You can’t blame other cities for being jealous of London. It’s unarguably one of the most culturally diverse and modern cities in the entire world because of its rich history mixed with international influences. The British capital is home to coveted landmarks like Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and Prince Harry. People travel from all over to take a chance at seeing the royals, drink high tea, visit famous art galleries and shop on Oxford Street.
But London has much more to offer than it’s well-known tourist attractions. While those are great, you have to explore London’s eclectic side to get a true feel for the city. Filled with ethnic cuisine, incomparable street fashion and an amazing youth culture, it’s one of the most diverse and creative cities in the world. You just have to know where to look.
We’ve planned out the perfect budget trip to London, just in time for a summer adventure. Full of sunshine, dancing, roof-top drinking, DJ parties, and street food, it’s the time of year when the city comes alive. Be sure to spend a day or two visiting all the famous landmarks and attractions, but then head East to the creative and trendy side of the city. Leave the map at home and go get yourself a little lost.
Being a tourist isn’t always a bad thing, especially in a city like London. Be sure to spend some time hitting up some of the well-known landmarks on the West side of town. Many of the national landmarks, art galleries, and museums offer free entry. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey are three not-to-miss spots. Take a walk down Oxford Street and Regent Street to see London’s shopping center, and then walk over to Trafalgar Square to check out the theater district. Next, head over to the National Gallery if you want to see paintings by Picasso and Monet. Harrods department store, Portobello Road Market, Parliament’s House of Lords, South Bank, the London Eye, and Notting Hill are also nice attractions to add to the list.
After spending a few days visiting the tourist attractions, head to East London for more culture, art, and coolness than you can possibly imagine. It’s by far the hippest and trendiest area of the city, and it remains relatively hidden and unknown by most visitors. Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Hackney Wick, and Dalston are areas of East London that are filled with free art galleries, inexpensive food from across the globe, and hip retail shops. It’s the place you can find the best fashion, craft, businesses, and design. Most of the buildings in East London are renovated historic places and old warehouses, and the winding cobblestone streets make for an authentic European feel. There are also tons of free parks and outdoor squares for day drinking, eating, and lounging.
BRICK LANEBrick Lane is famous for its cheap food, great bars, and eclectic Sunday market where people sell things like old vinyl records, polaroid cameras, and vintage clothing (along with lots of objects that could have been found in your grandmother’s attic!). The streets are filled with smells of cumin, cardamom, and turmeric, and there’s a large food market at the end of the road where you can purchase incredible Indian, Turkish, Vietnamese, or Thai food for about five dollars. It’s also the best area to browse some of London’s great street art.
· Truman Brewery – The evolutionary arts and media center at the end of Brick Lane is filled with creative businesses, independent shops, galleries, markets, bars, and restaurants.
· Brick Lane Beigel – This tiny bagel shop is one of the last traditional establishments from the 1800s. You can buy out-of-this-world bagel for about 2 dollars…and they’re open until 4am.
· Rough Trade Records – Rough Trade is London’s best-kept secret. Be sure to check their live performance schedule. They offer free shows several times each week and often host major artists. Getting tickets can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort! Be sure to also hit up the record store and browse their massive vinyl collection. It’s a musical hot-spot.
· Cheshire Street – Just around the corner from Brick Lane is Cheshire Street. Take a walk down Cheshire to see all of the retro shops and vintage clothing stores.
FREE MARKETS & PARKS
· Columbia Road Market: Hackney – Every Sunday, Columbia Road is transformed into a sea of foliage and flowers. Small art galleries sit next to cupcake bakeries, vintage clothing stores, and cafes. With its overflowing buckets of flowers lining the streets, it’s the most visually appealing market in London.
· Broadway Market: Hackney – Hackney is also home to Broadway Market, a Saturday marketplace for food and handmade items. The market takes place on a stretch of road running from London Fields Park to Regent’s Canal. Spend a Saturday browsing the market offerings and buy something great to eat in one of the cheap street stalls. Be sure to take a walk down Regent’s Canal while you’re close by!
· London Fields Park: Hackney – While you’re in the area, walk over to London Fields Park. You can purchase a bottle of cheap wine or an English cider in one of the grocery shops on the corner, or you can head down the road to London Fields Brewery to grab a couple of take-away pints. Relax in the park for a while among all of the eclectic people who come to hangout on the huge lawn every weekend.
· Other places to see in the area: London Fields Brewery, Clemson & Sons Coffee, Look Mum No Hands, Netil Rooftop, Franco Manco, Artwords Bookshop, and E-5 Bakehouse.
DANCINGIf the club scene is your thing, London has it all. Everything from European electro music, to rooftop raves and reggae bands can be found on the East side of town. If you’re hoping to shake your groove thing, you really can’t go wrong.
