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Cheap and free things to do in London - and where to get cheap theatre tickets

Updated on November 17, 2020
Susan Hambidge profile image

Susan enjoys travel, art, writing, and natural products. She lives in Kent, just outside of London.

London is packed with all sorts of things to do and see. As with many capital cities, it is expensive to eat out and the entrance fees to attractions add up quickly. But there are things you can do to keep the cost of visiting London down.


Oyster Cards

London is a sprawling metropolis and there can be quite a distance between where you're staying and the places you want to visit. Travelling around is easy on the tube and bus system, but the fares are higher in London than most other cities in the world. The first thing to buy is an Oyster card, a plastic top-up card which you tap at the beginning and end of a journey and the amount of each journey is deducted from the credit stored on it. You can get one at tube stations or order one to be posted to you in the UK. They cost £5 but are worth it; each journey is discounted, with a maximum daily spend or 'capped spend' built in, and you can pass it on to someone else once you're done with it. £15 is the recommended credit needed for two days, and they can be used on the buses, tubes and Docklands Light Railway. Make sure to tap on the yellow pads each time you travel, if you only tap once at the beginning of your journey, you will be charged the daily capped rate even if you didn't go very far. You will see everyone else tapping in and out, so that should remind you.

If you have a contactless bank card, you can also tap in and out with one of these. It works in the same way as an Oyster card.

Buses in the capital no longer accept any cash, so you cannot pay this way.


Phone Apps can get you Great Discounts

There are some excellent apps for your smart phone that show discounts on restaurants and attractions, many of them are 2 for 1 which is a massive saving. There are lots of good apps out there, two which seem to work well are or, and most of these apps only require you to show the promotional code on your screen to the waitress or cashier; there is no need to print anything off. You can set these apps show you discounts for the immediate area you are in, so log in and see what eatery has a special offer on within a few yards of your current location, for example. You can get 50% off meals, buy-one-get-one-free deals on entrance fees to tourist attractions and other amazing bargains. Download one or two of these apps and make sure you log in before you choose your next activity. Locals and visitors all use them to make sure they get the most out if there money. Read the small print to make sure you understand any Ts and Cs as there are often days or times when the offer isn't valid.

Free Daily Newspapers in London

Every day you can pick up two newspapers that will amuse you and let you know what is going on in London. Sometimes there are also special offers or deals that you can use as well.

The Metro comes out in the morning and is found on the tube. Look out for the stands where you can pick one up as you enter, or often people just read them and leave them on the train seat for the next person to pick up.

The Standard comes out in the early evening and you will find people trying to hand you one on the streets, often near the tube stations. Take one, they are free, and again you will see news, events and suggestions of what to see in the capital.

These publications are not aimed at tourists, and the locals use them daily, but there is a lot of interesting stuff in them to read.

How to get Cheap Theatre Tickets in London

Theatre shows in London are some of the best in the world. You can get tickets at a discount when you buy them on the day of the performance. The theatres sell them off cheaper rather than have empty seats. The TKTS ticket booth in Leicester Square is a trusted place to go for these. It used to be called the 'half price ticket booth' but this has changed - possibly because not all the tickets are exactly half price. It's run by the Society of London Theatre and you can be confident the tickets here are genuine. You have to go in person, and you will probably have to queue for a while, but it is in a lively, fun part of London and the discounts are well worth it. Some people only ever buy their tickets here as it is such an affordable way to see the top shows.

There are often people selling cheap theatre tickets on the streets of London, but don't buy from them. Many of these people might be genuine, but as in any large city, there are some crooks who will sell you fake tickets and take off with your money.

The TKTS booth in Leicester Square
The TKTS booth in Leicester Square | Source

Eight Free Museums in London

Most of the national museums in London are free to enter, with donations gratefully received if you feel like helping fund the maintenance that's required to keep them open.

1 - The British Museum is free to enter and holds so many pieces of interest only a fraction of the items can be displayed at any one time.

2 - The Natural History Museum is a huge, free museum in a handsome building near South Kensington tube dedicated to plants, animal life, flora and fauna.

3 - The Science Museum is next door to the Natural History Museum so you can stop in both places at the same time.

4 - The Victoria and Albert Museum has one of the largest collections of decorative arts objects. It is close to the Natural History Museum and is free to enter.

5 - The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich exhibits all things to do with London and its maritime importance over the decades.

6 - For a huge collection of recent art go to the Tate Modern art gallery just across the Thames from St Paul's Cathedral.

7 - For traditional art through the ages the National Gallery can be found in Trafalgar Square

8 - The Imperial War Museum takes you through many wars, the Holocaust and Crimes against humanity.

As these London museums are all free, you can pop in and out as often as you want, and they are especially handy when the weather turns nasty. They all have cafes and museum shops as well.

Natural History Museum London



London parks are beautiful, and if you get some good weather, you can spend hours enjoying them. Kensington Gardens has some interesting statues to spot; you can people-watch, feed the ducks and sit down to a picnic. Green Park leads to Buckingham Palace, where you can peer through the gates for free.

Gates of Green Park

Singer in Covent Garden
Singer in Covent Garden

Street Performers in London

Walk along the South Bank and watch the street performers. Just along from the London Eye you'll find all kinds of entertainers showing off their talents. Some of them are not terribly good, but you can often spot some really great singers, acrobats and magicians who will keep you watching for ages. Covent Garden is another area where buskers of all kinds entertain the visitors for a few coins in a hat. They have some talented entertainers inside where the acoustics are incredible. You'll spot a crowd looking down from the balustrade so squeeze through and take a peep. When the weather is fine there will also be a few street performers outside Covent Garden too, and this is where you'll find acrobats, dancers and, of course, the occasional 'live statue'.

Eating Cheaply in London

There are lots of cheap sandwich chains where you can pick up meal deals - usually a sandwich or wrap, cold drink and a maybe a cookie or yogurt. Take one of these over to a park bench for a picnic. Or try some street food - Borough Market, near London Bridge tube station, is a cheap place to pick up some unusual things to eat. They have stalls cooking up all kinds of tasty dishes, as well as artisan bread, hand-made cheeses and a wide range of salads. You can eat it on the spot, or take it back to the river and find a seat with a view. Refer to one of the phone apps to look for 2 for 1 offers, especially during the week, many of the chains have deals on Monday to Thursday when there are fewer people eating out.

There are a lot of fast food outlets, like McDonalds, KFC and Subway which are cheap. And fish and chips meals are usually inexpensive.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Susan Hambidge


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