstrata Treetop Walkaway allows you to walk level with the tree canopy, 18 metres in the air, whilst Treehouse Towers is the ultimate adventure playground with zip wires, swings and nets. For the keen gardeners among us, free guided tours are also available.
Avoid the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus and take your kids shopping in Covent Garden, where you can alternate retail therapy with watching the fantastic street performers in the main square. The mime artists, magicians, acrobats and entertainers here are all highly skilled and have been chosen to perform here after rigorous auditions, with many acts having toured worldwide and performed in prestigious shows.
Animal lovers should head to Hackney City Farm where you can meet the resident pigs, goats, donkeys, rabbits, ducks, sheep and guinea pigs. This free farm encourages children to learn about nature, grow vegetables and care for our planet
Big Ben is one of the most iconic buildings in London, but did you know that you can climb the 334 steps to the top? You’ll not only see some of the best views of London, but you’ll get to explore behind the clock faces and hear the bells chime up close. This unique activity is great for those travelling with older children, but little ones might find it too exhausting!
For Nightlife and Accommodation
If you’re staying overnight in the capital, you’ll no doubt want to explore the nightlife on offer here. So where are the best places to go without the entry fee?
Catch in Shoreditch is free every Friday and often has live bands playing as well as great beats churned out by the DJ. Speakeasy style bar Nightjar is also located here, recently earning third place for the title of best cocktail in the world, and holds free piano recitals on Tuesdays whilst blues loves should head to Ain’t nothing But The Blues Bar in Soho for free entry Thursday to Sunday.
The Scoop, near London Bridge, is an outdoor amphitheatre offering free events throughout the summer including film screenings, music concerts and theatre productions. The BBC also offer free tickets to watch the taping of their shows, you just need to sign up to their mailing list to get the invite!
Staying over in the Capital is usually the most expensive part of the trip, but it doesn’t have to be. If you book a Secret Hotel with lastminute.com or Hotwire you can save up to 35% and most are four and five star rated! Alternatively hostels are the cheapest way to stay in the city- as long as you don’t mind sharing a bedroom with other tourists!
Fancy meals out and Mayfair cocktails are all well and good but if you’re looking to woo a loved one during your visit, London offers some fantastic original budget date ideas.
London is known for its beautiful city parks and what better way to spend some quality time with someone than enjoying a tranquil walk and picnic together. Head to Parliament Hill, in Hampstead Heath, for spectacular views of the city skyline and if you’re visiting during Bonfire Night or New Years Eve it’s a great place to watch fireworks for free.
The Royal Opera House, Royal Festival Hall and St-Martin-in-the-Fields all offer free lunchtime music recitals and concerts from talented established professionals and up and coming performers. In the evenings, keep yourselves entertained with some free stand-up comedy. The likes of Jimmy Carr and Mickey Flanagan have taken to the stage at the Comedy Café Theatre in Shoreditch, and now you can watch rising stars for free every Wednesday. Alternatively Angel Comedy will leave you in stitches every Saturday from 8pm without an entry fee.
The Barclays Bike scheme allows locals and visitors in London to get around the city with ease and works out cheaper than public transport. You can hire a bicycle for the whole day for just £2 and there are some lovely routes throughout London to take advantage of. A particular favourite is cycling along the canal from Little Venice. You can follow the river all the way to the suburbs of London passing the beautifully coloured houseboats along the way. Plot your route before you set off and be sure to pick out a good pub en route to refuel at!
The Old Bailey is synonymous with criminal justice and anyone from the public is welcome to come and watch trials in session for free. This alternative day out is a far cry from the beaten track of tourist’s checklists but it’s guaranteed to be a memorable and valuable experience of British Law in its most prestigious venue.
For Eating Out
London is home to some of the worlds finest dining, and the melting pot of cultures here make it a great place to sample world cuisine that doesn’t have to cost you the earth.
Borough Market is the city’s answer to cheap gourmet food, with plenty of independent retailers offering up tasters to entice you. If you haven’t filled yourself up on tasty titbits then grab one of the scrumptious falafel wraps, paella pots or homemade pies and walk along the river to Potter’s Field Park to dine alfresco with unrivalled views of Tower Bridge.
Camden Market is perhaps London’s best loved market, and although the majority of it is clothing and accessories, the food market here is exceptional. The courtyard provides a good amount of seating once you’ve chosen your dish, and with most stands selling meals for under a fiver you’ll have extra money to spend on souvenirs! If you’re after something sweet, the churros (Spanish style donuts) are to die for.