Over the summer, a number of book benches popped up around London. Their purpose was to demonstrate London’s literary culture and help you explore the city in a way you would never have thought of. There were fifty benches altogether, spread over four trails: The Riverside Trail, The City Trail, The Bloomsbury Trail and last but not least the Greenwich Trail.
My mum, sister and I spent two days travelling around London following the book bench trails, all set with snacks and drink and spent approximately £20 between us on both days. (Not including meeting my brother for a well-earned dinner afterwards).
We spent the first day following the City and Bloomsbury trails, starting at the Tower of London. Walking for four hours around London following tiny print outs of Google Maps was a great opportunity for us to discover little alcoves you would never come across walking around London as a tourist heading to the main attractions. We found numerous little hidden churches and gardens where we stopped for tea breaks whilst on this literary trail as well as stumbling across unique bookshops, antique shops and clothes stores.
One of the most fantastic things about studying in London is that all the time, free days out like this are happening all over the place. After the book benches, buses appeared around London to celebrate TFL’s the year of the bus, currently a large number of Paddington statues have emerged all across London, and whatever is next is sure to be great fun and not too expensive.
It is no secret that living in London isn’t cheap. My rent is double that of friends at other universities, I don’t have the heating on but instead walk around the flat in several jumpers every night, and the price of a pint is enough to turn any student sober. However, what London lacks in the way of economical living, it more than makes up for in the never ending cheap and free arts and culture destinations. While other students spend far too much money on a long train journey to the capital to rush all it has to offer into a day or two, we can wake up with nothing to do and within an hour be at one of its numerous museums, art galleries, theatres and concert halls for the cost of up to £3 for the tube fare.
London’s free venues are, in my opinion, what makes it a spectacular place to study for three years and many of my modules at Queen Mary try to incorporate this. One module focuses on London in the Eighteenth Century and requires you to take a walking tour of an Eighteenth Century route and then create a journal about what you have learnt, how the route is today, and the similarities and differences between now and the eighteenth century. As a student at Queen Mary, which is part of the University of London, we get free membership to Senate House Library (also known as the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984). As a QMUL English undergraduate, in first year we were able to go and watch performances of two plays we were studying at the Globe Theatre for free, and we were lucky enough to be given a lecture at the Globe and go on the stage. In fact, many modules encourage trips to art galleries, museums, and even coffee shops to soak up the culture and get the most out of our time living in London.
Away from the academic benefits of London, Queen Mary is in a wonderful location. It is a mere 15 minutes by tube into central London, 15 minutes to Shoreditch and we are surrounded by unique markets which are easy to walk to from campus. A great day out on a Sunday is to head to Colombia Road flower market, walk through Brick Lane market of course stopping at the biegel shop and at the many vintage stores to try and find a bargain, before finishing the trip at Spitalfields market.
Doing all these things for free is amazing but also sadly free trips are not always the case. Luckily for us there are apps which offer discount tickets to comedy clubs and theatre performances or, if you’re really keen you can queue up outside a theatre early in the morning to try and get £5 tickets to the best shows in London. Yes, having a night out is expensive but there are ways around that too. Most bars offer a happy hour, and at B@1, a regular haunt of my friends and I, there is an app which allows us to buy 2-4-1 cocktails to our hearts content. There is a roller disco in Vauxhall for the ridiculous cost of £3.50 on a Thursday night for students, the world famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club is £5 for students after 11pm and if you’re feeling a particularly cheap night out, Cheapskates near Tottenham Court Road always lives up to its name.
London is honestly the best place to be a student, there is nowhere else with a wider range of unbelievably cheap and free excursions. Sign up to alerts from companies like Time Out London for exclusive offers and The Londonist for everyday email updates of free and wacky things to do and soon the cost of London won’t seem so high once you start seeing all it has to offer for free.