Despite its many free attractions, museums and art galleries – from the National Portrait Gallery to the British Museum – London is a notoriously pricey city. We’ve covered how to get the cheapest tickets to London’s top attractions before, but with this post we’re asking a simpler question:
If you had just $10 (or £6.40 ish) in your pocket, what would you spend it on? We asked travellers in London for their ideas…
We’re London locals ourselves, though, so we played backpacker for the day and scoured the city for a list of great things to do when you’re staying in London on a budget. We were pleasantly surprised at the more unusual things you can do in London with a bit of spare change…
1. Beigels in Brick Lane (£2)
In London’s trendy East-End, Brick Lane is a popular place to soak up a bit of Brit-cool. There are edgy bars and clubs, vintage clothing stores, and infamous curry houses lining the streets. But after a night on the grimy-but-oh-so-hip tiles, London’s clubbers head to the Brick Lane Beigel Bake – perfect for soaking up the booze with a Jewish ‘beigel’.
Cooked in the traditional way – boiled and then baked – these are the most authentic bagels you will ever eat. Chewy and warm, and served with all the typical fillings, from smoked salmon and cream cheese to pastrami. Open 24 hours a day, a plain bheigel is only 15p, and the classic salt beef is only £2. At these prices, you’ll have change spare to squeeze in a slice of cheesecake, or any other sugar-soaked pastry, for around 60p.
2. Full English Breakfast (£5)
If the beigel wasn’t enough to prevent that hangover, spend a fiver on a traditional English breakfast – otherwise known as ‘the Builder’s’ or the ‘fry-up’ . As its loving name suggests, this British ‘delicacy’ (just like fish and chips, pie and sausage and mash) is heavy with cholesterol and calories – but who cares when it tastes this good!
For an authentic but cheap English breakfast, forget the skinny lattes and croissants of more upscale breakfast venues and look out for a ‘greasy spoon’ cafe – the plastic tablecloths, wipe-clean booths and gruff builders downing cups of tea are all part of the charm.
Each ‘Full English’ varies from place to place, but expect a greasy mash-up of bacon, eggs, sausage, beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, fried bread or hash browns, black pudding, and toast with lashings of butter, all washed down with a strong cup of tea.PLaces you can get a Full English for a fiver include:
- Dakin’s under London Bridge 7 London Bridge Walk
- The Other Side in King’s Cross 246-248 Pentonville Road
- Phoenix Cafe in Brixton 441 Coldharbour Lane
3. A Monu-mental view (£3)
The Monument is one of London’s most underrated tourist sites – just next to Bank tube station on the north bank side of London Bridge, this doric column tower (built to commemorate the great Fire of London in 1666) offers dizzying views of the city. Once you pay the small admission fee, brace yourself for a 61 metre climb up the spiral stairs to the top…
4. The Bard in action (£5)
Shakespeare was one of England’s most famous residents, and the esteemed playwright’s works are shown from April to October at the Globe Theatre on the South Bank. A recreation of a traditional Elizabethan playhouse, it comes complete with open roof and space for the ‘groundlings’ (that’s people standing to you and me).
Standing tickets start from just £5, so if the weather’s nice, you can pay only peanuts to see famous plays performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Check out their summer programme here.
5. The Royal Opera (£4)
If Shakespearean dramatics are not your thing, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden also offers budget-friendly deals; it’s £4 for a last-minute standing ticket, which is perfect for anyone with high-class tastes and an empty wallet.
6. A bag full of records
From the Beatles at Abbey Road to the birth of Punk, London has long been famous for its music scene. With the demise of the traditional record shop, and even chains like Zavvi and Fopp going under, there seem to be less and less places to score some bargain beats. Luckily, Cheapo Cheapo records (53 Rupert Street) is still around – a real one-off and a chaotic Aladdin’s Cave of second-hand records, CDs and DVDs.
Open from 1pm until the owner decides to close, this tiny shop in Soho is a ramshackle mix of old cardboard boxes crammed with vinyl and bags of rubble… Rummage here for a few hours and you can get a decent bag of goodies for your 10 bucks – but you’ll find yourself elbowing DJs out the way in search of an awesome bargain.
7. Art – and the prettiest corner of London? (£5)
Dulwich Village is an affluent part of South London, populated with gourmet delis, flower shops and shops selling trinkets and designer goods for yummy mummies. There’s a glorious park and a beautiful old college, as well as some impressive houses, but the Dulwich Picture Gallery is the cultural gem worth heading south for.
There’s an outstanding collection of 17th and 18th century art by masters such as Rembrandt and Rubens, housed in a mix of historic and ultra-modern buildings. Three times a year the Gallery hosts fascinating exhibitions like the ‘Age of Enchantment’ (illustrations for fairy stories).
8. Take to the water in Hyde Park (£5)
Hyde Park is beautiful all year-round, and when the weather warms up there’s nothing better than taking a pedalo ride across the Serpentine Lake, with glorious views of the gallery. Half an hour’s pedalo hire is £5 – double up for a romantic and leisurely lake ride.
9. Cycle the city (from £1)
Barclays Bike Hire – or Boris Bikes as they’re known to Londoners, as a nod to mayor Boris Johnson who ushered in the scheme – has proves a huge hit since launch. Pick up a bike at one of the many docking stations dotted around the city, pay a £1 access fee for 24 hours use and cycle at your leisure.
Just remember to drop your bike off at another dock when you’ve finished with it! The first half-hour’s use is free, and there’s a sliding scale of costs for use during the rest of the day – see all prices here. There are plenty of beautiful parks and waterways to explore by bike, including the Regent’s Canal that stretches from north-west to south-east London, and wild Hampsted Heath.
10. Sight-see on the Thames Clipper (£6)
See London by water and ride the Thames Clipper, the city’s affordable public boat transport service. There are a few different routes to choose from, but if you’re after a cultural day out go for the Tate to Tate service and ride from the Tate Modern at Bankside Pier to the Tate Britain at Millbank Pier – both galleries have fantastic free art collections to explore.
Thanks to eschipul, Alan Stanton, ianmunroe, aussiegall, monkeywing, Dave Catchpole, jareed, renaissancechambara, Nathalie_r, garryknight and Dave Hamster for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were suitable for use at the time of publication according to the Creative Commons License.
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