Our travel motto is “Go see the free stuff first.” And we apply that motto everywhere, including in London.
London is a city with tons of fresh sites, history and places to see without spending a shilling. That’s good news considering London is also one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, especially if you’re traveling on a shoestring budget.
The exchange rate makes London expensive for US visitors.
Even after falling with the Brexit vote, the UK Pound to US Dollar exchange rate is still extremely high, running around $1.35 to £1 (at the time of writing). That’s a 35% loss on every $100 you spend, which isn’t as bad as it was during our first trip to London in December 2015, when the exchange rate was $1.50 to £1.
Every time we stepped foot out the door, we lost 50% of our money.
I got where I didn’t want to go out. Here we were in this beautiful city we always dreamed of visiting, 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 (one of David’s favorite series) were £21.70 each on 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.
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.
Walking* is free and an excellent 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.
Dozens of museums in London offer free regular admission*, including The National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Modern, National History Museum, National 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 longer as the day goes on, so plan to get to this one early in the morning and on weekdays, if possible.
*Special exhibits usually do cost an admission fee.
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 trip 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 knowledgeable guide Gregory.
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 it in action, how it was meant to be seen.
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.
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 green 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.
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 beautiful uncommissioned and ever-changing works of art in 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.
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. I haven’t been on the London Eye yet, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying this beautiful city. With a little planning and the right attitude, you can enjoy London on a shoestring budget.