While most are dreaming of a tropical getaway in December, I’m sweating in shorts and sandals walking down Hollywood Blvd dreaming of snow. A vacation to Europe in the winter will be cold – but also romantic. With warm pubs and fewer crowds, the offseason is the perfect time to visit London. The pound to US dollar ratio isn’t the best, which means the price of visiting scares off a lot of budget travelers. However, I find London to be surprisingly affordable if you’re willing to be a budget traveler. Most of the museums in London are completely free, and unlike other smaller or spread out cities, London offers a vast array of iconic public places you can view for free – all within walking distance.
We stayed in the Smart Hyde View Park hostel in Bayswater which I do not recommend. The pictures made it look clean and updated, but with nine people crammed in three bunk beds three beds high, an en-suite bathroom with only half an enclosure, and a total of TWO power outlets – I was extremely uncomfortable for all four nights we stayed there. After staying at the St. Christopher’s hostel in Bruges, I would highly recommend seeking out their hostels in London. I’m not terribly picky when it comes to budget accommodations, but if you have a poor night’s rest, it makes the following day so much harder to stay positive and headache free.
Bayswater borders the north edge of Hyde Park, which meant we had to walk across the park grounds to get to all of the Yuletide festivities in London proper. Of course, a stop by the Sunken Gardens at Kensington Palace (where the Royal family made their engagement announcement about Prince Harry just a few days before) was necessary.
Big Ben, Parliament, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, all of the parks, all of the bridges – you can see these for free! Unfortunately, Big Ben is under construction at the moment, so it was completely covered in scaffolding while we were there. An exception to the list of free must-sees is Westminster Abbey at £20.00 and St. Paul’s Cathedral at £16.00 admission. We chose to spend the money on St. Paul’s Cathedral, and we were so glad we did. The Whispering Gallery is amazing if you can make it up the narrow stairs!
Instead of going inside Westminster Abbey, you can visit Saint Margaret’s Church, a smaller Church right next to Westminster Cathedral. It’s free to visit, and you can still admire the architecture and pay your respects to its rich history.
My food budget is always one of the toughest to keep minimal when I’m traveling to Europe. Half the experience for me is the food. One of my favorite memories of London is sitting down in the first pub we came across, eating an English Sunday Roast, and drinking a Guinness. Sigh… take me back! I keep my food budget down by booking a hostel that includes breakfast so I only have to pay for two meals. Then, I pick lunch or dinner to spend most of my daily budget on and eat something light for the other meal. However, a holiday to London and Bruges meant I definitely had to budget for beer. As a native Michigander, beer is important, okay?
We were lucky to have our British friends Matt and Lottie with us because they showed us what a real English breakfast looks like. Unfortunately, it includes Black pudding, which if you don’t know, is blood sausage. Gag. I’ll try anything twice, so I did give it another go, but I can’t stand the texture and it’s just… not good. But everything else was phenomenal and I can’t wait to have another true English breakfast next time I’m in England! They also explained to us the difference between saying “pound” and “quid,” which led to an onslaught of yelling “QUIDS QUIDS” in public… you had to be there.
I was disappointed to learn Shakespeare’s Globe’s Theatre is dark in the winter. It was an incredible experience to stand on my feet for two hours watching the best of the best make Henry V come to life – all for £5! I touched a mural of his face though, and that was nice.
This was my second time to London, and somehow I ended up catching London Bridge right at dusk again. It’s the perfect time to go because the street lamps and the bridge lights are lit! Plus, the view down the River Thames is beautiful at sunset.
Very fortunately for us Potterheads, J.K. Rowling had just opened A History of Magic Exhibition at the British Library. This was the other sight we decided to spend money on. How could we miss handwritten, original drafts of the books by Rowling, concept art by Jim Kay, in-depth history of the lore we see in the series? The British Library is across the road from King’s Cross where we had to get our obligatory Platform 9 and 3/4 photo, too! Yes, I am wearing a Hufflepuff AND a Gryffindor scarf. I’ve been sorted into Hufflepuff, but I’m a Gryffindor at heart – back off, okay??
After visiting Egypt last year, I couldn’t miss seeing my boo the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum. On this trip, we did really quick perusals through the museums. I had already spent a good amount of time on a previous trip, and we were looking forward to doing a little more walking around the city and getting lost.
One of our biggest disappointments was our brief visit to Little Venice, which is a short walk north of Hyde Park. We had seen beautiful photos and were really looking forward to spending half a day there walking around. Judging from the photos, it was a little slice of quaint beauty by a canal. However, it was nothing special and devoid of anything to do at all, save for one restaurant. My photos make it look more romantic than it actually was – and what you see in my photos below was the entirety of it! I think it might be at its peak in the fall when the trees are full of color and reflected in the water, but in the winter it was an eyesore. You can definitely cross it off your list of “free things to do in London.”
Thank you Alesha, for your photos! Alesha is the photographer of all of the photos of me!
Visiting London on a budget:
Hostel: $20-25/night X 5 nights = $100 USD
EasyBus – $8.60 round trip Gatwick – London Victoria
Oyster card + tube money – ~ £20
£25-30 a day, depending on how much beer you drink, and if breakfast is included in your hostel stay.
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park – free
Christmas Market at Tate Modern – free
Southbank Centre Winter Festival – free
London Bridge City Christmas Market – free
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street in Soho – free
Big Ben & Parliament – free
Buckingham Palace / changing of the guards – free
Westminster Abbey £20.00 (Saint Margaret’s Church next to it is free)
Trafalgar Square – free
Piccadilly Circus – free
St. Paul’s Cathedral – Adult £16.00
Tower of London £21.50 (we did not do this)
The London Eye – Adult – £17.28 (we did not do this)
British Museum – free
Tate Modern – free
London Museum – free
The National Gallery – free
Hyde Park / Peter Pan statue – free
Kensington Palace Sunken Gardens – free
Green Park – free
Regent’s Park/Primrose Hill – free
Shepherd Market – free
Shakespeare’s Globe – £5 for standing room
Harrods – free
Little Venice – free
Camden Market – free
A History of Magic exhibit at the British Library – £16.00 (Open until 28 Feb 2018)
St. Pancras, Kings Cross Station, Platform 9 ¾ – free
Millennium Bridge / Other Bridges – free
Australia House (site of Gringotts filming) – no entry
Cecil Court (Diagon Alley style alley of shops) – free
Churchill Arms Pub
Mr Foggs pub
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese