12 Things to Do in London On a Budget

Art galleries and museums with free entry, budget-friendly hotels and cheap spots to eat and drink.
 

Westminster Abbey/Thinkstock

London is home to some of the world’s most famous and most expensive attractions. Here’s how to get the most bang for your buck, er, pound in the English capital.

1. Stay at the Stylhotel

Located inside a Paddington-area Victorian townhouse, Stylotel is an ultra-modern 40-room boutique hotel. While the sleek (standard) rooms are small, reservations include a hearty English breakfast, a drink at the hotel’s bar and, in some rooms, bunk beds for the kids. Rooms start at about £65.

2. Get cheap eats at Cereal Killer Cafe and Ethos

Start the day at Camden’s Cereal Killer Cafe with more than 120 cereals, 30 varieties of milk (think custard, semi-skim and soy milks) and 20 different toppings to choose from (bowls start at £3). For lunch, go for the the Thai sweetcorn fritter at Ethos, which charges for its vegetarian dishes by weight (starting at £2.60 per 100 gram).

3. Drink at Morpeth Arms and the Spying Room

Order a £4 pint and a £4 Chip Buttie (a slice of bread with butter, fries and gravy on the side) at Morpeth Arms in Pimlico. Then head up to the Spying Room, a 1920s-themed lounge dedicated to espionage, and use the bar’s binoculars to peep across the Thames at the MI6 building, featured in many James Bond films.

4. Go to Westminster Abbey at night

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Every evening, Westminster Abbey hosts a free, 40-minute-long evensong in the church. Listen to the choir and organ bellowing off the 700-year-old walls while admiring the High Altar, the Cosmati Pavement (a medieval tile mosaic), the grand Gothic vaulted ceilings and memorials for the Unknown Warrior, Isaac Newton, English composer Henry Purcell and more.

5. Take a free tour at the Hard Rock Cafe

Head to the Hard Rock Cafe in Old Park Lane to take a free guided tour of “The Vault,” an old bank safe that now houses priceless music memorabilia. Check out Freddie Mercury’s antique chair, John Lennon’s glasses and Sting’s bass.

6. See a preview at The Old Vic Theatre

Catch a show at The Old Vic Theatre in the Waterloo district, which has featured acting legends like Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench. The theatre offers £10 tickets for the first five previews of all its productions including an adaptation of the children’s book, A Monster Calls (on until August 25) and Sylvia (September 3 to 22), which combines dance, hip hop, soul and funk to shed on women’s suffrage in Britain.

7. Check out free music, movies and more at House of Vans London

Photo courtesy House of Vans London

Located in five tunnels under the Waterloo Station, House of Vans London offers tons of free entertainment in its 30,000-square-foot venue. There are screenings of both indie and popular films in the 100-seat cinema and concerts from up-and-coming bands like London-based Nimmo in the music hall. The funky space also hosts an art gallery, a skateboard and BMX park, and two bars.

8. Stroll the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk

Take a self-guided stroll through four royal parks on the seven-mile Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk. Enter Kensington Gardens near the Lancaster Gate Station and follow 90 rose plaques past three palaces, a daily pelican feeding, a pirate ship playground, an old police station and the whimsical Peter Pan Statue, which author J. M. Barrie erected overnight in 1912 to surprise London’s children.

9. Learn about the city at the free Museum of London

Head to the Museum of London to explore its nine free galleries on the city’s history. Stroll through a recreated 18th-century pleasure garden complete with a Georgian fashion display, then admire original pub, barber and grocer storefronts on the Victorian Walk.

10. Take an Alternative London tour of East London

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Alternative London offers pay-what-you-want walking tours of East London that highlight the area’s history and culture, including the street art that covers everything from the sidewalks to the rooftops. Led by local street artists, the two-hour tour focuses on the stunning visuals around Brick Lane, including hyper-realistic portraits by C215, tiny sculptures that sit on street signs and Belgium muralist ROA’s giant “Crane” piece.

11. Look at historic artifacts at the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery

In addition to its main collection of more than 150 million works, British Library in the St. Pancras area is also home to the free Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. It hosts 200 gems, like handwritten lyrics to The Beatles’ Help, sketches by Leonardo da Vinci and an 11th century manuscript of Beowulf. Now until August 5, don’t miss the library’s free exhibit Karl and Eleanor Marx which features original documents written by the political theorist and his daughter, as well as a first edition of the Communist Manifesto (it’s only one of 25 in the world).

12. See Victorian paintings at the free Guildhall Art Gallery

Check out the City of London’s impressive art collection for free at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Located near the Bank Underground Station, the gallery displays 250 works including Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces by painters like Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Downstairs, wander through the ruins of a second-century Roman Amphitheatre that once held gladiator and wild animal fights.