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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

My Favorite Free & Cheap London Activities (Part 2)

In my last post, I started talking about my favorite free and cheap activities in London, because it looks like London is a popular destination for my readers right now while we cant't travel. I want to continue my list of things that cost very little or nothing in the city to make a trip full and still make it feel like you experienced the best of what there is to offer. 

I always suggest adding free attractions and activities into your trip to stretch your budget, but this last trip we went on was more the other way around, because we have already done a ton of the main activities on our previous trips.

Neal's Yard

We did a lot of walking in London on our last trip (in fact, on all our trips there), because there's no better way to explore the feel of a place than by wandering through neighborhoods. London is very walkable, though it feels very spread out when you're taking the Tube everywhere. Neal's Yard in Covent Garden is a tiny little alcove neighborhood with super colorful buildings. You'll find boutique shops and tiny cafes, and everything just feels a little bit surreal. It's gorgeous, though, and you can wander up to the West End and Piccadilly Square from there.

Sky Garden

Want to see London from the sky? If you don't want to spend the money for the London Eye or the Tower Bridge Experience (though I highly recommend doing this for the walkway) or spending the money on a fancy dining experience at The Shard - and even if you do - Sky Garden is a must-do. You have to make reservations in advance, but tickets are free. Tickets open up for various slots throughout the day a month out, so you'll want to remember to plan ahead in order to get a good morning slot. The building has a 360-degree view and has some of the best photo ops inside and out.

Leadenhall Market

Are you a fan of Harry Potter? Even if you're not, Leadenhall is a beautiful covered marketplace that houses a ton of great merchants and eating establishments. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, this is the market used for Diagon Alley in Sorceror's Stone. I wasn't looking to make any purchases here. We, basically, visited for the vibe and to check out the store fronts. Worth it!

St. Dunstan in the East

There was once a parish church in London, but it was mostly destroyed in WWII. Instead of knocking down the rest of the church, the ruins were left and the city developed around it. Right in the middle of some huge skyscrapers is this quaint little park with standing stone walls that give you the feeling of being somewhere else. While we were there, a bridal party was getting their photos taken and some people were taking their lunch from work. There are plenty of places to sit and just take in the beauty and solace.

Wallace Collection

While there are a ton of big museums in London, this one that is not as well known is nestled in a quiet neighborhood and has a really interesting collection. I only learned about it by searching a list of best affordable afternoon teas. Their tea room has afternoon tea for approximately $22pp, but their collection has servingware, weapons, and armor, among other things. While there, we happened to be fortunate enough to visit during a special Manolo Blahnik shoe exhibit. 

Imperial War Museum

There are several locations of Imperial War Museums, and as a person who doesn't really love the idea of war at all, I have been very intrigued by my visits. We visited IWM London, which ended up with us taking a much longer walk than expected, but it was worth it. There was a holocaust exhibit then, which was fascinating and heartbreaking, where we learned quite a lot that we didn't know before. The museum isn't intimidating in size like others, so visiting can fit into a few hours.

St James's Park (Pelicans)

St James Park isn't the coolest or biggest park in London, but it's very pretty and the walkways are large. If you visit at certain times of the day, you can watch the park's resident pelicans being fed. If, like me, you've never seen a pelican in real life, you'll be astounded by the size of these birds. There's also a sweet little garden next to their chosen pond. St James's Park also empties out at Buckingham Palace, so you can easily check out the outside of the gates and building or get a good spot for the Changing of the Guard. 

Buckingham Palace

If seeing the guards in front of the palace are on your to-do list, then you'll need to know that there are always crowds. The Changing of the Guard takes place most days at 11am, and crowds will be heavy, even during the low tourist season. You'll want to get there at least an hour early to get a good standing spot and plan to stay there for at least two hours. Wear comfy shoes and be patient. There were many people trying to leave or move during the process and getting yelled at by MPs (cops). This is a tradition and it's considered polite to find a spot and stay there for the duration. 

House of MinaLima

Here's another place to go if you love Harry Potter. MinaLima (a husband and wife duo) created all the advertising and visual goods props in the movies, including all the Weasley goods packaging and the Daily Prophet newspapers. The House of MinaLima is housed in a historic building, painted bright pink, and stuffed with paper prop recreations (like book jackets, Quibblers, and acceptance letters) and the rooms are very small, but it really makes it feel very Harry Potter-y. I loved it. You can purchase most everything inside, but no purchase is necessary to explore and take photos. I'll be adding a separate post on MinaLima and other Harry Potter locations in London.

Grocery Shopping

One of my favorite things to do on trips is to visit a local grocery store, especially when I'm in another country, because there are so many different things that are sold than at your stores at home. Not only that, but I tend to pick up breakfast items when I arrive, so I can save money on dining out for one meal of the day. Somehow, I found many items that we have at home, but at a fraction of the price, even in pounds. We made a game out of trying a bunch of different UK candy bars, which are relatively cheap, to decide which were the best ones to bring home.

Walking Tours

London is home to walks.com that has a multitude of walks each day that are really affordable and cover everything from hiking up the hills in the Notting Hill neighborhood to coming the shores of the Thames for historical artifacts. We took several walks and all of the tour guides were awesome and informative. You don't need to make a reservation. You just show up at your designated meeting point at the time specified and pay £10 per person to your guide.

There you have it. A monster list that will get you through a short or a long trip to London and save you hundreds of dollars on your visit. Transportation and food are not going to be as forgiving, but you can opt to eat at street vendors or local chains like Wagamama, make lunch your big meal of the day, and also walk as much as possible. I recommend getting an Oyster Card for the Tube if you're going to use it, as it will still be cheaper than taking cabs or Uber (if/when they allow for that service again).

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