30 things to do in London under £20

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London, as most people will tell you, can be soul-crushingly expensive. It’s fantastic if you’re an oligarch with sofas stuffed with money, but most people use their sofas for sitting on whilst worrying about paying the bills.

Fear not, as there’s actually truckloads you can do in England’s capital that won’t set you back a fortune at all. We’ve put together 30 of them right here, all of which will cost you somewhere between £20 and absolutely nothing. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Go for a drink

Possibly the most obvious thing to do when in London – you’re surrounded by pubs, bars and clubs. But hey, let’s keep it affordable. Sam Smith’s pubs are well-known throughout London for their no-frills pub experience – they serve their own range of beers and don’t bother with background music so that they can save on the licence fee. Their locations include some wonderfully unadulterated pubs that don’t feel like they’ve been touched in decades – a welcome change in a city where most venues are constantly undergoing renovation.

For wine aficionados, Gordon’s near Embankment station is a must visit. It’s supposedly London’s oldest wine bar and much of its cavern-like interior is illuminated by candles. You can definitely afford to get at least one glass here…Maybe two…

 2. Explore the Olympic Park

Since reopening in 2014, the Olympic Park has been a fresh green space in East London enticing us with its range of unusual attractions. There’s a fun fair, climbing walls, statues, flags, not to mention all the sports facilities and the network of canals the site sits upon. The crown jewel is the Arcelormittal Orbit, the UK’s largest sculpture – for a mere £12.50, you can ascend the looping oddity and enjoy its views across the capital. Also it is soon to be home of the worlds longest tunnel slide!

 3. Tate Modern & Tate Britain

London’s two Tate galleries store massive art collections that are free to visit. Their temporary exhibitions are between £12- £18 but you may not even have time for them to spare. Best of all is the ferry that takes you between the two (the Modern is in Pimlico, and the Britain is in Bankside) that costs around £6-8. If you can fit both galleries into one day though, you deserve an award.

4. Kensington Gardens, the Serpentine Gallery & Hyde Park

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are pretty much one massive park, with the appropriately-named lake The Serpentine arbitrarily separating them. They offer a mix of attractions. Kensington Gardens has as its centrepiece the gardens of Kensington Palace, while the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain offers great splashing opportunities on a hot day. The free-to-visit Serpentine Gallery is also a must-see, its temporary exhibitions of modern art often confounding visitors. Hyde Park meanwhile is made up mostly of playing fields and is often full of people having a kick-about. During winter, it’s the home of Winter Wonderland, a massive temporary German-style funfair and market.

 5. Eat in Brixton Village

Over the last few years the indoor market of Brixton Village has become one of the best places to dine in London. Tens of mini-restaurants stand side by side inviting you in with inventive menus and quirky decors. Gourmands are spoilt for choice as each restaurant competes in both culinary delight and affordability – you can eat comfortably here for no more than £15. Our favourite time to go is around lunch – you’re more likely to get a table without having to wait.

 6. National Gallery & National Portrait Gallery

More famous art, this time featuring some of the biggest renaissance artists in the world. The National Gallery’s huge collection is free to visit, while its blockbuster temporary exhibitions will set you back about £16. Just behind the National Gallery, is its little sister the National Portrait Gallery which, as the name suggests, specialises in portraiture and is also free.

7. The South Bank

There are many good reasons why the South Bank is considered one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. For a start, it’s long enough to fit all the people wandering through it comfortably, which is pretty important considering the wealth of things to see and do. It’s most visibly home to the Millennium Eye, London’s iconic Ferris Wheel, as well as the London Aquarium, the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the Hayward Gallery, and all sorts of other temporary exhibitions and attractions including street performers and free music concerts (let’s not forget the Royal Festival Hall’s singing lift either). It’s also home to a skate park that offers an alternative hub for young whippersnappers to express their physical and artistic skills.

8. Go for a shisha on Edgware Road

Edgware Road has been a hub for Middle-Eastern culture since the late 19th century, and today it’s lined with shisha cafes and restaurants, each with tables and chairs spilling out onto the pavement. Several places are open 24 hours a day, with ever-present groups of people smoking shisha and enjoying a spot of mint tea. Most places offer you a pipe for between £8 and £16. Add in tea or coffee and that rounds up to a very pleasantly spent couple of hours for about £20.

