I’m a sucker for budget friendly destinations. My main reason for keeping my distance for the longest time was purely the cost of travel. I know what you’re about to say… “But Caroline, you’re from Norway… Surely London isn’t THAT expensive”. You’re right except I prefer to stretch my dollar as much as I possibly can. To be honest with you, I didn’t realise how many budget friendly options there was! London isn’t the typical backpackers destination but there’s something about the city that draws me in, repeatedly – asides from the British accent and beautiful men, obviously.
The first time I set foot on the British Isles was last August to visit a couple of mates. I returned recently spending my birthday week with my sister and another good friend. There’s an upbeat vibe with a lot of rich history, integrating the old with the new as seen through the architecture of the buildings. Another element is the pub culture, it reminds me so much of Australia and honestly how could you go wrong with a good pub meal and a pint?
While I am no London expert, being such a massive city can be a little overwhelming. I am however; a budget traveller and I’ve learnt quite a few tips during my last two trips to London that I would love to share with you! I am here to help, of course. So may I present Caroline’s Guide to a Budget Friendly London.
Hyde Park is a lovely place to go for a walk. The park is massive so you could easily spend hours relaxing there. There are two galleries showcasing contemporary art called Serpentine Galleries located in Kensington Gardens offering free admission. During my leisure walk, I came across King Albert Memorial, situated across from Royal Albert Hall. It was first completed back in 1876 and commissioned by Queen Victoria as an ode to her husband. It is the starting point of a tour which happens the first Sunday of every month (March – December) from 2 – 3pm and will set you back about £8. Speaking of the Queen, there is a statue of Queen Victoria located in front of the Kensington Palace – her childhood home, which is open for public visits.
According to the many signs around Hyde Park, there is plenty of opportunity to go wildlife watching with different species of birds, squirrels and potentially foxes too! To walk Hyde/Kensington Gardens, get to Hyde Park Corner Station and make your way towards the general direction of Notting Hill Gate Station. If you walk the opposite direction, you will be covering Hyde Park/Buckingham Palace Garden. Either way, it’s definitely worth a visit!
Disclaimer, I’ve never watched Notting Hill but if you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll probably like to pay the Notting Hill neighbourhood a visit. I personally like the pastel and colourful terrace houses, I could spend hours just walking around admiring them. During your exploration, you’ll probably pass Portobello Road Market, it’s littered with a lot of really quirky stores and my favourite being Alice’s Antiques, located on the corner of Denbigh Close and Portobello Road. It’s a really cool vintage store with a whole bunch of knickknacks, definitely go inside and check it out! You’ll be blown away.
I suppose if you do support Chelsea FC, you ought to pop over to their home ground stadium, Stamford Bridge. However, I haven’t kept up with the Premier League for the longest time, so I would head down to the riverbanks for a stroll and contemplate on property investment. No, I joke but there are heaps of boathouses to admire!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t pay this place a visit as the entire place was closed to the public due to an event it was hosting. Let’s hope the next time I visit; there isn’t an event on! Somehow this always happens to me.
While there are so many options to see London from a bird’s-eye view for a fee, this new attraction offers stunning views over the city for free. Yes, free. It is a garden up in the sky that is opened to the public with cafes and restaurants at the top. It comes equipped with an open-air terrace and observation decks so I couldn’t think of a better place to spend your summer days. There are limited spots every day and each visitor is dedicated an hour to roam around and soak in London’s city line. You can book your tickets up to 3 weeks in advance but be aware that these tickets get snapped up quick! Book here.
Tip: If no slots are available, you can still visit Sky Garden by booking a table with one of the five bars/restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Shoreditch and Brick Lane:
In August, my friend (Maheer) kindly hosted me in Shoreditch. Now, I had never heard of the area until then and I’m glad he introduced it to me. It’s a really cool part of town, quite close to the business district and is home to Brick Lane. It’s honestly got a bunch of cool, indie cafes and hang out spots… there’s even Cereal Killer Cafe – they’ve got over 120 different varieties of cereals from around the globe. Talk about childhood dream come true! If you’re feeling peckish for Indian cuisine, you’ll definitely spoilt for choices!