· Cargo – This buzzing nightclub is one of East London’s most famous. DJ’s and bands play tracks in an old railway yard, and if you get tired of dancing, there’s a garden to sit in. It’s a place full of charm, charisma, and lots of all-night partying.
· Passing Clouds – If you’re down with Afro-jazz and reggae, Passing Clouds is the place to go. You’re destined to see some great '90s fashion and lots of fellow club-goers doing moves like the running man.
· Fabric – DJ’s play tons of electronic and house music that is sure to bring out all of the dance moves. If you’re looking for a crazy night of dancing until the sun comes up, this is the place.
· Dalston Superstore – At Dalston Superstore, you’ll hear a DJ spinning vintage tracks all night and you will see hipsters dressed like they were on the Fresh Prince of Bell Aire. They serve lots of local beers, imported ciders, and promiscuously named cocktails. It’s sure to be a good night.
· Ministry of Sound – This is the place where all the best known DJs come to mix. The 5-room dance floor offers a perfect clubbing experience for a high-energy crowd looking to celebrate youthfulness (and the '90s!).
Whether you want to drink coffee or beer, London has so much to offer. It’s historically known for tea, but a thriving coffee culture has become a huge part of the city in recent years. Check out some of London’s best cafes to kick start your mornings, and experience London’s famous pub culture in the afternoons. In the summer, lots of rooftop and garden bars open up, so it’s a perfect time to pub-hop. Start early for happy hour and 2-for-1 drink deals!
· Shoreditch Grind
· Workshop Coffee
· Prufrock Coffee
· Clemson & Sons
COCKTAILS & PINTS
· Queen of Hoxton
· Red Lion
· Netil Rooftop
· Zigfrid von Underbelly
· Café 1001
· Dalston Roof Park
· Hackney Attic
· Hackney Downs Studios
Hotels in London are a hot commodity, so it can sometimes be difficult to find a low-budget room. If you have a little extra cash to work with, you can book a great room at the Hoxton Hotel in East London that can be shared with up to four people (about $30 a night per person). The best option for London housing is AirBNB. Try to get a room on the East side of town, and you’ll be in walking distance from many of the best attractions of the city. There are also lots of great hostels in the city, and if you’re traveling with a group, you can even share a private room for a very affordable rate. If you’re really adventurous (and are not traveling alone!) you can try the popular Couch Surfing site.
· AirBNB – AirBNB is a great option when traveling to London. If you do your research, you can find an awesome room for a very budget price. And the best part is you often get free breakfast and a tour guide!
· Generator Hostel – The Generator Hostel is one of the best in London. If you choose a shared room, you can stay for around $15 a night. It’s a perfect option for backpacking and budget traveling. It’s always clean, nicely decorated and has free wifi.
· Couch Surfing – In recent years, the idea of “couch surfing” has become popular among the budget travel crowd. Couchsurfing International is a website platform that offers hospitality exchanges between people visiting new countries. The best part is that it’s FREE. It’s also a great way to meet new people and experience the city in a unique way. It’s recommended for traveling in groups!
LOGISTICSThere are so many things you can do before leaving that will make your trip easier. Download apps like City Mapper and WhatsApp before heading across the pond. You can also use the popular flight websites Skyscanner and Hipmunk to find the best deals for international flights.
· Flight – Hipmunk & Skyscanner often have the best flight options. Once you have that transatlantic flight booked, the rest can be managed cheaply. If you have extra time and money, book a weekend trip to somewhere like Italy or Spain. You can find insanely cheap deals on budget airlines like Ryan Air or EasyJet. A $20 flight to Barcelona? Yes, please.
· Public Transport – London is known for its incredible public transport system. It’s the most well-connected city in terms of its underground and bus routes, so save yourself some money and take public transport. From the airport, you’ll want to purchase what’s called an Oyster Card. You can buy a weekly pass for about $45 that will give you unlimited access to any of London’s bus and tube routes. With your new Oyster, you’ll be able to easily get anywhere in the city!
· City Mapper – City Mapper is an amazing app for mapping out public transport and walking routes. It will tell you where to catch the bus, what time the next train leaves and how many minutes it will take to walk from one place to the next. It even tells you how many calories you’ll burn along the way, so bring on those extra pints!
· WhatsApp – WhatsApp offers free global texting when you’re connected to wifi. You can text anyone in any country, as long as you have a working internet connection.
· Phone Service – Most people don’t realize how easy it is to use your phone while abroad. If you have an unlocked iPhone (any phone that’s a 5 and up) you can take it to a UK phone shop like TMobile or Orange Network and purchase a UK SIM card. It will cost you about $20 for up to a month of unlimited internet access … and you’ll get a cool British phone number to call your own as a souvenir.
*Some fun terms to get acquainted with: dodgy, blimey, blinkered, bollocks, cheers, bonkers, brill, cheeky, crikey, dishy, fancy, fortnight, gutted, gaff, quid, mate, fiver, rubbish, slag, snog, wonky, zed.