Top Ten FREE Things to do in London

My husband and I have traveled to London twice now and loved every second of our trips. The city offers an unbelievable list of sites all easily accessible through public transportation. If you haven’t heard this before, hear it from me, London is very expensive. The city is vibrant and full of life but most things come at a hefty price. While traveling, we try to spend little as possible and still see the cities. From Big Ben to the British Museum, this is our top ten list of FREE things to do while traveling in London.

Top 10 Free things to do in London

1) Big Ben, the London Eye, and of course the famous red telephone booths

You have to pay to go into Big Ben and the London Eye but, honestly, there is just as much to see outside. You get the true feeling of London standing on the street corner with Big Ben looming over you, taxi drivers honking at pedestrians, the London Eye off in the distance and the bells of Westminster Abbey ringing. Business men and women walk to and from their offices carrying their briefcases and coffee while an endless sea of people pour out of the Underground stations. Every street is lined with double decker buses in this busy area along with the famous red telephone booths. This area is the picture perfect London and the best part is you can just sit with your cup of tea or coffee and watch it all pass by, for FREE.

2) London Bridge

This may just be for my enjoyment but there is a sense of history and grime that you can’t get anywhere else other than walking up the London Bridge. Crossing the River Thames, the London Bridge is a great historical landmark and a perfect view of the also famous Tower Bridge. A short walk along the river you will then come across Shakespear’s Globe Theater and the Tate Museum of Modern Art.

3) Tate Museum of Modern Art

Where to even start with this museum…Well, here is the basics. Half of this museum is free. Certain exhibits rotate and you must pay a fee to see them. We only saw the free exhibits and let me tell you, it was enough to entertain the four of us. There isn’t anything else in the world as strange and intriguing as this museum. Where else can you see an entire room of hair and car bumpers? It is art people, modern art. Move on further in the exhibit and you may find yourself in a room of large potato sacks strategically placed, leaving it’s onlookers feeling like they just stepped into a strange SyFy movie. Oh, art…

4) Buckingham Palace and Gardens

You can’t travel to London without visiting Buckingham Palace. If you want a tour inside, good luck. The lines are long and you will pay a great fee. Instead, stand outside, watch the changing of the guards, view the fountain, and walk the beautiful gardens. We always travel in the Spring, therefore, the last time we visited a beautiful display of tulips lined the palace road. If you are lucky enough, a motorcade may pass you with an important diplomat or prime minister.

5) Piccadilly Circus

London’s version of Times Square located at the West End of the City. Shops of all types, the hustle and bustle of traffic and shoppers, old historic bookstores, Piccadilly Circus is a sight to see. You could spend an entire day lost in the madness of Piccadilly Circus.

6) Hyde Park

I LOVE Hyde Park. This beautiful park is nestled right in the center of one of the world’s largest cities. Acres of open fields, flowers, and ponds, this is an oasis away from the busy city. Hyde park has many paths to cross and meander at your leisure or to get to your future locations. We liked to walk through the park rather than on the busy streets where you are likely to walk into oncoming traffic or into one of the many bicyclists. Nestled in the park are cafes where you can get anything from a light snack to a gourmet meal. One of our favorite afternoons was spent in Hyde park with a pint watching the sun set.

7) Kensington Gardens

The Kensington Gardens are another beautiful escape from the busy city. Home to the Kensington Palace, the Peter Pan statue, and the breathtaking Albert Memorial, these gardens are a must see. There is even a ship playground for the young ones or the young at heart.

8) Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station

​I may be a bit biased on this one, I have a strong obsession with all things Harry Potter, but I know I am not alone at checking this off my bucket list. Personally, I never made it to the actual platform in Kings Cross…but I have been to Kings Cross and even caught a train there to head to our next destination, Paris. Though, arguably better, I have been to the platform at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London (a highly suggested splurge on expenditures when traveling in London). From what I am told, it is practically the same and the platform at Kings Cross now even has a Harry Potter shop near by. Thank you J.K. Rowling for making many kids (cough and adults) dreams of becoming a wizard come true.

9) Museum of London

This was the first museum we visited while in London. We were not disappointed. This museum has it all and at a great price of FREE. Learn about the great fire that burned down the city, admire period clothing, discover treasure found in the Thames River, admire jewels and armor of royalty and wealthy land owners. This museum is entertaining and not very crowded. We HIGHLY recommend giving them a visit.

