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bineba London - A travel report by Sabine
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London,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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bineba's travel reports

London for free (well, almost)

  16 votes
Page: 1 2
London is an expensive city, whether you come here as a tourist or live here. Despite being so expensive, I still think London is one of the most exciting cities in the world to live in and even after nearly 20 years, I’ll get a buzz thinking that this is my city. And there are dozens of things you can do for free or next to nothing at all.

Tate Modern
Tate Modern
All of the big museums in London are now free and surely there must be something for everybody, even if you are not a big museum fan. Maybe you have been put off going when visiting a stuffy museum as a child, but things have changed and a lot of these places are now interactive and full of cool stuff There are the Big 3 in South Kensington (Natural History, Science and Victoria & Albert Museums), the daddy of the all, The British Museum in Bloomsbury and The Museum of London in the City. Some of the smaller museums are also worth a visit, the following are just a small selection of my favourites and they are also all free: Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Field is crammed full of sculptures, paintings, and odds and ends brought together by a compulsive collector. Learn all about money in the Bank of England Museum in the City. The Theatre Museum in Covent Garden is and oasis of calm and you can take part in a stage make-up demonstration. The British Library near Euston station exhibits rare first editions of famous books like The Jungle Book but also lyric sheets of the Beatles. The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is not just a show of military hardware but has excellent permanent exhibitions on the holocaust and life during the Blitz. Further afield try the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, full of eccentricities and art objects, the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory in Greenwich, The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood and the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. My favourite art museum is the Tate Modern, but I also love the Tate Britain in Pimlico, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square and the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. I’ll be posting addresses and opening hours for all of these on my travel tips page soon.

Favourite spots:
The London Tower
The London Tower
The best mode of transport in London is walking. It’s cheap, it’s healthy and just think of all the things you’d miss if you were travelling by underground. Don’t be daunted by the size of London, the centre, where most of the tourist attraction are, is quite compact and walkable. My favourite walk is along the river Thames, you’ll come past so many sights and the views are fantastic. There is a sign-posted path and one of my favourite strolls is from Westminster Bridge along the Southbank, past the Tate Modern to Tower Bridge where I cross the river and then walk back along the other side. I also like walking in the City, London’s financial district, on a Sunday when you have the place almost to yourself. There a lots of historic buildings and churches and little alleyways. Always keep an eye out for the blue plaques on some of the buildings, they will tell you if somebody famous once lived there. There are over 800 in London from Jane Austen to Jimi Hendrix to Vincent Van Gogh (for a full list visit (By the way, if you are not planning on travelling on public transport before 9.30 in the morning, it is much cheaper to buy an off-peak travelcard rather than a one day London transport card. If you are only visiting sites within zones 1and 2, it could save you nearly £4 a day. But if you, for any reason, have to go beyond zone 2, make sure you buy an extension ticket before you start your journey, otherwise it’ll cost you!)

What's really great:
Eros Statue in Piccadilly Circus
Eros Statue in Piccadilly Circus
Shopping in London is expensive but there are places where you can find a real bargain. My favourite markets are in Greenwich, where every weekend there is a lovely craft market where I usually just look but not buy (this one can be a bit pricey), and two fantastic flea markets selling everything from clothes to furniture, from books to jewellery, from records to things you didn’t even know you were looking for. The market in Walthamstow in North-East London is over a mile long and allegedly the longest street market in Europe. It takes place from Monday to Saturday, from 8 until mid afternoon and sells everything from fruit and veg, cheap clothes, household goods to sari fabrics. This is not a pretty, pretty market but a place where residents do there daily shopping. Cheap secondhand books can be bought every weekend and some weekdays at the Riverside Walk Market by the National Film Theatre underneath Waterloo Bridge.

Notting Hill Carneval
Notting Hill Carneval

There is always a free festival, event or celebration happening somewhere in London and most of them are free to the public. To find out about them get a copy of Time Out, the weekly listings magazine for London. There are also, not quite as comprehensive but not bad, free listings mags with Thursday’s Evening Standard and Independent on Saturday. Something is happing somewhere all year round, from the Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown in February, the Cambridge & Oxford Boat Race in March, Notting Hill Carnival in August to Bonfire Night in November. From June to August there is the Coin Street Festival near Gabriel’s Wharf on the Southbank, Victoria Embankment Gardens Summer events happen from May to July, The Mayor’s Thames Fest complete with fireworks is in September as is the Brick Lane Festival , a celebration of the famous street in London’s East End with food, music and performances. Go to any of these events, learn something about all the different cultures that come together in London and most of all have fun!

Detail of Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens
Detail of Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens
This is likely to be your biggest expense in London, hotel rooms are not cheap in London. I can't really recommend anywhere in particular, but there are a number of hostels and depending when you are planning to visit, you can often find very reasonable deals on the internet.

Viva South Africa @ the Coin Street Festival
Viva South Africa @ the Coin Street Festival
A lot of clubs don't charge an entrance fee if you arrive early. In some cases this can be as early as 20h but often it is free if you get there before 23h. Check out the listings in the magazines mentioned before.

