Holiday on a budget: London

A visit to the UK capital needn’t break the bank, writes Alexia Santamaria.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford,” goes the famous, and slightly overused Samuel Johnson quote. While the phrasing may be a bit over the top, the idea that London has an almost inexhaustible supply of fascinating things to explore is true. And plenty of them are free — or inexpensive. Here are some tips if you’re heading to one of the world’s greatest cities without one of the world’s greatest bank balances.

Where to even start with this one? Just mooching around Central London will take you past so many landmarks you’ve seen in the books and movies of your youth — Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey. Check out Strawberry Tours and Free tours By Foot for no charge/inexpensive guided walks. And then there are the parks — the world-famous Hyde Park or head further out to Richmond; a stroll down the South Bank is also a wonderful way to spend an evening. London is an incredibly walkable city, so get those trainers on and move. Even when getting from place to place in the central city, use a map or google to check distances — walking is often quickest.

Amazingly free are the Natural History Museum, Museum of London, Victoria and Albert Museum, National Maritime Museum, the British Museum, Crystal Palace Park, The Science Gallery, The Wallace Collection, The National Portrait gallery, The National Gallery and the Tate Modern and many more smaller museums and art galleries. Many of the galleries house important international works so you’ll see the art of Botticelli, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Turner, Renoir and Van Gogh at the National Gallery and the likes of Cezanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, Rothko, Dali, Pollock, Warhol and Bourgeois at the Tate Modern. And kids will love the Natural History Museum with its giant dinosaurs and plenty of hands-on exhibits. Don’t forget to go and see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace — another great free activity.
When you do want to do paid activities, London Pass covers 60 attractions and often grants fast-track entry. Try the three-, six-, or 10-day pass for the best value.

There is food for every budget and it’s not difficult to eat well for reasonable prices. Supermarkets have a huge range of amazing ready-to-eat food and snacks to avoid your having to shell out tourist prices at attractions. Pack up some treats and eat picnic-style anywhere you fancy. London’s food markets are also wonderful for grabbing a bite that won’t cripple you. Portobello Rd, Camden, Greenwich, Spitalfields and Brick Lane markets offer a great range of cheap and delicious street food from around the world and don’t miss the excellent street-food stalls in Brixton Village and Borough Market. Make sure you look at deals on Time Out, Groupon, and Open Table — especially on Monday nights. There are plenty of bargains to be found. Avid foodies should check out Bib Gourmand listings (Michelin’s high-quality/good-value awards) — London has more than 50.

Visitor Oyster cards will become your best friend in London. Using one is 50 per cent cheaper than buying one-day paper Travelcards or single tickets with cash. They also qualify you for discounts on food, drinks and other things. Also remember if you are trying to avoid taxis, that London Buses run through the night. Check out River Bus and River Tours, another way you can use your Oyster card, for a relaxing view of the sights from the water.London doesn’t have to be expensive if you do some research first and sites like and are a wealth of information so you’re clued up to get the best bang for your London buck.

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