7 ideas for having an incredible time without breaking the bank
Guest post by Mike James
Between the fancy restaurants, exceptional high street shopping and captivating West End theatre, the cost of a day out in London can very quickly add up. If you’re planning a fun day trip to the capital with a loved one, friends or family, here are 7 ideas for having an incredible time without breaking the bank.
#1 | Brush up on your trivia with a walking tour
London offers endless opportunities for guided tours (like these at Into the Blue), whether you’re interested in the city’s rich history or in finding hidden spots that have inspired a particular film or book. A private tour might set you back over £100 per person, particularly if transport is included. However, if you don’t mind travelling on foot and going with a larger group, a number of companies offer walking tours around certain parts of the city for a much more affordable price.
#2 | Peruse the weird and wonderful artefacts at the museum
Everyone knows that you can get free entry into some excellent museums in London, like the National History Museum, the V&A or the British Museum – but that’s the thing, everyone has been there. For a more memorable visit, take a look at the peculiar exhibits at the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & National History (£6 admission, Hackney), or enjoy the resplendent Victorian decor at Leighton House Museum (£9 admission, Kensington). If you’ve got a strong stomach, you might even enjoy the skeletons and preserved creatures on display at the Grant Museum of Zoology (free admission, Fitzrovia).
#3 | Fill up on free food samples at Spitalfields market
Open every day of the week, Spitalfields offers stalls and permanent stores selling contemporary and vintage clothing, artwork, homewares and, of course, food. When lunchtime hits you’ll be spoilt for choice, so take your time to have a little taste of everything from each stall before you find something delicious that really hits the spot – it might feel a bit cheeky, but how else are you supposed to decide what you’re hungry for?
#4 | Picnic with squirrels at St. James’s Park
An alternative lunch option is to pick yourself up some sandwiches and head over to St. James’s Park, next to Buckingham Palace. If you arrive just before 11:30 you can begin your stroll by watching the Changing of the Guard, then head down The Mall to find a bench or grassy spot to sit (the park will be busy on sunny days). Once you’ve eaten there are plenty of beautiful gardens to enjoy, just look out for the cheeky squirrels that are curious enough to come right up to you. Who needs London Zoo?
#5 | Feel on top of the world with a scenic view
Maybe you’ve looked at the prices of the London Eye (standard tickets are £22.95) or taking in the View from the Shard (£32.95, when purchased in advance) and have decided that you’d be better off keeping your day at ground level. What if we told you there are a handful of lofty spots all over the city that will get your similar view for a slice of the price – or even for free? One option is to head to the Tate Modern (free) and soak up the skyline from their viewing level; another is to jump in the lift at One New Change (near St Paul’s Cathedral, also free) and head up to their roof terrace.
#6 | Be your own guide on a Routemaster bus tour
Sure, a hop-on, hop-off bus tour is exciting, but consider the fact that you can see the same sights from the top deck of a red Routemaster bus and you’ll wonder why you would ever bother. Okay, you won’t get a headset explaining the sights that you’re seeing, but if you know what route you’re getting then you can Google-as-you-go, giving yourself a private tour of your own. The Route 11 bus goes past the majority of iconic sights, and will cost a drop in the water compared to the £32 a head for a “proper” tour.
#7 | Take shelter at the cinema
London isn’t known for its sunshine, so it’s best to have a back-up plan in case the heavens open. What’s so special about going to a cinema? Well, the Ritzy is one of the oldest picture palaces in South London and is a Brixton institution; rebelling against everything your local multi-plex stands for. Its five screens show a mixture of current blockbusters, independent films and old classics, which you can enjoy from the comfort of a squashy, old-style theatre chair. Full-price tickets at weekends and bank holidays will set you back £14.10 unless you’re a concession or member, but compared to a lot of other London activities, we think that’s pretty good value.
Before you go, don’t forget to check whether a Visitor Oyster Card will be cheaper than a Day Travelcard to keep tube and bus fares low. You could also look at using the Santander Cycles scheme if you’re staying fairly central. Have fun!