Oh, how I love London. I’m not a fan of cities in general, but London always calls to me. Setting foot in this city, even when it’s just to switch to another bus, always makes me feel like home, like a cup of tea is waiting for me nearby (and it’s London, there certainly are cup of teas everywhere).
But, as much as I love this city, going there is growing to be more and more of a challenge, because I know that everything I might do there is going to take a big toll on my wallet.
If you really want to see the city, and are willing to forget about Oxford Street and its shopping madness, here is a guide to the perfect budget weekend in London.
The first thing of the day is a visit to the British Museum. I know, when you get somewhere new you don’t always want to start with a museum, but it will save you some walking time to start there.
The British Museum (Great Russell Street, free entry, Underground station Holborn) has one of the largest collection in the world, so you’re not going to be able to see everything. My favorite department is Ancient Egypt and you can also go on a hunt for the Crystal Skull of Indiana Jones. It’s in there somewhere, tell me if you ever manage to find it !
Once you’re done with Egyptian coffins, walk a little to reach Covent Garden. You’ll pass by the Royal Opera House on Bow Street, a beautiful building. In Covent Garden, you can make a round of the shops, including Lush, a tiny one selling tea and adorable teapots and, if you’re with kids or are yourself still a kid inside, the Build-a-Bear shop (I’ll let them explain to you what this is about, it’s more fun this way). Resist buying anything if you’re really on a budget, there’s nothing indispensable.
Take your time outside for the shops and the amazing street performers, but then don’t forget to go inside to walk around the market. There’s a lot of restaurants and street food shops everywhere, so you can take this opportunity to fill your belly and get ready for the second part of the day !
Walk towards Charing Cross station and then turn left in Whitehall Street. You should start seeing horse guards wearing the red uniform, and keep a look out for Downing Street on your right. And at the end of Whitehall Street, here you go :
The Palace of Westminster and Big Ben !
Cross Westminster Bridge, turn left and walk along the river Thames. Walk past the London Eye and keep going until you reach the Tate Modern and, just beyond that, Shakespeare’s Globe.
Shakespeare’s Globe is a theater recreating plays from, well, Shakespeare. The theatre itself was designed by the famous playwright, it is round with an open roof. And the best about it is that, if you make your booking in advance, you can see a play for only 5 pounds. Fair warning though, the 5 pounds seats are actually not seated, you’ll be standing up in front of the stage for the entire play. The good thing is that you’ll be very close to the actors ! Representations can be at diverse hours in the afternoon, so depending on the time, you can choose to go to the Tate Modern before or after the play.
The Tate Modern (free entry) is a famous museum of modern art. You’ll see weird things, ugly things, provocative things, and you’ll get lost trying to get out (I mean, I hope so, otherwise it’s just me that easily gets lost). On the front lawn, there’s sometimes artists selling their handmade products. If it’s sunny, it’s really a nice place to sit down for a break.
As night starts to set, take the tube to Piccadilly Circus to see this landmark and then go south for a walk around Soho (everything between Piccadilly and Oxford Street), where you’ll find a great place to eat at Beatroot (92 Berwick Street, less than 10 pounds a meal), and after that you’ll be left to enjoy the best nightlife in London for as long as your money and your sleepiness will let you !
As usual, I encourage you to use Couchsurfing or Airbnb, as staying with locals is the best, cheapest and greenest way to enjoy a city. But if you didn’t find a local to host you, I’d like to give a shout-out to the YHA London Earl’s Court Hostel (38 Bolton Gardens), the only hostel I could find in London that is actually making an effort to reduce their energy consumption. They are well situated, near the underground station Earl’s Court, and you can find a bed in a dormitory for less than 25 pounds if you book in advance. I have not tried it out myself yet, but reviews are good.
Once you’re up, make a grocery run to get breakfast and enough for a picnic, then make your way to Buckingham Palace to see what everybody passing through London has to see : the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
The Changing of the Guard ceremony happens everyday at 11H30 between April and July. The rest of the year, it’s only once every two days. If needed, just switch Day 1 and Day 2 in this itinerary to be able to attend.
Arrive in advance and find a good spot on the right side near the Gates to Green Park (can’t miss them). Right in front of you is the Victoria Memorial (the guards will be walking around it), and take the opportunity to observe the flag above Buckingham Palace : if it’s the British Union Flag, it means the queen is not there, but if it’s the Royal Standard, then she’s certainly having her mid-morning cup of tea a few meters from you right now !
After the ceremony, simply turn and walk into Green Park. Keep going into Hyde Park, enjoy the peace and play with the squirrels until you find the right spot to enjoy your picnic.
Once you’re ready to go back to the bustle of the city, take the tube to Camden Town station to walk around Camden Market. It’s huge, sells everything and anything, and you’ll definitely get lost in this one (if you don’t, then I really have a problem).
The last one I’ll leave out as an option, to do instead of Camden Market : the Tower of London. I know it’s not a budget activity (23,10 pounds if you book in advance online), but it truly is something to see, and, if you can afford it, I really encourage you to go there.
On a practical note, London is a big city, and so I’ve included in this itinerary several underground journeys. The cheapest way to travel around London is to take a 2 days Oyster Card for 15 pounds. You can buy one at any station and you can also take the bus with it, in case your heart is set on climbing in one of those red buses !
That’s it folks ! I hope you’ll enjoy your stay in this beautiful city, and don’t forget to tell me if you try out one of my perfect budget weekends!