London – when we think about this extraordinary city, restaurants, parties, raves, events and rooftop bars come to mind. However, for London students, high prices of rent, transport and bills can impend some of the fun. In fact for students, dinner out in London is probably often a meal deal in the park and a big night out can take weeks to repay. But it doesn’t have to be this way. So, here are some of the best free (or incredibly cheap) things to do in London for students.
Where: Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London WC2N 5DN
Nearest tube station: Charing Cross
For those who sleep, breathe, eat art, there isn’t a place more magical than the National Gallery. Situated in Trafalgar Square, this building is alive and thriving since 1824. It hosts a collection of over 2,300 paintings from the mid-13th century to the 20th.
Names like Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, John Constable, Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Monet and Turner are featured in this museum. It is entirely free, every day of the week and every day of the year- Although you have to pay for some exhibitions. The Gallery is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm (except for Fridays when the closing time is 9 pm.)
2. Greenwich Park
Where: Greenwich Park, London SE10 8QY
Nearest station: Maze Hill
This extraordinary park is one of the best spots for a date in London. Greenwich Park is one of the largest green spaces in London, covering more than 74 acres. If you’re willing to take a hike and reach the top, you will enjoy one of the best views in London- no expensive cocktails required. In front of you, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf will provide an excellent photo for your Instagram feed, especially at sunset! Prepare a couple of sandwiches, bring with you some chips and some drinks, lay down a blanket and enjoy a picnic with a view. There are no gates, no opening nor closing hours either.
3. Hire a Santander Bike
Dotted around London are Santander bikes, which allow you to explore the entire capital on wheels! Hiring one is super easy. All you need to do is pay £2 and make sure the bike is returned within 24 hours. Once hired, you can cruise around the city, whether that be alone or with friends. Go for a ride along the Thames in the dawn or through Oxford Circus in the dusk- it’s up to you.
Where: Bankside, London, SE1 9TG
Nearest tube station: Waterloo
Talking to art lovers again, you can’t miss the Tate. Consisting of four art museums, this iconic building is situated in one of the most beautiful London South Bank. It was founded in 1897 and, despite not being a Government Institution, its main sponsor is the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It hosts the United Kingdom’s national collection of British art and international and contemporary art.
As you might see from its Facebook page, this museum lived through some rough patches in history, including both World Wars, where it had to close for five consecutive years and move all its art to underground Piccadilly for safekeeping.
Names like Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali’ and Lucio Fontana are featured in the museum – a paradise for modern art lovers, especially because it is free. Just like the National Gallery, here as well you can find a cosy café where you can enjoy a drink.
Hosting a range of exciting events, games and restaurants is BOXPARK, located in Shoreditch, Wembley and Croydon. If you fancy virtual reality experiences, glow in the dark ping pong, shuffleboard, foosball and maybe even axe throwing, then BOXPARK has got you covered on all bases.
Fancy something a bit more low-key? In the food court, you’ll find tons of independent stalls serving anything, and everything – from Greek and American food to vegan Thai and Spanish inspired tacos, all at a great price. Their motto of ‘Eat, Drink, Play’ is perfect for all students, and definitely worth exploring (once we’re allowed to, of course).
6. Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park
Where: London Borough of Camden
Nearest tube station: Camden Town
Here is another one of our favourite picnic spots. In fact, the view from Primrose Hill is hard to beat. Here you can enjoy a beautiful view of London on the platform provided with benches and chairs for your own comfort. Also, Literature nerds like me can enjoy a quote by William Blake engraved in stone: ‘I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill’.
What’s more, Primrose Hill is near the famous Camden Market and Camden Canal. In fact, it’s a great place to spend New Year’s Eve in London on a budget.
Where: Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG
Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road
Displaying more than 80,000 objects, the British Museum is one, if not the most famous museum in London. Best of all, it’s completely free and allows you to travel through time. You can go from the Egyptian mummies, through Samurai armours, Anglo-Saxon burial treasures to the Rosetta Stone. Here is displayed even the famous Standard of Ur which we always see in history textbooks. You can also book free tours.
Fun fact: if you are interested in looking at history through the eyes of your own religious beliefs, you can book a tour with a guide that will walk you through objects relevant to your religion’s history (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, etc).
