Growing up in London you don’t always see the city as tourists do. You know what Hyde Park smells like in summer and which night bus to catch home after clubbing, but you might not have gazed across the skyline from the London Eye or stood inside the whispering gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral.
I’ve had the privilege to travel the world and live in other countries, and every time I return to my native London, I feel both at home and a tourist in my own city.
What’s great about London?
London is undoubtedly one of the most culturally diverse, energetic and innovative cities on earth. The history, architecture and creative dynamism of London are unparalleled. How ever there are some myths about London I would like to dispel.
Forget the bad weather!
During my travels, I have often found myself defending the city from these three stereotypes: Bad weather, bad food, and being too expensive. Yes, we’re known for our rainy days, but the sun shines on London too, and when it does, you get to see the very best of our green parks and pretty pub gardens.
How to get by on a budget
As for bad food? London has some of the most diverse culinary options of any city in the world. Bland and boring is a thing of the past. London can seem challenging if you don’t have a lot of cash, but if you arm yourself with good travel advice, I guarantee you will still get the best of the city and experience authentic London without compromise.
How to save on travel
Enjoying London is not exclusive to those with money to burn; there are many ways to enjoy the city on a budget. It is possible to experience the best of London with only $100. London travel is likely to be your biggest expense, tube tickets are costly and buses only slightly less so.
Walking is the best way to see London.
How to travel for free? Walk! The fact is, much of Central London can be seen and enjoyed wandering, something a lot of people don’t realize as they travel short distances on the underground. Get out into the crowds and navigate the city on foot instead.
Or rent a bicycle!
For another great way to get a real sense of the city hire a ‘Boris bike’ (bicycles for hire at 2 pounds for 24 hours) and discover the secret corners of ancient London with the breeze in your hair. You can pick up and return the bikes at locations all over the city.
Visit landmarks for free
Due to an extremely forward thinking government decision a few years ago, you can visit all the collections and exhibits at London’s museums and art galleries without breaking the bank because they are free to the public. Wander cultural gems such as The British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, gaze at groundbreaking contemporary art at the Tate Modern and then pop up to the cafe for awe-inspiring views across London (no pressure on your purse strings here either).
Start your adventure in South Bank
Despite being such a giant metropolis, London does not have to feel intimidating. For the ultimate in people watching, spend some time in London’s South Bank. Here you can join the crowds ogling the incredible skateboarders, toss a coin at live street performers or take a selfie with Big Ben as you stroll riverside.
Stroll through history
Southbank is also a great location to set off and wander central London from. You can cross over the bridge on foot to Embankment, and take your time wandering through to Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Soho and Piccadilly Circus. With plenty of landmarks along the way plus tons of typical London atmosphere, it’s a good way to get a sense of the city.
Visit London’s many parks
One of the most defining things about London is the profusion of open, green spaces (also all free of charge). With London parks, you are actually spoilt for choice. Rent a rowing boat on Hyde Park’s Serpentine Lake, spot the Royal deer in Richmond Park or let the kids be pirates for the day at the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial playground in Kensington Gardens.
Try delicious food
Contrary to popular belief you will not have to pay through the nose for food in London either. The city is bursting with tasty lunch deals, market stalls and happy hour treats. Food trucks are popping up all over the city, choose from NYC burgers, Mexican tacos or American doughnuts at wallet-friendly prices.
Find the best meal deals
Soak up London’s multi-cultural vibe in Soho’s Chinatown and sample dumplings and noodles for under a tenner. Head to Brick Lane for a mouthwatering curry, lunch deals can be found for a fiver, or try cheap traditional fare at one of London’s many fish and chip shops. Borough Market is a feast for the eyes and stacked with fresh, organic produce and Camden Lock is a vibrant hub of ethnic cuisine on the cheap.
Go and see a London Show
It’s quintessential London to go and see a show or play at the theater, the bright lights of the West End are calling! You can head to the kiosk in Leicester Square for tickets in advance for West End shows. You can also get really British about it and queue at the theater on the night for standby tickets and returns.
Have a night out on the town
Step back in time at Shakespeare’s the Globe theater for just $5 a ticket (standing) or if you’re after live music check out Ronnie Scott’s in Soho for world-class jazz for under a tenner. London has an abundance of happy hours so make sure you take advantage of two for one cocktail, or take your pick from one of London’s cozy pubs and sip a pint with the locals.
Shop for London bargains
If you fancy some retail therapy, skip Harrods (or just go for the photo opp) and hunt for bargains at Portobello Road market or cutting edge fashion at Old Spitalfields. Columbia Road flower market is where you go for a fresh cut bunch of blooms and pop into Leadenhall Market for pretty architecture.
Enjoy afternoon tea
For many people teatime is synonymous with Britain, so make sure you curl up with a cuppa in one of London’s many cafes. If you’ve been counting your pennies well, splash out on scones and cream in a proper afternoon tea at one of London’s iconic locations. You won’t regret enjoying a delicious teatime spread and there often deals on tea for two at hotels or more luxury cafes and tearooms.
See amazing city views
A free trip up to the Sky Garden is a unique way to spend the evening after a busy day exploring the capital. Here you can enjoy a cocktail with a view, with stunning panoramas across London and tropical gardens all around you. Located right in the old city of London, the only thing to do is to book in advance, as places are limited.
Experience real London
London pulses with life and spirit. It’s a city that begs to be experienced and appreciated. Every time I return I discover another new pop-up shop or cafe or hear about a new trend in music, art or theater.
Let your London experience be unique
In my opinion, the best way to see a place is to get to it’s authentic core and live and breathe it through real experiences. Get lost in the back streets, talk to people who live there, try new things and see things from a different perspective.
Enjoy your trip!
Travel feeds the soul, so don’t miss out on new experiences or be limited by your budget. Find original ways to travel the world, explore new places and live the adventures you dream of.