If you’re looking for something to help with your sweet tooth, I highly recommend Dark Sugars Cocoa House. This up and coming place makes some of the tastiest hot chocolate I’ve ever had. They are definitely chocolate wizards who serve their hot chocolate with shavings from massive dark, milk and white chocolate blocks. The interior décor of the store contains some quirky wooden pieces – I almost thought it was a furniture store. Thanks Maheer for randomly deciding to stop here! Around the back they prepare some tasty alcoholic chocolate-based beverages. A definite must if you’re looking to warm up in the cooler months or if you’re a chocoholic. On display they’ve got an array of chocolates to take home, so if you’re looking for a gift for someone (or yourself), don’t have to look far! #treatyo’self
Shoreditch also hosts Box Park, which is a pop up market built from shipping containers and street vendors. There’s two levels to this madness, the first being stores and the upper level serving up a lot of tasty options, bars and shisha bars. The closest station would be Shoreditch High Street Station or alternatively, you can get off at Liverpool St Station situated 10mins away.
Camden is such a cool part of London with heaps of quirky places to check out. There’s so much going on there that it’s a little hard to keep up sometimes! If you’re looking for somewhere to quench your thirst, you’ll be struggling not to find a pub. While you’re at it, why not do your very own DIY pub-crawl? After all, it’s 5pm somewhere 😉 But never drink on an empty stomach, there’s a variety of places to stink your teeth into. Have a wander around and you’ll be surprised what you come across! Apparently we dined in the same Japanese restaurant as Selena Gomez – they had a lot of paparazzi shots of her coming out of the restaurant on the walls so go figure!
If shopping is what you’re after, there are so many options. I personally love walking through the Markets; Camden more specifically. If you head up along Camden High Street, there’s plenty of shopping options catering to different tastes from gothic styles to souvenir stores to tattoos stores. Camden is your oyster.
Tip: Look out for events going on around the pubs of Camden. We randomly sat in pub that was hosting a comedy night in the upper level.
Red Telephone Box Hunting:
Have you really visited London if don’t take a photo with/of these iconic phone boxes? Exactly, I thought as much.
As much as I hate sticking out like a foreigner while travelling, I honestly can’t resist when it comes to these phone boxes. It’s such quintessential part of British pop culture. If you spot a photo with one of these bad boys in them or if there’s the Union Jack in sight, you know it’s British. That being said – I rather enjoyed going hunting for these boxes. I’ve spotted them all across London (and even in little sea-side towns).
While a fair few of them smell like piss, they are undergoing a make over by a company called Pod Works. That’s right, what was once an essential part of communication prior to smart phones is now getting revamped into mini offices (including charging stations) and WIFI hotspots for a fee.
The best part of budget travel is that your feet take you to the most beautiful places for no charge and it’s environmentally friendly! Equipped with a morning cuppa, make your way to River Thames and soak in the big city life by admiring the different architecture London has to offer. I’m not the biggest architecture head out there but I can certainly appreciate how modern art mixes in with the new. If you’re really in the mood for a walk, it is easy enough to get from Tower Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral just by following the riverbanks. If you’re even more game and trying to fit in some cardio into your holiday, head over to Big Ben and the London Eye.
Tip: Take a stroll early in the morning while everyone is either on the way to work or the tourists are still snoozing. There’s a higher chance of getting more British icon in your photo that tourists in the foreground!
Phew! That was a lot of information to take in, I know. It took me a while to get my head around London and what it has to offer. There’s an endless list of things to do in here so instead of throwing a bunch of information at you, I’m currently creating another guide covering the top tourist attractions and a list of things I wish I knew before visiting! Keep your eyes peeled for that 😉 Should be rolling those out in the next couple of weeks. I hope you found this guide useful and hopefully your next trip to the capital doesn’t break the bank.
London, you’ve got your hold on me now!
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Peace, love and good vibes.