9. Primrose Hill & Regent’s Park

One of the best views in London is absolutely free and can be found atop Primrose Hill. On a summer’s evening, you’ll find plenty of people here enjoying the sunshine and good company as they stare out towards the city. Just south of it, separating the hill from Regent’s Park, is Regent’s Canal, a peaceful spot for a walk between east and west. The section around Primrose Hill is especially good because it’s on the edge of London Zoo and you can see various animals sniffing around on the opposite bank as well as get a close up of the zoo’s famous aviary, all for zero English pounds. We would totally recommend you visit the zoo too, it has some of the best zoological attractions in the world, but at over £24 for adults entry, it doesn’t quite fit to the rules of our list, although being a student will reduce the price down closer to the£20 mark. Regent’s Park itself offers a mix of open playing fields, boating lakes and rose gardens and is not to be missed.

10. Visit a city farm

Hidden amongst the grim pollution and grinding corporatism, London actually has several city farms where animals live happily in ecological surroundings. There are around fifteen farms in total, in places such as Hackney, Stepney, Surrey Docks, Vauxhall, and Kentish Town. A visit to any guarantees a mix of free farmyard fun, arts and crafts, and perhaps a cheap delicious meal using milk, eggs and vegetables produced onsite.

11. The Monument

Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London offers a fantastic view of the very heart of London for the satisfyingly reasonable price of £4, and £10.50 for a joint excursion with the Tower Bridge. What with the new skyscrapers that keep getting added to this part of London every few years, you won’t find a better spot for taking in the city’s mix of old and new. That being said, vertigo-sufferers or those unwilling to tackle 311 steps may want to give it a miss.

12. Speaker’s Corner

The last true bastion of free speech in the western world has got to be Speaker’s Corner in Marble Arch. Come down to this corner of Regent’s Park on the weekend and you can argue with people about anything at all without getting arrested. Speakers will quite literally get on their soapbox and sound off about politics, religion, or simply what a lovely day it is just as long as they have someone’s ear.

13. Eat in Drummond Street

If you’re in central London and love Indian food then it’s an absolute no-brainer that you have to visit Drummond Street, a small street that’s a minute’s walk from Euston Station. This modest road is lined with restaurants all offering all-you-can-eat Indian food for the same price, currently £6.95 for lunchtimes and £7.95-£8.95 for a set thalii meal. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better, tastier deal.

14. Hampstead Heath & Kenwood House

Another amazing view of London can be had from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. The heath is a mix of wild plants and carefully-groomed gardens that begs to be explored. At the northern end, you’ll find the grounds of Kenwood House, the former estate of the Earl of Mansfield that is now an open museum and events venue which has free entry and is surrounded by gardens and statues.

15. Swim outdoors

Perhaps not the first activity people might associate with London, but during warm weather, it’s a fantastic way to spend your time in the capital. There are around ten outdoor swimming spots open to the public around London, including Charlton Lido, London Fields Lido, Tooting Bec Lido and, probably most famous of all, the Hampstead Ponds. You can even go swimming in a specially-allocated section of The Serpentine in Hyde Park. Just about every public swimming hole in London allows entry for under £10 – just be ready to put up with queues at peak times. London Fields Lido as picture is just under £5 entry for the day.

 16. The Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum near Lambeth Bridge offers a real insight into the life and logistics of the First World War. IWM London is a huge famous war museum full of military vehicles and equipment, with tonnes of fascinating and interactive exhibits about the perils of war, all free of charge. Some temporary exhibitions are a little pricey though and wouldn’t make our list as they exceed £20.

17. See the big London model

One of the most extraordinary models in the world is the 1:1500 version of central London on display at New London Architecture near Bedford Square. It truly gives you a sense of the magnitude and layout of the city and it’s free to enjoy. It’s only a few minutes’ walk from the British Museum, one of the greatest museums on Earth (especially since it’s free).

18. Go to a market

London has lots of fabulous markets teeming with all sorts: food, fashion, flowers, antiques, arts, crafts, and coffee – lots of coffee. The two most famous are probably Camden and Portobello Road, but the other main ones people love include Borough, Maltby Street, Columbia Road, Exmouth, Spitalfields, Whitecross Street, and fancy-pants Leadenhall Market. Obviously, if you’re trying to keep your visit under £20, you’ll need an iron will, but the sights and smells are all free and glorious.

19. The Emirates Air Line

Note the space between “air” and “line” in the puntastic name of the Emirates Air line, the cable car that connects the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula over the River Thames. The views offered are simply spectacular, offering a full panorama of east London that can’t be beaten. Back on solid ground, the north side has The Crystal, a modern building with exhibits about the environment, and is close to the artistic community of Trinity Buoy Wharf, while the south has the infamous Millennium Dome, now known as the O2. The O2 usually has some free corporate advertisements dressed up as exhibitions which can be good fun, as well as lots of food options. Nevertheless, entry to the Air Line is £3.50 or you can just use your Oyster card.

