Even in London, there are still ways to do/eat/read stuff for next to nothing. From Whittard teas, to mustards offered by the Maille Mustard Sommelier to Carpo chocolates, you can find ways to avoid paying for very overpriced drinks there if you’re resourceful enough.
If you enjoy reading print publications, there are three free commuter newspapers, or magazines like Time Out, NME (for music lovers), bi-monthly Foodism and Stylist (lifestyle mag) that don’t cost you anything.
Pre-book a free slot at the Sky Garden, and you can have a bird’s eye view of London beneath you from above 34 storeys, that will nearly rival that from The Shard, which will cost you £26 a head, even if you book in advance.
Almost all museums in London are free, and in addition to the big, important ones like Tate and V&A, there are niche ones like the Ragged School Museum or the London Sewing Machine Museum that might pique your interest.
Companies like Free Tours by Foot London and Strawberry Tours offer walking tours for various interests, whether Jack the Ripper, Harry Potter, graffiti, foodie, culture or landmarks, where you only pay what you feel like paying at the end.
PHOTOGRAPHS: Kenneth Tan
You might spend lots of time at the flagship Hamleys store on Regent Street, which holds the Guinness Record for being the world’s oldest and largest toy store. But don’t miss out on this gem of an indie toyshop in Covent Garden Market.
Established in the 1880s to produce toy theatres or juvenile dramas, Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop now sells a wide range of traditional toys for children and adult collectors.
One of the store’s best sellers is a toy theatre known as the Jackson’s Pantomime Toy Theatre with Cinderella, which costs £15.95 (S$28.33). Pieces for the theatre are pushed out of the book and slotted together. The kit comes complete with characters, scenery and even a script for re-enacting the glass slipper fairy tale.
44 The Market, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8RF
One of the most successful film franchises London’s offered the world is surely the Harry Potter movie series. If you’re counting pennies, you can pose for a free souvenir photo at the 9 3/4 platform wall at King’s Cross underground station.
But you’ll regret your Muggle lifetime for flying 10,841km and not taking the 15-minute shuttle bus ride (£2.50 for a return ticket) from Watford Junction railway train station to get to the Warner Bros Studio Tour London.
Admission tickets cost a whole lot more: £35 per adult and £27 for children older than four years. There are no theme park rides but your heart will race as you walk through the Great Hall where tables of delectable sweets greet the Hogwart’s staff and students, or stroll down the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley with its curious shops peddling wands and Weasley brothers’ pranks.
The actors playing Harry, Ron and Hermione talk you through parts of the tour, unveiling behind-the-scenes secrets and iconic monsters, costumes and sets in filmed clips.
Kids can collect free Activity Passports from the information desk before entering the Tour – it features lots of engaging activities, which include stamps that can be collected at various locations, as well as a Golden Snitch hunt. They can also get free badges to make their visit even more unforgettable.
The famed Butterbeer can be enjoyed as a drink, or ice cream in the backlot cafe, in a waffle cone for £4.95 or in a souvenir sundae dish for £6.95.
Be tutored in the finer points of wand flicking, ogle at models of the Hogwarts castle, buy a video clip of yourself flying on a broomstick or visit the studio shop for a wide range of magical souvenirs. Spells or not, they’ve found plenty of ways make your money disappear.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR
Anything you buy here was designed and sewn in the very store by owner-founder Maria Castillo. Named after her six-year-old, the store features affordable, simple and stylish clothing. “[Josiah’s] been my inspiration to open the shop, so I can be self-employed and spend more time with him,” explained Maria. Prices range from £5 to £30.
596 Camden Lock Place, London NW1 8AF
Most of us know Fortnum & Mason as a high-end retailer of tea, chocolate and biscuits. The 309-year-old flagship store on Piccadilly is worth a visit to see the inside of the luxurious department store, to sample jams and biscuits for free, as well as sample wine cheaply before you buy.
Get a tasting card from the counter and top it up to any amount, say £2. Bring it to the sleek Enomatic machine and see what you want to try. Prices can start as low as 37p for a 25ml serving of wine. Pick a clean glass and follow the instructions to have your sampling portion dispensed.
181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER
In between getting your fill of a fraction of the 13 million items at the British Museum, you can sign up for one of eight family trails covering topics such as Creatures or Ancient Egypt. Each takes about 30-40min to complete and takes kids on a fascinating journey of exploration and discovery around the museum.
They will be required to search, look, pose and draw while discovering some amazing treasures and experiencing tales of human history from around the world. The free activity trails can be collected from the Families Desk in the Great Court on weekends.
Except for special collections, most of your visit will be free and highly educational. You can’t get more hands-on than touching some of these ancient exhibits, as guides station themselves to take out certain items each day between 11am and 4pm, and talk about them. You may be holding a 400-year-old coin or an axe head. The British Museum is open daily, 10am-5.30pm.
The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
You can easily splurge £80 per adult for a three-hour cruise down part of England’s longest river, with dinner and some wine thrown in. Or you could admire the iconic sights in London from a similar perspective, just by taking the MBNA Thames Clippers like Londoners do.
With an Oyster card, you won’t have to pay more than £5.45 for a single ride covering all zones, and can save the big difference on a really exceptional meal on land.
Hop on from St George Wharf Vauxhall as it takes you through the heart of London to North Greenwich and Woolwich, or west to Putney. Your ride leaves key London piers every 20 minutes to link you to most London attractions.
Kids can channel their inner captain with a river-based activity book that can be downloaded from the website. It includes puzzles, drawing, math and information on the vessels and those who work on them, and is a guide designed to complement the family’s journey by river.
Clipper House, Trinity Buoy Wharf, London E14 0JY