Where: 1 SKY GARDEN WALK, London EC3M 8AF
Nearest tube station: Bank
London has some fantastic rooftop bars. But they are expensive, aren’t they? Between getting there, ordering drinks that are £15 each, you will spend a fortune. And sometimes, quite frankly, the view isn’t even that great. What if you can get on one of the tallest buildings in London, right in the heart of the city, for free? It sounds like fantasy, but it is very real.
The Sky Garden, situated in a skyscraper that Londoners like to call Walkie Talkie for its shape, is one of the highest points where you can see London from. Completely free, you have to book in advance because the available slots are limited. Great spot for your Instagram pictures, under these pink lights you will look wonderful and your DMs will be flooded with requests – they all will want to know where you are. It is usually open from 7 am to 1 am, except for weekends when it closes around 12 am. But hey, the night is young and after a little bit of sky gardening, you can always enjoy a local nightclub with no entrance fee.
9. Portobello Road
Where: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Nearest tube station: Notting Hill Gate
If you had a crush on Hugh Grant since your teenage years and cannot be more obsessed with him, you cannot miss Portobello Road. Setting for the renowned film Notting Hill, it is one of the most famous streets in London. With its colourful houses, quirky shops and interesting spots, it cannot be missed. Pictures are mandatory. Once again, for Literature nerds, George Orwell, author of 1984, lived here. Portobello Road hosts one of the most famous markets in London, the Portobello Market, where you can find antiques and objects from all over the world, but also fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.
You don’t need to spend money though; you can also enjoy the view and snap a couple of pictures for your friends at home. Hurry up though … shops close at 6 pm, and on Sundays sometimes they don’t open. If you want the full Notting Hill effect, visit on a rainy day – you will have plenty anyway. Don’t forget to snap a picture with the Tube Station sign that says Notting Hill, how are you supposed to brag about meeting Hugh Grant with your friends otherwise?! (Totally not true, and totally will not happen, but they don’t know that).
10. Eat Out at these cheap places
London is often seen as the bread and butter of fine dining, but as a student that is rarely an option; it is not hard to find great places to eat out for an incredible price. If you fancy a great selection of authentic pizzas, then head on over to 50 Kalò di Circo Salvo with prices starting at just £6.50 and cocktails from £7.95. Or how about traditional Chinese street food? Just like the name suggests, Bao London offers fresh bao buns with various fillings for just £5 each! Whichever feast you fancy, the capital does not disappoint with its choice of affordable restaurants – make sure to keep an eye out for those hidden gems.
Where: 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL
Nearest tube station: London Bridge
If you want to feel like you’re browsing through an exotic market on the other side of the world, you can’t miss the chance to visit Borough Market. Situated under a maze of Victorian railway arches, it is one of the biggest and most prolific markets in London. Are you a food-lover? Do you call yourself a food-lover and food expert but just love eating? Borough Market has everything you need – from grab and go anything (breakfast, lunch AND dinner) to little stands trying to sell their food, keep an eye on free samples. After all, there is nothing better than free food. What’s more, the entrance is completely free, and it is open from Monday to Saturday.
12. East London street art
Nearest station: Shoreditch
Street art is prolific in London, especially in the East, and especially in Shoreditch. It’s one of the quirkiest and most hipster places in London, you can enjoy lots of street art in this area.
Shoreditch is famous for its nightlife and its hipster personality and you will not be disappointed. Looking like it’s wearing a giant beanie and going around by skateboard, Shoreditch is filled with young creatives and trendsetters – fashion designers and writers especially like to inhabit this area. Don’t be shy and give it a visit, it is a judgemental free zone – it does not matter if you’re not on trend or if you’re not wearing the latest Gucci collection, they will be busy making this place incredible, avant-garde and unique anyway.
13. Check Out Thrift Stores
Oxford Street is brimming with new fashion trends and famous stores, but can often be extremely crowded and quite expensive. So, especially in times like these, it’s more important than ever to support small businesses, and so thrift stores are the way to shop. With many independent stores such as Beyond Retro, East End Thrift Store and Traid Shepherd’s Bush selling vintage fashion for great prices, you’ll find everything you’re looking for, plus more! These shops are dotted all around London, so make sure to check out your trendy local store for a selection of authentic attire.