London is one of the most expensive cities to visit, but you can still enjoy the city without spending a ton of money. This is how.
1. Join a free walking tour.
Alright, so this isn’t technically free because it’s expected to tip the tour guide at the end of the tour, but I still think these tours are a great way to see lots of sights, learn about a city’s history, and ask questions (without getting lost). Since the tours are free, the tour guides try to do a really good job so they can earn their income through tips. For people who travel on a tight budget, this is a great option. We joined Free Tours by Foot‘s London All-in-One Tour, a six hour walking tour. It was long and tiring, but a great way to learn about the city.
2. Go to a museum.
I am a lame person and get tired of museums really fast, but since many museums in London are free, I can visit them without any buyer’s remorse. I recommend visiting British Museum (#1 Attraction in London on Tripadvisor) and the Natural History Museum. The British Museum is famous for the Rosetta Stone, Lewis Chessmen, and the Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs. My favorite part of the British Museum was an art installation called Cradle to Grave. This display tells the story of the health and wellbeing of a typical man and woman (that would immunizations, antibiotics, contraceptive pills, asthma/hay fever treatments, high blood pressure treatment) in Britain today. The display showed a lifetime supply of prescribed drugs that have been knitted into fabric. For the Natural History Museum, I liked the dinosaur exhibit and seeing the life-size blue whale in one of the rooms.
3. Watch a parade.
This is really touristy, but you really can’t leave London without seeing Buckingham Palace. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place from 11:30am on most days and lasts around 45 minutes, but you should always check the website in case of rain or special occasions in which the ceremony may be cancelled or changed. During our walking tour, we watched the Changing The Life Guard Ceremony. It’s not as famous, but there are no railings between us, the men, and the horses so you can take better pictures.
4. Catch the Hogwarts Express.
If you are around Kings Cross, you can go to Platform 9¾ (not technically at 9¾ since the platforms require a train ticket), a spot for Harry Potter enthusiasts. It’s free to take pictures (as many as you want), but the staff from the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9¾ will take a professional picture that you can buy from the shop. The staff (at least the ones I saw while in line) were very energetic and animated so it made the whole experience enjoyable, but the queue can be ridiculously long. I waited 50 minutes and I imagine it can be longer during high season.
5. Attend an evensong service.
I’d recommend going to a service at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral. Visiting Westminster Abbey can set a visitor back £20, but if you’re like me and can’t justify that price to see the church where Prince William and Princess Kate got married, you can attend an choral evensong service for free. Just check the website to check the times of the services. We arrived a few minutes late and were still allowed to go in. Andrew and I have been to other evensong services, but Westminster’s was definitely the shortest. You can’t take pictures inside, but it’s still a great experience to enjoy an Anglican service and see a beautiful, old church.
6. Enjoy a bird’s eye view of London.
If you’re like me and don’t want to spend £20 on the London Eye for a 30-minute ferris wheel ride, I’d recommend visiting the Sky Garden, located on the 35th, 36th, 37th floors of the “Walkie Talkie” building (20 Fenchurch Street). It’s a free public space that offers the best views of London. You do have to book in advanced by signing up on its website, go through security to get in the elevator, and have a time limit (but I didn’t see anybody enforcing it), but the views and gardens are a great place to enjoy a drink, hang out, and take pictures. If it’s not raining, you can go out on the balcony as well. This is one of my favorite spots in London. If you’re unable to get a reservation, another “free” spot to enjoy views is the OXO building‘s 8th floor viewing gallery. You just have to walk through a restaurant and they have a small balcony area. There are no chairs, but you can enjoy uninterrupted views of the city.
I’m sure there are a lot of other cool things to do and see in London on a budget, but I think FREE is always best.