London is Britain’s financial powerhouse, resplendent with royal landmarks, cutting-edge skyscrapers, Michelin-starred restaurants and upmarket boutiques.
Luckily for the budget conscious, it’s also full of world-class museums (many of which are free), leafy public parks and affordable places to eat that capture the many flavours of this multicultural city. With the right guide, you can easily enjoy London on a budget and keep your pounds in your pocket.
Let’s begin the day in the Southwark district, on the south bank of the Thames opposite the gleaming City of London. Here you can spend an hour or two browsing contemporary masterpieces housed within a former power station at Tate Modern, where entry is free.
Wander a few minutes down the road to Borough Market, one of the city’s oldest and largest food markets, full of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls. Grab a seat in the light-filled Market Hall or pick up a quick snack in Green Market, selling everything from Iraqi street food to Ethiopian wraps and British pies. It’s another short walk to London Bridge, where you can take in priceless views of the river and cross over to the north bank.
With extensive and meandering routes, London’s signature red double-decker buses are a brilliant way to get around – and get acquainted with the city at street level. Hop on the Route 15 bus at the Tower of London (£1.50/HK$15), which gives you a front-row view of historic sites such as the Royal Courts of Justice, Fleet Street and St Paul’s Cathedral on the way to Trafalgar Square.
Take a moment to admire Nelson’s Column – towering 52 metres above the square – before approaching the National Gallery. Within the handsome neoclassical marble building lies a thorough education in classical fine arts: more than 2,300 artworks including a collection by English Romantic painter JMW Turner, Vermeer’s A Young Woman standing at a Virginal and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Best of all, admission is free.
Continue on foot to the West End, known for the bright lights of the theatre district (enquire at the box offices for discounted same-day tickets) plus big brands and designer labels on Oxford Street and flashy boutiques on Carnaby Street. While there’s no harm in a little window shopping, this is absolutely not a spot for budget threads. Press ahead to Soho’s buzzing Chinatown, where dozens of Chinese and Asian restaurants have sprung up in the area around Gerrard Street, including C&R Café. The menu is laden with Malay-Chinese dishes, and serves one of the best bowls of laksa outside of Malaysia (£9.50/HK$95).
After eating your fill, head north to Marylebone and the Wallace Collection, a lavish 17th-century townhouse with artwork from the likes of Rembrandt and Canaletto. Like most London museums, including the Natural History Museum, it’s free to enter. As you’re nearby, it would be rude not to visit Sherlock Holmes’ statue just off Baker Street, for a mandatory selfie with the great consulting detective – followed by a stroll to Regent’s Park, where free open-air exhibitions fill the gardens in warmer months.
If the weather is particularly obliging, rent a pedalo on the lake (£10.50/HK$105 per hour). Replenish your caffeine stores at The Boathouse Café (£2.10/HK$21), then head eastward towards Goodge Street: a popular stomping ground among students and others doing London on a budget. It’s home to Icco’s family-run pizza house. Here, a 12-inch mushroom and mozzarella pizza will set you back a paltry £5.50/HK$56. Buon appetito!