With the summer holidays in full swing I thought I’d share some top tips for a cheap day out in London. I’ve visited twice recently with my family and have saved a fortune on train fares using easy hacks, and we done some amazing things which were super cheap or free.
Getting to London
From where I live on the south coast, the easiest way to get to London is by train. However, to get a cheap day return you need to leave after 9am and that means getting up there around 11am, or even later sometimes. To me this is a shame as you’ve wasted half the morning.
My hack for getting to London on the cheap is to drive to a station where you can leave at 9am, meaning you have a quicker and much cheaper train journey. In my case I drove to Horsham which is around an hour’s drive, and has a mainline station with frequent trains to and from London. It’s not always cheap to park at train stations so my tip for that is to use JustPark to find someone who rents out a driveway to save a fortune. I’ve used this one twice recently which only costs £3.90 for the whole day and is a five minute flat walk to the station.
Horsham train station parking for a day (assuming you can get a space!) : £6.35
Compared with JustPark parking in this Horsham space from 9am – 9pm : £3.90
This is a saving of 38% on the parking
It may seem extra hassle to drive to Horsham but, having done it twice recently, for me it was well worth it to save over £100, and actually we had more options for trains coming home compared with those going to Bognor.
I also use JustPark when I go to Brighton by car too, as you can park right in the town much more cheaply than paying as you go on the day. I’ve used it for a gig at Wembley too where I managed to park in a front drive right next to the stadium! What’s great also is that you can usually extend your stay so you don’t necessarily have to over-estimate how long you will need to park. Their app is so easy to use too. Find out more on their website here.
Cheap things to do in London
I often get the train to London Bridge rather than Victoria as I prefer the things to do around there. You can walk through Borough Market which is really vibrant and has lovely food and drink on sale, and is great to cut through on your way to the south bank.
I know I bang on about street art a lot but there are some stunning pieces on the walk, including this tribute in Stoney Street to those who died in the London Bridge terrorist attack, by Jimmy C. There are eight hearts in total, one for each victim.
Jimmy also created this image of Shakespeare in Clink Street, which is also on the walking route to the river. The Clink prison museum is a great place to visit if you get a chance!
Walking towards Waterloo takes you past many interesting places including the new Globe theatre, the Millenium Bridge, and you’ll see a multitude of street performers and other entertainment. There’s a graffiti-filled subway area when you’re almost at Waterloo bridge where skateboarders and BMXers practise their skills.
Sky Garden and The Shard
My son loves skyscrapers and the best one in London is the Shard which is right next to London Bridge. The views are amazing and rather than paying for the View From The Shard experience, you can head to the 30th floor and cheekily buy at drink at the bar and admire the views from there.
However, in my opinion you get a better view from across the river, at Sky Garden, which is completely free!
If you head over London Bridge into the City then Sky Garden can be found at 20 Fenchurch Street. You do need to plan this visit in advance and book your space though, unless you’re feeling rich and can eat in the bistro or restaurant there. Tickets are released in batches so keep an eye on their website and book immediately when they are available for the date you’re planning to visit.
The views are fantastic, particularly of the river, the Shard and towards Tower Bridge.
Other interesting buildings nearby are St Paul’s Cathedral, the ‘gherkin’ and Tower Bridge. It’s really nice just to walk along the river and see all the iconic places that your chidren have probably seen on TV but not in person, like the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Brick Lane Street Art
If you are into street art then there’s nowhere better than Shoreditch. If you don’t mind going by foot then you can walk the length of Brick Lane, from the south near Tower Bridge, right into the heart of Shoreditch. There are so many alleyways, nooks and crannies to explore, and amazing pieces at every turn. If you need to stop for a break then there is an incredible choice of places to eat and drink, including some particularly nice cake shops nearer the north end of Brick Lane.
I will be writing about Shoreditch street art soon but here’s a sneak preview; there’s a Banksy at the Cargo bar in Rivington Street.
If you’d like to learn more about the area then I’d recommend a walking tour I did recently. It started at Old Street Station and ended with a graffiti workshop in Hoxton where we learned to spray with stencils. It was run by Alternative Ldn and you can check them out here.
Other things to do
I can’t possibly cover ALL the things to do, but I will just mention a few of the things that we have enjoyed on a cheap day out in London. There are some major museums and galleries which have free entry, including Tate Modern on the South Bank, the National History and Science Museums.
There are also some which we haven’t got around to visiting yet, including the British Museum, the V&A and the National Gallery.
One place we are also keen to visit is the free Wellcome Institute which has some fascinating collections of medical curiosities. It was recommended by a friend whose daughter works for them. Here’s a link to their website – please let me know how it goes if you do go as it’s somewhere I just haven’t got around to visiting!
On a recent trip to London with my family we tried our first escape room! It was brilliant and I’d highly recommend it. You can read about it here, and there are lots of others all around around the country.
If you’re planning on doing any paid activities, including escape rooms, then it’s worth trying Wowcher for some massive discounts. Here’s a link to their website or you can click on the banner below to see what’s available as the offers change all the time.
Eating and drinking
Bring a picnic lunch and refill plastic water bottles in pubs, cafes and restaurants to save money and help the environment too. There’s a national refill scheme where you can download an app to find a nearby place to refill your bottle. Places such as Starbucks, Costa and will do it, as well as many cafes and pubs. I refilled my bottles in a bar near Waterloo and a pub near Liverpool Street train station on recent day trips. Here is a link to their website to find out more about the scheme.
If you want to eat out then I save money by exchanging Tesco Clubcard Boost points for restaurant vouchers. Places like Pizza Express, Prezzo, Cafe Rouge and Zizzi are included and have plenty of branches in London.
If you don’t have Tesco vouchers then Wowcher offers massive discounts on restaurants too, so could be worth a visit to see what is available.
Cheap day out in London – summary of tips
I hope you enjoyed reading my recommendations for a cheap day out in London. Here is a summary of my tips! Do leave a comment if you have any others as I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.
Cheap day out in London top tips :
- Use JustPark to get a cheap deal on parking
- Drive to a train station closer to London to get a cheap day return fare
- Try an AlternativeLdn walking tour – read their TripAdvisor reviews here
- Walk as much as possible to soak up the sights
- Refill your plastic water bottle for free
- Exchange Tesco clubcard boost vouchers to get cheap restaurant meals
- Use Wowcher for paid attractions and meals out to save money
If you want to stay over in London then here are the latest deals on Booking.com.
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