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Saturday, May 2, 2020

My Favorite Free & Cheap London Activities (Part 1)

I've been following the posts that are popular reads here on Shereen Travels Cheap during lockdown and it looks like you are all interested in London travel. I realized I never posted about some of things we did when we were there in September and now's the time to share it while everyone is dreaming of travel. 

Because we'd already been to London two other times, we spent a lot of time doing cheap and free activities on this last trip. So, I've decided this first post will be about my favorites from all my trips.

Hyde Park

There's so much to see in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, including a ton of fountains and sculptures and statues. You can spend half a day here just wandering through the park, but you can also eat here, rent a lounge chair to sit out by the water, watch the squirrels run around, go swimming (during certain seasons), feed birds, and take so many pictures. We visited on our first trip and again on our last trip and I don't think we saw any of the same things during these trips. If you wander into Kensington Gardens, you can visit Kensington Palace (not free), one of the homes of the Royals.

Holland Park

Smaller than Hyde Park, but packed with even more, Holland Park is in a beautiful neighborhood and has playgrounds, sports fields, a Japanese Garden, a museum, art installations, a restaurant, an herb garden and more. We easily got lost here for several hours trying to check out everything that we saw.

National Gallery

There are so many museums in London and, unlike most of the museums other places, so many of them are free to enter. We carry several one-pound or two-pound coins to drop in the donation box at the entrance, as they all run on donations. We have more than gotten our donation fee's worth, especially at the National Gallery. Spend some time out front in Trafalgar Square and then head inside for multiple floors and rooms of art of all kinds. We barely scratched the surface after 2 hours inside.


London could be defined by its markets. Each time we visit, we try to go to some new ones, because each is only open certain days of the week, and we could easily spend our whole trip just going from market to market and not do anything else. This wouldn't be a bad way to spend a week, in my opinion, because each market really showcases the best of the neighborhood it's found in. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Borough Market - I can't believe it took us so long to visit Borough when it was open. We briefly walked through on our first trip on a Harry Potter filming location walk, but visiting while it is open is a crazy amazing experience. The market bustles with the most gorgeous food I've ever seen. I spent a good 40 minutes just browsing spices. We also picked up some great fresh bread and got delicious goat milk ice cream as we were walking around.
  • Portobello Road Market - We tend to visit this market every trip we take, because there's just so much to look at. It has both an antique area, a food area, and a general items area. You can get doughnuts the size of your head, fresh fruit, vintage books, and a Mind the Gap tote bag all in one trip. The market is also surrounded by great shops and restaurants, too.
  • Camden Market - There's nothing super exciting about this market, because you can probably purchase all the things there elsewhere, but the Camden area is just worth visiting, if nothing else but because the buildings around the market have 3D artwork on top and the area is just so hip feeling that you'll want to spend time browsing for souvenirs in the market.
  • Brick Lane Market - If you love a more creative feel, then head over to Brick Lane, because it's full of handmade items and local artists. You'll also find second hand items like clothing and furniture here, too. You'll even find food stalls here to keep your bargain-hunting going.

Brick Lane area street art

While I enjoy the market, I loved Brick Lane 100% for the amazing street art on every available surface. Everywhere you look is fantastic wall murals and graffiti art. I could have spent an entire day here, but instead I got a handcrafted coffee hit up an indoor market with vintage items and locally-made items, then had brunch at Pachamama, where I had been dying to go for quite a while due to their Instagram posts. I wasn't disappointed.

Shoreditch area street art

Shoreditch is very trendy, as evidenced by their Boxpark, a shopping center composed of mini shops in shipping containers. Boxpark was on the cusp of innovation years ago when people where just learning that shipping containers had more than one use. Everywhere you look in Shoreditch is covered in awesome street art as well. This is more upscale graffiti artwork, giving you a very cool grunge vibe. This may not really fully explain what I mean, but imagine some of the most realistic portraits done in spray paint mixed in with funky political art. It's very New York feel to me.

Walk along the Thames

I recommend walking along the river both during the day and the evening, because you get a totally different feel at different times of the day. Also, make sure you walk over a bridge to see both sides on each visit. During the day you can watch a ton of independent artists and musicians entertaining visitors and at night it's just a lovely way to take in the lights of the city, but we also happened upon a street fair. We find that you can get so many different kinds of photos of the city this way too.

British Museum

I love a good museum and when you also have one in a historic building and/or one that has a very cool architecture feature. The British Museum is worth just walking through the main hall purely for the large swirled glass ceiling. Of course, I recommend exploring the rest of the museum as well, because they have everything. It covers 2 million years of human history, including everything from Egyptian artifacts to impressionist art.


Down the way from the British Museum is the Victoria & Albert museum, which features textiles, pottery, and other decorative art. If you enjoy seeing human history through things like rugs, clothing and swords, this is the museum you want to visit above all else. The lobby has a large Chihuly hanging from the ceiling and that pretty much sets the tone for the whole building. One of my favorite pieces was a huge Muslim prayer rug that was housed in a glass enclosure that had different levels of light cycles to show the handwoven fibers while also protecting it from harsh light that could destroy it. I also greatly enjoyed the Samurai armor collection. 

I have quite a few more places for you to check out in London that will save your budget, but I'll add them to a second post. You could easily visit this expensive city and only pay for transportation and dining, instead of blowing a ton of money on spendy attractions like the London Eye, but I would suggest doing at least some of those, because they are great ways to see and experience the city as well. The London Explorer Pass can save you a lot of money on those things, too, so you don't go broke experiencing everything you want in the city.

If you've been to London (or surrounding area), what was your favorite free or cheap activity?

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