The 2012 Olympics are well underway and if you’re in London for the big event chances are you’ll want to take some time away to check out local sights and culture. Unfortunately, attending an event as big as as the Olympics, not to mention staying in an already expensive city during it, will leave visitors with very little spare change to spend on touring.
Not to worry. The city’s free activities and affordable food spots will allow you to have a full day of exploring for under £50. So when you have a day off between women’s skeet shooting and men’s artistic gymnastics, here’s how to see London on a budget.
First things first, purchase a Day Anytime Travelcard for London’s extensive transportation system. At £8.40, this card will allow you to travel around zones 1 and 2 by Tube, bus and more. If you’re staying in the city and moving about for a longer period of time, look into their 7-day and monthly travel cards or even consider purchasing an Oyster Card. You can purchase cards online and at various tube stations.
Now that transportation is covered for the day, let’s get moving. First stop is the St. James’s Park Tube Station. You’ll exit at a roundabout, head left down Petty France toward Buckingham Gate (these are street names). At the very end of Petty France, on the right corner, you’ll see Bon Gusto, our first stop, a small cafe with blue awnings.
This Italian cafe serves Full English Breakfasts, a staple in any Brit’s diet, at £4.50, which is a great price for the meal anywhere in England, let alone one of its most tourist areas.
So what exactly is a Full English Breakfast?
Bacon, sausage, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, toast and fried eggs. While black pudding is the final ingredient to a full, Full English, you won’t find the pig’s blood delicacy included in every cafe’s breakfast. With or without the black pudding, it’s a hearty meal, perfect for a full day of sightseeing. The total for this meal along with a drink: £6
Total for the day: £14.40
Whether rolling away or walking, it might be a good idea to get just a little bit of exercise after such a massive breakfast. After your meal head over to St. James’s Park for a quick browse around.
If there’s one thing the English know how to do right, it’s parks, and with this one being pretty much in Queen Elizabeth’s front yard, minutes away from Buckingham Palace, you can bet it’ll be in top form. While an hour isn’t nearly enough time to explore this park to the fullest, here are a few spots to start with: The Blue Bridge, Pelicans (fed daily 2:30-3 p.m.) and Horseguards Parade.
Hyde Park is nearby, but a bit too far to reach in the time allowed. It’s well-worth a visit and a great way to spend a few hours in London in the Summer.
Total for the day: £14.40
To reach St. James’s Park from Bon Gusto, turn right on Buckingham Gate and another right on Birdcage Walk and you’ll see St. James’s Park to the left.
Don’t get too lost in St. James’s Park as you’ll need to head back to Buckingham Palace for its famous Changing of the Guard.
The ceremony kicks off at 11:15/11:30 a.m., but it would be a good idea to arrive somewhat early to find a good viewing spot. This is one of London’s most notable activities. The event will give you time to check out one of the UK’s many castles and watch a royal tradition.
Who knows, maybe Liz will even give a wave from her window.
Note: Changing of the Guard does not happen every day, so check the link above to make sure it is scheduled the day you wish to visit Buckingham Palace.
Total for the day: £14.40
To reach Buckingham Palace from St. James’s Park just head down The Mall in the direction of the Palace. It’s hard to miss.
After viewing one of the country’s most famous royal traditions, it’s time to take in its political and religious icons. Only a 15-minute walk from Buckingham Palace down Birdcage Walk and right on Abingdon Street is Westminster Abbey, Parliament and of course, Big Ben. (Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the tower.) All these attractions are worth a proper visit and tour, but since we’re on a tight time and money budget, a walk around the area and a few photos will suffice.
One thing you’ll notice about travel in London is that almost everything you do is a cultural, even public transit. Instead of taking the tube again, let’s grab one of England’s red double-decker buses and travel from London’s political Westminster to its old-world and artistic South Bank.
The route will be from where we left off in the Westminster area (ex. Westminster Station) to Borough Market. To avoid getting too technical now, we’ll leave planning of this route up to you on the day and hour you choose to take it. There are a few options available and you can always plan your journey online.
Borough Market is not only a great foodie experience, but a serious historical experience. A food market in the Borough area dates back as far as 1014. The current market location on Borough High Street near London Bridge has been there since the 13th Century.
It really feels like you’re visiting another century when walking through the packed market. Traders from all over go there to sell an array of goodies from specialty meats to artisan breads. The market has so much to offer and the best thing about it: free samples! You could literally fill yourself with food just sampling the goods here, but the market also sells affordable food and drinks.
The only drawback is that this place isn’t 24 hours. Closed on Sundays, only open for lunch Monday to Wednesday and offering the full market Thursday to Saturday. Check their website before visiting for updates times and events.
You could spend your whole day as well as all your money here. But since time and money are of the essence, we’re going to say £10 is enough for a decent lunch in the area, whether you buy a savory pie and coffee or a baguette and dips.
Total for the day: £24
South Bank offers two parallels in arts and entertainment. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries people can learn about one of the country’s greatest writers by visiting Shakespeare’s Globe. Not far away, people can view some of the country’s most recent treasured masterpieces at the Tate Modern.
While this is a reconstructed version of Shakespeare’s Globe, the real one was located nearby and you can see an outline of its layout there, it will give you an idea of what it was like to be in London during the English Renaissance. The theater is still very active. It features several Shakespearean plays a year as well as tours. Unfortunately, both these things are costly so a quick look around is all for now.
However, our next stop, Tate Modern, is free. The museum features modern and contemporary art from 1900 to today, including works by Damien Hirst, Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse. Plus, the gallery is always featuring new, exciting and even playful exhibitions. This massive building once hosted three massive silver slides by Carsten Holler, as high as 5 story’s. Now that’s art I think everyone will enjoy. Check their website before visiting to find out what’s on now, or just be surprised upon arrival.
If the modern and contemporary art isn’t your cup of tea, the city has a plethora of museums to visit, most of which are free to enter.
To reach the Shakespeare’s Globe from Borough Market (Southwark/Borough High Street), head northwest on Bedale Street, this becomes Cathedral Street (slight right) and than Winchester Square (slight left). Turn right toward Clink Street and left onto Clink Street. Turn right onto Bank End which becomes Bankside with a left at the Thames. Continue straight until you reach the theater on your left.
Tate Modern is pretty much next door. Continue on Bankside to The Queen’s Walk and you’ll see the museum located in an old power station to the left.
Total for the day: £24
Complete your tour of South Bank with a stroll across the Tower Bridge. You might want to call it London Bridge, but the one we’re looking for is called Tower Bridge. Built in 1894, this is the city’s most symbolic bridge, which will feature the five-colored rings on it throughout the Olympic games. While walking across check out the Thames even have a look at the Tower of London when you reach the other side.
The walk above provided by London Toolkit offers the most scenic route which will keep you along the Thames as much as possible. Follow markers 14 (Tate Modern) to Tower Hill Station across the Thames. From Tower Hill take the Tube back to your accommodation for a quick rest and shower to get ready for the night.
While there is much debate over what is England’s national dish these days, chicken tikka masala is definitely a national favorite. For this reason, instead of heading to a chippy for fish and chips or a pub for bangers and mash (you’ll have plenty of chances to do both while in London), you’ll be heading to Brick Lane for curry.
While so much of London is idyllically British, these days the city offers strong influences from all over the world, including Asia. You can sample an array of curries here and for a bargain, literally. Shop workers stand outside their restaurants throwing out deals to passer-bys.
“I’ll throw in a bottle of wine.”
Test your haggling skills before sitting down for a serious feast.
We’re going to recommend spending about £20 here for food and drink, maybe less. Regardless, you’ll have enough for a pint at a bar on Brick Lane or at one of the many pubs you passed by during this day of touring London. No recommendations for this item on the agenda. London has plenty of pubs to offer. Whether it be the classic pub look or people singing inside, one is sure to lure you in.
To reach Brick Lane in East London, take the tube to Aldgate East Station. Exit on Whitechapel High Street and head northeast toward Commercial Street. Take a right at Osborn Street, which turns into Brick Lane.
Hope you enjoyed this one-day tour of London. Note that this is only scratching the surface of the British city. There is so much left to see, taste and drink, of course. You might have to stay much longer than just the Olympics.