2017 has turned out to be the year that London became “affordable” for more Americans than it’s been in well….since most international travelers can remember. If you’re considering a trip to jolly old England, you should know a couple of things.
First, the British pound is still a stronger currency than the dollar, so affordable is a bit of a relative term here. On the other hand, London has many free or nearly free activities to recommend it that will offset what you have to spend on accommodation and dining. Let’s look at a few of our best tips and cost-cutting hacks.
Free World-Class Museums
One of the coolest aspects of London is the number of amazing museums on offer for free or nearly so. Whatever your preference, London will hook you up. The Tate Modern is a must if modern art is your jam. More of a classics lover? Get yourself to the National Gallery and visit a selection of the world’s masterpieces. The British Museum may be more your speed if you’re interested in human history – they have more than 8 million works dedicated to exploring this topic. The Imperial War Museum, far from glorifying war or imperialism, offers a sobering examination of both. All of these museums are 100% free.
Skip the fees at Westminster Abbey
A visit to the most famous church in all of England where every monarch since 1066 has been crowned (to say nothing of the many royal weddings) will set you back a cool £22 (that’s nearly $30 U.S.) Here’s how you can avoid that fee. Just attend Evensong services (daily at 5pm). Sit back, enjoy the hymns and maybe give a small donation if the offering plate comes your way. Access to shrines and royal tombs are not permitted, but for the atmosphere and soaking in the history aurally, you can’t go wrong with Evensong.
Shakespeare at the Globe
You can always see a production of classic theatre at the place where the Bard got his start. Sure, you could pay for a seat in one of three levels available, but if you want to watch a play like a local would in Shakespeare’s time, you’ll want to buy a ticket to stand in the “yard.” Tickets are just £5.
For being such a cosmopolitan metropolis and one of the most modern cities in the world, the city boasts an impressive number of green spaces – expansive parks to lounge and picnic about in. In north London you can’t miss Hampstead Heath – it’s wild, it’s enormous at nearly 800 acres, and it’s been an inspiration for countless books and poems. Hyde Park is in central London, one of the oldest Royal Parks, and home to The Sepentine, London’s oldest boating lake. Of course, you may not want to pass up a visit to Kensington Gardens (in a corner of Hyde Park), where the popular Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground is situated. Greenwich Park is a great stop for geography geeks who want to stand on the Prime Meridian (but you do have to pay nearly 20 pounds for this privilege). London is also chock full of more “secret” gardens. Our favorite is Postman’s Park, a simple little park nestled behind St. Botolph’s Aldersgate Church. Visit the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice that remembers the lives of ordinary people who died while helping others.
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Royal fanatics will probably want to visit the inside of Buckingham Palace – and the Queen will happily oblige you for a price. Various tours of the palace start at £23 for adults, but you can watch the daily Changing of the Guard for free. The pageantry goes off every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 11:30am through the summer months.
“High” Street Bargain Fashion Shopping
You’ll hear locals talking about shopping on “High Street” and you need to know that High Street is sort of a euphemism for the main shopping area in town. Of course, this being London, there’s more than one. The best High Street for bargain-shoppers is probably Oxford Street in central London. If you’re a fashionista on a budget, you can sample H & M’s flagship location, Zara, Forever 21, Zara and London’s own Topshop.
“Window” shopping at Portobello Market
Locals turn up to Notting Hill on the weekends for the antiques, the bric a brac and the foodstuffs. While the Portobello Road market is not exactly a bargain-shopper’s dream, it is great for people watching, haggling with vendors and examining artifacts from yesteryear, If the counterculture vibe is more your thing, check out Camden Market instead.
So there you have it. London on a shoestring really is possible. Save your extra dollars to splash out on a more centrally located hotel (or find the more affordable properties on the south side of the Thames). Flights from New York (JFK) are around $500 in September. You can expect to pay nearly twice that in the more popular month of July. Read more about the best dates to buy here.
Should you decide to take the speedy and economical ($59) Eurostar train to Paris while you’re there, you might want to check out our post Paris on the Cheap. Happy travels!