It’s summer! And, this year we decided to have a staycation in London. It’s a great way to explore your own city and the best way to avoid crowded beaches and expensive travel costs, especially when you’re on a budget.
Last year we were recovering from London’s “heatwave”. This year, the London summer has been somewhat disappointing, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t made the most of the few sunny days that we’ve had.
Check out the ten best ways to enjoy a British summer in London, on a budget. (Tried and tested by us!)
1. Get back to nature on a country walk (or get lost in a forest)
Connecting with nature and going “off the grid” is a great way to spend a day with your friends – in person and offline. But did you know that you can do it in London?
It might seem scary travelling so far from civilisation, but for only £3.10 each way (with your Oyster card on a weekend) you can take the Central Line tube to Theydon Bois station in zone 6 and spend a day or an afternoon wandering through Epping Forest.
Shannon, Carlie, Siobhan and I walked the 10km Oak Trail in May and it was great fun!
2. Picnic in one of London’s Royal Parks
We enjoyed our day in Epping Forest so much that we decided to continue our walking adventures in Richmond Park in south west London the very next weekend. Located in zone 4, Richmond Park is the biggest enclosed space in London and is known for its roaming deer and awesome picnic spots.
London’s eight Royal Parks are great for sports, swimming, historic monuments and buildings, entertainment and community projects. Closer to central London, check out Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’s Park, The Regent’s Park and Greenwich Park.
Why not grab a punnet of seasonal fruit, a sandwich, and a bottle of Pimms or Preseco and meet your friends at your nearest Royal Park for a lazy day in the sun? It’s a great way to have an inexpensive catch up and you probably need the Vitamin D!
3. Sing-along and show off your dance moves at a music festival or free concert
There are a huge number of music festivals and gigs happening around London during the summer that cater to everyone’s tastes. So, even if you can’t make it to Glastonbury, you can probably catch one of your favourite bands at one of the other big festivals, such as British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park, Lovebox or Citadel in Victoria Park, or South West Four in Clapham Common. Make sure you get your tickets early (and look out for discounts online to grab a bargain).
If you’re not a big fan of the crowds, or if the cost of a festival ticket and festival food is out of your budget, many of the spaces and bandstands around London play host to a multitude of free concerts and performances. On a sunny afternoon in July, the Lambeth Wind Orchestra blew our minds with an instrumental mashup of Daft Punk’s most famous beats and then had the passing crowds fighting to get a spot to sing-a-long to Hey Jude and other British favourites.
4. Learn something new at a National Trust or English Heritage site
The National Trust and English Heritage are responsible for taking care of places of historic interest and natural beauty around England and Britain. There are hundreds of places you can visit on your weekend for a small entry fee (usually £5 – £25) or donation, including many historic houses and gardens around London and castles and epic estates that are easily reached by train. During the summer there is usually a weekend or day where many of the sites open up to the public for free. And, at some places, entry to the garden is usually free if you don’t enter the house.
This summer, we visited Down House, the former home of naturalist Charles Darwin and his family, where he worked on his theories of evolution.
It’s a little difficult to get to Down House without a car, but there are many other amazing places that you can visit that are easily accessible from London, such as the large and beautiful Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath and 1930s art deco-themed Eltham Palace in south east London.
5. Cheer on your local cricket team at a Twenty20 match after work
For £20-£85 per adult and as little as £1-£32.50 per child (under 16), you can get your best Mexican wave in motion and your best chant going at a local Twenty20 (T20) match. Or you can go all out and try catch a 6-er at an international game.
The Oval and world-class Lord’s Cricket Ground are two grounds near central London that host a number of local and international matches each week throughout summer. Check out their websites in advance for fixtures and tickets.
One Friday evening after work we enjoyed watching Surrey’s six wicket win against Sussex in the NatWest T20 Blast at the Oval.
6. Be a tourist for the day and visit some of London’s most iconic sites
Even though we’ve lived in London for more than four years, I still get a thrill when I can introduce a newcomer or first-time visitor to the sights that stand out along London’s skyline. Now that we’re old hats, we can easily navigate the hidden passageways and show off some of London’s best attractions.
Recently, we’ve had family and friends visiting from Australia and Ireland so we’ve had the perfect excuse to be a tourist for a day. On a sunny day, a walk along the Thames River from Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge is one of the best ways to take in the sights and get a bit of sun. Along the way you can walk via Piccadilly Circus, the Houses of Parliament, West End, Covent Garden, St Paul’s Cathedral, South Bank, Borough Market, Leadenhall Market and the Tower of London. And, there are also plenty of pubs and food stops along the way.
