London is one of those iconic cities that everyone has to visit once in their lifetime. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
If you haven’t been there yet, I’ll bet it’s on your wish list. And why wouldn’t it be? London is cool, it’s bustling, it’s one of a kind. It’s a city where you can never be bored.
Between the famous landmarks, huge museums, amazing food scene, trendy markets and cozy pubs, it’s a city buzzing with life and adventure. So naturally, it took me the better part of 3 decades before I ever visited it.
I have a tendency to rush off to faraway places and London, well, London was always just there. So close, yet never really on my radar. Until I booked tickets for a concert in Manchester and figured, I might as well add London to the trip. Unfortunately, the concert was cancelled, but I still went to London. And I’m glad I did!
Because I immediately fell in love and now I can’t wait to go back. Eventhough it was a cold and grey December, London made feel all warm and fuzzy inside. London has everything I love: great (vintage) markets, great food, great pubs, great museums and great architecture. What’s not to love?
I spent four days in London and had a blast exploring the gorgeous old sights as well as the trendy neighborhoods. Whether you’re planning a quick city trip or an extended vacation (and London is great for both), there are a few highlights you can’t miss. Here are the best things to do in London on a budget as a solo female traveler:
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of LondonRalph McTell – Streets of London
I was surprised to find that downtown London is mostly a modern affair, with tall glass skyscrapers and office buildings. To see the elegant, historic part of London, head to Westminster.
For me, one of the most exciting parts of traveling is learning about the culture and history. My favorite way to do this is through walking tours. They’re a great way to explore a city, while providing context to what you’re seeing.
SANDEMAN’s New Europe is the original Free Walking Tour and always a safe bet for a great walking tour. I’ve done some of their tours in other cities such as Edinburgh and Barcelona. Of course, I wanted to do a free walking tour in London, so I decided to do their Free Tour of London, which is also nicknamed the Royal Walking Tour. As the name suggests, it mostly focuses on the political history of London and the royal family. As someone who binge-watched The Crown on Netflix, it was really fun to see all the sights from the show in real life.
Our guide led us through the city, along famous sights such as the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. During the 3-hour walk he told us about the political history of London and the royal family. We even caught a glimpse of Prince Harry as he drove by!
Free walking tours are also a great way to see London on a budget, as your only expense is a tip for the guide.
Walk along the Thames
How come every time you come around, my London London Bridge wanna go downFergie – London Bridge
The River Thames runs straight through London as a lifeline. It’s along the river that you find some of the most well-known London attractions. Not to mention all the famous bridges!
Walking along the Thames, you can visit sights like the Houses of Parliament, Tate Modern and the Tower of London. It’s a beautiful stretch, but if you don’t feel like walking, there are river cruises you can take as well. And on those rare clear and sunny days, the south bank of the river offers a stunning sunset view.
Walking along the Thames is one of the best things to do alone in London. I love strolling around cities by myself, just taking in the sights at my own pace. And once you tire of it, you can hop on the tube to any other part of the city. London is a pretty safe destination, so I highly recommend solo female travel to London. Of course, the same safety precautions apply as in any other big city, but I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe during my stay in London.
Visit a museum
London Baby!Joey Tribiani – Friends
Don’t be put off by the reputation of London being an “expensive city”, because you can definitely visit London on a budget. You just have to know how and where you can save money. And there are lots of cheap and free things to do in London.
One of the best free things to do in London is visit a museum. Almost all museums in London are completely or partly free! This means lots of things to keep you occupied and sheltered from the inevitable rain 😉
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit every museum in London. But out of all the famous museums in London, these are the ones I recommend:
- The British Museum: this world-famous museum is a must-visit in London. It houses an incredible collection of artifacts from all corners of the world, from the ancient Egyptians to the Victorian Era. I had mixed feelings walking through this museum, as the source of most of these pieces is questionable at best and a stark reminder of the British colonial history. But impressive nonetheless.
- The National Gallery: I love art, especially from the 19th and early 20th century. Romanticism, Impressionism and Art Nouveau are my favorite art movements. And the National Gallery in London has lots of such pieces. It’s also a gorgeous historical building with beautiful decorations and a wide collection of art. A must for art lovers.
- The Museum of London: a smaller and quirky museum in the heart of the city. The Museum of London is interactive and fun for kids and adults. It tells the story of the city from the first settlement. Lots of props show you what live has been like in London through the ages.
Shop at a market
A London boy, o a London boy, your flashy clothes are your pride and joyDavid Bowie – The London Boys
London gets noticeably less expensive when you venture out of downtown. It also gets a lot cooler. Around the city center lie lots of hip and budget friendly neighborhoods full of hidden gems.
Trendy neighborhoods like Notting Hill, Camden and Whitechapel all deserve a spot on your London itinerary. This is where you can get away from the tourist traps and experience the young and trendy side of London. These neighborhoods are also full of cute little cafés, artsy boutiques and vintage shops. And on the weekends, they host markets filled with music, art and crafts, vintage clothes and street food. The perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon if you ask me!
Hitting a borough market is one of the best cheap things to do in London. Forget fancy designer shops, vintage is where it’s at. Camden Market has become a London institution and the Brick Lane market is well on its way to do the same. Where Camden is grungy and huge, Brick Lane is a lot smaller and more understated. Go here to hunt for vintage gems in the Brick Lane Vintage Market and treat yourself to yummy street food. From Brick Lane it’s only a short walk to the Columbia Road Flower Market.
Notting Hill, best known from the movie, also houses a great weekend market. The neighborhood might be a bit touristy at time, but the Portobello Road Market has remained cool and hip.
For more delicious street food, head to the Borough Market near the Thames. The market is a congregation of delicious international street food stalls, selling mouthwatering snacks and meals from around the world. The whole city is a foodie paradise, but here you can taste it all and eat on a budget in London.
Be a total Potterhead
London calling to the faraway towns…The Clash – London Calling
Ever since I was first introduced to the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter as a child, I’ve been a total Potterhead. I’ve read the books, seen the films, and listened the audiobooks multiple time. For much longer than I care to admit, I wished for my own admission letter from Hogwarts.
Which is why touring the Harry Potter Studios was at the top of my to-do list for my trip to London. It wasn’t cheap but so worth it! Even if you’re not a massive fan of Harry Potter, I still highly recommend it. It makes for a super fun, educational and magical day trip from London.
Of course, the Warner Bros Studios in London aren’t the only place where you can experience the magic of Harry Potter and learn about the movies and the franchise.
There are several Harry Potter Walking Tours in London you can book. These tours will take you to all the film locations and spots from the books in the city. Or you can take yourself on a self-guided Harry Potter tour of London for free.
Of course, one of those iconic sights is Kings Cross Station, where you can even visit platform 9 3/4! And you don’t need to go through a magical wall to get to this one, as it is open to the public. A great place to get your own “I’m going to Hogwarts” picture. There’s also a lovely little shop that sells Harry Potter merchandise.
These are my highlights from my first trip to London, but I’m sure many more will follow. I can’t get enough of this fun, vibrant and cool city. What are your favorite things to do in London? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add them to my list for next time.
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