London has always been one of my favourite cities and when I finally decided to book a trip back, I knew I’d have to save up as much £ as I possibly could as London’s known as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Let me start by saying that being cheap doesn’t mean giving up good food or good shopping, it simply means being smart about what you choose to spend your money on. One of the many things I adore about London is that it’s full of things to do for the skint if you just do a little bit of research and find the hole-in-the-wall kabob shops or vintage stores with the £5 rack.
On this jaunt over the pond, I saved as much money as possible and cut out daily splurge habits by using the coffee and tea provided by my Airbnb hosts and taking the tube everywhere. Speaking of the tube, do yourself (and your wallet!) a favour and shell out £5 for an Oyster card that’s a pay-as-you-go transit card. It’s definitely a lifesaver if you plan on taking the tube while you’re there (definitely the best way to get around the city) plus, you should definitely use it on your way in and out of the airport–I made that mistake upon landing in LDN and trust me, I learnt my lesson!
Keep reading for my Cheap & Chic London Guide that I hope will inspire you to travel to this great city and know that you don’t have to spend loads of money to have a great time once you get there!
Lola’s Cupcakes – If a cupcake takeout window is your idea of heaven, then Covent Garden’s Lola’s Cupcakes is exactly where you need to be. With endless options of gourmet cupcakes available like Blackforest, Tiramisu and even a unicorn cupcake, your cupcake cravings will surely be satisfied after one visit! Plus they’ve got vegan and wheat free options too.
Borough Market – As the oldest and one of the largest food markets in London, Borough Market dates back to the 12th century if you can believe it! Known first and foremost for offering an abundance of exceptional British produce, Borough also offers a vast array of artisan foods like charcuterie, chocolates, pastries, international delicacies and much more! This is def the place to go for any foodie.
Harrod’s Food Hall – I know Harrod’s can be pricy with the amount of high fashion they house there, but even if you’re experiencing London on the cheap, it should definitely still be on your list! If not for the amazing window shopping then definitely because of the insane food hall they’ve got down there. From succulent oysters, briny caviar, hunks of gorgeous steaks to crusty bread monogrammed with the Harrod’s ‘H’ and those pastries–oh man, those pastries! I promise it’ll be the best £ you’ll ever spend.
BOXPARK Shoreditch – Welcome to the world’s first pop-up mall! BOXPARK Shoreditch is the fusion of a street food market with a retail mall that features all vendors situated in cute shipping containers. It’s definitely the coolest shopping/dining experience I’ve ever had and if you’re looking for insanely delish vegan food, then look no further than the super popular Cook Daily. Shoreditch is less than 20 minutes from Central London and is known as the creative heart of the city; it shows in the bright and colourful graffiti covered walls and wicked cool scene you’ll find all over the area.
Sketch – Okay, I know Sketch isn’t exactly known for being cheap but if you’re looking to splurge on one AMAZING meal, this is the place. Everything from the service, the decor, the food and even the bathrooms (you’ll have to go there yourself to know what I mean) are fabulous. I experienced the tea service in The Gallery (the pink-filled room for you Instagrammers) and it was honestly one of the highlights of the trip. From the delicious finger sandwiches to the delicate desserts (including the rose flavoured marshmallows) it was a high-tea I’ll never forget.
Covent Garden Markets – If you’re looking for some cool antiques, neat jewellery or collectables, the Apple and East Colonnade Markets in Covent Garden are right up your alley. Set up in an adorable historic building with a huge domed glass roof, this market is wonderful for strolling around and also getting that perfect IG shot!
Portobello Road Market – One of London’s must-see spots is the Portobello Road Market that’s known for the fabulous antiques and second-hand finds. There’s something for everybody with 5 distinct sections that could keep you going for hours. Do yourself a favour and head out there early as it gets super crowded and touristy as the day goes on!
Charity Shops – Similar to second hand or consignment stores here in Canada, I found some amazing fashion finds at charity shops in London. I loved that I could support important charities and score some second-hand designer clothes at the same time! There are loads around the city but I favoured the Octavia Foundation on Brompton Road in Chelsea.
Victoria & Albert Museum – One thing, among many, I love about London is that most of the museums are free and so I spent a lot of time submersed in fascinating British History. The V&A is filled with amazing relics and as a British history geek, I was seriously left in total and complete awe. Plus it’s an amazing way to spend a rainy afternoon!
Tate Modern – Another freebie, Tate Modern museum is known for their vast collection of crazy cool modern art made with things you’d never expect like bottle caps! With an amazing permanent collection and amazing exhibits (that cost), it’ll be a day well spent. Plus don’t miss the observation level in the Blavatnik building where you get a great view of the river.
National Portrait Gallery – Known for the extensive amounts of portraits, prints, photographs and drawings housed, the National Portrait Gallery truly is a treasure and is definitely worth strolling through. Again, for the British history buff, the portraits of the Tudors are spectacular! Plus, don’t miss out on heading up to the rooftop bar for one of the most breathtaking views of the city.
MBNA Thames River Cruise – Want to see the Thames and not have to pay the exorbitant tourist boat cruise prices? With your trusty Oyster card (depending on how far you go on the MBNA boat) you can experience the Thames for under £10! While there won’t be a guide announcing what you’re seeing and the boat might not be as cushy, if you simply follow along in your guide book or on Google Maps, you can get the same experience on the water for a fraction of the cost.
Emirates Air Line Cable Car – One of the coolest things I did in London was take the Emirates Air Line Cable Car across the Thames at sunset and the view is spectacular. This experience is the first of its kind and–bonus!–you can pay with your Oyster card! The ride is 10 minutes and it takes you from North Greenwich, near the O2 to near Victoria Station and with romantic music playing in the gondola, this is the perfect cheap date with bae or bestie.
Great Parks + IG Spots
Hyde Park – At home in Toronto, I’m not really a park hangout type of person but for some reason in London, I couldn’t get enough of them. Hyde Park is the type of park where even in 2018, I half expected some 1800s gent and lady to be walking around with the perfectly manicured paths and gorgeous landscape. I headed to the Princess of Wales Memorial and even made friends with a few ducks and swans too!
Primrose Hill – A bit north of London is Regents Park and there you can find one of the best views of London at Primrose Hill. When I say hill, I’m not joking — it was a bit of a hike but the view was seriously worth it and it was so cool to people watch there too. I recommend strolling around nearby Camden Town afterwards too!
Regent Street– So I have this strange obsession with anything that has a Union Jack on it – pillows, socks, couch cushions, you name it and I need it. Regent Street has a slew of Union Jack flags hanging above the street for as far as the eye can see and I think to anyone, not just the Union Jack obsessed, it’s gorgeous. Definitely worth the stroll and IG pic!
Portobello Road – Perhaps after you’re done at the market, go for a wee stroll and check out the beautifully coloured houses in Notting Hill, specifically on Portobello Road. The stunning muted pastel coloured homes are so posh and will def give all your followers travel FOMO!
PS. Looking for some cheap but still chic places to stay in London too? Check out this article from our friends at All The Room for some of the best hostels in London.
(Story by Assistant Editor, Blair Stutz)