I love London. Regardless of how touristy and over-crowded it is, I love visiting London. It’s a magical place, there’s always somewhere new to go, something new to try! I love living in Leeds as a student because of how affordable it is (my wallet will run dry in London in a month!) and how cosily small yet beautiful Leeds is.
I take a train down to London every few months whenever I can spare a weekend in between assignments and I thought it would be useful to give my insights on what a typical trip to London looks like, plus some student-friendly advice on how to visit London on a budget!
This goes without saying, book in advance! As early as you can plan, plan it! My trips to London typically costed me £20 for a return trip (with a 16-25 railcard – this is a must get for anyone living in UK! If you’re a Master’s/mature student and you’re over 26, fret not – just recently the National Rail introduced a 26-30 railcard trial. So grab it whilst you can!)
The best way to save money is to stay with a friend who is studying in London. Bring them something fancy from the very first Marks and Spencer in Kirkgate market, or a box of Yorkshire Gold tea goodness, better yet – Betty’s from York or Harrogate!
However, not everyone has friends/or friends able to put you up for a couple nights, so the next best alternative is hostels. The prices of hostels in London varies from month to month, I’ve paid anywhere between £11 to £30 for a bed in the room before.
If you’re travelling with a group of >3, I’ll highly recommend getting an Airbnb. Not only will you get some privacy by having your own room, it’s often more comfortable for the same price when you’ve divided it down per pax.
Now, what do you do in London after you’ve done all the touristy bits? By touristy, I mean visiting all the main sights such as Big Ben, the Parliament buildings, Westminster, London Bridge etc. etc. – you get the picture.. Here are my suggestions!
- What I’d do, walk along the Thames river away from the city! Once I walked from Soho to Battersea. It was a very long walk indeed, but a pleasant one – walking past all the local residential areas of London. It gave me a different perspective of what London is like.
- Visit unique bars/lounges. If you’re going to splurge on a cocktail, then do it at the right place! My friend brought me to Tea House where the interior of the lounge was designed to look like an old Shanghai-esque feel with neon lights and velvet red curtains. It was lush!
- The culinary scene in London is I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E but it can get incredibly pricey as well. If you want good food at an affordable price, go to the markets! I’m not referring to the local vegetable markets, it’s quite different from Kirkgate in Leeds. I’m referring to markets such as Camden Market and Borough Market (touristy, but can’t deny they’re good!) If you would like to visit some less-touristy ones, I would recommend Old Spitalfields Market, Maltby Street Market and the hidden-street-food-shops in Brick Lane/Shoreditch area. Two new gems that I have just discovered in my recent trip to London (and I’ve been to London more times than I can count with my fingers and toes) is Brixton and Mercato Metropolitano.
Brixton is slightly further out, right after Elephant and Castle. Initially, I was attracted by the colourful façade I see on Instagram, however I’m so glad I went with an empty stomach because what I wasn’t prepared for the AMAZING FOOD at Brixton Village!! I was spoilt for choice with the wonderful cafes selling fresh home-baked goods but I settled for Colombian cuisine because why not? Try something new everyday and I loved it. The only downside was that I left the restaurant absolutely stuffed I couldn’t walk, I blame the food for being too delicious.
Mercato Metropolitano is a re-make of the famous Spanish mercados or other similar European markets. It’s a collation of food stalls of all cuisines set in a bustling food hall. Walk in, and let your nose lead you to your dinner. My only problem is that my nose wants everything but my wallet and stomach is limited.
- Play with the deers at Richmond Park. They’re free roaming and very friendly towards humans. I even got to pet one!!
- Do a free food tour with Strawberry Tour. “What? Free food, did I hear it right?” Is that what you’re thinking? The food tour is free, or I would say – tips based! The guides only earn from the tips that you give them! However, you would have to buy the food that you want to try. This concept of a free food tour is good for me because my stomach has its limits and sometimes I just like to window-shop for food. This tour is basically having a local Londoner bringing you to their favourite place to eat – we went to the best/most famous fish and chips restaurant in London and I have to agree with that. We also dropped by a local Indian snack bar where I got a huge samosa for less than £1.50. All these hidden secrets are waiting to be discovered!
- Now, at the very end, I would like to make a special shout out to my favourite donut shop – Crosstown Donut. I was never a donut person – I tend to find them too sweet and sugary. However, one particular donut changed it all. I won’t say much, but I would highly highly highly recommend saving £3.80 before you go to London, stop by a Crosstown Donut shop (there are shops in Soho, Shoreditch and more) and get one Matcha Crosstown Donut. It’s a hybrid of a cake and sourdough donut, a match made in heaven and a magical combination that makes my knees weak.
Go experience London a different way!