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A Broke-Ass Guide to London

Updated: Jan 25, 2012 15:56
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As the London riots showed this summer, people can get pretty sick of being broke in one of the world’s most expensive cities (London’s 18th on the global list and more costly than anywhere in the US).

It’s not just tough for people who live here, though: if you’re a visitor, you’re likely to get stung by some exorbitant fees. Seriously, don’t let anyone tell you London begins and ends with Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds – you can pay up to £28 to enter these places and never discover the locals’ (much more fun) favourites.

It is possible to have an amazing London trip for less. Having lived here for 20+ years, I’ve picked up some tricks for seeing London on the cheap… and I’m giving them away to you for FREE below!

Free and cheap stuff to do

Parks: Fresh air is still free in London – enjoy it in one of the numerous green spaces. For just two ideas, Regent’s Park is all perfect English rose gardens and lakes with pelicans, while Hampstead Heath is wilder with panoramic, hill-top views of the city.

Free museums/galleries: For every over-priced tourist-trap there are at least ten free museums and galleries. Free entry is standard at the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum of Design, the National Gallery, Wallace Collection, Tate Modern, Whitechapel Gallery, Imperial War Museum and Science Museum to name but a few…

Cheap theatre: Want culture, history and thriftiness rolled in to one? Go for pit tickets at Shakespeare’s Globe, which cost £5 when you buy online.

Cheap cinema tickets: Ticket prices have swelled to £10.50 per person at some central London cinemas – crazy! Beat the cost and go to the Barbican Centre for £5 Monday Madness screenings. If you’re staying in London for longer, those on the Orange mobile phone network get two-for-one entry to any film at any cinema on Wednesdays. Buy a £5 SIM card at the Orange store, top up with a pound and pop it in your phone (text Film to 241 to get the discount code, texts cost 50p).

Cheap eats

Restaurants: It’s tricky to eat well for rock-bottom prices in London. The rule is, go for great value over the absolute lowest price you can find – your taste buds will thank you for it. You can find high-end cooking at middlebrow prices at The Corner Room in Bethnal Green (Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square) and Brixton Village Market (Coldharbour Lane), where colourful cafes satisfy cravings from Thai to Caribbean.

Cheap pubs and clubs

Pubs: Two popular pub groups supply the cheapest drinks in London – Wetherspoons and Samuel Smiths (their outposts are on every corner). NB: Samuel Smiths only sell their own-brand stuff, right down to the coke, but generally have a cosier atmosphere and more character – which is what you want in a British boozer.

Clubs: Don’t go to clubs in the West End: all charge door fees and have higher drinks prices. Instead, head east to City Arts and Music (70-74 City Road) for a free-entry dance, or go for a club-crawl down Dalston’s Kingsland Road – free-entry basement clubs include The Alibi, Catch and Moustache Bar.

Cheap ways to get around

Tube: The touch-in, touch-out Oyster card system is capped to be cheaper than using single paper tickets per day: buy a standard card for £3 and travel on pay-as-you-go credit. The card can be used on all tube, bus and rail services within travel zones 1-6.

Boris Bikes: It’s officially called Barclays Cycle Hire, but everyone knows London’s biking scheme as Boris Bikes after Mayor Boris Johnson. Intended for short journeys, bikes are lined up at docking stations all over the city – grab one, pay £1 by credit card for 24 hours access and make your trip, leaving the bike at the nearest docking point on arrival. Journeys of 30 minutes and under are free, journeys under an hour are only another £1.

Walking! London’s a really walk-able city, with every trip from A to B like a mini sightseeing tour if you’re in the centre. Pick up a free map from your hotel, make sure you’re wearing flat shoes (cobbles and uneven pavements are a given) and go. I’m not saying you won’t get lost – those streets can be narrow and winding – but if time’s no object, you’ll enjoy the journey far more than being pressed into someone’s sweaty armpit on the tube.

Author Bio: Isabel Clift is a travel writer living in London. She blogs for budget travel specialists, who have a great selection of cheap hotels in London.

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Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.