I love London like a big kid (that would be me again) loves cake. In my opinion, it’s probably the greatest city in the world. But let’s face it, this town ain’t for cheapskates. The cost of a family day out in central London, including travel, entertainment and food, could set you back £100 or more. However, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a whole weekend in the Big Smoke without busting your budget. I was invited to take part in Scottish Friendly’s No Spend Weekend challenge, to see how much I could save, compared to my usual outgoings.
As Babes about Town, we’re often busy exploring the best of London, and it helps that we get to review tons of stuff at no extra charge. I had pre-booked one outing (a Tate Modern exhibition), so it wasn’t entirely ‘no spend’. But thanks to a mix of luck and creativity, I managed to be a little kinder to my wallet!
Here’s some of what we got up to, with a few tips to inspire you to get more value out of a weekend in London.
5 Easy Ideas for a No Spend Weekend in London
See Animals at London Zoo for Free!
I’m a proper soccer mom and my eldest plays in the Camden and Regent’s Park League. Despite the wet and windy mornings, it’s a fantastic and sometimes nerve-wracking experience. The bonus of going to The Hub in Regent’s Park is that we’re right on the other side of London Zoo. On most days, you can see animals hanging out in their enclosures. We watched camels traipsing about and we were thrilled to see a tiger lounging on its perch. I couldn’t take a good close-up with my camera phone, but I saw him looking right at us. Walk further along and you can find anything from exotic birds and monkeys, to giraffes (my favourites)!
London Zoo is a top London attraction but a family ticket can be pricey. If you live locally and can go often, the best value way to enjoy the zoo is to buy an annual pass. But if you’re just visiting the area and don’t have much cash to splash, a sneaky peek from Regent’s Park is a pretty cool option. Take a packed lunch, see what zoo residents you can spot, then let your little monkeys loose in the park.
What it might cost: Family day trip to London Zoo from £75
Our No Spend Weekend: £1.50 bus ride to Regent’s Park
Make the Most of a Kid’s Birthday Party
Most parents agree our kids have better social lives than we do, although kids’ parties can be a teeth-grinding event. Luckily my kids are at the age when you can just drop and run. However, birthday parties can be a great excuse for free fun, goodies and even alcohol — perfect for a No Spend Weekend!
On the Saturday, one of Jed’s best mates had a football party with a coach. So Jed got a free football lesson (kerching!) while I enjoyed catching up with a few mums and dads. The best part, of course, was the munchies. On a typical weekend, the babes and I might spend a tenner or more on an afternoon tea treat. Here, we got big (I’m talking massive) slabs of yummy birthday cake for free. On top of this, the party host had ordered too many pizzas and she gave us an entire pizza box to take home. This saved me cooking dinner and even lunch the next day. Result!
What it might cost: Papa John’s medium pizza box from £10.99
Our No Spend Weekend: £0
Be a Tourist in Your Own City
One of the most exciting ways to enjoy London for (almost) free is to hit the streets and make like a tourist. The city has so many incredible sights to explore, from street art to landmark attractions. My happy place is the South Bank, especially at night. I can never get tired of seeing London and the Thames all lit up. En route to Tate Modern, we rode on the top of a double decker bus and got off at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Then we walked along Millennium Bridge, scoping out dazzling structures like The Shard, Tower Bridge and Oxo Tower.
If you want to enjoy London from on high, without queuing for a ride on the London Eye, the main bridges overlooking the river offer an excellent vantage point. We took loads of snaps and let the city views take our breath away. A fabulous evening out, for practically zero cost.
What it might cost: London sightseeing tours from £0 to £50+
Our No Spend Weekend: £1.50 bus ride to St Paul’s
School the Kids at a London Museum
I’d managed to nab tickets for the last weekend of the Soul of a Nation exhibition at Tate Modern. This was a broad retrospective of African American art in the era of Black Power and beyond. Although I had paid £15 for an adult ticket, it was FREE for under 12s. It was really important to me that my kids should see this exhibition. At first the 8-year-old was a bit stroppy about being dragged around a museum after a long day. So I used two age-old parenting tactics: competition and bribery.
I told the boys I’d be quizzing them afterwards and they could win a prize. It worked because soon they were absorbed in the show and Jed came up later to tell me how much fun he was having. When I quizzed them afterwards, I was delighted by how much they’d taken in. We talked about Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King and other revolutionaries. We also spoke about different artistic techniques, and how art creates windows that let you see the world, and yourself, differently. You can’t put a price on this type of education.
The Tate is just one of many London museums that is free to enter. Beyond their hot ticket shows, there is always loads to do for no spend at all. After the exhibition, we had a brilliant time playing on the brand new swings installation. Better than forking out for a standard indoor play space! Before we left, we caught a glimpse from outside of people doing Hip Hop Karaoke as part of the Soul of a Nation wrap-up party. Good times.
What it might cost: £15 (adult exhibition ticket)
Our No Spend Weekend cost: £15
Gather for a Home Cinema Screening
The Babe Papa created an amazing space in the basement of his HQ, Cole & Sons, with a projector and a white wall. So almost every weekend, we get to watch games and/or movies in our private underground cinema. The big match between Arsenal and Everton that Sunday was an ideal way to wind up our No Spend Weekend. We had a few fellow Gooners round to tune in and help shout our boys to victory. It was a wonderful atmosphere and we also enjoyed free food, courtesy of my man’s famous sausages aka Big Apple Hot Dogs.
If you’re movie buffs like we are, it’s worth investing in a projector and maybe a screen (or just a sheet or a wall) to create that cinematic experience at home. You’ll save yourself a fortune in cinema tickets and added extras. Alternatively, check out the cheap Saturday morning cinema tickets available for family screenings at multiple London cinema locations.
What it might cost: Family movie ticket from around £30
Our No Spend Weekend cost: £0
For more money saving tips, why not head over to Scottish Friendly’s website? I’ve been inspired to write a post about fun things to do in London with kids for free or cheap, so keep an eye on the blog. In the meantime, there are loads of free activities listed in my Halloween and Weekend Scoop guides. Happy saving!