London has reputation as one of the most expensive cities in Europe but many of the capital’s most popular attractions – including our world famous museums and galleries – are free and with some careful planning it’s possible to enjoy the city without spending vast sums.
Starting from Trafalgar Square gives you enjoy the National Gallery, including a daily guided tour, all at no cost (some special exhibitions and areas may be charged for) before moving round the corner to the National Portrait Gallery in St Martin’s Place.
Over the road is the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields where visitors are always welcome and a recently refurbished cafe serves a range of good value food.
A short walk from St Martin’s takes you to Great Russell Street where you’ll find the world famous British Museum, home of the Elgin Marbles and the treasures of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial.
When you’ve finished exploring the museum a ten minute bus trip will whisk you the heart of Oxford Street where you can spend the money you’ve saved all on a gift for someone special.
Escaping the Centre
If you’re looking for someplace a little quieter than Central London but boasting just as much history why not consider a trip to South London’s equally historic Greenwich?
Containing a World Heritage Site Greenwich is well served by public transport with buses, the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway all bringing visitors within yards to the Cutty Sark.
There’s also a suburban railway service which stops a little further away from the main tourist attractions.
Due to conservation work talking place on the ship there’s no access to the vessel at present but many items from the ship can be viewed in the free entry Cutty Sark Conservation Project Visitor Centre.
A short walk away is the Old Royal Naval College designed by Sir Christopher Wren. A Visitor Centre located in the in the Pepys Building is open to the public and visitors can also pay a trip to the Painted Galleries where Admiral Lord Nelson was brought to lie in state. Finally there’s the The Chapel of St Peter and St Paul. Although open to the public the chapel is an active place of worship with a regular Sunday service at 11am.
Across the road is the National Maritime Museum which comprises three distinct attractions – the Maritime Galleries, the Royal Observatory and the Queen’s House.
The galleries contain some stunning paintings of Britain’s naval past as well as naval-themed artefacts and displays. Short films are available to complement some sections and each section and collection are clearly labeled and set in context.
Near the main museum building is the Queen’s House which was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I (read a full history of the building here) and today contains a series of special exhibitions.
In front of the Queen’s House at the top of a reasonably steep hill stands the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian of the World – Longitude 0º – the centre of world time and the dividing line between the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth.
A seemingly ever-growing range of merchandise is available from the official shop to mark your trip to the the Meridian.
When you’ve exhausted the pleasures of the museum and sister buildings Greenwich offers a wide selection of food.
Traditional tea shops compete with modern restaurants and fast food retailers but for many the best way to round off a trip to Greenwich is plan ahead and take sandwiches to enjoy in Greenwich park or, for the very active, to take a trip through the Greenwich foot tunnel which provides a pedestrian link between Cutty Sark Gardens and Island Gardens, Tower Hamlets.
From the north side of the River Thames you’ll be able to gaze across at some of the wonderful sights you’ve seen before starting back home.
If you’re feeling pretty ‘walked out’ and are staying in Central London one of the best ways home is to take a river cruise. There are regular services from Greenwich Pier and the recent introduction of ‘real time’ departure information displayed on piers will enable you to plan your journey in advance.