London on a Budget
London on a Budget
As our first stop on our RTW adventure, we committed to doing London (one of our most expensive destinations) on a tight budget. We found an Airbnb for about $120 a night, took advantage of all the free museums that London has to offer, and kicked it old school with a few picnics and homemade meals. If you ask my parents, thrift isn’t my middle name, but we managed to keep our 5 days in London within our budget!
Here are the highlights of our trip to London!
- Get a City View on Primrose Hill
While visiting London, we knew that we wanted to get a view of the city from above. Go-to spots like the London Eye, The Shard, or Sushi Samba are reported to have great views, but also come with a big price tag. With 4 more months of travel ahead, we decided we’d rather save the dolla dolla bills, ya’ll. So, mission “find a free view” ensued. Our trip to Primrose Hill was just what we needed. You can find Primrose Hill adjacent to the London Zoo and (from what we can gather) a part of the gorgeous Regent’s Park. After an easy walk from the Camden Town tube station, you’ll find yourself in picnic heaven. Climb Primrose Hill for killer (and free!) views of London, then sit under the shade of a tree to read a book, eat your picnic lunch, and watch locals do what locals do. For those who believe in a mid-afternoon cocktail (like us), grab pre-made cans of gin and tonic from Sainsbury’s Grocery to enjoy on the hill.
*Another recommendation we got from a kind Londoner in a pub was to make a reservation to go to the top of the “Walkie Talkie” building (you’ll know the building when you see it) to the Sky Garden. This a free rooftop with views, but you have to book in advance and we unfortunately tried to book too late to be able to snag a spot. https://skygarden.london/sky-garden
- Pop into London’s Free Museums
Despite being god-awfully expensive (even with the depreciation of the pound following the surprise “Brexit” vote), London has a great selection of free museums. We took advantage of The British Museum and The National Gallery. The British Museum is enormous so bring our friend Rick Steve’s “Audio Europe” app with you to help focus your trip. The big draw to The British Museum is their Egyptian exhibit, which is pretty unreal. Your childhood self gets to geek out and see real mummies and the Rosetta Stone! This abbreviated tour through the Egyptian, Greece, and Assyrian exhibit only takes about an hour and a half, so you don’t have to take any naps on a bench. For the budget conscious, the café in the museum also offers a pretty killer lunch deal – £6.50 for a sandwich, crisps and a soft drink.
The National Gallery was one of my favorite art galleries that I’ve visited because it is easy to navigate based on your taste in art. We focused on the wing with 18th to 20th century paintings, which had pieces by Van Gogh and Monet. I even got to take a snapchat pineapple selfie with Van Gogh’s chair! No shame in this tourist game!
While being a super tourist/hanging out with Rick Steves, he has an hour long walking tour of the Westminster area on the “Audio Europe” app that helps you check Big Ben, Westminster Abbey (be sure to stop in St. Margaret’s Church next door for free, where Winston Churchill was married!), Parliament, Downing Street, Horse Guards Palace, and Trafalgar Square off your sightseeing list.
- BYOB on London’s South Bank
Our very favorite part of our visit to London was wandering through the South Bank. From the north side of the river, walk across the bridge closest to Big Ben (hi Big Ben! Take some pics!!) and turn left to walk along the South Bank of the river. During this stroll, you will have great photo ops of the London Eye and Tower Bridge. You will also walk past The Globe Theater and the Tower of London, take in views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and see the boring London Bridge, which still isn’t falling down.
To add to the great views, South Bank is full of spots to camp out with your BYO beer, wine, or cocktails. There are tons of food trucks and restaurants along the way, but to save money, we recommend pre-packing sandwiches and the trustworthy Sainsbury’s canned gin and tonics! If you’re looking for street food, our curry and bruschetta from the Southbank Centre Food Market got A++++ from us.
Our favorite spots to eat and drink along the river were:
Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden: a large urban garden above the chaos of South Bank
Tate Modern Art Museum Lawn: a huge lawn along the river with beer venders
The Scoop at More London-an amphitheater where they were showing the Rio Olympics on big screen. U-S-A!!!
- Brush Shoulders with the Locals in London’s Parks & Markets
After doing your duty as a London tourist and being present for the overrated (and overcrowded) Changing of the Guard, head to the park surrounding Buckingham Palace—Green Park and the adjacent St. James Park. These massive parks have lounges for rent, ponds full of ducks and swans, beautiful gardens, and plenty of green space for yet another BYOB picnic. Noticing a trend?
London is also home to lots of great markets. After some research we decided to go to the Portobello Market along Portobello Road in Notting Hill, which did not disappoint. This 2-mile market is lined with buildings painted a rainbow of color. You won’t find a pot of gold, but there’s an abundance of antiques, vintage clothing, and food vendors. We weren’t able to buy any antiques, but we did snag a sprinkled donut that matched the painted buildings. #winning
While wandering around London, we wandered right on over to the Covent Garden neighborhood, which is home to the Covent Garden Market, The Seven Dials, and Neal’s Yard. The Seven Dials is an intersection you walk through (check!), but the surrounding Covent Garden Market and Neal’s Yard alleyway are simply adorable. Walk through the shops lining the street and stop in the colorful Neal’s Yard for a glass of wine or pizza from Homeslice. Of upmost priority, one of London’s oldest pubs Lamb & Flag is a hop, skip, and a jump from Neal’s Yard. Grab a pint and cozy on up in this old school spot, rumored to be a favorite watering hole of Charles Dickens!