20. Eat in Brick Lane

This popular east London haunt is full of curry houses all vying for your business. It’s one of the few places in Britain where you’ll see restaurant staff standing outside encouraging you to come in, offering random deals to get you inside. You’re guaranteed to find a decent meal for well under £20 in any one of them. The northern end of Brick Lane is also home to two bagel shops that many swear are the best in London – they’re certainly open all the time, so visit any time you like to find out.

21. Take the river bus

We’ve already mentioned that there’s a ferry that goes between the two Tate galleries, but TFL has a whole fleet of river services that cover the Thames from Woolwich to Putney, even Hampton Court during the summer months. Any route you take will cost just £7.20 return, an absolute bargain considering the views and the break you get from all the road traffic and tube delays – it’s even cheaper if you use an Oyster card.

22. Science, Natural History and V&A museums

South Kensington is home to a powerhouse triumvirate of museums that offer days of both education and entertainment. The Science Museum features several floors of interactive exhibitions and has its own IMAX cinema; The Natural History Museum has a huge zoological and geological collection, and most importantly a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs; and The V&A has pretty much the whole history of fashion and design on show. Some temporary exhibitions and the IMAX may cost you a little money, but the majority of the collections are free to visit.

23. Ask somebody out

It’s said that around a third of London’s adults are single. Consequently, urban solitude means that as Londoners stare into the abyss of existential meaninglessness, they’ll say yes to any offer of human company. Whatever method you use, be it one of those new-fangled dating apps or simply grunting hello, asking somebody out is a cheap way to have fun in the capital (or to play tortuous mind games, whatever floats your boat).

24. The Shard

The most prominent addition to London’s skyline in recent years is The Shard, that weird pointy thing you can’t seem to miss no matter where you stand in central London. Situated in London Bridge, this unusual skyscraper offers wonderful views for those venturing into its lifts. There are two options: the first is The View from The Shard, a properly kitted-out and multi-level viewing area where you can visit and take your time, but, at around £25 a ticket, we shouldn’t really be including it on our list. The second option is Aqua Shard, the building’s bar and restaurant down on the 31st floor. It may be only half-way up but it’s free to get in, although obviously you’ll need to buy a drink or a bite to eat to stay. More importantly, it has a dress code – make sure you wear something reasonably smart so that you make it past the lift.

25. Educate yourself at Gresham College and the Royal Institution

London has a long history of being at the forefront of scientific discovery, and now you can be a part of it too for next to nothing. Gresham College has been giving free lectures every week for around four hundred years, while the Royal Institution’s talks range from free to about £14. As a bonus, you can see real scientists at work too in the Royal Institution while you swan around acting like you’re Michael Faraday.

26. Prince Charles Cinema

This independent cinema just off Leicester Square puts huge amounts of passion into the craft of cinema-going and is beloved by many Londoners. The Prince Charles Cinema offers much cheaper tickets than most picture houses and a wider range of unusual and classic films starting from as little as £4. It’s famous sing-along events, often with accompanying fancy-dress balls, are usually under £20 too, and a far superior experience to your suburban multiplex.

27. Take a tour of Lord’s Cricket Ground

It now costs £20 for you to get into one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world: Lord’s Cricket Ground. Notably, you get to gander at The Ashes trophy, seeing as it’s always there regardless of which country wins the tournament each year. Fun fact: Lord’s is the only major cricket ground in the world that permits you to bring your own booze. How gentlemanly.

28. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

This recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe is must-visit for thespian types. Seeing plays in London can set you back a lot more than £20, but the Globe, with its uniquely medieval layout, is the exception to the rule. If you get standing tickets in the yard, it only costs £5 to see classic plays staring famous actors. But you may want to bring an umbrella – rain is not uncommon during performances due to the open roof…

29. Take a walking tour

Yes, yes, we’ve been advocating quite a bit of walking already in this list, but none of it so far has been with a proper tour guide. London Walks has plenty to choose from that will be able to entertain you with all the history and culture you might miss if you walk on your lonesome – and each walk costs just £10.

30. Eat on Kingsland Road

The section of Kingsland Road around Hoxton Station is synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine. There are several authentic restaurants here, all offering enticing menus, a lively atmosphere, and very pleasing prices – you can easily stuff yourself for much less than £20.

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30 things to do in London under £20 was last modified: March 2nd, 2017 by Adam Zulawski
Author: Adam Zulawski (251 posts)

I'm a freelance writer and Polish-to-English translator. I blog about travel for Cheapflights and run TranslatingMarek.com. Download my free e-book about Poland's capital after it was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis: 'In the Shadow of the Mechanised Apocalypse: Warsaw 1946'