7. Beat your mates at a scavenger hunt through the back streets of the capital
We’ve participated in a scavenger hunt across the city every year since our very first Christmas-themed scavenger hunt in December 2012. It’s truly one of the best ways to uncover London, find hidden-away gems that you would never normally visit, and learn a little bit about the city’s history (in a fun way).
Using your mobile phones and text messages, you and your team members (three – four people is ideal) need to answer cryptic clues to move on to the next destination. Time penalties are given for wrong answers and the goal is to beat the best time that has been set by previous teams completing the same scavenger hunt. It’s always loads of fun and we usually have a few teams play at the same time.
Once you answer the clue correctly, the route is easy to navigate and there are set breaks for a loo stop or a pint of beer along the way, which means anyone can join in the fun! But, if you’re competing against veterans like us, you might need to up your game… I’m proud to say that Team Larry (the ladies) smashed District 5 (the men) in our most recent hunt: Lost Souls of the City!
Check out www.inthehiddencity.com to book one of the many scavenger hunts they have on offer.
8. Escape the (inevitable) wet weather in one of London’s free museums
London is home to some of the best museums in the world – and (except for special exhibitions) many of them are free!
As long as you’re not visiting during the peak of the school holidays, museums are a great way to spend a day indoors if it’s miserable or raining outside.
For a bit of family fun, spend a day visiting the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum and the Science Museum in South Kensington.
The British Museum is located near Tottenham Court Road/Holborn and features some of the most incredible artefacts you will ever see, like Egyptian mummies and the Rosetta Stone. You can spend hours wandering around or you can join one of the free tours to get a glimpse of the best bits.
Located at South Bank, the Tate Modern is Britain’s national gallery of international modern art and one of the most visited galleries in the world. Pop in to see some spectacular and free exhibits.
A short walk from Waterloo Station and South Bank, the Imperial War Museum is one of three branches in London that feature impressive collections and real stories of historical and modern war, and its impact.
Just north of the City of London, the Museum of London is all about the history of London, from it’s ancient Roman past and the plagues of the Middle Ages to its more recent history and involvement in the World Wars.
Best of all, many of the museums open on one night each month (usually the last Wednesday or last Friday) to adults only. They have fun activities and allow you to spend time wandering through the exhibits, glass of wine in hand, without those pesky kids running about!
At each of the museums, some temporary exhibitions will require advanced booking and may cost £5 – £20 per adult. Check their websites for details.
9. Visit (or volunteer) at one of London’s city farms
If you’re an animal lover and you want to connect with nature, no matter how smelly manure is, check out one of London’s city farms. Since they’re free, visiting a local city farm is far cheaper than visiting the zoo and you’re more likely to be able to feed and pat the animals.
Mudchute Farm and Park is located on the Isle of Dogs near Canary Wharf and is a great place for a walk and picnic with a skyscraper backdrop. But scattered throughout the city in zones 1-3, between sky-high buildings and train tracks, there’s also Vauxhall City Farm, Hackney City Farm, Kentish Town City Farm, Stepney City Farm and Freightliners City Farm. They are home to some of London’s cutest animals, most of which you can pat, including pigs, goats, new born lambs, chicken, rabbits, birds, horses and alpacas. And, some even have pony rides and a range of free activities for children and families.
10. Enjoy a refreshing drink in one of London’s sun-soaked beer gardens
After all of that walking, hunting, learning, culture, exploring and getting back to nature, you’ll need a refreshing drink! Whether you’re a fan of a sparkling water with a slice of lemon, a pint of craft ale or a jug full of fruit and Pimms, the sun-soaked beer gardens of London have you covered.
Along South Bank, towards London Bridge, there are a range of English pubs such as Founders Arms, The Anchor, The Old Thameside Inn and The Horniman boast great city views across the Thames River.
And, in the back streets of suburbs across London, other great pubs with big beer gardens include: The Spaniards in Hampstead, The Stag near Belsize Park, The Landor at Clapham North, The Captain Kidd in Wapping, The Aeronaut in Acton, The Monkey Puzzle in Paddington, The Crabtree in Fulham, The Marlborough Richmond and The Vineyard in Angel.
Some pubs are child-friendly or fur-baby friendly, there’s usually a great range of food, and many have entertainment, a band or board games to keep you and your friends entertained. Either way, there is something for everyone!