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London in 48 Hours (On the Cheap)

Queensway market
Photo taken by Mark Hillary / flickr.com.  Queensway market

Given that London is a city of extraordinary cultural and culinary diversity, those intent on visiting it will have to make peace with the fact that seeing everything is simply out of the question. Other than time, most visitors are also limited by the depth of their wallets, as London is certainly not a cheap place to be. In this article, we present a brief overview of the places every culture-minded traveller should visit and a few tips on how not let this city take too large a bite from your travel budget.

Freestate Coffee

Freestate coffee London
Photo taken by Freestate coffee photo.  Freestate coffee London

A cup of coffee is an excellent way to start your day in London and, luckily, there’s no shortage of that – Starbucks and Costa coffee shops are located on nearly every corner. If you’re not too big on long queues and steep prices, however, you’ll have to look for alternatives.

Freestate Coffee is located at Southampton Row 23 – just 2 minutes away from the Holborn underground station. The pricing here is fair: most drinks cost roughly the same as an espresso, which goes for £2,20. Most importantly, though, the coffee served in Freestate is far superior to that in most large-chain coffee shops.

The Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soanes House Museum London
Photo taken by Rory Hyde / wikimedia.org.  Sir John Soanes House Museum London

After coffee, we recommend you visit the house-museum of Sir John Soane, located in the Lincoln Inn Fields Park. Given that John Soane was not only an architect, but also a passionate rarity collector, the interior of his Neoclassical house is simply spectacular. Here you’ll find a great number of art works from different periods, which, coupled with the elaborate in-door architecture, create a truly unique atmosphere. Visiting the museum is free of charge.

London Silver Vaults

Silver vaults in London
Photo taken by Matt Brown / flickr.com.  Silver vaults in London

Here you will find the world’s largest collection of silver artefacts. This catacomb-like building is home to many small silverware shops. The prices here range from £5 to £500,000, although visiting this antique-, crockery-, and clock-filled building is worthwhile even if all you want is to just take a look around. The sellers will be glad to tell you about the subtleties of silver, and – if you’re good with words – might even show you their most interesting items.

Finding Places Serving Inexpensive Lunch

If you didn’t get lost among all those candlesticks and salad bowls, let’s go to lunch. London’s tastiest (and inexpensive) lunch can be had on the Leather Lane – this street is full of street food, so finding a snack to suit your taste should be no problem. A filling meal here is just £4-6.

Once you get tired of walking, we advise you head straight to Ye Olde Mirte – one of London’s oldest bars, located near the Hatton Garden. Although finding this bar might be a little tricky, its rich history and inexpensive, yet tasty food and beer will make it worth your while.

Cheap Tickets to Shows

Once you’re done eating, take the underground to Leicester Square. Here, on the periphery, you’ll find a number of kiosks that sell discounted last-minute tickets to evening shows, plays and music concerts. Although looking for cheap tickets is best done in the morning, sometimes you may also get lucky in the afternoon.

The National Gallery and the British Museum

London, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  London, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

And now, it’s time to visit the most famous tourist attractions. The spectacular collections at the National Gallery and the British Museum are known around the world. However, neither of these can be fully explored in just one day, which is made even worse by the fact that the latter closes at half past five (except on Fridays). Given that both of the museums can be visited free of charge, all you need to do is decide which one you prefer.

Dinner in Chinatown

Chinatown London
Photo taken by Travis Wise / flickr.com.  Chinatown London

Done with exploring the British Museum and the National Gallery? Hungry? Then let’s head straight to dinner. British steak, while tasty, might be a bit too heavy for dinner, making London’s Chinatown an excellent alternative. Go back towards Leicester Square and you should find it easily enough. Many little restaurants are located under the red lights here, and if you find it difficult to make a decision, you might want to try the Baozi Inn, dominated by chilli peppers and noodles, or the Canton, which offers authentic food at affordable prices.

The St. James’s Park

Old man feeding a squirrel in St James Park, London
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Old man feeding a squirrel in St James Park, London

If you’ve got lucky with tickets, you’re probably going to be off to a concert or show right after eating. If not, you might want to finish the day at the oldest royal St. James’s Park. Here you can rent a deckchair and rest your weary feet. If you like sunsets, you can watch the sun set on the Buckingham Palace from a bridge over the lake.

A Morning at a Museum

Visitors admire Natural History Museum
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  Visitors admire Natural History Museum

Why not start your morning at the Natural History Museum? Here you’ll find lots of stuffed animals, birds and bugs, and, of course, dinosaurs, which are bound to leave an impression on every visitor, regardless of age. Located nearby are the Science Museum and the V&A Museum. The latter has the world’s largest applied arts and design items collection. All three museums can be visited free of charge.

Lunch at the Queensway Market

Queensway market
Photo taken by Mark Hillary / flickr.com.  Queensway market

Walking round the museum probably got you hungry, so let’s look for lunch. Go to the Queensway Market, which can be reached by foot or the underground. Here you’ll find a wide selection of cheap and tasty food, although that’s not the only reason to visit it – located at the centre of the market you’ll also see the Psychic Mews, a Victorian street reconstruction with a real Gypsy carnival. The street got its name courtesy of all its esotericism and the high number of fortune-tellers, who will be glad to read your palm or tell your future by using Tarot cards. All for a small fee, of course.

After Lunch

Oxford circus
Photo taken by Michiel Jelijs / flickr.com.  Oxford circus

If you’ve come to London to shop, we recommend you head to the Oxford Circus underground station. Here you’ll find many brand stores and clothing shops. With a little effort, you may find some clothes and accessories at fantastic discounts.

If you don’t much care for shopping, go to Fitzrovia. Here you can go window-shopping or visit the Pollock’s Toy Museum, located on the Scala Street. The entrance fee is £6, although the Brothers Grimm-like atmosphere and the narrow, winding stairs make it worth it.

Dinner and British Humour

A nice dinner can be had at the Wild Game Co., located near the toy museum –  a burger and chips is less than £10, and all food here is always exceptionally fresh.

Finish your evening by going to the Cahoots cocktail bar, a Swing-style place in Oxford Circus, or the Top Secret Comedy Club. Entrance is between £0 and £8, performances are great, and a pint of beer is just £3. An excellent evening is guaranteed.

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