When you visit London for the first time, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the scope, size and scale of the world’s finest city. From Westminster to Marble Arch, Tower Bridge to the Tower of London, England’s capital has many historic jewels for the visitor.
Despite the recession and the myriad of cultural icons, the fact remains that Britain ranks as the number one country in the world where tourists flock to shop. According to a recent report, The Guardian revealed that tourists spend approximately £680 on shopping when they visit which is an average of a quarter of their total spend.
If you can’t afford to be part of that statistic, the best advice is to simply stay off the high street. London has so much more to offer than Selfridges and Primark. If you’re not sure how you can avoid a blow-out on your trip to London, follow these rookie tips on how to experience London on a budget.
When arriving in London, the first place most people head straight for is Oxford St. But don’t make this mistake or you’ll be heading straight for swarms of shoppers on crowded pavements lining shop after shop of the usual high street suspects.
If you do want to shop, you’re better off heading to Soho and Covent Garden, where it can still get crowded on a weekend, but you’ll find all the same shops in a smaller proximity and much more variety. If it’s Harrods you’re after, then make your way into the quiet suburb of Kensington to where this icon is nestled.
The Tower of London is a must-see for most, but do beware that it costs a lot to get in and you’ll be fighting crowds. For an alternative taste of ancient London, why not take a walking tour. For as little £8, you can find walking tours that take you all around the ancient, hidden ramparts that still exist in London. You can explore pubs that have been around for 500 years, see Tudor buildings that survived the great fire and be taken to sites where some of the most infamous historical incidents occurred.
Keep the pounds in your purse
Whether you’re from abroad, or visiting from further afield, the quickest way to lose control of your spending money is by keeping cash. While it’s wise to have a certain amount for smaller purchases and emergencies, it’s always safer to keep your money in the form of plastic.
Having your funds accessible via a prepaid card or travel card, you will be less likely to overspend as you might with a credit card. Prepaid cards use only the money that you’ve loaded onto it and require a pin to release it. So as long as you keep your pin secure and your plastic in your pocket, chances are you’ll spend less.
If you’ve come to London to experience their incredible collection of art and galleries, then you’ll be pleased to find out that London’s best galleries are indeed free. You can wander freely into the British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Saatchi Gallery, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum and the hidden gem in the middle of the city, The Wallace Collection. And that’s just to name a few. There are plenty more unusual collections to be explored free of charge, just do a little research to find out the collection that takes your fancy. Google news is an excellent departure point for finding exciting current events, such as a vast retrospective on the career of David Bowie , for example.
Dining on a dime
It’s not hard to find cheap eats in London, even if it does at first seem like an endless parade of overpriced franchises and coffee houses. Head into Chinatown and you’ll be sure to find a cheap noodle house or street vendor. For pound-friendly Indian cuisine, wind your way over to Drummond St in Euston where you’ll get a nutritious vegetarian feed for under a fiver. It’s no secret that migrant cuisine is usually the cheapest and best food in any city, so for a quick guide to the cheap and cheerful ethnic cuisine of London head to Edgware Rd for Middle Eastern; Dalston for Turkish and Vietnamese; Camden for Greek; Golders Green for Jewish food.
Once you’ve exhausted yourself visiting galleries and walking your way around the ancient secrets of London, you can always enjoy a quiet and free stroll in any number of the city’s parks. You can wander down Pall Mall and into Hyde Park, or sit by the lake and feed the ducks at Regents Park, or take in the view at Primrose Hill.
Why not grab a free Boris-bike and cycle your way through the open spaces of this surprising city. Whatever it is that you want to see or do, chances are you can do it for free in London.
Gavin Whittaker is an in-demand finance writer and money expert. Gavin recommends prepaid- and currency-cards by Tuxedo for their safety and high value for money. Read more of Gavin’s insight on these and other issues at a wide variety of blogs, online- and print-magazines.