30 things to do in London under £20

London, as most people will tell you, can be soul-crushingly expensive. It’s fantastic if you’re an oligarch with sofas stuffed with money, but most people use their sofas for sitting on whilst worrying about paying the bills.

Think London won’t fit your travel budget? Fear not, there’s actually truckloads you can do in Britain’s capital that won’t set you back a small fortune. We’ve put together 30 of them right here, all of which will cost you somewhere in the region of between £20 and absolutely nothing. Aaaaand, you can save even more money by searching for all your flights, hotels and car hire with Cheapflights.com.au.

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1. Go for a drink

photo credit: iStock.com/Eva-Katalin

Possibly the most obvious thing to do when in London – you’re surrounded by pubs, bars and clubs. But hey, let’s keep it affordable. Sam Smith’s pubs are well-known throughout London for their no-frills pub experience – they serve their own range of beers and don’t bother with background music so that they can save on the licence fee. Their locations include some wonderfully unadulterated pubs that don’t feel like they’ve been touched in decades – a welcome change in a city where most venues are constantly undergoing renovation.

For wine aficionados, Gordon’s near Embankment station is a must visit. It’s supposedly London’s oldest wine bar and much of its cavern-like interior is illuminated by candles. You can definitely afford to get at least one glass here…or maybe two…

 2. Explore the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Since reopening in 2014, the Olympic Park has been a fresh green space in East London, enticing us with its range of unusual attractions. There’s a fun fair, climbing walls, statues, flags, not to mention sports facilities and the network of canals the site sits upon. The crown jewel is the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the UK’s largest sculpture and a tunnel slide, where for £16.50, you can ascend the looping oddity, enjoy its views across the capital and slide down its winding tunnel slide.

 3. Tate Modern & Tate Britain

London’s two Tate galleries store massive art collections that are free to visit. Their temporary exhibitions are between £12- £18 but you may not even have time for them to spare. Best of all is the ferry that takes you between the two costing only around £6-8 per head. If you can fit both galleries into one day though, you deserve an award.

4. Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine Gallery & Hyde Park

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are pretty much one massive park, with the appropriately named lake The Serpentine arbitrarily separating them. They offer a mix of attractions. Kensington Gardens has as its centrepiece the gardens of Kensington Palace, while the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain offers great splashing opportunities on a hot day. The free-to-visit Serpentine Gallery is also a must-see. Hyde Park meanwhile is made up mostly of playing fields and is often full of people having a kick-about. During winter, it’s the home of Winter Wonderland, a massive temporary German-style funfair and market.

5. Visit Platform 9¾

Harry Potter fans should make a beeline for King’s Cross Station. Of course, the platform isn’t real, but it is still a great photo-op. Next to the famous platform is also a Harry Potter shop, selling everything from magic wands to collectors’ cards.

 6. Eat in Brixton Village

Over the last few years, the indoor market of Brixton Village has become one of the best places to dine in London. Tens of mini-restaurants stand side by side inviting you in with inventive menus and quirky decor. Gourmands are spoilt for choice as each restaurant competes in both culinary delight and affordability – you can eat comfortably here for no more than £15. Our favourite time to go is around lunch – you’re more likely to get a table without having to wait.

7. National Gallery & National Portrait Gallery

More famous art, this time featuring some of the biggest renaissance artists in the world. The National Gallery’s huge collection is free to visit, while its blockbuster temporary exhibitions will set you back about £16. Just behind the National Gallery, is its little sister the National Portrait Gallery which, as the name suggests, specialises in portraiture and is also free.

8. The South Bank

There are many good reasons why the South Bank is considered one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. For a start, it’s long enough to fit all the people wandering through it comfortably, which is pretty important considering the wealth of things to see and do. It’s most visibly home to the Millennium Eye, London’s iconic Ferris Wheel, as well as the London Aquarium, the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the Hayward Gallery, the London Dungeons and all sorts of other temporary exhibitions and attractions including street performers and free music concerts (let’s not forget the Royal Festival Hall’s singing elevator either). It’s also home to a skate park that offers an alternative hub for young whippersnappers to express their physical and artistic skills.

8. Go for a shisha on Edgware Road

Edgware Road has been a hub for Middle-Eastern culture since the late 19th century, and today it’s lined with shisha cafes and restaurants, each with tables and chairs spilling out onto the pavement. Several places are open 24 hours a day, with ever-present groups of people smoking shisha and enjoying a spot of mint tea. Most places offer you a pipe for between £8 and £16. Add in tea or coffee and that rounds up to a very pleasantly spent couple of hours for about £20.

9. Witness the changing of the guards

The changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace takes place every couple of days (exact dates here) at 11:30 am and it costs nothing to watch. Crowds build up fast, so get there no later than 11 am – the earlier the better!

10. Primrose Hill & Regent’s Park

One of the best views of London is absolutely free and can be found atop Primrose Hill. On a summer’s evening, you’ll find plenty of people here enjoying the sunshine and good company as they stare out towards the city. Just south of it, separating the hill from Regent’s Park, is Regent’s Canal, a peaceful spot for a walk between east and west. The section around Primrose Hill is especially good because it’s on the edge of London Zoo and you can see various animals sniffing around on the opposite bank as well as get a close up of the zoo’s famous aviary, all for zero English pounds. We would totally recommend you visit the zoo too, it has some of the best zoological attractions in the world, but at over £24 for adults entry, it doesn’t quite fit the rules of our list. Regent’s Park itself offers a mix of open playing fields, boating lakes and rose gardens and is not to be missed.

10. Visit a city farm

Hidden amongst the grim pollution and grinding corporatism, London actually has several city farms where animals live happily in ecological surroundings. There are around fifteen farms in total, in places such as Hackney, Stepney, Surrey Docks, Vauxhall, and Kentish Town. A visit to any guarantees a mix of free farmyard fun, arts and crafts, and perhaps a cheap delicious meal using milk, eggs and vegetables produced on site.

11. The Monument

Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London offers a fantastic view of the very heart of London for the satisfyingly reasonable price of £4.50. What with the new skyscrapers that keep getting added to this part of London every few years, you won’t find a better spot for taking in the city’s mix of old and new. That being said, vertigo-sufferers or those unwilling to tackle 311 steps may want to give it a miss.

12. Hang out in Harrods

Spend some time exploring Harrods, the department store to end all department stores. With hundreds of departments and dozens of restaurants over multiple floors, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon… even if you can’t afford the designer garb.

13. Ride the “Boris Bikes”

Named after the ex-London mayor, bikes from Santander Cycle Hire cost just £2 for a whole day. Within that time period, you can take as many journeys as you like for free as long as they are under 30 minutes – perfect for short jaunts around the city.

photo credit: istock.com/mura

14. Eat in Drummond Street

If you’re in central London and love Indian food then it’s an absolute no-brainer that you have to visit Drummond Street, a small street that’s a minute’s walk from Euston Station. This modest road is lined with restaurants all offering all-you-can-eat Indian food for the same price, at around £6.50 for lunch deals and £7.95-£8.95 for a set thali meal. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better, tastier deal.

15. Hampstead Heath & Kenwood House

Another amazing view of London can be had at Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. The heath is a mix of wild plants and carefully-groomed gardens that begs to be explored. At the northern end, you’ll find the grounds of Kenwood House, the former estate of the Earl of Mansfield that is now an open museum and events venue which has free entry and is surrounded by gardens and statues.

16. Swim outdoors

Perhaps not the first activity people might associate with London, but during warm weather, it’s a fantastic way to spend your time in the capital. There are around ten outdoor swimming spots open to the public around London, including Charlton Lido, London Fields Lido, Tooting Bec Lido and, probably most famous of all, the Hampstead Ponds. You can even go swimming in a specially-allocated section of The Serpentine in Hyde Park. Just about every public swimming hole in London allows entry for under £10 – just be ready to put up with queues at peak times.

 17. The Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum near Lambeth Bridge offers a real insight into the life and logistics of the First World War. It’s full of military vehicles and equipment, with tonnes of fascinating and interactive exhibits about the perils of war, which are all free of charge.

photo credit: istock.com/JKristoffersson

18. Go to a market

London has lots of fabulous markets teeming with all sorts: food, fashion, flowers, antiques, arts, crafts, and coffee – lots of coffee. The two most famous are probably Camden and Portobello Road, but the other main ones people love include Borough, Maltby Street, Columbia Road, Exmouth, Spitalfields, Whitecross Street, and fancy-pants Leadenhall Market. Obviously, if you’re trying to keep your visit under £20, you’ll need an iron will, but the sights and smells are all free and glorious.

19. The Emirates Air Line

Note the space between “air” and “line” in the puntastic name of the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that connects the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula over the River Thames. The views offered are simply spectacular, offering a full panorama of east London that can’t be beaten. Back on solid ground, the north side has The Crystal, a modern building with exhibits about the environment, and is close to the artistic community of Trinity Buoy Wharf, while the south has the infamous Millennium Dome, now known as the O2. The O2 usually has some free corporate advertisements dressed up as exhibitions which can be good fun, as well as lots of food options. Nevertheless, entry to the Air Line is £3.50 or you can just use your Oyster card.

20. Eat at Brick Lane

This popular East London haunt is full of curry houses all vying for your business. It’s one of the few places in Britain where you’ll see restaurant staff standing outside encouraging you to come in, offering random deals to get you inside. You’re guaranteed to find a decent meal for well under £20 in any one of them and most of the places have a BYOB policy. The northern end of Brick Lane is also home to two bagel shops that many swear are the best in London.

21. Take the river bus

We’ve already mentioned that there’s a ferry that goes between the two Tate galleries, but TFL has a whole fleet of river services that cover the Thames from Woolwich in the east to Putney in the west. You can use your Oyster card and it should never cost more than £10 one-way, an absolute bargain considering the views and the break you get from all the road traffic and tube delays.

22. Science, Natural History and V&A museums

South Kensington is home to a powerhouse triumvirate of museums that offer days of both education and entertainment. The Science Museum features several floors of interactive exhibitions and has its own IMAX cinema. The Natural History Museum has a huge zoological and geological collection, and most importantly a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs, and The V&A has pretty much the whole history of fashion and design on show. Some temporary exhibitions and the IMAX may cost you a little money, but the majority of the collections are free to visit.

23. The Shard

The most prominent addition to London’s skyline in recent years is The Shard, that weird pointy thing you can’t seem to miss no matter where you stand in central London. Situated in London Bridge, this unusual skyscraper offers wonderful views for those venturing into its lifts. There are two options: the first is The View from The Shard, a properly kitted-out and multi-level viewing area where you can visit and take your time, but, at around £26 a ticket, we shouldn’t really be including it on our list. The second option is Aqua Shard, the building’s bar and restaurant down on the 31st floor. It may be only half-way up but it’s free to get in, although obviously, you’ll need to buy a drink or a bite to eat to stay. More importantly, it has a dress code – make sure you wear something reasonably smart so that you make it past the lift.

24. Educate yourself at Gresham College and the Royal Institution

London has a long history of being at the forefront of scientific discovery, and now you can be a part of it too for next to nothing. Gresham College has been giving free lectures every week for around four hundred years, while the Royal Institution’s talks range from free to about £14. As a bonus, you can see real scientists at work too in the Royal Institution while you swan around acting like you’re Michael Faraday.

25. Prince Charles Cinema

This independent cinema just off Leicester Square puts huge amounts of passion into the craft of cinema-going and is beloved by many Londoners. The Prince Charles Cinema offers much cheaper tickets than most picture houses and a wider range of unusual and classic films starting from as little as £4. It’s famous sing-along events, often with accompanying fancy-dress balls, are usually under £20 too, and a far superior experience to your suburban multiplex.

26. Take a tour of Lord’s Cricket Ground

It now costs £20 for you to get into one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world: Lord’s Cricket Ground. Notably, you get to see The Ashes trophy, seeing as it’s always there regardless of which country wins the tournament each year. Fun fact: Lord’s is the only major cricket ground in the world that permits you to bring your own booze. How gentlemanly.

27. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

This recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe is must-visit for thespian types. Seeing plays in London can set you back a lot more than £20, but the Globe, with its uniquely medieval layout, is the exception to the rule. If you get standing tickets in the yard, it would cost well under a £10 to see classic plays starring famous actors. But you may want to bring an umbrella – rain is not uncommon during performances due to the open roof…

28. Take a walking tour

Yes, yes, we’ve been advocating quite a bit of walking already in this list, but none of it so far has been with a proper tour guide. London Walks has plenty to choose from that will be able to entertain you with all the history and culture you might miss if you walk on your lonesome – and each walk costs just £10.

photo credit: istock.com/PurpleImages

29. Eat on Kingsland Road

The section of Kingsland Road around Hoxton Station is synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine. There are several authentic restaurants here, all offering enticing menus, a lively atmosphere, and very pleasing prices – you can easily stuff yourself for much less than £20 and in most of the places you can bring your own alcohol too.

30. Get the free 360° views of London

Nearly over 150m high above London’s futuristic skyline is the spectacular Sky Garden. Entry is completely free, you just have to request tickets online.

Ready to explore London? Start by booking your flights with Cheapflights.com.au to save $$$ right now.

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