10) British Museum

Probably one of the most famous museums, this place is massive. You could spend an entire day here and still not see it all. Explore several floors and wings of this museum ranging from egyptian mummies to Easter Island statues. Is there a down side to this vast, and of course free, museum you ask? Yes, the crowds can get hectic during busy times of the day. Get there early or before closing and hope that you beat the tour buses. If you can handle the crowds it is definitely worth seeing this museum.

We hope you enjoyed our list of Free activities/sites to see in London. Travel around the city is very easy and family friendly when taking the London Underground tube. We suggest downloading a map of the Underground onto your cellphone before traveling. There are of course many other things to do but as I said, it adds up quickly.

A few spots we splurged and paid for tickets were:

​1)Westminster Abbey

2)Harry Potter Studio Tours

3)The Tower of London

These were all great sights but costly. But, hey you are on vacation, right? We all can splurge a little bit 🙂

If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to leave a comment below! try

How My Husband and I Traveled to Norway At Little Cost

I may be part of the generation known to leave all possessions behind and backpack across the world, but this story is not your typical bohemian-Pinterest-inspiration of finding your “inner self.” Instead, this is the story of the average, middle-class couple taking their first international trip (in style) with the only expenditures of paying the cruise line.

Ten days of travel, two countries, 5 cities, first class airline tickets, two nights at a five-star hotel, an upgraded room on a cruise ship, and little to no worries, all at a measly $2,500. Yes, you read that correctly. Between the two of us, we spent a total of $2,500. That means, per person, per day we spent on average $125.

 

The best part is, I will tell you exactly how we pulled this trip off in a few easy steps.

**We are in no way financial advisors, this post is about our trip and how we planned it with little cost to us. This may not work for everyone but may work for a few. No, I am not being paid by these companies to advertise, we are just loyal customers 🙂 Use your discretion. Enjoy!**

Credit Cards

Your best friends when planning a vacation will become the credit card companies. No, we are not in massive amounts of debt. Our trips are payed off in full. Our secret? Sign up bonuses (cue the hushed oooh ahhh).

Most people fear credit card companies but the truth is, if you know how to spend your money correctly and pay off your balances in a timely manner, you can travel for free. Yes, FREE. (Stay tuned for a future post where I explain our trip across Europe at no cost.)

Okay, okay we get it. You booked the trip on credit cards. Well, no, not exactly. Here is what you need.

•The Chase Freedom Card

•The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

•The Hyatt Hotel Card

•The United Airways Card

Not so scary after all, huh? These four credit cards got us to London for our ultimate destination of a cruise across the beautiful southern coast of Norway, breathtaking.

Now you may be asking, “Won’t opening these credit cards hurt my credit score?” Honestly, not really, at least not like many fear. At first, they do a hard pull on your credit score. Not sure what a hard pull is? Credit Karma does a decent job explaining this to us all non-credit card-savvy people. This effects your credit score ever so slightly, but if you pay off your card in a timely manner everything should be okay.

Now here is the important part, apply for these cards one at a time. These types of trips where we pay little to no cost take lots and lots of planning and some time.

Now, I am going to break this down for you. At certain times, the credit card companies run these promotions where if you apply for their card, you get sign up bonuses. This is what we did:

The Chase Freedom Card​

​Spend $500 in the first 3 months of opening the card

Receive $150 bonus

This card is good for everyday purchases earning points in rotating categories

*if you sign up through this link, I do get bonus points.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Spend $4,000 in the first 3 months

Receive 50,000 sign up bonus points

Transfer the points to United Airlines

*if you sign up through this link, I do get bonus points.

The Hyatt Hotel Card

Spend $1,000 in the first 3 months

Receive 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world

The United Airlines Card

Spend $3,000 in the first 3 months

Receive 50,000 miles accredited towards flights

(Keep in mind, the credit card companies change their sign up bonuses all the time. Keep an eye out for better deals!)

You may be asking, “how do you spend that much money in the allotted time per card?” Well, if you do this correctly it is actually quite simple. Apply for each card separately over time. So, let’s say you start with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you have 3 months to spend $4,000. Now, that can be simple if you get savvy with your spending.

We paid off our homeowners insurance, car insurance, and trash pick up a year in advance. An added bonus, some places even offer a discount if you negotiate paying these fees up front for the whole year. If you are really fortunate, a few of you can pay your rent on a credit card, thus easily spending the $4,000 in the first 3 months. Then use the card for every day expenses; gas, groceries, coffee, eating out, etc. Get creative folks. We didn’t spend any extra on things we wouldn’t normally buy, we just paid them off early to get the bonus points or miles.

Once you meet the minimum spend for one card, and pay off the credit card, go ahead and apply for the next one. Soon enough, you will have all of the cards and bonuses ready to go to begin planning your trip!

