15 Cheap and Fun Things to do While Visiting London
For me, travel isn't so much about making my way through a checklist of all the guidebook sights as it about getting to know the rhythm and heartbeat of my new friend as it reveals itself to me over time. Having been fortunate to spend the last 7 months in London I realized that I had learned some things about this brilliant city that I might be able to share with those of you that may have less time, but are still keen on in immersing yourselves in the many faces of this fascinating city. Below is my list of 15 cheap and fun things to do while in London that you might not find in your guidebook but will surely enrich your experience of London. Even if you have no plans to visit soon, I think you will enjoy this tour of London through my eyes.
1). Take in the street art on Brick Lane
Located in the Shoreditch area of East London Brick Lane is an absolutely brilliant place to spend an afternoon, or better yet an entire day. Originally associated with the scene of the Jack the Ripper murders, it is now known for the fabulous and ever changing street art that you will find there as well as some of the best curry in London. This vibrant neighborhood is predominantly Bangladeshi but you will also find a host of vintage and designer shops as well trendy coffee houses, bars and cafes. Check the website before going as they often have street fairs and festivals.
Nearest Underground Stations: Liverpool Street, Shoreditch, or Aldgate East
2). Eat your way through the Borough Market
We discovered the Borough Market soon after our arrival in London and it was a regular destination for the rest of our stay and high on the list of priorities whenever we had visitors. If you love food, you will love the Borough Market. There are over 70 stalls that include fresh items from all over the country as well as prepared foods of every variety. Be sure to check the Exotic Meat Company which offers kangaroo, kudu, zebra, impala and bison meats just to name a few and if you are gluten free like I am make your way over to The Free From Bakehouse. Even if you’re not, their desserts are to die for.This is good destination for lunch if you are visiting the Tower Bridge as it very nearby.
8 Southwark Street, London Nearest Underground Station: London Bridge
3). Have a drink at the Doubletree Hotel and take in one of the best views of London
This location came as a surprise to us shortly after we arrived and there are no words to describe how incredible this view is. The facility itself is rather ordinary but the expansive panoramic view and the proximity to the Tower of London is a real treat. This is a great place to start your London experience and I highly recommend arriving at the Doubletree - Tower of London in the late afternoon while it is still light and then staying to watch the sun go down over the city.
7 Pepys Street, London Nearest Underground Station: Tower Hill
4). Take a selfie from the Waterloo Bridge
Although the Westminster and Tower Bridges are the bridges most visitors know of and want to visit, it is actually the Waterloo Bridge that has the best views of London. With Westminster, the South Bank and the London Eye to the west and the City of London and Canary Wharf to the East, it is definitely one of the best spots for a selfie in London. A particularly enjoyed walking across this bridge at night when the city really comes alive, but it’s a great spot for a photo any time the weather is reasonably clear. There is also a lovely park called The Victoria Embankment Gardens on the embankment side that is worth strolling through before crossing the bridge.
The south end of the bridge is known as South Bank and the north end passes above the Victoria Embankment at Lancaster Place and the Strand.
Nearest Underground Stations: Embankment or Waterloo
5). Enjoy lunch from the food trucks under the London Eye
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday some of the best food trucks and vendors in the area set up at the Southbank Centre for a weekend food extravaganza. The Real Food Market is located at the Southbank Centre near the Waterloo Bridge and the London Eye and is only a short walk along the waterfront to the Westminster Bridge, making it the perfect spot to stop for lunch after touring the Westminster region. It’s a popular place and can be very crowded so my tip is to order up lunch and walk over to the Jubilee Gardens Park under the London Eye and enjoy your lunch away from the frenzy.
Southbank Centre Square Belvedere Road
Nearest Underground Stations: Embankment or Waterloo
6). Have coffee in The Covent Garden Piazza and listen to some opera
Visiting the piazza in Covent Garden is on most visitors to do lists but they may not know that in the lower court the local artists perform on a daily basis. The opera singers are particularly lovely and my tip is to go early on a weekday before it gets too crowded and enjoy your morning coffee surrounded by this amazing bit of culture. Be sure to leave a tip before you head out to explore the rest of Covent Garden.
Nearest cross streets: Bow and Russell St. Nearest Underground Station: Covent Garden
7). Have your picture taken in an iconic red telephone booth
Gotta do it. My tip …. hold your breath, jump in and pull off your best smile and be done with it quickly. The best location for this in my opinion is the row of 5 of them on Broad Ct. between Bow Street and Drury Lane. This is in the heart of Covent Garden so easy peasy to pull off if you’re spending the day there and in my experience, there is almost always someone willing to snap a photo for you so everyone can get in the picture.
