Are you planning a trip to one of the greatest cities in the world? The discoveries to be made in London are endless: hidden secrets, cool hangouts, and countless sights make it impossible for even a local to see it all. This makes planning an itinerary in the Big Smoke pretty tricky because there’s so much to see and do. We’ve come up with a perfect weekend itinerary for backpackers that includes the ideal balance of must-see sights, local hidden gems, as well as affordable traditional British food to try. The city can be pretty pricey, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re on a budget. Use our step by step guide and get a dose of fun, affordability, tradition, and culture for a jam-packed weekend of cheap things to do in London.
Places to Stay in London
St Christopher’s At The Village
Right in the heart of the city in London Bridge, St Christopher’s Inns hostel offers a futuristic experience where you can sleep in a capsule bed and wake up on the doorstep of some of London’s most magnificent sights. In the evening, party at night in the hostel bar and make friends from around the world.
Cheap Things to do in London: Day 1
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
Rise and shine. After you’ve tucked into a free breakfast at the hostel, hop on the tube from London Bridge and in just three stops get off at Westminster, the most recognizable place in the city. This area is home to the Houses of Parliament, where all major decisions for the country are made. Sitting right on the picturesque River Thames, the opulent building is open to visitors who want to get a glimpse inside at the House of Commons and the Lords Chamber.
The grandeur of it all is worth the £16 ticket price for students – expect chandeliers, giant paintings and marble floors where politicians and Prime Ministers of the past have made their mark. If you don’t want to pay that much – no worries, you can marvel at it from the outside.
The Big Ben stands tall against the Houses of Parliament. Perhaps the most iconic London sight, be sure to get a photo of this old clock tower – it’s currently undergoing renovations, but once it’s complete, it will be looking better than ever. The Big Ben has chimed through six different British monarchs.
Mad Monkey top photo spot: there’s a traditional red telephone box on Parliament Square, that if you stand next to, you’ll benefit from having the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben as your backdrop. We don’t think you could get a snap any more British than that.
While you’re in the area, why not pop to the same place where The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tied the knot? Westminster Abbey is just a four-minute walk from the Big Ben, and it’s a historic Royal church and World Heritage site. Coronations of kings and queens, as well as Royal weddings, have taken place here.
While outstanding on the exterior, the inside of Westminster Abbey is impressive – however, the entry will set you back a hefty £17 if you’re a student, so admire it from the outside instead. Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, and even Charles Darwin are buried here.
Explore Covent Garden
Next stop: Covent Garden. Hop onto the tube, and in nine minutes you’ll reach the West End. While known as being a relatively touristic part of London, it’s certainly not an area to be missed. Cobbled streets and street-side cafes are what contributes to the charm and beauty of Covent Garden. The vibrant streets are filled with street acts in the summer, and the Apple Market that takes place every Tuesday – Sunday in the main square is a delightful way to lose an afternoon after a busy morning of sightseeing. Stop for a coffee or cold drink in one of the many cafes; we recommend sitting outside at the Ivy Cafe for a quick refreshing beverage.
Eye on the Pie
You’re probably pretty hungry by now, so it’s a good thing a hearty British pie is waiting to be eaten just around the corner. You have to try a classic British pie when in England. One of the best pie shops in London, Battersea Pie Station has you covered.
Tucked away downstairs in the Covent Garden Market Building is a pie-lover’s paradise. Battersea Pie Station has nailed it; the filling to crust ratio on its premium pies is perfect, and the prices are easy on the wallet at just £6-£6.50 per pie. Creamy mashed potato, flaky pastry and mouthwatering fillings, it’s no wonder why people come back for a Battersea pie time and time again for their comfort-food fix.
West end show – matinee performance
Covent Garden is known as London’s ‘West End,’ the alternative to New York’s ‘Broadway.’ Bursting with beautiful historical theatres, you can catch a matinee performance on the go. Head to a theatre Box Office when you first arrive in Covent Garden to check times, see what tickets are available and experience a spontaneous show. Depending what time your show is on, it allows you to plan your time discovering Covent Garden accordingly.
You can see Mamma Mia, The Woman in Black, The Book of Mormon, Young Frankenstein, Kinky Boots, and more. Sit back, relax and let that pie digest while you enjoy some of the best talents in London take to the stage and fill you with joy. Afterward, it is time to chill. It’s been a busy day. Head back to the hostel in London Bridge, put your feet up for a while, and freshen up for dinner later on.
Dinner at Borough Market – Padella
Award-winning Italian restaurant Padella based in Borough Market is just a four-minute walk from the hostel, and this cheap eat will not disappoint. London is a foodie’s paradise, representing the best of food from around the world – which is why in London you should branch out and test more than just British food. All the pasta is handmade at Padella, and you can seriously tell. Whether you opt for Ravioli or Pappardelle, a big bowl of fresh pasta won’t cost you more than £7.50. And if you want to go for the fantastic authentic gnocchi, it’s only £4. We love it here (not just the prices), you may have to queue because you can’t book ahead but it’s so worth the wait.