Flights

For our first international trip, flights were a big deal to me. I wanted to feel comfortable if I was to sit in a cramped airplane for 6 plus hours over a large ocean. Little secret about me, I HATE flying.

For a few years prior to this adventure, we had the Chase Freedom card with a 20,000 point bonus and accrued more points with spending. The great part about the Chase cards is that the points transfer between  accounts and so we just added to the Freedom points with the Sapphire Preferred card.

After transferring the Chase Sapphire Preferred points into airline miles we had enough miles to travel with United Airlines. Of those miles, we used 57,500 miles/per person to travel first class to London, Heathrow. The remainder miles (30,000 per person) we flew economy back home, London, Heathrow to the U.S. Using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to pay the taxes on our reward flights, we were able to have trip insurance in case anything were to happen on our vacation. You can read more about that here.

 

An important part of this was availability of reward flights since we were using travel miles to pay for our tickets. We took our trip in the first week of May which has plenty of availability due to the fact that it is not peak season for travel, especially to Europe. Remember folks, traveling outside of peak season usually means cheaper trips!

Anyway, back to the airlines. If you have never been in first class, well business class, on an international flight, you are in for a real treat. The seats recline completely to a full lay down bed. You get a goody-bag upon entering the plane, a gourmet 5 course meal fit for a king with complimentary wine, beer, champagne, or mixed drinks, a Sunday bar for dessert, and complete breakfast before landing. I was so stuffed by the time all of the meals were over I did not want to move off of the plane.

Remember, we like to travel in style.

The only fees we paid were for the airline taxes to fly out of London, Heathrow back to the U.S. Not bad for an international flight which can easily cost up to thousands of dollars per person.

Hotel

The absolute best part about applying for the Hyatt Hotel Card is the two free nights anywhere in the world. I don’t know how many of you have traveled to England before, but London isn’t cheap.

With our two free nights, we booked the Andez Hyatt Hotel, a luxurious 5 star hotel in the city with the added bonus of a tube line and train station just around the corner. This boutique hotel is gorgeous and full of charm, built originally in 1884 for railway travelers. To give you an idea of how great a deal this was with the Hyatt card, an average night at this hotel would cost 255 pounds a night or roughly $313. That card alone saved us over $600 in hotel fees.

We bought reusable tube passes and traveled all over the city taking in the sights before our train would leave for the port several days later. The tube is family friendly, decently priced, and highly convenient. In fact, we used it for travel from the airport to the hotel. Click here to see more about the London tube visitor pass and how it could help on your travels. To find out more about places to see on a budget, or even free, in London stay tuned for a future post!

After spending two days in the city, we hopped on our train to meet our cruise line at the port. Trains are a great and cost effective way to travel across Europe. Paying in advance on non refundable tickets we got first class seats for something around $25, a great deal if you ask me. The cruise ship offered transfers for around $100 per person…thanks, but no thanks.

I mean just look at that picture of the happy rider traveling by train in first class.

Cruise

For this trip, we decided to take a cruise on Holland America to explore Norway. Being first time international travelers and not knowing any of the language, this is a great way to see sights but also have the comfort of your meals provided with navigation around a foreign country.

The cruise was, good. Unfortunately, off season cruising to Norway can have some rough seas when crossing the ocean and being our first cruising experience we soon discovered my husband’s lack of sea legs. He spent the majority of the days at sea in bed. Word of advice, see a doctor about getting the sea sickness patch before your trip!

For $1,200 a person, we got a free upgrade to a room with a port window, all of our meals provided, and of course travel to four ports; Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavenger, and EidFjord.

The cruise line was clean, friendly, and comfortable. The room was decent sized and easily accessible. Many events are planned all day, every day for those interested in those type of things but since my husband didn’t feel amazing we spent most of our time in the library. I know, nerds, but we enjoyed our time anyway.

The cruise was a total of 7 days. Honestly, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about our trip. Norway was beautiful and a cruise is a great way to see the cities since they are all along the coast, not to forget you travel through the breathtaking fjords to see some of the cities. To find out cheap and family friendly things to do in the cities, stay tuned for a future post on Norway!

A Few Words of Advice

•Take your time planning your trip. It pays off in the end, literally, to take it slow and apply for all of the right credit cards.

•Travel off season, there are more deals available and it is all around cheaper.

•The best way to get cash on international trips you ask- ATM, some banks even waive the withdrawal international fees.

•Travel smart. There are plenty of things to do in these cities that are free or cheap, do your research!

If you have any questions or advice of your own, we would love to hear from you, just comment below!