Cheap and cheerful things to do in London

London's Tower Bridge during the Olympics in 2012

Nothing in life is free – least of all in London.

In one of the most expensive cities in the world, even a pint of lager and packet of crisps can set you back more than it would cost to rent a room in some parts of South East Asia. The exchange rate, too, remains a killer in spite of the British pound’s relative fall from grace in these trying economic times.

Nevertheless, travellers to London will be pleased to know that there are a few cheaper options in this historic city. You needn’t sell your soul and the clothes off your back to take in the main sights and have a good time.

These are a few cheap and cheerful things to do in London for travellers on a budget.

Take a London (public) bus tour

Omnipresent in London’s central city, open-top bus tours can be far too expensive for travellers on a budget. Instead, pick a nice public bus route and climb aboard a double decker (bus, not chocolate bar).

Depending on what sights you want to see, London buses will usually take you right past the city’s main attractions. Over Tower Bridge, past Hyde Park and Harrod’s, down Oxford Street and into Piccadilly Circus – you’ll find a bus route that does it.

Cheap and cheerful London - the double decker bus.

London’s heritage signs

Similarly, you needn’t fork out a handful of cash to take in London’s historic sites. In the city centre at least, most building of historical and cultural interest have blue plaques outside them with things of interest written on them.

Most Londeners take it for granted, but their city is full of interesting historic buildings. Explore the central city yourself and look out for these places on interest, such as the former homes of Charles Dickens, Charlie Chaplin, Oscar Wilde and Bob Marley (now that’s an unlikely duo).

Take a stroll across Abbey Road

It won’t cost a thing to replicate arguably The Beatles’ most iconic album cover, either.

Visit the famous pedestrian crossing where Paul, John, Ringo and George posed for their 1969 album cover Abbey Road. You’ll find it at St John’s Wood in north London. Mind those cars, though – London drivers will not wait forever!

The iconic Batles cover to Abbey RoadVisit Richmond Park

Want to see some wildlife? You needn’t visit the London Zoo – catch the train or bus out to Richmond Park in southwest London.

Here you’ll be able to roam with the deer, as you tour London’s largest public park. Bring a picnic and spend half a day exploring the picturesque parklands.

And while you’re in the area, go check out the town of Richmond and go for a wander along the river. It’s one of my favourite parts of London.

Take in the view from Hampstead Heath

The London Eye can be a bit of a tourist trap. Sure, the views over London are amazing but you will certainly have to pay for it.

It costs a substantial amount of time and money to make it up the London Eye (it pays to book a head but then you’ll still likely have to wait your turn to go up it). Instead, catch the Tube or bus up Hampstead Heath, another wonderful London park, where you’ll be able to enjoy a great view over the city.

A panorama of the view over London from Hampstead Heath
Photograph taken by Michael Reeve, 17 July 2004.

The Emirates Air Line

Can’t be bothered going to Hampstead Heath? Then catch the Emirate Air Line from the Royal Docks in East London to the Greenwich Peninsula and take in amazing views over London city.

It costs about as much as a Tube ride but instead of being underground, you’ll be high above it. Read about the Emirates Air Line here.

London Southbank

Catch the Tube or train to London Waterloo station and head towards the River Thames to Southbank, where you’ll be able to stroll past all of London’s most iconic landmarks – Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, Tower Bridge and even the almighty Gherkin.

It’s a long walk but, even if you’re not a budget tourist, this is one of the city’s great walks. If you’re here on the weekend you’ll be able to watch the many buskers ply their trade – you can’t ask for cheaper entertainment than that!

Also check out the amazing riverside pubs in this area.

The view over London from the Emirates Air LineCatch a river boat

Budget travellers to London can do a lot better than fork out wads of cash to take a cruise up the River Thames just by taking public transport. Nope, you won’t have to go underground – catch one of Transport for London’s boats.

For a very reasonable price, you can catch a river bus or tour past most of London’s major sights, all the way to Richmond in the west or Greenwich in the east. Either which way you go, you’ll be in for a lovely journey.

Have you got any budget London travel advice? Also check out the best London day trips and Man vs World’s sister site – Antipodean London.

About Simon Petersen 315 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks Simon. Great suggestions

    My father was born in london and my brother and his wive now live there. We have travelled so many times to London over the years and your suggestions are terrific. A couple more great inexpensive days are going to Grennwich for a picnic and to view the history of Greenwich mean time and view their observatory or a leisurely walk through st James park between buckingham palace etc. But one of my all time favorite things to do especially when you are down by the River Thames is an afternoon of mud larking or walking along the actual River when the tide is out. I found a bunch if cool clay pipes a very old bottle and some pottery. No Royal family jewels but it makes for a great fun day. Just make sure you wash up before your next pint.
    Cheers

    Mark

  2. great suggestions and good to remind people that even expensive places can be seen for not too much cash. This post makes me just a little homesick for London 🙂 Thanks for sharing. Victoria

    • You and I both, Victoria 😉 When I lived there I couldn’t wait to leave and now I can’t wait to go back!

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