Every year, over 35 million tourists flock to London, and Britain’s capital is internationally recognized as the birthplace of culture, questionable food, and colonialism. But while the city boasts countless attractions and amusements, it is notoriously expensive – with its recent re-ranking as the third most expensive city in the world offering scarce comfort for the prospective sightseer.
But fret not – those still feeling the squeeze can still enjoy the best the city has to offer, thanks to the Tiqets’ frugal city guide. So tighten those purse-strings, cancel your overdraft and read up on the Tiqets top tips for visiting London… on a budget.
Natural History Museum
The majority of museums in London are completely free! Any visitor would do well to capitalize on this opportunity and inhale as much culture as humanly possible.
What better place to start than the iconic Natural History Museum? Boasting over 8 million specimens spanning botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology (more than enough -ology’s for one day), you’ll walk out more intelligent than when you came in, if only via osmosis. And for the less academically-inclined, there are plenty of giant dinosaur skeletons, universally accepted as ‘pretty cool things to look at’.
The Tower of London
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in London, do as the tourists do. Yes it’s a cliché, but you ought to get your required dose of sightseeing out of the way as efficiently, and cheaply, as possible. The Tower of London ticks all the right boxes: big old castle ✔ people in funny costumes ✔ looks impressive on Instagram ✔ long history of politically-motivated murder ✔
Exploring every ancient nook and cranny is a day out in itself, but the determined visitor can blast through the highlights in a couple of hours. Don’t miss the ‘White Tower’ – the bit you’ll probably recognise – as built by William the Conqueror. It now houses all manner of royal paraphernalia (check out Henry VIII’s suit of sparkly armor… clearly designed in his more slender years), and played host to a grand total of 22 grisly beheadings. Time it right and you can view the Crown Jewels with minimal queuing – and enjoy the comforting thought that all it takes to establish a royal dynasty is a few billion pounds’ worth of precious gems.
Tired of old stuff? The Tate Modern gallery is the perfect antidote, stuffed full of art so new some of it doesn’t even exist yet (Tracy Emin’s next project?). Located in the hulking (decommissioned) Bankside Power Station, the museum is a veritable work of art in itself, with sleek metal gangways snaking around the brutalist post-war architecture.
The colossal Turbine Hall regularly hosts large-scale installations and performance pieces, while the labyrinthine gallery spaces chart the entire history of ‘modern’ art, from the Pre-Raphaelites to the YBAs. While some works will naturally test the patience and elicit cries of “I could have done that”, it’s hard to argue with the delicious price of free. The regular exhibitions located in the ominous ‘tanks’ are invariably reasonably-priced, and the sprawling gift shop is the perfect place to pick up an oh-so-tasteful memento of your visit.
A stone’s throw (if you have particularly strong arms) along the trendy Southbank district is the British Film Institute, London’s one stop shop for all things cinema. Featuring a specially curated program of art-house, independent and classic films, the BFI also hosts regular festivals and special events.
For the enthusiast and layman alike, the adjoining médiathèque is a veritable treasure-trove of celluloid joy – visitors are able to select any title in the digital archive and enjoy a private viewing in the fully-equipped booths. All for free, naturally.
A night’s drinking in London is bound to cost you an arm and a leg – literally, if you stumble into Hackney. If you don’t fancy shelling out seven quid for a pint, but still want to see the city in a blur (and possibly make yourself very sick in the process), the Orbit tower and slide is a very viable alternative. Built to commemorate the 2012 Olympic Games, the spiraling tower is the UK’s tallest sculpture (114.5 meters – a cool 22 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty, fact-fans) and offers stupendously panoramic views of the city.
But that’s all by the by. What anyone in their right mind should be more interested in is the world’s largest tunnel slide – the quickest, and funnest, way to make your exit. Once you’ve had your fill of the scenery, simply hurl yourself into the appropriate orifice and enjoy 12 stomach-churning ‘orbits’ of the tower, before plummeting 50 meters back to terra firma. You’ll walk out dazed, confused, and eager to go again – and thanks to Tiqets, you can do so at the swipe of a thumb!
Hop-on Hop-off Bus + River Cruise
Yes, we know it seems counter-intuitive for a budget travel guide to recommend paying for a tour bus – but hear us out! London has some of the highest public transport prices in the known universe, and for less than the price of a local travel pass you can enjoy unlimited use of the dedicated sightseeing buses, covering over 80 stops across the capital. No matter what your inclination or destination, the always-running buses represent undeniable value for money and the audio guides (available in 12 languages) offer a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as providing all manner of trivia to bore your friends with.
More aquatically-oriented? Your pass also grants you access to the hop-on tour boats, allowing you to cruise the River Thames to your heart’s content. There’s no need to queue or fight your way to an Oyster top-up machine – with the Tiqets app, you’ll be up and running (or sailing!) in no time.