London: city of bankers and the super rich. Well, it’s certainly that, but London is also a raggle taggle city of many other kinds of life and the kind of place where you never really know what’s going to be round the next corner. So if you want to see the city without the enormous expense, don’t be satisfied with the usual tourist hangouts, get around.
- Broadway market
We’re slightly reluctant to point you towards a market because, well, it’s traditional to buy things there isn’t it? But Broadway Market is more than just a collection of stalls, it’s everything that’s great about the new chic East End. The Market appears every Saturday and runs along Regent’s Canal all the way down to London Fields, and while the stalls are mostly food, the area is also home to hip boutiques and cafes.
- The vintage shops of Brick Lane
Brick Lane is unique in mixing the longest strip of curry restaurants in the world with boho trendiness. Walk past the neon curry palaces and you’ll find a collection of vintage shops to dip into and try stuff on, stocking everything from ‘80s power-shoulder dresses to ‘30s rabbit fur jackets. In the evening, the area comes alive as the Shoreditch trendies flock to the mega bars and cafes in the Old Truman Brewery.
- The South Bank
The South Bank complex is an ugly set of buildings, there’s no getting away from it, but the whole area exudes the kind of relaxed, coffee-drinking intellectualism that’s perfect for a Sunday afternoon. The riverside location also makes browsing the pavement book stalls feel like the ultimate urban relaxation. For free and gratis you can sample the digitised film library at the British Film Institute and visit the poetry library at the top of the Royal Festival Hall.
- Gunnersbury Park
Gunnersbury Park is one of lesser known London parks, which is a shame because it’s clothed in 18th century splendour. It’s a bit of a trek out – all the way to Houslow in the West – but it’s worth it for an afternoon wandering around immaculately landscaped gardens and calm, duck-filled lakes. As an extra bonus, at the middle is the magnificent Gunnersbury House, once owned by the Rothschilds.
- Discover the ‘real’ city
Until recent centuries London didn’t stretch much further than the area known as the Square Mile, or the financial district. This is the place to go to get to the heart of historical London. Take a guide and start at Monument, which is the site of the 1666 Great Fire of London, then head East towards Tower Bridge and the Tower of London and you’ll find some of oldest streets with the best names, including Seething Lane, Savage Gardens, Mincing Lane and Crutched Friars.
- The grand museums of Kensington
Kensington’s not generally a place to go to save money, but it is home to some of the best museums in London and they’re all free to enter. The three main ones are the Victoria & Albert, which is full of exquisite art and design, the National History Museum (for the dinosaurs), and the Science Museum with its amazing interactive exhibits. Give yourself plenty of time – any of these three will take all day.
- Window shopping in Westbourne Grove
The really posh shops of London tend to be in Sloane Street and Knightsbridge, but if you want to do a bit of fancy window shopping without the pressure to buy then Westbourne Grove is less intimidating. This leafy street in Notting Hill is full of gentle boutiques, jewellery shops and specialist art and antique sellers, perfect for a browse before heading down to Portobello Road to take in bohemian West London.
- Bike riding in Hyde Park
OK, we’re going to break our own rules a little bit, because this is going to cost you one whole pound. London has a cycle scheme which allows you to borrow a bike from one of the numerous stands throughout the city and then cycle wherever you want to, as long as you return it to another stand. If you keep your journey to under 30 minutes then it’s absolutely free. Well, not absolutely, the access fee is £1 for 24 hours, but you can undertake as many free 30 min journeys as you like in that time – you can even avoid the tube by cycling everywhere. Just for fun, go freewheeling around Hyde Park, London’s largest park, for next to nothing.
- See the stars in Leicester Square
London generally gets film premieres a little after the US, but many of the big stars do turn out for the UK event. Premieres always happen in Leicester Square, with the biggest films showing at the Odeon and the next important at the Empire. If you get there early enough you stand a good chance of meeting a star or getting an autograph, and the atmosphere is always excited and friendly.
- Be a sleeze tourist in Soho
Soho is one of the most exciting places to visit in London. It’s an enormous rabbit warren of bars, restaurants, shops and clubs, and the rules always feel a little different within its borders. At the centre, particularly around Wardour Steet, Brewer Street and Rupert Street, is a concentration of strip clubs, cabaret clubs and sex shops mixing with Michelin starred restaurants and corner bistros. Although we’re not suggesting you start frequenting the more shady establishments, Soho is a great place to just hang out for an afternoon and into evening, watching every kind of life wander by.
Caroline Gilmore writes on behalf of Hotels.com, a leading accommodation website with a great range of hotels in London.