Top 20 Things to do in London Under £20, Part 1

This is an unabridged version of a feature I wrote for the second issue of the adorable Betty Magazine (if you haven’t yet seen it, I suggest you have a read now). Whether hidden gems I’ve discovered by chance, or more obvious attractions that are cliched for a reason (ie. they’re brilliant), these are some of my favourite ways to spend a lazy day in London without spending a fortune. For that’s the thing about this wonderful city – no matter how much or how little you have to spend, there is always a wonderful plethora of fun and enriching adventures to be had! So without further ado, here is the first instalment of my guide to London ‘on the cheap’ (as they say):

1. The Lambeth walk:  We Londoners sometimes take for granted just how picturesque our magnificent city is. So shun the Underground and spend an entire afternoon lazily strolling one of it’s best long walks. Among the best: the walk from Westminster (cross the bridge beside Parliament towards the London Eye) along Southbank to Tower Bridge at sunset, from Notting Hill to Camden along Regent’s Canal, or through the secret parks and laneways (open to the public, but hidden behind ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ doorways and gates) that stretch from Holbourn to Embankment to make up Inner Temple and Middle Temple.

2. Tate to Tate: Spend a morning gazing at Constables and Turners at Tate Britain, then make for the river in Pimlico and jump on the Tate to Tate ferry which for just a few pounds will take you on a scenic cruise up the Thames to Tate Modern (both galleries, like most in London, are free of charge). Check out the post-modern art du jour (though I love the Warhol room), then have a coffee on the balcony of the upstairs cafe with a postcard view across the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls.

3. Gastronomic bliss: If there’s one thing I love as much as a pretty dress, it’s good food. For the best there is, head straight to Borough Market on a Friday or Saturday. There, a foodie heaven awaits: the stinkiest cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy, perfectly brewed coffee at Monmouth, the best brownies at Flour Station, fat sun-ripened English strawberries and greengages at the fruit stalls, oozing chorizo mozzarella sandwiches…. I could go on. If all that eating wears you out, go to the Neal’s Yard Therapy rooms (next to Konditor & Cook) for one of the best massages in town for just £25 on a Monday.

4. Get your geek on: On top of the fact it is obliged to receive one copy of every book, magazine, newspaper, journals and manuscript published in the UK, the British Library has the world’s most enormous collection of books (that would be 14 million – second only to the LIbrary of Congress in Washington DC) in virtually every language – all of which can be borrowed for free. Spend a few hours holed up in a gloriously dusty corner of this behemoth and discover a book you’d always thought you should read but never quite had the time to do so, read a newspaper from 1890 (just because) or listen to an original Beatles recording (that, or read the latest copy of Vogue without the purchase price…).

5. Head for the hills: On a glorious summer’s day, pack a picnic and head for Primrose Hill or Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath and watch the sun set over London from the vantage point of your grassy knowl. One of London’s simple pleasures.

6. Sugary refinement: There are few girly pleasures more wonderful than buying a box of jewel-like macarons from Laduree. Visit the tiny gilded outpost of the Parisian patisserie, choose a little box of your favourite flavours (I love anything that tastes like it belongs in an English garden – rose, violet and orange blossom, oh my!), then wander along Burlington Arcade – where it’s still illegal to whistle or skip! You’ll feel instantly more sophisticated.

7. Cultural enrichment: London is teeming with artistic pursuits that cost no more than a plasticy sandwich and coffee from Starbucks. The very next weeknight you have free, skip the TV and find yourself some tickets to a talk or a show. Look on websites like Time Out, Last Minute, or on venue’s own sites. I love the talks at the British Academy, free jazz concerts in the foyer of the National Theatre, Shakespeare in the Globe or anything by the Royal Ballet.

8. £2 hapiness: Pack a £2 Penguin Classic, head to St James’ Park (the prettier cousin to its neighbouring Green Park), buy yourself an ice cream and hire a stripey sun lounger to spend an afternoon in blissful repose. Worth every penny of the £2 hire fee (you can stay as long as you want): also worth it just to chuckle at the pasty Englishmen in shorts, watch the fat ducks waddle past and soak up some happiness-inducing sunrays.

9. The secret garden: Ok, so your ‘garden’ may consist of two wilting herb pots on the window sill, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a house filled with floral happiness. Get to the Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday for armfulls of flowers or pots just waiting to be plonked on your window sill. Best times for bargains (and the sounds of happy cockney ‘ten for a fiver!” chants) are first thing in the morning or late afternoon when the sellers want to go home (don’t forget to potter about all the lovely boutiques around the area before buying your bouqets).

10. Rummage for treasure: Touristy it may be, but it is wonderfully satisfying to send a sunny weekend wandering the lengths of Portobello Road hunting for treasure in the antique stalls. Head for the vintage jewels, maps, china crockery and silver ware stalls (where you can trawl through the £1 bargain piles for pretty little dishes that will gleam like new after a polish). Afterwards, refuel at one of the chi chi cafes along Westbourne Grove or Ledbury Road (the ice creams at Melt are sublime on a hot day), then wander back through the leafy residential streets.

So tell me lovelies, what are your favourite things to do in London?

Love, Miss B xx

48 thoughts on “Top 20 Things to do in London Under £20, Part 1

  1. Public libraries- you can get 5 new books a week for free and for nuffing! Very important we use them too because in these straightened times, councils will close under-used facilities. Once I have my book, I hop on a bus to a park or along the river for a quiet coffee or a cheeky wine and a read. If I REALLY want to save the pennies, I take my own drink and snack.

  2. Absolutely gorgeous post, I love it! I’m moving back to London in 2 weeks and you’ve got me all excited 🙂

    I’ve never done some of these things (and I didn’t know you can read for free at the Library!) so thanks for the inspiration.

  3. A stroll through the wonderful Liberty of London. A wander around the markets of brick lane (on a Sunday after col road) dinner at son que, Vietnamese on kingsland road, the V&A museum, a cocktail at callooh callay in shoreditch (followed by pizza east, or even more fun when u know someone who’s a member, drink by the pool of shoreditch house), or at the Zetter townhouse…. On top of my never ending
    to do list is the Dennis Severs house nr spitalfield anyone been?

  4. Also, when at borough Market, get a coffee from Monmouth coffee, sit outside and just sit and watch and sit and watch. When I first moved to london, I used to do this every weekend and I always left with a smile, having had an interesting chat. Also, St katherines dock for an almost meditaranean feel and a coffee tour through east London… Starting at St. Ali on clerkenwell road, THE most enthusiastic coffee makers in a wonderful space. Their Earl of Sandwich is out of this world…. Could go on and on….

    • You’re absolutely right – no trip to Borough can be complete without a visit to Monmouth Coffee (I actually prefer this one to their original on Monmouth St in Covent Garden). I’m not sure what’s more sublime – the coffee, the pastries, or the people watching. And thank you so much for your tip about the coffee tour through East London – I must try this myself!

      B xx

  5. So, that’s under 200£ per day, hmmmmm that’s still a lot! 🙂
    I’m kidding dear, lovely ideas! I love London and throughout my 5 years studying in UK I spent half of my weekends there!

    • Oh but I’m not suggesting you do all these things on one day! I think each one could happily fill an entire day – and most you’ll note are far less than £20, if not free. That’s the beauty of London – although it can be expensive at times, there are infinite possibilities to things to do without spending much money at all.

      B xx

  6. Love all your ideas. The Freud Museum is pretty cool…one look at Freud’s bizarre leather desk chair will explain much.

    Brick Lane. Camden Lock. Wander through Liberty and wonder at all the gorgeous things — and check out the tiny cherub stained glass windows upstairs. Hamley’s! Alfie’s Antiques Market. Go gawk at the Gherkin. I love wandering the back streets of Spitalfields….disappearing into the 18th century.

    LOVE Primrose Hill…My cousin lives just around the corner so I know that area well.

  7. Recently I found out that Serpentine Gallery is not far from V&A, then King’s Road is also walkable from the museums. Another favourite is Sir John Soane’s Museum, which is near British Museum – Museums bliss in London!

    • Embarassingly, I am yet to go to Sir John Soane’s Museum (naughty me!). Must rectify this soon – thanks for reminding me! And aren’t we spoiled with how many wonderful free museums are on our doorstep?

      B xx

  8. A lovely post; some of the things I have done; some I have yet to do but that is what I love about this city; there is always somewhere delightful to discover. Yesterday I went to Kew Gardens but we also had a wonder around the divine Kew Village. It really is a village within a city. The houses are all beautiful and I said to my friend that I could quite happily have spent the day wondering the streets looking at the pretty houses. And they have the most delighful cake shop by the station, I was in heaven with one bite 🙂

    • Oh I absolutely LOVE Kew Gardens too! It’s filled with fond memories for me because it’s not far from where my family live, and when I first moved to London it was the very first thing we did (when I was still wide-eyed at having packed up my life and moved to the other side of the world). Thanks for reminding me I need to go back!

      B xx

  9. Love this post B! You always have a way of making me realise the little pleasures I take for granted. You strip things back to basics, but luxurious basics none the less. Think I’ll join you on the sugary refinement, would love a macaron right now!

    Hope you are well x

  10. Regents canel is great to walk along starting from ladbroke grove/Portobello dock along little Venice and the narrow house boats past regents park and the zoo all the way to camden lock. Feels like your in the country at times, then you discover a banksy or two along the way to remind you that your in central London

  11. I’ve never been to London before, but this is a wonderfully written guide! This reminds all of us that there are just so much to discover and appreciate where we live.

  12. I didn’t know it was illegal to whistle and skip in Burlington Arcade – which means I could be in imminent danger of arrest as Laduree Macaroons always make me do both! Hope you’re well Gorgeous and hope I get to see you soon! xxx

    • Yes! One of those silly quirks I love about London. And you’re right, this is very dangerous territory when one has just exited Laduree and the overwhelming urge is to skip down the arcade with glee…

      B xx

  13. When the proms are on nothing beats turning up and getting a promenade ticket for £5. World class music for the price of a return tube journey – brilliant! xx

  14. Borough Market is something that I miss about London. I used to love to visit (and can’t wait to again, of course!) One of my favourite things about that place is that you can try a lot of the food before you buy. Both dangerous and delightful all at the same time – especially the cheese stalls!

  15. i always love to look around Harrods making a millionaire wish list and top it off with looking at the puppies on the 6th floor. At xmas, for a £10 donation to Great Ormond Street, you can play with them too!

  16. I love this post! I have always wanted to visit London and I just felt like I got a personal tour from you, even though I’m many many miles away here in the states. Can’t wait to visit and have coffee on the 2nd balcony and see that great view of Millennium Bridge!

    Xo – Christy

  17. Pingback: An Announcement | - An Australian beauty blog

  18. Pingback: New Year’s Eve | A Girl, A Style

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *