5 TIPS TO EXPLORE LONDON ON A BUDGET
Written by Eleanor (Astor Museum)
It’s a question commonly asked by guests: “So, what brings you to London?” The answer is simple enough: “It was always a part of the plan…”
Between the ages of 5 and 20, dreaming of London was a solid preoccupation of mine. London was all about music, history, art and culture. It was the place where there seemed to be an endless supply of fascinating, passionate people. If you were attentive enough, there was always something to do each day.
Having lived here now for close to two years, there are a number of things that I’d impart to guests who are coming to town for the first time.
1. ENJOY LONDON’S FREE CULTURE
Take benefit from the fact that the majority of the cultural institutions in London are free and open all year round.
- If you’re into ancient history, head to the British Museum, the John Soanes Museum or the Petrie Museum.
- If you’re into paintings, head to the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery or the Tate Britain.
- If you’re into modern art, head to the Tate Modern, the Institute of Contemporary Arts or the Whitechapel Gallery.
- If you’re into science, head to the Science Museum, the Grant Museum or the Wellcome Collection.
- If you’re into British culture, head to the British Film Institute, the Museum of London or the British Library.
Each cultural institution has free events daily, ranging from talks, screenings, workshops and late night parties.
The important thing is to work out what you’re interested in. It sounds like a pretty simple thing, but too often guests feel obliged to visit a place just because it is the “done thing”. You might as well spend your precious London time on something that you love, after all, what’s the point of spending the whole day at the Tate Modern if you’re not into modern art?
2. SCOUT FOR EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES
Research events and happenings on our guide as well as Time Out, the Londonist and Secret LDN to find things that are going on around town during your stay. Eventbrite is also useful for its massive number of exhibitions, gigs, lectures, workshops and parties. Events listed are usually free or very cheap, undermining London’s reputation for being a super expensive city.
Search for London on Instagram or Tumblr to get visual inspiration for your stay. You can get tip-offs for street art in Shoreditch or brightly coloured houses in Notting Hill. If in doubt, take a camera and go for a walk and explore the neighbourhood surrounding your local Astor Hostel.
3. FEAST FOR LESS
There are opportunities to scavenge together cheap eats from around London at a moment’s notice. Here at Astor Museum, we frequently organise cheap breakfasts, dinners and picnics for our guests. Otherwise, we’re a stone’s throw from Bibimbap on Museum St, a local haunt where you can get a big box of Korean food for £5 and Yoshino on Shaftesbury Ave, where you can get a dozen gyoza (Japanese dumplings) for £3.
We also take advantage of the handy app, Too Good To Go, which helps to minimise food waste by making surplus food available from London’s eateries just before closing time. Not only is it very cheap (with meals ranging between £3 and £5), it raises environmental awareness at a time when greenhouse emissions are at crisis level.
Our Bloomsbury location makes exploration ridiculously easy. You can cover the big sights of central London with no Oyster card: simply walk down Shaftesbury Avenue to Piccadilly Circus, hang a right at Leicester Square, check out Trafalgar Square, head down Pall Mall to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace then go up the Birdcage Walk to see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.
Download Citymapper, save maps offline and turn on your GPS. Where ever you are, you’re never too far away from a London Underground station which can help you reorientate yourself quite easily. You can’t get too lost in London!
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5. GET OUT (BUT DO COME BACK)
London has fantastic transport links to the rest of the UK and Europe. Trains can be a little expensive, so if you have the time, you can take a National Express or Megabus bus from Victoria Coach Station to explore other towns like Brighton, Cambridge or Oxford. If you want to go further afield, you can get to France, Belgium or Holland within 12 hours on not much cash at all.
If you don’t have the time to venture all the way out of London, there are still plenty of places to explore that make you feel as if you’re seeking out Mr Darcy in a Jane Austen novel. The National Trust and English Heritage have detailed listings of parks and stately homes within well within London, the most notable being Osterley Park, Ham House, and Kenwood House .
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If in doubt, ask for advice from your friendly Astor receptionist. It’s more than likely that there’ll be a big group going for a night out in Soho, Shoreditch or Hackney.
The main point is always be engaged and curious – and just opt out when what you’re doing isn’t for you.