jetsetter

See the sights of London for less

Aug. 3, 2012 at 10:28 AM ET

London is renowned for being one of the world’s most expensive cities, but there are many fantastic attractions that won’t cost you a penny. Kate Maxwell, editor-in-chief of Jetsetter.com, shared her favorites on the TODAY this morning.

Markets

Spending time at some of London’s markets — some of which have been trading for over a hundred years — is a great way to get up close and personal with the locals. Food markets around the capital have blossomed in recent years, selling local, seasonal and artisanal products. Look out for the free samples!

  • Borough Market, in Southwark, on the South Bank of the Thames, is open every day during the Olympics. Don’t miss Mrs Kings Pork Pies, hand-made in the north of England from a 159-year-old family recipe, Greedy Goat for ice cream made from pedigree goat milk, and Neal’s Yard Dairy, which sources from 70 cheesemakers all over the UK and Ireland and ages them in its maturing rooms under the brick railway arches of Bermondsey, close by. 
  • Maltby Street, in Bermondsey,is a lesser-known alternative to Borough and the most recentaddition to London’s market scene. Open Saturdays 9 a.m. -  2 p.m., it has stalls tucked under railway arches. My picks: custard doughnuts and eccles cakes from St John Bakery, Polish sausage from Topolski, Alpine cheese from Mons and Monmouth Coffee Company, which is often credited to revolutionizing London’s coffee scene, for flat whites. 
  • In East London, not far from the Olympic stadium, Broadway Marketis one of the city’s foremost hipster hangouts. The narrow street, which has hosted a market since the 1890s and has just been rebuilt, is lined with stalls on Saturdays, selling freshly shucked oysters, multiple types of olives, hand-filtered coffee and much more to a super trendy, creative crew. I always get a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, and I have a pint of shandy (half-lemonade, half-lager) at the Cat & Mutton pub, which has been serving since the 1600s, afterwards.

Museums

Incredibly, most museums in London do not charge entry, although you will have to pay for special exhibitions — and there are some fantastic ones on over the summer. My museum musts include:

  • TheBritish Museum, which hasan extraordinary collection of historical objects from around the world, including Ancient Greece, Anglo Saxon England, Imperial China and much more. I used to be fascinated by the Egyptian Mummies as a child, and the museum’s most famous exhibit, the Rosetta Stone, which is inscribed with a decree in three languages: Ancient Egyptian, Demotic, and Ancient Greek, and has been on display since 1802.
  • The Natural History Museum, in South Kensington, is THE place to take the kids, particularly dinosaur-obsessed ones — it’s a big hit with my 8-year-old nephew. There are hundreds of specimens on display, including life-size skeletons and four moving, animatronic dinosaurs — don’t miss the terrifying T-Rex with 15cm teeth. 
  • Tate Modern on the buzzing South Bank of the Thames is currently hosting a Damien Hirst retrospective, which includes the bad boy British artist’s shark in formaldehyde, enough spot paintings to send you dotty, and a room of live butterflies (admission 14 GBP). The museum has the biggest collection of modern art in the country — I love Matisse’s The Snail, and the Rothko room. Tate Britain, meanwhile, is a boat ride away in Millbank, and exhibits British art from 1500 to the present day: Turner, Whistler, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud.  
  • Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington is the UK’s largest art and design museum, with wonderful fashion, jewelry (my favorite bit), glass, ceramics, architecture and more from different periods in history — Renaissance, Rococo, Art Deco and much more — from all over the globe. This summer it’s showing "Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950," a collection of dresses worn by royals and celebrities — don’t miss Princess Diana’s Elvis Gown by Catherine Walker and look out for designs by Kate Middleton favorites Alexander McQueen and Jenny Packham — if you’re inspired, her boutique is just down the road.  

Parks

Spending time in London’s patchwork of parks and green spaces is one of the highlights of a visit to the city. Pack a picnic and pray for good weather. The parks will also be broadcasting Olympics events during the Games, although you’ll have to pay for a ticket.

  • Kensington Gardensis one of eight Royal Parks and one of the most beautiful, with formal avenues of trees, ornamental flowerbeds, the Peter Pan-themed Diana Memorial Playground, created in honor of the late princess, and the Serpentine Gallery, which features a new architect-designed pavilion every summer (Herzog and de Meuron designed this year’s). Make sure you check out Kate and William’s new gaff, Kensington Palace, which recently opened to the public.
  • Richmond Parkis the largest Royal Park, at 2,500 acres — three times bigger than Central Park — and a national nature reserve. Among the park’s attractions are 650 free roaming deer; 144 species of bird, including woodpeckers, kestrels, owls and numerous waterfowl; bats; and 1,000 species of beetle. There are historic oaks in the wooded areas, ponds, ornamental gardens (don’t miss Isabella Plantation), hills and grassland. It’s a tube ride from the center of London: take the Richmond-bound District Line and get off at the very last stop.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images /
From Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square, the venerable old town oozes history and Dickens.
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