London can be a fairly pricey city. Fortunately, it can also be seen on a budget if you know what you are doing. After spending last week in London, here are some tips that I can offer.
1. Getting Around
A week-long bus pass costs just over £20. It allows unlimited rides on London’s signature double-decker buses and is the cheapest way to get around. Load this onto an Oyster Card and tap it when you get onto the bus. Oyster Cards are available at any London tube (subway) station vending machine and require a £5 deposit which you get back when you return the card.
If you are staying less than a week or want to ride the tube as well, then you can just get an Oyster Card, load it with money, and pay as you go: there is a daily cap after which all rides are free. And if you are really tech-saavy, then you can use Android Pay or Apple Pay on your smartphone to pay directly with your credit/debit card by tapping your phone when you ride the bus or tube.
2. Take Advantage Of the Free Museums
Many of London’s museums are free, including some of the best ones. The British Museum houses some of the world’s most famous artifacts like the Rosetta Stone. The British Library, National Gallery, National History Museum, and Science Museum are also free to enter. Several other museums are also free, too many to mention here! But I can assure you, if museums are your thing, you will need a few weeks in the city just to see the free ones.
3. Visit Parks and Other Attractions
Buckingham Palace can be seen from the outside for free, and so can the changing of the guard ceremony. If you are lucky enough, you might even see the queen herself!
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park was the site selected for the line of latitude known as the Prime Meridian- and if you go here you can place one foot on either side of it. Although the Observatory has an entrance fee, there is a part of the line which you can visit for free just below. Greenwich mean time also takes its name from the observatory.
Hyde Park is a huge park near central London which has giant open areas great for relaxing, people watching, or reading a book.
4. Explore the Neighborhoods
London is a city full of immigrants from every area of the world, and you can experience many different cultures just by walking through the city. For instance, visiting the Whitechapel neighborhood you will be surrounded by Bengali residents, street markets, and great Bengali curries. And if you go to Stoke Newington, you might find the best Turkish kebabs and hookah lounges in the city. Perhaps most famously, London’s Chinatown is the center of east Asian culture in the city and has amazing dim sum.
Of course, many areas also have their own unique feel as well. Chelsea is a middle-upper class neighborhood of London and a good place to go and see nice, classic British flats. Spitalfields is a “hip” area of the city with food trucks seemingly around every corner. And Dalston is a lively neighborhood full of fun activities in the evening and frequented by local celebrities (like Ian McKellen).
5. Immerse Yourself In the Markets
Borough Market is probably the best known market and most frequented by tourists for its culinary specialties, but there are plenty of other good ones as well.
Old Spitalfields Market, like the neighborhood, has a hipster vibe with plenty of food trucks, as well as a central exhibition.
Leadenhall Market is full of fancy traditional-style London pubs and is frequented by businessmen after work. It also is a filming location for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.
Camden Market is a huge alternative-style market, full of everything from steampunk to goth to futuristic styles as well as a food court full of a fusion of foods from all over the world.
Columbia Road Flower Market is open Sundays and offers a wide variety of flowers and plants as well as a vibrant history.
6. Check Out Places of Worship
There are a couple of notable (and beautiful) Anglican churches in London- Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s cathedral. Although admission to visit the churches may be hefty (around £20 per person), it is possible to visit for free if you go to one of the services. Westminster Abbey in particular is a good spot to go for Evensong, where the choir sings in the evening. It is open to anyone regardless of religion, and on the way in you pass by burial spots of many historical figures like Isaac Newton.
The largest Hindu temple in the world outside of India is also in London. It is called BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir and is also interesting to visit if you have the time.
7. Save Money Traveling To and From the Airport
If you are flying into London Heathrow airport, the cheapest way to reach the city center is by taking the tube from the Heathrow underground station, which you can also buy Oyster Cards from. If you are lucky enough to be flying into London City airport (the closest airport to the city center), you do the same by using a combination of the Docklands Light Railway and the tube.
However, if you are flying into Gatwick, Stansted, or Luton airports you should probably look into buying tickets ahead of time to get the best price. For instance, buying a bus ticket to/from Stansted Airport a few weeks ahead of time can cost as little as £2 rather than the standard £10-20 each way if you buy last minute.
Now is a great time to visit London as the exchange rate is better than ever! If you do plan to visit in the near future, hopefully the tips I have covered here can extend your dollar even further.