London for Free: Tips to Pinch Pounds

Home to Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes and, of course, British royals, it's no surprise London ranks as the world's most expensive city, according to a report by UBS.

But in this city of deep pockets, it's still possible, with some savvy planning, to stay, eat and experience the best of London on even the smallest of budgets.

"London is marketed as a city of tourist attractions, but really, it's the vibe that people come for: the markets, just walking round (if you know where to go), the free museums, the red buses," says Simon Crutchley, who started LondonTourist.org, a nonprofit site with advice for planning trips to London on the cheap.

Many of the city's cultural highlights, from outdoor concerts in palace gardens to some of Europe's most important art galleries, can come free.

Regardless of what kind of traveler you are, take this advice to save some dough. You're sure to find something along the way you'll want to spend it on. And with the British pound now hovering at a five-year low against the U.S. dollar, this may be the perfect time to go.


Classic London: the Blockbuster Sites

Rather than splurge on admission to Westminster Abbey, stop by Evensong worship services for free access to the choir and choral music. Afterward be sure to explore the nave, where you'll find tombs of kings, queens, poets and national heroes who've been buried here for the past 800 years. And stroll through the adjacent cloisters and college garden, both free of charge.

Get your royal kicks for free by catching the Changing of the Guard. Every other day at 11:30 a.m. in front of Buckingham Palace, the queen's personal guards, dressed in iconic red coats and black bearskin caps, perform the changing of the guard ceremony. The stoic soldiers stand watch outside her majesty's homes 24 hours a day. So stop by anytime to take a photo and do your best to make them crack a smile.

Discover the inner workings of the British government by watching a Parliamentary debate or judicial hearing in the 1,000-year-old halls. Entry is free to visitors from fall to spring. During the summer, visitors can climb the Big Ben clock next door.

Marathon sightseers should consider investing in a London Pass, which buys free entry to the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and about 50 other attractions, as well as free guided tours and river cruises. The pass also includes free public transport, free Internet, discounts to theaters and restaurants, as well as priority queues to cut the wait at some sites. Prices start at a whopping 40 pounds, but are well worth it if you're staying for more than a few days.

One of the best ways to pack in all of the sites is on a red double decker bus. Instead of the pricey preprogrammed tours, grab a map and get on one of the public lines. Buses No. 9 and No. 15 are the two famous heritage Routemaster buses that still operate with the open, hop-on platform system. The 11, 12, 19 and 88 buses pass by many of the best sites as well.


Art Lovers' London

Fortunately, all art institutions in London more than 50 years old grant free admission. The city's museums are a treasure trove of ancient wonders, imperial booty and contemporary works.

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