By Hannah Finch
Upon arriving in London for the third time around, I remember stepping out of the underground metro and immediately thinking ‘oh dear’ (in a somewhat less polite manner). I seemed to have forgotten that London wasn’t exactly the cheapest city in the world and with my taste in food, shopping and activities, my backpackers budget wasn’t going to stretch too far. So I figured I had to do one of two things – cut out the comfort and go back to being a “real backpacker” (two-minute noodles and all) or research a number of things to do around London for cheap or even free that wouldn’t cramp my style – wait, does that sound uppity? Anyway, I chose the latter and here’s what I came up with.
1. Camden Town
Okay, so it’s not the swankiest thing you can do around London but Camden Town has a whole style of its own going on. It’s hip, it’s happening and it’s home to some of London’s best markets, bars and clubs. Taking the Northern Line from King’s Cross St. Pancras, Camden Town is only a short tube ride away from Clink, making it the ideal place to visit when you’ve only got a few hours to spare.
During the day, the high street comes alive as visitors of all nationalities, cultures and scenes emerge to wander the many amazing market stalls which stock everything from distinctive hand-made jewellery, clothing and crafts to alluring imported goods and furniture. Although I have no doubt that it’s possible to go completely overboard and blow a whole paycheck here, it’s just as fun to visit with £10 in your pocket for a bite to eat and wander around for hours, getting lost amid all the enchanting lanes and alleyways lined with colourful stalls and friendly vendors. Backpacker budget or not, this is a unique and exciting experience that is sure to awaken all your senses.
Come sundown, artists and performers hit the streets to put on a unique show and get the night vibes flowing.
Hipsters surface and celebs come out to play as they make their way to some of London’s most trendy bars and restaurants, including the likes of The Lock Tavern, The Hawley Arms and Gilgamesh. I wouldn’t follow them in, your budget isn’t likely to approve. What you can do, however, is stroll on over to Primrose Hill…
2. Primrose Hill
Perched on the northern side of Regent’s Park and standing at 78 metres tall, Primrose Hill boasts 180 degree views across Central London, Hampstead and Belsize Park and makes for the perfect date night/picnic spot to watch the sunset. What I love most about this place is that you can go all out and do it in style (with a couple of supermarket bought Pimm’s, a picnic blanket and some soft jazz playing in the background) and you can do it for free.
At first, I merely wanted to visit for the opportunity to gaze over London from a whole new angle and capture a few good Insta-snaps. Two hours later I found myself still sitting in the same spot enjoying the warm summer breeze and a good ol’ people watching session.
If you love a top-notch view and some space to hear yourself think, Primrose Hill will be right up your alley. To get there from Camden Town, follow the signs to Regents Park and then take a right at Prince Albert Road. About 5 minutes later you’ll reach Albert Terrace. On this road there are two entrance points into the park which will lead you up to the top of the hill.
After this little out of city experience you may feel a sense of curiosity take over and lead you to explore some other beautiful parks and gardens situated around London. If that’s the case, then look no further than Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens …
3. Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
Possibly the most elegant free thing you can do in London.
Ideally situated in the middle of some of London’s most prominent Inner Borough’s, including Kensington, Paddington and Mayfair, these famous parklands offer the perfect setting to relax in style amid the fresh scent of British roses with views over to the charming Kensington Palace. Put together a small picnic or stop by the supermarket on the way and head to Hyde Park Corner, taking the Piccadilly Line from King’s Cross St. Pancras underground station.
When you arrive you have a few different options:
Stroll through Hyde Park and into Kensington Gardens, stopping by Serpentine Gallery (with free admission), The Serpentine Lake and Kensington Palace on the way like I did; lay out a blanket (or towel, or whatever you’ve got in your backpack) and relax with a book in one of the many open grass areas; or, if you’re feeling energetic, pay £2 to access a Santander bicycle from the Hyde Park Corner docking station, ride it around for 30 minutes and then return it without having to pay anything extra (free for the first 30 minutes and £2 for every half hour thereafter).
If you’re looking for a place to escape the city hustle bustle, soak up some sunshine and interact with London’s finer details without spending a fortune, Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens is where you’ll find it. Afterwards, while you’re doing the whole sophisticated London thing, why not stroll on through to Notting Hill…
4. Notting Hill & Portobello Road Market
Elegantly lined with classic cream and pastel coloured houses, charmingly maintained traditional British pubs and vibrant floral arrangements, Notting Hill is that quintessential London neighbourhood we see in all the classic films. I know, it sounds like a terrible move for someone on a backpackers budget, but good news, you can do it without spending a fortune! I did it, and in case you don’t know me, that’s saying something.
Here’s what you can do:
Instead of traipsing the somewhat less inspiring high street, only to find yourself being lured into buying things you don’t need, escape to the backstreets and lose yourself amid rows of classic British architecture and characteristic charm. This is the perfect opportunity to just wander and see where you pop out. For me, it was Portobello Road.
Wherever you end up, I strongly suggest that you leave some time to amble down Portobello Road and into the famous Portobello Market (from the film Bedknobs and Broomsticks). Here you’ll gain a real sense of what London was like many years ago as the narrow road, lined with antiques, furniture and fresh produce winds down into a strip where you can purchase everything from clothing to carpets for much less than you would pay elsewhere.
On a typical British summer day (when the sun is shining) a gentle adventure through Notting Hill and Portobello Road is the perfect way to see some more upmarket parts of London without blowing your budget.
And there we have it, my friends. That is how you can do London in style (on a backpackers budget).
Hannah Finch is an Australian travel blogger who is currently living in Brazil with her nomadic partner who she met whilst traveling in southeast Asia. Together they spend every moment they can traveling to different parts of Brazil and beyond whilst writing about their experiences and helping others to do the same on their blog, www.storyv.com and within their eBook, Travel More (http://travelmore.storyv.com/v1). Follow all their next adventures on Instagram (http://instagram.com/storyvnow), Facebook (http://facebook.com/storyvnow) and Youtube (http://storyv.com/go/youtube).