Hello all! Pardon my slight absence but I had a bit of an issue with my laptop. We’ll just say it took a swim in the bathtub…. but now I’m back and ready to give you all the down-low on the fantastic free and cheap things I discovered to do while I was in London.
Now, let me start off by saying I am by no means a London expert, I’m just a super budget conscious girl who found some awesome budget-friendly activities and wanted to pass on this knowledge in case I can help any of you other budget conscious travelers out there.
Now let’s get on with it. First up…
London has so many incredible museums and with the exception of a few small museums, they’re FREE. Probably one of my favorite words. I by no means visited every museum in London, but here are the ones I did in order from my favorite to least.
- The British Museum: Where do I even start. This is probably the top museum in London and it’s massive with the crowds to match. I didn’t even come close to seeing everything. It serves as home to some pretty incredible artifacts from all over the world and throughout history such as the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian relics, and even pieces of the Parthenon from Athens. Displays in the museum literally span history from Ancient Mesopotamia to Alaskan Native culture and beyond. I was in constant awe of the artifacts I was witnessing.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum: This museum was a complete surprise to me. I honestly just ducked in to use their wifi (all the museums had free wifi) and ended up loving it. Similar to the British Museum it houses a lot of historical artifacts but it focuses more on the humanities, art, and design. My favorite spaces were the Cast Courts which houses copies (or casts) of dozens of historical monuments and sculptures (like Michelangelo’s David). The most impressive to me was a casting of Trajan’s Column from Rome which is actually displayed in two pieces because it’s to tall to fit in the building. Impressive.
- The National Gallery: This massive art museum houses many iconic works from famous artists throughout history. If you want to get up close and personal with works by Van Gough, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Rembrandt, Di Vinci… This is where you need to go. Paintings are sorted by historical period and or country so it can be quite difficult to find the specific paintings you want to see unless you know what you’re looking for, however on the museum’s web page they list their most famous paintings and exactly which rooms you can find them in which is helpful. Also again, the museum has free wifi so accessing the website shouldn’t be an issue even if you don’t have data.
- The National History Museum: Honestly it’s very similar to every other natural history museum I’ve been to, that’s the only reason it doesn’t rank higher on the list. The museum is home to a pretty impressive collection of rocks and gems as well as taxidermy animals. The centerpiece though is probably the museums Hintze Hall which has a massive blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. The room itself also has some pretty cool architectural details built into the columns and staircases.
- The Tate Modern: In general I like modern art, I mean arguably the art I create would be classified as modern art. I did not, however, like about 90% of the Tate Modern. I just didn’t get it. The meanings of the strange installations were over my head. The one redeeming quality of the museum for me was its location. It sits on the south bank of the Thames in an old Power Station. On the top floor of the building is actually a viewing deck where you get some pretty awesome views of the river, the Millennium Bridge, St. Pauls Cathedral, and the rest of London. I highly recommend a visit for that alone
*Also, pro tip. There are public bathrooms all over London that you have to pay to use (and rightfully so), but all the museums have fantastic bathrooms that you can use for free. So, if you ever find yourself needing a “Lu” and you’re close to a museum just duck in and save some pence.
West End Shows
Ok, I’ll start this off by saying the obvious, this isn’t a free activity BUT, if you’re a musical lover like me there are some tips to help you save big! While I was in London I decided to go see the musical “Waitress.” Having done a bit of research beforehand I learned that Waitress is among a handful of West End shows that offer “Day Of Tickets.” Theaters obviously want to sell as many tickets to a show as possible since an empty seat equals no profit. This essentially means that if you have the energy to wait in line for the theater to open on the day of the show you have the possibility to score an awesome seat for cheap. Now not every show does this and times, lines lengths, and rules vary depending on the show as well (I suggest doing some research online before you head out), but here was my experience with Waitress…
After researching I learned that the ticket office at the Adelphi Theater (where Waitress is preformed) opens at 10:00 in the morning so I aimed to get there by 8:30 to make sure I got a good spot in line. Well, I got there at 8:30 and no one was there! I was a little confused and wondered if I got my info wrong, so I wandered down the street to get some free wifi and double-check (everything checked out, just no one else was waiting yet). So, since I had an hour and a half to kill I wandered around and stumbled upon the que for The Lion King (musical) and the line was INSANE (I also heard the line for Wicked can get that way). I was pretty happy with my choice of musical at this point and decided to wander back to the theater. By the time I got back, there was a couple standing in front of the theater (in line) so now I didn’t feel so awkward and decided to join them. By the time the theater opened there were 8 of us total, not so bad. I ended up scoring a 5th row center ticket for $30 USD, which is a little bit pricier than day-of tickets in NYC but still a fantastic deal considering the people next to me spent close to $100!
Other tips: Both “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter” and the Cursed Child” sell their leftover (discount) tickets using an online Lottery. I entered for both but was unlucky on all counts. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did 😉
London is home to several incredible parks which offer a great way to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city (even though you’re still technically in the middle of it all). You can stroll among the many paths or rent a Satander Bike for a couple pounds. Overall parks are just a great place to people watch and see some iconic monuments, like the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. It took me awhile to find it but it was totally worth it!
- Note: I also highly recommend St. Dunsten of the East church ruins. While it’s not technically a park the foliage covered ruins are an incredible sight to behold.
Southwark Cathedral: Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls Cathedral are both incredible sites to behold but expensive to get into. If you want to get your cathedral fix but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg consider Southwark Cathedral. It’s free to get into and £2 for a photo pass
The Sky Garden: Skip the Shard and it’s high price tag and take in the view from the Sky Garden instead. Located at the top of the “Walkie Talkie” building the Sky Garden offers panoramic views of London as well as a cafe and lush indoor gardens all for FREE. That’s right, FREE. Note: You do need a ticket to be allowed on the elevator but these can be booked on the Sky Garden Website ahead of time. Apparently, some time slots do “sell” out during busy tourist months, but in October when I visited I didn’t feel like it was overly crowded.
So there you have it. A very brief outlined version of some awesome free/cheap things to do in London. Of course there are some honorable mentions that totally belong on this list but it would go on forever if I included them. So I’ll just quickly mention… 1. Camden market is quirky and fantastic, a wonderful place to hang out and probably my favorite spot in London; 2. Notting Hill is full of charm, adorable pastel colored houses and Portobello Rd. Market; 3. The canals of Little Venice are fun to explore; 4. Covent Garden and the neighborhoods of Soho are fun to explore and full of cool little quirks like Neals Yard; 5. You can still learn a lot about the Tower of London without going inside. There are tons of plaques around the outer wall giving you a glimpse of its history; 6. Shoreditch has amazing street art including a couple Bansky’s; and finally 7. Borough Market has a lot of fantastic food for good prices!