Bar crawl with Belushi’s
If you have the energy after a busy day, the Belushi’s bar crawl that departs from the hostel reception is a fun night out that won’t let you down for cheap drinks and a great time. It’s a great way to make friends with other backpackers exploring London, too. Go to bed with a hopefully not too heavy a head and get some rest for another busy day tomorrow.
Cheap Things to do in London: Day 2
Go full English
You must stuff yourself full with a Full English Breakfast on a trip to London. Eaten for breakfast, this hearty traditional meal consists of British sausages, baked beans, hash browns, bacon, baked tomatoes, egg and finished off with some buttery toast. While you get a free brekkie at Belushi’s, upgrade at the hostel bar and pay a few pounds extra for a Full English and start your Sunday like a true Brit would. This meal will keep you going for a while, too – so you won’t have to splash out on a big lunch.
Time for a scenic walk: London Bridge to St Pauls
Burn off all that pasta and pie from the day before on a pleasant morning walk to St Paul’s Cathedral. The walk will take around 20 minutes, and you’ll pass some pretty impressive London sights on the way. Walk past Europe’s highest building, the Shard, see Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and then walk across the River Thames over the Millennium Bridge. This bridge is famous for making an appearance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and once you’re on it, you’ll benefit from unparalleled views of the city, with St Paul’s in view as you walk over.
St Paul’s Cathedral
A historic cathedral that has been there for 1,400 years. St Paul’s Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the city of London and its famous of its iconic white dome. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, this listed building is just stunning. Ticket prices are pretty hefty, but you can get in for free if you pop in during worship hours, but be sure to be respectful. St Paul’s is open on Sundays for worship only where it’s free admission – pop in, say a prayer and admire the beauty of the interior.
Once you’re done, hop on the tube from St Paul’s to Oxford Circus, and in 9 minutes you’ll be transported to London’s busy shopping district.
Oxford Street and Regents Street
If we had to sum London up in a few words, it’s fast-paced, multicultural, forward-thinking and vibrant while achieving a balance of modernity with heritage. The best place to experience all of these things is the area around Oxford Circus.
Things to do while you’re in Oxford Circus
- We recommend visiting Liberty, one of London’s oldest department stores
- Shopping on Carnaby Street, a cool, quirky street in Soho
- The Rum Kitchen in Kingly Court for a cold alcoholic beverage
- Walk through the opulent Regents Street and window shop at all the fancy designer stores
- Head towards Piccadilly Circus
National Portrait Gallery
Squeeze time into your weekend itinerary for a museum. The National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square is free entry, and you can easily get lost in here admiring the extensive collection of portraits of historic British figures of the past and famous Brits from today. You can spend about an hour in here appreciating the art. If you go before October, you can catch the mesmerizing Michael Jackson ‘On the Wall’ Exhibition here however entry is not free.
Coffee and cake at L’eto
Coffee and sweet treat time. The pretty interior and colorful cakes is what draws people to L’eto in the heart of Soho. Or opt for a British cup of tea if coffee isn’t your thing, paired with a picture perfect cake. Just a 10-minute walk from the National Portrait Gallery, rest your legs in this charming bakery where the cakes are 10/10 and Instagrammable. The window displays will tempt you.
Get on a Santander Bike
The next best way to travel around London other than walking is to hop on a bike. Rent a Santander bike and cycle through London’s wealthy Mayfair until you get to Hyde Park.
Hyde Park on two wheels
Hyde Park is one of London’s Royal parks and the perfect place to kick back on a summer’s day watching the world go by. Cycle your way through the park and navigate your way around the tree-lined paths and vast green spaces. Go past the Serpentine Lake, grab an ice lolly, sunbathe and even take a pedal boat out on the lake. You can spend a couple of hours enjoying the beauty that Hyde Park offers.
A Picnic in Hyde Park
Before you enter Hyde Park, head to a local supermarket nearby and pack yourself a picnic to eat on the grass while soaking up the splendor of the park. This makes for the perfect budget dinner under the sun with friends.
Or a Sunday Roast in a Traditional British Pub
Make your way back towards the hostel in London Bridge and stop off for dinner at London’s biggest food market, Borough Market (again) – but this time at one of the best Roast dinner spots in London: it’s aptly called Roast. Since it’s your last dinner in London, go big if your budget allows you to. Roasts serves up Sunday Lunch until 6:30 p.m. so cut your Oxford Circus time a bit shorter if you’re planning to make your table. Three courses for £37.50 (a starter, a main, and a dessert). We recommend booking in advance.
More Information About Cheap Things to do in London
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