how to spend the trendiest 24 hours in London on a budget

If you have a weekend to spend in London, it's simply not enough time to see everything. You could spend a lifetime in London and never see everything. There's always some event or a grand opening happening. However, if you focus your time to one specific area...say, the very "in" and artsy East and underrated South sides of London...you'll likely feel less spread out and can waste less time on the tube {though it is a very effective form of getting from A to B}. 

This post is my guide to help you find the best places to eat, the coolest experiences to have, and the most unique place to stay on a very basic budget. 


A LITTLE ABOUT LONDON costs

It's no secret that London is expensive. Luckily, like other big cities, it offers a lot of affordable and free ways to make the most of a visit if you're willing to be flexible and do your research ahead of time. The Savvy Backpacker estimates a day in London costs a budget traveler about USD $110. To put that into perspective, the cost of an average day for a budget traveler in Laos {including USD $10 for a private hostel room with shared bathroom} is less than USD $20. 

What I'm saying is, yes, budget travel is possible in London but visit knowing you will have to get creative and you will be spending some money. 

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WHERE TO STAY 

There is a long list of cool hotels in London, particularly to the East, that offer unique atmospheres and amenities. However, most come with massive price tags. Personally, the Qbic is at the top of my list. After my stay, I can truly say that it offers a unique experience in an ideal location. Don't even get me started on the creative initiatives the hotel has in place to be a more environmentally responsible place to stay. While it might seem like Qbic isn't the most budget choice, it's inarguably the coolest. It's an affordable option when looking at typical London accommodation costs, especially considering the free use of bicycles to explore the city and the massive buffet breakfast you get included in your stay. You can save your money on transport costs thanks to its prime location. 

You can read more about my stay at the Qbic here

If Qbic is a bit out of your price range, consider the ever-so-cool EastEnd Beds  located not far from the Qbic! 

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HOW TO GET AROUND 

With only a day in London, I'd say stick to walking as your main mode of transport so that you can take in all the views and allow yourself the freedom to stumble upon hidden gems-- controversial with tube advocates, I'm sure. Walking is also, obviously, FREE. Download Maps.Me or City Mapper apps on your phone so that you have an offline navigation system. 

If you are wanting to take the tube, consider purchasing an Oyster card to save yourself some hassle. Oyster cards can also be used on buses. 

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WHERE + WHAT TO EAT 

Brick Lane Market offers a diverse range of food at reasonable costs. For instance, three Argentine Empanadas for £5 {USD $6.46}. I had two vegetarian spring rolls and stir fry noodles for £2. Indian food, Vietnamese Pho, falafel, vegan and gluten-free options-- you will find something on the cheap at the market. Right next door to the indoor seating offered bear the bottom of the market is a basement with vintage clothing stalls. While the clothing is very much not budget, it is the rage with the kids these days, ya know? Meaning you'll be in the middle of the ultimate hipster scene: food stalls, vintage clothes, and classic vinyls. 

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Carb lovers can find paradise {sort of} at Beigel Bake Brick Lane Bakery, located at the top of Brick Lane. While the customer service is...well...non-existent...the bagels themselves are New York-style and extra cheap. A bagel with a heaping pile of cream cheese will set you back £1.40 and a bagel with chicken and mustard will only cost you £1.90. They will fill you up! I promise. It's perfect for a light {affordable} lunch. You won't look like an uncool tourist here, because this is very much a place the cool London locals go for their bagels.  They're known as the best bagels in London amongst locals.  

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Dinners out in London can be pricey, especially if you order a cocktail {don't order a cocktail, get a pint and save your pennies}. When meeting up with friends, I wanted to eat somewhere near the Qbic so that I could walk that was also tasty. The menu at Dishoom is made for groups to share plates. Four of us split the bill totaling £18 per person for 6 mains, 4 naan breads, and 6 alcoholic beverages. The atmosphere was fantastic and the details of the dining room were amazing. The food was good but I'll admit I've had better Indian cuisine {Summer Hill Indian in Palmy North is actually quite hard to beat}.

Note: There are multiple locations, I ate at Dishoom Shoreditch. 

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what to see + do

Columbia Road Flower Market is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Brick Lane Market. You can take in the smells of the market while observing all the people funneling themselves down the crowded street for plants. Live music is often found at the top of the road and we all know there is nothing more hipster than live acoustic covers of Coldplay songs.  

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If you enjoy colourful murals and patterned buildings, take advantage of the free Graffiti and Street Art Tour in Shoreditch and Brick Lane by Strawberry Tours. It's a great way to see all the latest building art in an area known for creative pieces and political posters. The tour shows you around the coolest graffiti and street art in the area and takes roughly two hours. 

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While not specifically in East London, Sky Garden is not more than a 15-minute walk away from Brick Lane and it CANNOT be missed. You'll need to book in advance online, but you'll gain access to some of the best FREE views of the city as well as lush gardens and a cafe. I'd suggest booking much farther in advance if you want to get those killer sunset shots. I missed the booking memo until the day before my visit, but managed to go on a freakishly sunny London day, nailing the midday views. Take as long as you like once you're up top but expect to spend about 30-40 minutes if you aren't buying anything at the restaurant or cafe. 

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What's more trendy than Modern Art? Sometimes it's edgy and political, other times it's emotional, but it is always a statement about the human experience. Honestly, I'm not a fan. I just can't get into it but to each their own. If it is your thing and you're more cultured than I am, walk on from the Sky Garden over London Bridge and through Borough Market {where there are killer vegetable samosas for £2} to the Tate Modern. The Tate Modern is just one of London's many free museums {read my post on free London museums here} but it's located near Sky Garden {approximately 15-20 minutes on foot}. 

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Let's recap

-Breakfast at the Qbic or your hostel: FREE

-Columbia Road Flower Market for live music, people watching, and flower envy: FREE

-Walking graffiti and street art tour: FREE

-Lunchtime bagel sandwich: < £2 OR Brick Lane Market food for < £10

-Sky Garden: FREE

-Tate Modern: FREE

-Dinner at Dishoom with friends: < or = £20

-Walking transport: FREE

-Nights sleep at hostel: average mixed-gender dorm room starting at £36

GRAND TOTAL: £66

A day in London on a budget is doable. To visit bigger attractions and eat at places like the Cereal Killer Cafe means spending more but I truly believe everyone can find ways to cut their travel costs if they're willing to look hard at options. By the end of the day, if you follow this loose itinerary, I feel confident in saying that you can leave the city having spent a very hip day out in one of the most expensive cities in the world without spending every dime you have. 


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