Nearest Underground Station: Covent Garden
8). Get Snogged
What’s that you say? Here is the urban dictionary’s definition of snogging but for me going to Snog is the dessert addiction of choice while in London. Organic fat free frozen yogurt at it’s very best with gluten free cones and gluten free chocolate brownies to boot. It’s a fun place and located near some of the best restaurant choices in London so have dinner, walk around a bit, and then head straight for Snog.
5 Garrick St, Covent Garden, London Nearest Underground Station: Leicester Square
9). Get lost for a few hours in “book alley”
Cecil Court is a short and picturesque pedestrian only thoroughfare which connects Charing Cross Rd. and St. Martin’s Lane that easily be missed if you don’t know it’s there. The storefronts here are as unique and antiquated as what’s being sold within them – vintage books, maps, vinyl records, theater posters and more. A true book lover’s dream and home to the famous Watkins Books. It’s also believed to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series as JK Rowling apparently spent quite a bit of time here in her early days.
Near Cranbourn St. and St. Martin’s Ct. Nearest Underground Station: Leicester Square
10). Have breakfast at the Old Dutch
For months on end we walked by The Old Dutch on a regular basis and never gave it a second thought thinking it was just another greasy spoon. Ever heard of a Chicken Curry pancake? Or perhaps you have a secret passion for Nutella and would totally dig it on a pancake? They got ‘em and they serve em up all day long. Turns out they have one of the best and most unique pancake breakfast menus I’ve ever seen and you can order anything on the menu gluten free! I spoke with the one the mangers one Sunday morning and he explained to that they even have a dedicated kitchen for their gluten free orders. The pancakes come on the biggest plate you’ve ever seen and there are both sweet and savory pancakes to choose from.
131-132 High Holborn, London Nearest Underground Station: Holborn
11). Take in one London’s free museums
Although I’m not always a big museum person while traveling, London has some amazing museums and they are free for the most part (sometimes special exhibits have a fee) and definitely worth going to. My favorite is the British Museum if for no other reason than it’s absolutely brilliant architecture. It has a surreal and magical quality that makes me want to hang out there all day …. and you can …. for free!
12). Have lunch with the Hare Krishnas at London University
I have always loved the energy I feel when walking through a university campus and soon found myself walking through the University of London’s campus each Thursday on my weekly trip to the Bloomsbury Farmers Market. I discovered that if was there close to lunchtime I would see the same gentleman pull up on his bicycle to feed the lines of hungry students without fail. You can see a video of him here. This all takes place in front of the SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) and I find it all fascinating. The lunches are really for the students and the homeless so I don’t recommend taking part, but what I do recommend is grabbing lunch a block away from the food trucks at the Bloomsbury Market and eating on the grass in front to the SOAS building with the students. This is people watching at it’s best and who knows, you might strike up a conversation with someone really fascinating. I did.
Both are located in Torrington Square and are shown on this map.
Nearest Underground Station: Russell Square
13). Take a “London Walks” walking tour
London Walks is in my opinion, one of the best ways to experience London from a totally unique point of view. For only 9£ you can take a 2 ½ hour walk focusing on just what is of interest to you and most likely see and experience some unique things you wouldn’t otherwise. Their walks include Harry Potter, Jack the Ripper, Beatles Walk, Westminster Abbey, a pub walk, a food walk, the Old Jewish Quarter and the River Thames just to name a few. Best part is no need to book, just show up and walk! Tours take place rain or shine.
Website and schedule
14). Have your picture taken at Platform 9 ¾
Okay, so this one might be a little cheesy but if you are a Harry Potter fan or are traveling with children it can worth doing. My grandson was thrilled when he went there. So here’s the deal. If you go to the King’s Cross Station you can stand in line with a bunch of other people and have your picture taken at platform 9 ¾. You can pay the pro or use your own camera for free, and if you opt out of the paid photo they still let you wear the scarf. Either way the St Pancras – Kings Cross Station is beautiful and worth a visit.
15). Go to a Gastro Pub
I think there’s a gastro pub on just about every corner in London these days and it’s definitely part of the London experience which is not to be missed. One of my favorites is not in Central London but about 30 minutes out in Maide Valle, and as their website says it’s “a pub worth traveling for”. Everything on the menu is delicious, the atmosphere is perfect and they even have gluten free fish and chips! So consider jumping on the tube and heading on over to The Truscott Arms. You’ll be glad you did.
55 Shirland Rd, Maida Vale Nearest Underground Station: Warwick Avenue (Bakerloo)
Until next time ....
XOXO, from me and lu