Any list of the most expensive holiday destinations in the world invariably includes London. But backpackers and budget travellers can still enjoy the city on a shoestring.
Here are our picks for visiting London on the cheap – the top 23 things to do in London for under £30!
Harry Potter fans should make a beeline for King’s Cross Station.
Of course, it isn’t real, but the fake platform is still a sight to behold.
2. Witness the Changing of the Guard
The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace takes place every couple of days (exact dates here) at 11:30am and it costs nothing to watch.
Crowds build up fast, so get there no later than 11am – the earlier the better!
The London Monument was erected to mark the spot where the Great Fire of London started.
This well loved attraction costs £4 for admission – climb the spiral stairwell to the top for views over the city and Thames. You’ll even get a certificate for your efforts!
4. Hunt Down a Red Phone Box
And get photographed inside the quintessential London phone booth.
5. Take a Free Walking Tour
An alternative to big commercial tours are grassroots city walking tours.
The guides aren’t paid for their time, so be sure to tip them at the end of the day.
6. Make Like the Beatles
Pay a visit to the iconic Abbey Road Crossing and have your own Beatles picture taken.
Submit your shot to the wall of fame afterwards.
7. Hang out in Harrods
Spend some time exploring Harrods, the department store to end all department stores.
With hundreds of departments and dozens of restaurants over multiple floors, it’s your chance to see how the other half live.
8. Traffic Light Tree
This gigantic Christmas tree is a true engineering feat, sculpted from dozens of traffic lights and metal branches.
You’ll find it next to the Billingsgate fish market in Canary Wharf (and obviously, it’s best viewed at night).
9. Indulge Your Inner Child at Hamleys
Hamleys on Regent St is Britain’s most famous and best loved toy store, just chocka with games, dolls, gadgets and all sorts, from old school to the latest and hottest. Fun for all ages guaranteed.
10. Puppet Shows on a Barge
Theatre company Movingstage holds performances on a boat at Little Venice.
Shows range from classic to contemporary, marionettes to shadow puppetry, in a suitably intimate theatre. Tickets £12.
11. Make the Most of Museums
London museums and galleries are a great bargain as many are free to enter, including the Natural History Museum, National Gallery, British Museum, Tate and Museum of London (full list here). Culture has never been so accessible.
London also has some gruesome museums for those with strong stomachs. The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons (free, £3 donation suggested) features dissected body parts – human and animal – while the Old Operating Theatre museum (£5.90) offers insights into how surgeons of old operated without anaesthetics or modern instruments.
12. Picnic in a park
Another thing London has no shortage of is parks. Rub shoulders with squirrels in Kensington Gardens, row in the lake at Hyde Park, play ‘spot the palace’ in St James Park or head out to fringe areas like Primrose Hill or Richmond Park for great city views.
13. Drinks with a view
14. Market Days
15. Channel Your Inner Tudor
Dress up in ruffs and corsets, and learn about Tudor cooking at the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge.
Don’t forget to snap a picture with the cardboard cut-outs of Henry VIII and Elizabeth!
16. London Dungeon
Take a 90-minute journey through London’s chequered past (£25.95).
Special effects bring Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper and many more to life through interactive and live shows.
Visit the taverns that inspired Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, and more. Over three hours you’ll hit about a dozen pubs. £24.
18. Ride the ‘Boris Bikes’
Nicknamed for the London mayor, bikes from Barclays Cycle Hire cost just £2 for 24 hours or £10 for a week.
Within that time period you can make as many journeys minutes as you like for free as long as they are under 30 minutes – perfect for short jaunts around the city.
19. Get Coffee in a Public Toilet
Attendant Cafe is a lovingly converted Victorian loo, where the original porcelain urinals have been turned into a coffee bench.
20. Cross the Thames in a Cable Car
Running between Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks, the Emirates Air Line is London’s only cable car offering 360 degree views along the way.
With an Oyster card, a 10-minute one way trip is just £3.40.
Highgate Cemetery is home to the graves of many luminaries.
Here, you’ll find the final resting places of author Douglas Adams and socialist Karl Marx, among others.
22. Afternoon Tea
There is any number of places around London where you can partake in this English tradition. How can you go wrong with scones, cake and sandwiches?
Generally, the more upscale the hotel, the pricier the high tea.
Not sure where to go? The appropriately named afternoontea.co.uk is a great place to start.
It’s free to watch the nightly lock-up of the Tower of London but you’ll need to request tickets well in advance.
Entry is at 9.30pm and the ceremony finishes at 10.05pm.
Featured image by Jamie McCaffrey