Here’s how to visit London on a budget.
Whether you’re staying a day or a month, one of the first things you’ll notice about London is how exorbitant its prices can be. The British capital is the fourth most expensive city in the world(!), so if you’re visiting on a budget, you’ll have to get a bit creative. Make the most of the city’s many free attractions and fun activities that don’t cost a single dime: from iconic landmarks like Westminster Abbey and The Royal Opera House, to relaxing in one of the city’s gorgeous Royal Parks, or honoring thousands of years of culture at The British Museum and The British Library, here’s everything you need to know about enjoying London without going bankrupt.
Related: The Best Things to Do in London
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Experience London’s Most Spectacular Views
WHERE: Sky Garden, Central London
Don’t miss your chance to enjoy incredible 360-degree views of London’s iconic skyline completely for free! No, we’re not talking about the London Eye (tickets start from £30.50) but the Sky Garden, the capital’s highest public garden. This unique bar and restaurant with an open-air terrace, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and gorgeous greenery all around is located on the 43rd floor of a skyscraper known as “the walkie-talkie” due to its unique shape—you can easily spot it from the other side of the river Thames, near London Bridge . You can access the Sky Garden for free on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, but remember to book in advance. The closest station is Monument, served by the District and Circle underground line. Best time to visit for a romantic date? Sunset, of course.
See a Free Opera
WHERE: The Royal Opera House, Central London
Let’s start off with a bang: did you think you’d ever get to see a free opera at one of the world’s most celebrated theaters? At The Royal Opera House, in Covent Garden, you can! Well, part of it, that is, coming in at around 45 minutes—still a pretty extraordinary cultural experience, even for seasoned Londoners’ standards. As part of the ROH’s outstanding program of free Friday lunchtime performances, Live At Lunch, you’ll get to enjoy opera recitals by artists from The Royal Opera, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, and The Royal Ballet, as well as guest artists. Past performances have included pieces written by the likes of Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, and Donizetti, some of the greatest composers of all time.
Do a Street Art Tour
WHERE: Throughout London
Calling all Banksy fans, this one’s for you! The best way to experience the true soul of a city is by simply walking around with no planned destination, but in London, you can see some fantastic street art while you’re at it. The East End—Brick Lane, Whitechapel, and Shoreditch in particular—is a must-visit eclectic mix of hidden gems and unmissable murals taking up entire buildings, but Camden ’s art-filled neighborhood is a close second. Discover the colorful street art and graffiti peppered around every corner of London’s secret alleys, brick bridges, and historic streets to gain a new perspective about the social messages that inspired them. Strawberry Tours offers immersive walking tours hosted by local guides, but while free, remember that they rely on tips and contributions to sustain their invaluable work.
Honor the Likes of Newton, Churchill, Darwin, and Jane Austen
WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Central London
This unique history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site goes back all the way to 960 AD. Westminster Abbey has seen over 40 Royal Coronations, including King Charles II’s recent one, numerous Royal Weddings, including that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and many other significant national services. As the burial site of over 3,300 notable figures, it’s the final resting place of the likes of Isaac Newton, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, William Blake, Jane Austen, Sir Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth I, Laurence Olivier and the Brontë sisters. The Abbey is one of London’s most iconic landmarks, and entry costs a pretty penny at £27 per ticket. However, you can visit it completely for free by attending one of the daily Evensong services from the Book of Common Prayer. They’re held every day at 3 p.m. or 5 p.m., last about 45 minutes, and are a fantastic opportunity to check out the rest of the Abbey at the end of the service.
See Some of the Best Art in the World
WHERE: Throughout London
While special exhibitions require an admission fee, the permanent collections at London’s world-class museums are completely free to visit. Stop by the Tate Modern to see works by Dalí, Picasso, Warhol, and Pollock, the Tate Britain for works by local artists going back to the 1500s, and The National Gallery for your chance to see paintings by Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Van Gogh. Check out the British Library, home to the Magna Carta and Beatles lyrics handwritten by Lennon and McCartney. Set aside time to browse the British Museum’s antiquities like the Rosetta Stone, see decorative art at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and bring the kids to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. And it doesn’t end there: admission is free at The Wallace Collection, the Southbank Centre, Somerset House, the Sir John Soane’s Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Grant Museum of Zoology, the Royal Air Force Museum, and the Bank of England Museum. Some of them are also open late on occasional dates, so don’t miss your chance to experience your very own Night at the Museum!
