Fave Five Things to Do in London, Without Breaking the Bank

TAW staffer Shirley Mak shares her secrets for a thrifty — but fulfilling — way to see the city

By: By Shirley Mak

London’s calling — but not for your wallet. While the metropolitan city is jam packed with activities for the posh traveler who has tons to spend, there is also plenty to see and do for your more budget-minded clients as well. For one thing, London is one of those rare cities where owning a car is more of an encumbrance than a convenience.

The public transportation system, fondly referred to as the tube, is one of the most extensive in the world and will get your clients virtually anywhere. Holding an Oyster card allows riders to add train fare at local convenience stores and online, enabling eager travelers to navigate the city quickly without breaking a sweat (or their wallet). Not only does the Oyster card work for the Tube, but most buses accept it as well, bringing visitors one step closer to their desired stop.

If riding a fast-moving vehicle is not your thing, London is just as much a pedestrian-friendly city; some even say that walking is the only way to truly appreciate all that the city has to offer. London’s sheer abundance of parks, museums and famous landmarks, all available within walking distance, only becomes more awe-inspiring when seen up close. All that your clients have to do is show up.

Here are five more examples of how your clients can maximize their London experience, without spending too much cash.

See a musical at Piccadilly Circus

Fave Five London, Les Miserables // (c) 2009 Shirley Mak

Les Miserables

There’s a wide assortment of theaters located all along the Piccadilly Circus area and musicals play both day and night, often for a better price than you’d find on Broadway in New York. Sometimes, if clients arrive at the matinee shortly before show time, they’ll find relatively good seats at discounted prices, meaning they’ll see top-quality shows for half the price. One of my most memorable experiences in London was seeing Les Miserables for the very first time, and we didn’t even have to sit in the balcony.

Visit a museum or two

Fave Five London, British Library // (c) 2009 Shirley Mak

British Library

My favorite thing about big cities has to be the museums. For one thing, they’re everywhere and London is no exception. Clients could devote an entire day solely to visiting free museums and they still wouldn’t hit them all.

For me, the icing on top of the cake was definitely a visit paid to the British Library, a knowledge museum of sorts and a dream come true for bookworms, music and science lovers and intellectuals alike. It’s all there, including the works of Da Vinci, Blake, Austen, Milton, Beethoven, Shakespeare and Chaucer. You feel smarter just stepping into the place. Despite its audacity of displayed works, however, the British Library was, surprisingly, not that crowded. We navigated through it at a leisurely pace without getting lost in the crowds and had ample time to spend at each exhibit. And the library doesn’t have the stuffy, ostentatious feel of worldly libraries either — it was almost like stepping back in time into the library of a famous person’s home, only that of someone you actually like and admire.

Take a spin on the London Eye

 Fave Five London, London Eye // (c) 2009 Shirley Mak

London Eye

Another favorite London pastime of mine is taking a ride on the London Eye, the 443-foot tall Ferris wheel that overlooks the Thames River, giving you a bird’s eye view of pretty much the entire city — Big Ben and Tower Bridge included. Let’s not kid ourselves: Childhood was a great time, and there’s nothing more child-like than taking a ride on a gigantic Ferris wheel for a glimpse of something amazing.

Are your clients scared of heights? No problem. There’s no way they can fall out of the wheel’s giant glass capsules, complete with a full set of doors and air conditioning. But if they’re still not convinced it’s safe, advise that they take a friend or significant other along. There’s nothing more romantic than seeing the sunset some 443 feet off the ground, right?

See a play at the Shakespeare Globe

Fave Five London, Globe Theatre // (c) 2009 Shirley Mak

Globe Theatre

I know, I know, Shakespeare’s not for everyone. But even if your clients don’t appreciate the Bard, they’ll appreciate this theater. Not only is it a faithful reconstruction of the original Globe theater where some of the most famous plays worldwide made their original debut, but the plays put on today are nothing short of amazing. And if your clients are determined to see a Shakespeare play at some point, they might as well do so in the country where the Bard was born. For cheaper tickets, clients can opt to stand in the pit of the Globe for an up-close-and-personal view of the performance, instead of getting actual seats, which can oftentimes be twice as fun. During one of the plays I watched there, the actors threw chocolate coins into the audience, which made standing so close to them that much more of an advantage, although not so much when they started throwing water as part of the performance. And not to fear — it’s nothing like a mosh pit.

Get afternoon tea

Fave Five London, Afternoon Tea // (c) 2009 Shirley Mak

Afternoon tea

Sipping tea in the late afternoon and spreading jam and clotted cream on bite-sized scones is a very British thing to do, and afternoon tea is readily available at almost every hotel and cafe in existence in London. OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but they do seem to enjoy their tea there. So, why not? Clients should grab a couple of their girlfriends and head on over. Cucumber sandwiches and dainty teacups aren’t really my thing, but I definitely understand the appeal. And teatime can be as dolled up or informal as you want it — the opportunities are limitless. If clients want to save time on their itinerary, many museums, including the world-famous British museum, and cultural centers also offer afternoon tea as well.