There’s no escaping it – London is not an easy place to have a budget day out. Everything from transportation to food seems to have an extortionate price tag swinging from it. But like all cities, the capital has some great ways of making sure you can have a fun day out without reducing your bank manager to tears. It’s not the easiest job in the world, of course, and you need to think ahead rather than just diving into the first place you see for whatever you want. Follow our advice below and get the cheapest day out in the city.
Let’s start with the basics. London is a big city and you’re undoubtedly going to want to hop on the Tube or a bus at some point. However, the centre is not as mind bogglingly complex as you might think, and it pays to familiarise yourself with a map. You don’t want to have to get the Tube from South Bank to the Strand just because you don’t know the way. Walking around the centre is a great way of making sure you save a bit of money and also see a bit more of the city.
Oyster is frequently touted as the best way to get around the city – London’s smartcard system allows you to top up as much money as you like before you set out to explore, and then it charges what is necessary. A cap is in place to ensure that nobody ends up paying over the odds for their daily travel and Transport for London has even taken steps to ensure that you can use a contactless debit card in place of an Oyster. This makes the process even simpler.
The West End is famous throughout the world for its blazing theatre scene. Only Broadway in New York comes close. British classics including The Phantom of the Opera and Billy Elliot rub shoulders with US greats such as Wicked and The Lion King. While they all offer an incredible spectacle, spectators often have to pay through the nose to get into the auditorium. Luckily, there are some ways out of spending so much money. For a start, it’s well worth picking a day that isn’t a weekend. Monday to Thursday performances are less frequented and it’s easier to get cheaper tickets.
Second, choose the place where you get the tickets. The TKTs booth in Leicester Square is great for getting discounted tickets in the upper price bands, but did you know many theatres offer their cheapest seats at the box office from around £20? These can be bought at the TKTs booth as well, but they always have a booking fee attached.
Finally, if booking on the day for some shows, you might want to employ an element of luck (Book of Mormon, for example) or preparation (Wicked). Some productions operate a lottery system that allow participants to secure day seats via a lottery, like the former. Others, such as the latter, opt for a first-come first-served basis for their front-row seats on the day, which are invariably priced at £20-30 and have the added bonus of being the best seats in the house. Bring on the theatre.
If you’re set to soak up a bit of culture on your trip – and let’s face it, why shouldn’t you? – then London’s spectacular museum scene allows you to view a number of world-class venues without paying a penny. It’s amazing that you can experience the wonders of the Science Museum, with its mind-blowing earthquake simulator and fascinating geode exhibits, for free. It’s even more amazing that you can venture into the Natural History Museum and make friends with its cast of gigantic animal skeletons. And we haven’t even mentioned the British Museum, Tate Gallery and the Victoria & Albert yet – all of these unique and wonderful places are largely free of charge except for the occasional paid exhibit.
Some cities (*cough* Vienna) have reputations for charging extortionate amounts for setting foot in their hallowed halls. Not London – the vast majority of museums in the capital are entirely free of charge, and those that require paid entry on the door are not usually expensive.
Sure, London is famous for its urban sprawl, neon-lit theatres and Piccadilly Circus with its bright TV screens, but the city also has some rather gorgeous sprawling green spaces as well. And the best part is that they’re entirely free to enjoy. Whether winter or summer, vast areas such as Hyde Park are a complete joy to explore. And you might be surprised to find there are actually plenty of things to do. How about meandering the flower walk in Kensington Gardens past the extraordinary facade of the Royal Albert Hall? Or seeking out the deer in Richmond Park? Feeling the pelicans in St James’ Park is also a lot of fun, and not something you need to shell money out for apart from purchasing something to feed the feathered beasts with.
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the capital’s vibrant collection of markets, which are fascinating to walk round even if you don’t have much money to buy with. We’ll start with vibrant and outrageous Camden, a buzzing hive of activity that sees thousands of people crowding its streets every Saturday and Sunday. Down by the lock, you’ll find all manner of little wooden shacks selling everything from dreamcatchers and vintage clothing to old CDs and handcrafted ornaments. But since Camden is actually a string of several marketplaces, it often pays to have a proper look around.
Huntworthy places for those who love antiques include the gorgeous Portobello Market, which sees hundreds of dealers take up residence on the streets every Saturday. Food fanatics will also want to experience the smells and sensations of Borough Market, which is the capital’s largest food market where you can buy both ready-to-eat goodies and specialities for meals that you might struggle to locate anywhere else.
While we’re on the subject of eatables, street food is very much in. Not only do London’s marketplaces often have vibrant and exotic eateries, they also boast rock-bottom prices for food, making it a bargain too good to miss.
When it comes to seeking out budget hotels in London, you won’t find it difficult to find somewhere to lay your head. The city’s thriving accommodation scene has a lot to give, and you can find something to make everyone happy. Remember that better deals can often be found looking in the immediate surrounds of London’s busy centre. Naturally, it necessitates a trip to Piccadilly Circus if you want to go to the West End or elsewhere, but being slightly away from the hub of everything has its benefits as well, such as a sense of calm and better access to beautiful green spaces such as Kensington Gardens. Heavenly.