LONDON ON A BUDGET
For the price of a rail ticket you could have a cheap day in London if you take a packed lunch. The biggest and best museums are all free. If you want to wander about, there are plenty of walks. Take a camera; London is almost as photogenic as you.
If you like art there’s the National Gallery(international collections up to the 19th century and early modern period), the Tate Gallery (British painting) and Tate Modern (modern international collections).
The British Museum has a huge collection of artefacts from every continent and every age, including important Egyptian, Persian and Classical (Greek and Roman) collections, and galleries devoted to Africa, India, the Far East, especially China and Japan, and South East Asia. My favourites are the Egyptian statues – those gods must be furious ending up in a museum. I also like the Benin bronzes and the statue from Easter Island (why does he look so pleased?).
In South Kensington there is a group of three museums, the Science, the Natural History and the Victoria and Albert.
When I was small I loved the Natural History Museum for its dinosaurs, huge collection of insects and butterflies, and the vast plaster cast of a blue whale, suspended from a ceiling in one of the great exhibition halls.
The Science Museum was also a favourite, with lots of working exhibits that you could play with, and an enormous pendulum that moved of its own power, demonstrating the rotation of the earth.
Now that I’m supposed to be grown up, I love the Victoria and Albert (the ‘V & A’), the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. It has beautiful objects from around the world: Persian carpets, Chinese and Japanese ceramics, metalwork, glass, fashion, jewellery, textiles and books and more. The building itself is also a jewel of high Victorian architecture, with a lovely quadrangle in the middle.
All of these museums have family events and activities. It is well worth planning your visit by checking out their websites. LanguageUK staff are happy to help you with that.
On a fine day, walking around the centre of London is a delight (we’ll pass over what it’s like in the pouring rain…). The West End is walkable in a couple of hours, and there is always something going on: street artists in Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, pageantry in The Mall (the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, for instance). Last time I was there the Queen went past in a carriage. She had just opened Parliament. She waved at me. I didn’t know she knows me.
There are also parks and gardens in the West End where you can have a rest. St James’s Park near Buckingham Palace is lovely, especially in spring, when the flowers are out, and in late autumn.
A good walk is the South Bank of the Thames. You can go from Big Ben all the way down to Tower Bridge, taking in the London Eye, The National Theatre, the Festival Hall (where you can often find free performances in progress) and other public buildings where you can sit and chill out.
You’ll also see St Paul’s Cathedral and walk past Tate Britain and the Globe Theatre. The Globe is a reconstruction of the original theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. If you have £5 you can join the standing audience and watch one of his plays (although these performances are often booked up). The walk also gives you a view of The Tower of London.
If you are interested in modern architecture, you could also venture into The City of London, and see various extraordinary buildings – with extraordinary names. There’s the The Gherkin, The Cheesegrater and Norman Foster’s revolutionary Lloyds Building, not to mention The Shard, the latest addition to London’s skyline and the tallest building in Europe.
I’ve put some helpful links here, because that’s the kind of person I am. We would love to hear your comments about cheap days out in London!