Immerse Yourself in the Joy of a Neon Wonderland
WHERE: God’s Own Junkyard, East London
You will not regret visiting East London’s neon Narnia wonderland, God’s Own Junkyard! This dazzling independent art gallery is a family-run business making custom neon signs for the likes of Elton John, David LaChapelle, and Kate Moss, plus Hollywood movie productions like Blade Runner, Eyes Wide Shut, Batman, Captain America, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With a cult following stretching from London to Los Angeles, a visit to God’s Own Junkyard (closest tube station is Walthamstow Central) is a unique journey into the world of joyful neon lights that will brighten your day. End your visit with a pit stop at the Rolling Scones Cafe & Bar, where you can order a delicious English breakfast, a full afternoon tea, or one of the many homemade cakes on display.
Escape the City’s Hustle and Bustle
WHERE: Throughout London
London can get extra busy, we know. Should you yearn for peace amidst the vibrant chaos of the capital, head to one of the city’s many green spaces , two of which are protected UNESCO World Heritage sites! Take a scenic stroll down the canals of Little Venice, have a romantic picnic on top of Primrose Hill, meet the deer of Richmond Park and the pelicans of St James’s Park, or find some quiet in the sprawling forest-like tranquility of Hampstead Heath, where you can stargaze from the Hampstead Observatory on selected dates. Head to Barbican’s hidden tropical oasis for a free visit to one of the biggest conservatories in London (doubling as an iconic art center). Don’t miss Kyoto Garden’s Japanese zen oasis in Holland Park. If you’re in East London, especially with kids, you’ll want to check out Hackney City Farm. Stuck in The City’s busy business center? Head to the exquisite St Dunstan-in-the-East ruins, Grey’s Inn Garden, or the hidden gem that is the Actor’s Church, just next to Covent Garden.
Snap the One of the World’s Most Famous Colorful Streets
WHERE: Notting Hill, West London
This West London neighborhood of ’90s rom-com fame is one of the best (and most romantic) ways to stave off the gray-skies-induced blues. Between the über-Instagrammable pastel porches of Elgin Crescent, Colville Terrace, and Hillgate Place, the colorful homes along St. Luke’s Mew’s cobbled streets—made famous by another rom-com, the iconic Love, Actually—the vibrant townhouses of Lancaster Road, the cherry blossoms of Stanley Crescent, and the bright fuchsia tones of Denbigh Terrace and Westbourne Park Road, you’ll have a hard time not falling in love with Notting Hill. Start around Portobello Road, home to the famous market, stop by Rosmead Garden, whose fence Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts jump in the neighborhood’s namesake movie, and don’t miss the neighborhood’s very own pink flatiron building on Pottery Lane. Finish your colorful tour with a drink at the sunny Sun in Splendor pub or the gorgeous Churchill Arms, a pub almost completely covered in flowers!
Feel like a Kid Again
WHERE: King’s Cross, North London
The famous Platform 9 ¾ from J.K. Rowling’s best-selling Harry Potter series is a real place you can visit completely for free! While you can’t quite catch the Hogwarts Express—for that, check out the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio—you can head to King’s Cross rail station to experience the magic of the most iconic brick wall in all of the wizarding world. You won’t have any trouble finding it: look for platform 9, and you’ll spot a luggage cart lodged halfway through the wall. Right next door, you can enter the Harry Potter shop to browse the official merchandise and stock up on your magical supplies while feeling like you’re in Ollivander’s wand emporium. The station is open from the early morning until late at night (check out the opening hours here), and you can even get your picture taken by a professional photographer present every day between 9 am and 9 pm.
Hang With the Royals
WHERE: Buckingham Palace, Central London
It may sound like a cliché attraction, but the daily Changing the Guard ceremony is actually a must-see element of any London visit, and for good reason. Also known as “Guard Mounting,” this quintessentially British tradition sees members of the five Foot Guard Regiments—part of the Royal Armed Forces that have kept the Royal Palaces safe since 1660—march from St. James’ Palace to Buckingham Palace, where they exchange places with the previously stationed troops. It’s a great military spectacle accompanied by a marching band, with the ceremony starting at 11 am and lasting about 45 minutes. The closest Tube station is St James’s Park, served by the District and Circle lines . Plan your visit by checking the British Army website’s up-to-date schedule for any changes or cancellations, and try to get there at least an hour early to secure your spot. To learn more about the Guards’ fascinating heritage, you can also stop by The Guards Museum on Birdcage Walk, a stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace.