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Dispatches from London: My Favorite Free Things to do in London On A Student Budget So Far

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So far, the most wonderful thing I’m finding about London is all the things you can do for free. While it is one of the most expensive cities in the world (which I am learning through my shrinking bank account), it does offer some amazing things to do for no money at all. For a poor student, attempting to use the smallest amount of her loans towards entertainment, London offers great places, events, and sights to see, without even spending a cent (or a pence).

Brick Lane Market

Guitars for sale at Brick Lane Market

A lot of people have heard of Spitalfields market, a famous part of town that offers great deals of clothes, food, handmade goods and accessories. A little less known, and only on Sundays, lies right around the corner at Brick Lane. In the creatively, graffiti-covered area of Shoreditch, lives the Brick Lane Market. While it’s very similar to it’s neighbor, Old Spitalfields Market, the hipster, gritty vibe of Brick Lane gives this street a life of its own. You can walk down the lane on weekdays and it’s still fun to see, but on Sundays, the area is alive with eclectic street food, vintage items, and even a secondhand sale area. I was appreciative of the vendors in this area not being so pushy, as I’ve encountered at Camden and Portebello Road Markets. If you’re in London on a Sunday, I definitely recommend a look of the area.

Victoria & Albert Museum

Of the many, many free museums of London, I think I have to say, the Victoria & Albert Museum (or the V&A for short), is my absolute favorite. The British Museum does come in at a close second, with the British Library’s Treasures room at a third, but the V&A does something for me that the others cant. It’s not just a museum of historical artifacts, it focuses on art and design, going back thousands of years, which is definitely my cup of tea. It covers every time in history, as well as different subject areas. It’s hard not to stop and stare at some of the items they’ve collected over the years. It’s kind of hard to describe how lovely it is, without seeing it in person, so I will basically just suggest that if you’re already in London, or coming for a visit, definitely go to the V&A and understand why I love it so much.

Live Television Tapings

alancarr
A sneaky photo of a taping of Alan Carr: Chatty Man

One of my favorite things I got to do, when I briefly lived in Los Angeles, was attend live tapings of sitcoms and talk shows. Guess what? You can do this in London as well. Through SRO Audiences and a few other websites, you can apply to get tickets to a multitude of television programs that film right in London. It’s best to sign up to the website to receive emails when tickets become open for reservation, this way you know right away when you can try to get them. I actually attended a live taping of Alan Carr: Chatty Man just yesterday and it was the best way to spend my evening, and better yet, it was absolutely free. It’s so fun to sit and watch celebrities right in front of you for a few hours. Usually they interact with the crowd, and it makes for a nice night out.

Long Bus Rides

Okay, technically this one actually costs £1.45 for a single ride, but that is practically free for a tour of the city. A ride on one of the designated tour buses will cost you at least £20 or more, and while you do get a guided tour from either an audio guide or a person pointing out things to you, why not pay the much smaller amount to get on a red, double decker bus and tour the city yourself. I’ve found that, while I do like the Tube very much, I’ve become rather fond of just taking the bus to whatever location I’m trying to get to, because from the second floor, you can see so much of London. I’d suggest the number 15 or the number 11 bus. These take a very famous route through the city, and staying on it the entire journey will give you a chance to see most of London for a minuscule amount of pounds.

South Bank

breakdance
A breakdancer on the South Bank

Another part of London that is free to peruse (and there’s always something going on), is the South Bank of London. If you cross the bridge by Big Ben, you can get over to a nice, long walk along the Thames. There’s plenty of food, entertainment and things to see while you walk down the stretch. If you can handle it, it’s worth it to walk all the way from Big Ben to the Tower Bridge. It’s a bit of a jaunt, but you can see so many things on your way. The buskers in this area tend to be much more talented than the other parts of London I’ve gone to. There’s usually breakdancers, steel drum players, moving statues and beautiful music. If you have a few coins to spare, the performers always appreciate it. There’s also the Southbank Centre, which has free wifi as well as free events throughout the year. It’s a nice place to stop and sit for a bit if you’ve been walking around London all day.

Samantha O'Brochta
Author: Samantha O'Brochta

Samantha was formerly an expat in London in 2014/15 before moving to New York City, where she can be found blogging and taking photographs for her site Some Call Me Adventurous. Samantha has an affinity for traveling the world, watching BBC shows, making people laugh, dancing alone in her room, dressing fashionably, and attempting to make Pinterest crafts with disastrous end results.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t want to seem stalkerish, but the offer still stands. This American family would be happy to host you for a weekend in Salisbury/Stonehenge.

    V&A is my absolute favorite museum as well (and I generally don’t even like museums). I was just there last Friday for the Wedding Gown exhibit and the Horst Photography exhibit. Both were fabulous!

    Put these on your list: Portobello Market, Portobello Road (Notting Hill). Go EARLY Saturday morning while it’s still quiet. Spitalfield’s Market (not far from Brick Lane). Make sure you also visit Beigel Bake on Brick Lane for the best Hot Salt Beef Bagel (ever)! Borough Market in Southwark (again, best time to go is EARLY Saturday morning while it’s still quiet). You can sample your way through the market for free. The food is amazing. Marylebone … one of my favorite neighborhoods in London. Check out Marylebone High Street and Marylebone Lane. Be sure to visit La Fromagerie and V.V. Rouleaux in Marylebone. You won’t regret it! Best American burger I’ve found so far in London is located at Patty & Bun, 54 James Street (just above Oxford Street and just below Marylebone). There’s also a location at the Liverpool tube stop. Craving American southern food? Don’t miss The Lockhart restaurant near Marble Arch. Cheers!

      • Thank you for this fantastic article. I am currently a student in the U.S.A. and I just *know* that one day I will visit London (and other European countries as well). I look forward to hearing more of your articles. Do you have others that you can post the link to on this comment or to my email? The moment I am doing some of the things on your list, I will send you light & love!

  2. Thanks so much for the info. My husband and I are visiting for the first time the latter part of March and are so very excited. Somehow I managed to be born in Texas; but I actually believe the stork was misguided and missed the turn-off to Great Britain. sigh … but thank goodness for books, which transport me there.I look forward to more helpful hints.

  3. Don’t forget the fabulous Borough Market. Also the Number 9 bus from The City all the way to Hammersmith is one of my favorites to ride back and forth.

  4. I always enjoyed the Museum of London which has everything from London history from arrowheads and wigwams to the modern day. Yeah, ancient Londoners’ lived in wigwams and hunted with arrowheads just like the East coast US natives did when the white men found them in the early 17th century. Thought that was very interesting. Admission to the Museum of London is free unless you are visiting a special exhibit which is sometimes offered. Another freebie is a walk through Harrods to admire not to buy stuff. Of course I usually gave in a bought a snack for myself in the food court. Check out the Egyptian style elevator. That is well worth looking at.

  5. I was born and raised in London. Now live in California, U.S.A. Don’t miss all the City Parks. One of my favorites, is Regents Park, in the St. Johns Wood area. In the middle of the park is Queen Mary’s Rose Garden and the American ambassador’s residence (once owned by American heiress Barbara Hutton). On one side of the park is the London Zoo, with viewing paddocks facing the park. This park was my playground when I was a child.

  6. I am currently planning to swing by England, including London, after spending time in France next summer. Besides reading about all of the famous tourist attractions that London has to offer, the information you’ve provided here was just what I’d needed – some perspectives on what else London has to offer – as well as what residents of London might experience in their daily lives. Thanks!

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