How to Enjoy London on a Shoestring Budget

Walking the Thames, overlooking London's Financial District
Walking the Thames, overlooking London’s Financial District

Our travel motto is “Go see the free stuff first.”

And London has plenty of pretty cool stuff to see without spending a shilling.

Which is great considering London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit; especially for those traveling London on a shoestring budget.

The exchange rate makes London expensive for tourists.

Even after falling with the Brexit vote, the exchange rates on the UK pound is still extremely high for the majority of visitors to London. Currently costing those using the dollar around $1.25, the euro around €1.16 and the yen around ¥1.45, which equals a lot of spending loss for tourists.

During our first trip to London in December 2015, we spent an average of $1.50 per every £1 we spent in London.

Every time we stepped foot out the door, we came back $100 poorer.

I got where I didn’t want to go out. Here we were in this beautiful city and we couldn’t afford it. Or at least not afford the things we wanted to do, like trying out new restaurants, foods, the London Eye and seeing a show. Movie tickets to see Star Wars were £21.70 each for the IMAX screen.

Finally, we got our heads out of our asses, set aside our wants and enjoyed seeing the infamous London on a shoestring budget.

Go see the free stuff first.

It’s AMAZING how much free stuff London has to offer. And it’s good stuff, not cheesy like in some locations.

We’ve been back three times and still haven’t seen all the free stuff yet.

A quick online search pulls up more options then you can see in a week visit. Or talk to the locals. They know where to go on a budget.

By checking out the free stuff first, you really can enjoy London on a shoestring budget. And I bet it takes more than your first trip to see it all.

Using the bus system and walking are two very inexpensive ways of seeing London on a shoestring budget
Using the bus system and walking are two very inexpensive ways of seeing London

Getting There

Walking* is free and an awesome way to see London. But it is a big city, so hop on the bus for a relatively inexpensive ticket of £1.50 for getting to the area you want to explore.

In fact, save the £17 plus pounds you would spend on the hop-on-hop-off buses and use buses 88 and 4 to see most of the same sights for only £1.50 per ticket.

*You’ll need decent walking shoes in London because of all the cobblestone.

The normal morning lines outside the National History Museum in London
The normal morning lines outside the National History Museum in London

Museums

Dozens of museums in London offer free regular admission*, including The National GalleryVictoria and Albert MuseumTate ModernNational History MuseumNational Maritime Museum are no charge. Some of these museums are so large, it will take you a few days just to see all the exhibits housed within their walls.

Do make sure you check the website before planning your visit because some of the museums are closed for restoration. Also, the lines at the National History Museum get long as the day goes on, so plan to get to this one early in the morning and on weekdays, if possible.

*Special exhibits generally do cost an admission fee.

Bags & Biscuits | Street Art Free Walking Tour in London
The tour group during our street art tour with Gregory from Free Tours by Foot

Free Walking Tours

While not overly advertised, most big cities have tour companies offering free walking tours of the main sites. London is no exception.

The idea behind free walking tours is that everyone, regardless of budget, can enjoy seeing a city through the eyes of a professional/local guide. When the tour is over, you tip the guide what the tour was worth to you or what you can afford. If free is all you can afford, then free it is!

In London, we used Free Tours by Foot (and will use again) because they had more tours than just the Royal Tour of the city. We did the street art tour, which ended up being around 3 hours and plenty of fun with our knowledge guide Gregory.

Other choices for free walking tours are Sandeman’s New Europe London Free Tour of London and Free London Walking Tours.

Bags & Biscuits | St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge
Views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge from the Thames walk

Sightseeing

While the Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral do charge a ticket for sightseeing, you can see them for free by going to a service. There’s no picture-taking, but you still get to enjoy the church’s beauty and see the church how it was meant to be seen.

Go see the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and the changing of the Queen’s horse guard. And while the London Eye costs for rides, it costs nothing to walk by the Thames and see it.

Taking a stroll down the Thames, you’ll see views of the London, Tower and Millennium Bridges, the Palace of Westminster, St. Pauls Cathedral, the Shard, the Tate City Hall, Big Ben, the Tower of London and plenty of other famous sights.

Or go down Oxford Street for a little window shopping and admire the beautiful exclusive designer windows.

Spring flowers blooming in Hyde park.
Spring flowers blooming in Hyde park.

Parks

London’s many parks are free to enjoy and have plenty of statues, art, and memorials. Find a water bottle, pack a lunch, and get out and enjoy some fresh air while you explore lush areas of trees, flowers, and beautifully pruned hedges.

Hyde Park houses the Princess Diane’s memorial, lakes and beautiful gardens. Richmond Park is home to the famous London deer and in St. James Park, they feed the pelicans at 14:30 (2:30 pm) every day.

Just one example of the beautiful street art in London
Just one example of the beautiful street art in London

Street Art

London has some of the best street art in the world. Many world-famous street artists, like Banksy, Stik, ROA, Space Invader and Jonesy, and up-and-coming artists have left gorgeous uncommissioned and ever-changing works of art on this city. See them one day and possibly gone the next.

Shoreditch, Brick Lane, Brixton, Dulwich, Camden, Leake Street Tunnel in Waterloo and Whitecross Street are just a few locations for street art in London.

Borough Market is a great place for a cheap lunch.
Borough Market is a great place for a cheap lunch.

Food

Cheap eats abound in London, not to mention authentic food from almost anywhere in the world.

Try hand pulled ramen for £10 for a large bowl, Indian food starting at around £5, or Vietnamese sandwiches for £8.

Borough’s market is a great place for cheap lunch eats. Or dip in for organic soup, sandwiches, and salads at ready-made food markets like Pret Manager starting at around £2.50.

Or cook for yourself!

As you can see, London has plenty of things to do without spending a fortune and we’re still finding more every time we go. So go, have a great time and enjoy this beautiful city.

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