Thames Sunset
Thames Sunset
A random selection of favourite pubs in no particular order:

The Anchor Bankside near London Bridge. big pub with a terrace . Samuel Johnson wrote part of his dictionary here.

The Princess Louise in Holborn. Friendly pub with a reputed gost in the gents.

The Sherlock Holmes near Charing Cross Station. A little bit of the beaten track in this busy part of town, tables outside and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia inside.

The Bleeding Heart Tavern near Chancery Lane.

The Jerusalem Tavern near Farringdon is the only pub serving 9the very good) St. Peter's Brewery beers.

The Tattershall Castle, a pub on a ship on the Thames near Embankment station. Perfect in summer.

The Alphabet Bar on Beak Street is a nice place to chill out.

The mixologists in The Lab Bar on Old Compton street make some of the best cocktails in town.

St. James' Park and London Eye
St. James' Park and London Eye
Eating out can also very expensive but there are places around that don't cost the earth.

In Soho and Chinatown you will find several places offering all-you-can-eat Chinese and Italian buffets for not much motre than a fiver.
There a several Wagamama restaurants in London serving tasty bowls of noodles.

The Cafe in the Crypt underneath St.Martin-in-the-Field serves decent food at good prices.

Amato on Old Compton street is a lovely place serving great pastas, salads, coffees and the most delicious cakes you will ever taste.

The Big Easy on the Kings Road serves fare from the Deep South of the States and has a very good lunchtime deal.

The Texas Embassy Cantina around the back of Trafalgar Square serves big portions of tex-mex food.

Wong Kei, a Chinese restaurant on Wardour Street, is huge & busy and once had the rudest waiters, but is an institution. Good, cheap food. Not the place you want to take somebody for an anniversary dinner, though!

The Brick Lane Beigel Bakery is another institution and open 24 hours a day. Try the bagel with salt beef.

Other recommendations:
Fire works on bonfire night
Fire works on bonfire night
Other cool stuff to do:
Listen to a free lunchtime concert of classical music. St.Martin-in-the-Field on Trafalgar Square does them Mondays and Tuesdays, and there are much more in several City churches.
Go to the Dogs. Walthamstow Dog Stadium has greyhound races every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 19.30h. The lunch time events on Mondays (14.00h) and Fridays (11.30h) are free.
Have a swim. Hampstead Heath ponds are open from May to September, 7 to 19h daily and entrance is free.
Half price theatre tickets can be bought from the booth in Leicester Square, Monday to Saturday 10-19h, Sundays 12-15h.
See a movie.Cinema tickets for the West end are expensive, especially for evening performances. Consider going somewhere less central or, if it doesn’t have to be the latest blockbuster, go to the Prince Charles cinema off Leicester Square, where you can watch the film you missed the first time round. Prices here are about £3-4 for non-members, about a third of the price of the cinemas round the corner.
Go to a cemetery. Highgate now charges an entrance fee, so go to Kensal Green Cemetery instead. Here you find weird and wonderful monuments with inhabitants like Isombard Kingdom Brunel, William Makepeace Thackeray, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope.
See the dinosaurs. Visit Crystal Palace Park in South-East London, once home of the Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition in 1851, which subsequently burnt to the ground. But the park, home of the National Sports Centre, is still a nice pace to visit and has several recently renovated Victorian dinosaur models dotted around. Bring a picnic.
Go to a trial. Visit the Old Baily, the Central Crimianl Court and and watch British justice at work. 10.30-13.00 & 14-16.30h.
Go to the market.Borough Market near Southwark Cathedral has been around for hundreds of years and is now a gourmet food market.
Get wet. Visit Somerset House in the Strand which after many years not being open to the public now houses several galleries. But the terrace and the courtyard with the fabulous jumping fountains is free. There is an ice rink in the winter.

Published on Saturday August 28th, 2004

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Sat, Sep 30 2006 - 07:18 AM rating by ragnvaeig

I've to go to London on business (unfortunately at my own expense); you've given me some good ideas on places to visit. Many thanks.

Sun, Dec 18 2005 - 03:38 PM rating by jorgesanchez

excellent report!

Sat, Sep 25 2004 - 04:25 PM rating by rangutan


Mon, Aug 30 2004 - 04:38 AM rating by britman

I really enjoyed reading your report giving almost a free slant on London! I agree wholeheartedly that walking is simply the best way to see the capital.

As you say food and lodging are the big money-eaters in London. For Hotels in London I personally use this is where the hotel owners themselves dump their own unsold rooms, bucket shop style. A check today reveals prices from as low as £30 per room per night!

Pubs are frequently London’s best cheap eating venues, particularly at midweek lunchtimes. The Jerusalem Tavern that you mention is one of our country’s very best pubs. Again, as you rightly say, picnic - with so many free parks to choose from you have no better ambience.

Excellent reading and sound common sense advice!

Sun, Aug 29 2004 - 12:15 PM rating by nedkelly

Holly Ned Sab.... After reeding your report I can see where my reports are falling short....that would be EVERYWHERE then!!! Great detail ..and pictures too Fantastic. Keep up the good work.

Sun, Aug 29 2004 - 03:09 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hii sabine
you have given excellent report on london,actually i was looking for it .
thnkz for such a report again .

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