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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Making Your London Trip Affordable

Last weekend we visited London on date night, because it's one of our favorite places. It can be really expensive if you don't plan ahead, but it doesn't have to be. We visited in 2019 and hope that won't be our last trip to the UK, so let's look at some fun ways to save money.

Buy the Explorer Pass

Our last trip, I worked with Explorer Pass from Smart Destinations and did a few things we hadn't done on previous trips. You can skip ticket lines, enjoy a list full of attractions, and save up to 42% on your London activities. On this trip we did a good array of things: the London Eye, the Churchill War Rooms, and Westminster Abbey. We've done a decent portion of the other attractions included as well, and all are worth getting the pass to see/do. 

Check out city parks

All of London's parks are unique and interesting. Whether they're small like Bethnel Green or huge like Hyde Park. A few of my favorites are Holland Park - a park in a beautiful neighborhood and has playgrounds, sports fields, a Japanese Garden, a museum, art installations, a restaurant, an herb garden and more - St. James's Park, where you can see a group of pelicans fed several times a day, Greenwich Park, and the statue-filled Parliament Square Garden.

Go to the markets

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 
    • 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.

Find free attractions

  • Sky Garden
    • Located in the famous "Walkie Talkie building", Sky Garden is just that: a multi-level conservatory filled with plants and places to sit to enjoy them. 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. Oh yeah! The building has a 360-degree view and has some of the best photo ops inside and out. 
  • St. Dunstan in the East
    • Just around the corner from Sky Garden is St. Dunstan. This 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.
  • Neal's Yard
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • National Portrait Gallery
    • Think of the National Gallery, but only portraits of notable people in Britain.
  • the British Museum
    • 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.
  • Victoria & Albert Museum
    • 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.
  • The 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, including servingware, weapons, and armor. You'll also find some textiles, portraits, and furniture. Bonus: they have one of most affordable afternoon teas in London and it's just as delicious as more expensive ones.
  • Imperial War Museums
    • There are several IWM locations and they all have different things. This one has rotating exhibits, as well as British war history from WWI to today.
  • Museum of London
    • Learn the entire history of London at this free museum. We were there for several hours and had to rush through bits of it to see it all before we had to leave and make it back to change for our dinner reservation.
  • National History Museum
    • Surely you've been to another history museum with dinosaur skeletons and other cool animals and flora and fauna. This is the same. It's great if you're traveling with kids.
  • Tate Modern
    • This is where I discovered I didn't really enjoy modern art. If you do, you should totally visit and see all the weird abstract concepts and other art. Since it's free, this is the perfect chance to dip your toe in or bring your kids to see what they think of it. 
  • Street art
    • I particularly like the Shoreditch, Camden, and Brick Lane areas for a bunch of amazing wall murals. Holland Park is great for a bunch of different mediums. Hyde Park is full of statues. 
  • The Queen's House
    • Located in Greenwich, this house is both gorgeous and is home to rare works and sometimes other exhibits. When we visited, they had a photography exhibit of Lady Diana. There's an amazing staircase in here.
  • The Changing of the Guard
    • This takes a bit of planning and you need to get there at least an hour before the change happens in front of the Buckingham Palace, because it can get quite crowded, making it hard to find a good spot with a decent view. 

Go on a walk

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 combing 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. (You do need cash though.)

I also highly suggest just taking a walk along the Thames and across some of the bridges. It gives you a lovely view of the river and some wonderful photo ops. Some of our best memories were made by just walking around. 

Would you like to hear about things you should splurge on or unconventional attractions that are affordable?

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