England’s capital might regularly appear in lists of the most expensive cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of affordable – and free – attractions. Experience London like a local with this savvy budget travel guide to London – proof that you can savour the sights without splashing your savings.
Home to royal palaces, hundreds of artistic attractions and a sizzling street food scene, London continues to attract visitors from all over the world. But joining in the fun doesn’t have to mean parting with your hard-earned holiday money.
Getting Around London
The easy way to start saving money in the capital? Find yourself a London tube map, available at all stations, and start studying. All major sights and attractions in the city are within a few minutes’ walk of a public transport stop, so there’s no excuse for catching expensive taxis to your destination.
To get the best value out of your travel, buy a London Pass, referred to as an Oyster card, and load it with money. Then by swiping it on the yellow circles at the entrance and exit of each station, you will be charged the lowest possible amount for your journey.
Cost: A full day’s travel within Zones 1 and 2 is capped at $10 for adults.
Reach For the Sky
The view from the top of the London Sky Garden
It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time to the capital or you are a regular visitor, there’s always something new to experience. And there are some inexpensive or free things to do in London. Thanks to a number of glittering high rises popping up on the horizon over the past few years, the city’s skyline is constantly evolving. Gaze out at the uninterrupted views from 20 Fenchurch Street’s luscious Sky Garden. A vast, light-filled space, it’s easy to spot a range of iconic structures from the alfresco terrace – from Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the London Eye in the west and Battersea Power Station and the Tower of London in the east.
But best of all are the unparalleled views of fellow skyscrapers, The Shard, 30 St Mary Axe (nicknamed The Gherkin) and Heron Tower.
Cost: Like any good public green space, entrance is free – simply book your visit in advance – but you might want to grab a drink at the bar to sip as you watch the world go by.
We’re Off to Market
Just across London Bridge is Borough Market, an ever-growing sprawling maze of stalls nestled beneath railway arches and alongside London’s historic Southwark Cathedral. Taste cheeses, cured meats and cakes as you make your way around but save the real feasting for nearby Maltby Street Market.
A quieter alternative to the camera-wielding hoards that flock to Borough, you’ll find a range of cheap and delicious dishes cooked up to order – from Turkish falafel wraps and Spanish tapas to Reuben’s sandwiches and inventive takes on the humble Scotch egg – try the black pudding version for a very British bite.
Cost: Samples are free, and you can pick up a gourmet meal to takeaway for under $10.
Tick two art galleries and one riverboat cruise off your sightseeing list for less. Take in the permanent collection of British art from 1500 to the present day – including works by Turner and Hockney – at Tate Britain before boarding a spotty Damien Hirst-inspired Thames Clipper and floating past the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral during the 40-minute journey to its contemporary counterpart.
It really is an old meets new tour from Millbank Pier to Bankside, where Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre can be found sitting pretty in the shadows of the soaring redbrick Tate Modern art gallery. Here the cavernous Turbine Hall is the backdrop to large-scale installations, while the surrounding galleries house abstract, cubist and pop art by international greats such as Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso.
Cost: A one-way boat ride in either direction costs $11, entrance to permanent collections at both galleries is free.
London Street Food
Side stalls in Dalston sell food on the cheap
The city might currently boast a healthy handful of Michelin-starred restaurants, but locals know they will get far more bang for their buck if they dine instead at one of London’s many outdoor food pop-ups. Located in disused petrol station forecourts and abandoned car parks, these temporary food courts see people snacking on fast food dishes from all over the world.
Perhaps the most popular contender on the London street food scene is Street Feast in Dalston (nearest tube/train stations are Dalston Kingsland and Dalston Junction). Home to more than 50 stalls, the huge space opens during spring and summer and has plenty of outdoor seating and bar areas to eat your buys. Try Malaysian-inspired sliders from Sambal Shiok, award-winning burgers from Bleeker St. Burger and insanely fluffy sweet treats from You Doughnut.
Cost: Entrance to the area is free before 7pm, and costs $4 after that time. Dishes and drinks start at around $5.
Best Time to Visit
Weather in London: Get the most out of your days by visiting during warm summer months from June to August when London enjoys up to 17 hours of sunlight a day. That said, an influx of tourists and the school holidays mean crowds and accommodation is at a premium. Spring and autumn might see some rainfall, but temperatures are generally mild.
Best Time to Visit: Sporting events like the Wimbledon Championships, which take place from June to July, see Londoners flock to screens dotted around the city to watch their favourite players battle it out on the tennis court.
Where to Stay
Malaysia to London
Flights from Malaysia to London: Malaysia Airlines flies three times a day from Kuala Lumpur to London Heathrow (IATA code: LHR) in partnership with British Airways, while Emirates flies to London Gatwick (IATA code: LGW) via Dubai.