One thing about us lot at DesignMyNight? We love a bargain. Sure, you can find us wining and dining on any given day of the week, but you better believe that we know how to have a good time on a budget. Whether you're tightening those purse strings in the lead-up to Christmas, or looking to strech your funds with a jam-packed schedule of activities, cocktails and some of the best free things to do in London, we're revealing how to do it without breaking the bank. Read on for our favourite London date ideas, all coming in at under £45 between two.
God's Own Junkyard/Grant Museum of Zoology/Wellcome Collection: all free
2 beers at Wild Card Brewery: around £10
3 dishes at Market Halls on a Monday: £15
2 cocktails during happy hour at Marsha Soho: £15
This one's for the unusual date-doers out there, on a budget, hoping for a day of activity and sights. I'd kick things off in Walthamstow with a visit to God's Own Junkyard. It's a free celebration of neon on a huge vintage scale at a tucked-away warehouse, and perfect after a walk at the very pretty nearby wetlands. You're probably thirsty though, so grab a quick couple of beers at Wild Card Brewery, directly opposite, roughly £10 in total. You're not done yet, so I'd jump back on the Victoria Line and get off at Warren Street for the Grant Museum of Zoology. If you like weird bone collections and animal taxidermy, it's a freebie worth seeing in the city, and the Wellcome Collection is also only a 10-minute walk, another unique museum that looks at health and humanity.
Other than travel? You've spent £10ish, so I'd suggest jumping back on the tube at Euston and heading to Oxford Circus, from here you can walk over to Market Halls where dishes range from £7-15 (and only £5 on Mondays) where you can hunker down with tacos, bao and more. If you're ready to close things down with a final drink, walk on over to Marsha Soho in Kingly Court where £7.50 cocktails are available from 4-8pm. Look at you now, you're in love, you're well fed, hydrated, and definitely clued up on more animal osteology than necessary.
4 tacos at Barrio: £12
Social darts and beers at Flight Club for 2: £26
2 beers during happy hour at Simmons: £5
My go-to is a Friday in Soho. Whether you're on a first date and need some talking points or after somewhere fun to mix things up, Central London’s party district has got your back... and it doesn't have to be pricey either. To start, I’d fill up on lip-smacking £3 tacos at Barrio. You get two wraps per portion, so if both of you go for seconds, it works out at just £12. Bargain. For something free? Take in the art installations down Carnaby Street or stroll around charming little side roads to soak up the atmosphere.
Next, head to Flight Club which is only a 15-minute walk away. Activities are usually a good bet for a date, and you could make it interesting by getting the loser to pay for the next outing. Social darts is a pocket-friendly £8 per person for 60 minutes, but there are minimum group sizes after 4pm. Double date, perhaps? This leaves you with a budget for drinks, so a £5 lager is a safe choice. With a happy hour that offers £2.50 beers and 2 for £10 cocktails, Simmons is always an affordable choice for weird cocktails and quirky decor.
Coal Drops Yard, British Museum, House of MinaLima: free
2 half pints from Little Creatures: £6
Lunch for 2 at Roti King: £20
NQ64: £9 for 15 tokens
Happy hour drinks: £10
If we're talking affordable, I'll be avoiding TfL and keeping things within walking distance. Get ready to use those legs, baby. Starting off close to home, we'd head to Coal Drops Yard. In summer, there's a free open-air cinema, while winter sees curling and minigolf pop-ups, plus there are food markets and car boots on weekends throughout the year. Grab a couple of half pints from quirky brewery Babel Beerhouse before the 15-minute walk to Roti King in Euston, where authentic Malaysian food will satisfy any hunger cravings. With a choice of veggie, seafood and meaty roti canai clocking in at £7.95 or less, you can easily get a meal with drinks for less than £20.
Whether you're playing tourist or want to see some more of the city, our galleries and museums are a must. The British Museum isn't far from Euston, and offers free tickets if you book in advance. After an activity? Soho has some fabulous choices. Harry Potter fans like my husband and I can head to House of MinaLima for movie memorabilia, while all you big kids can make a beeline for NQ64. You'll find us starting off on the consoles (which are free to play), before making our way around the machines which cost 1-2 tokens each. With 15 tokens clocking in at only £9, you could spend hours without breaking the bank. Either finish with a couple of drinks here, or check out one of Soho's many happy hours (think 2-for-1 cocktails at Dirty Bones, or aperitivo hour at Swift).
2 tickets for Peckhamplex: £9.98
Dinner at Voodoo Rays: £17
Two pints at the Gowlett Arms: £10
To start things off, I’d head over to Peckhamplex to catch a flick. Amazingly, their prices haven’t gone up in an age, so you can still snap up tickets for only £4.99 a pop. So that we can mull the movie over, we’d then grab a table at Voodoo Rays for a bite to eat. This joint is perfect for those who fancy something a little different, as it flaunts 80s Miami-style interiors, with vibrant patterns, tropical plants and neon lights. It also whips up bargain bites, offering 12" pizzas from just £8.50. Afterwards, I’d drag my date across the neighbourhood over to The Gowlett Arms, one of my favourite pubs, for a couple of cheap and cheerful pints in cosy surrounds.
Entry to Barbican Conservatory: Free
2 cocktails at the Chocolate Cocktail Club: £19
2 combo meals at Gebeta Ethopian Kitchen: £16
Cocoa bean fiends and lovers of spice rejoice, my afternoon of romance is going to be right up your street. To begin, though - a totally free activity. If you haven’t already beheld the luscious canopies of The Barbican Conservatory, then you’re kinda slacking. But, even if you have, it’s well worth a revisit as a wholesome way to woo your date with an outdoorsy vibe, minus the threat of any British weather changes. From leading them by the hand through all the greenery to viewing it from above on upper levels, there’s plenty of opportunity for a cute Instagram pic. Remember to set a reminder for ticket released on Thursday at 10am the week before you want to go; these no-fee babies go fast.
Then, it’s just a walk over to Gebeta Ethiopian Kitchen (that’s right, there’s no in-between destination travel costs here either), where an affordable date restaurant awaits. Whether you’re plant-based or a total carnivore, the combo meals here are maximum of £8 each – think yellow split peas stewed in a traditional mix of turmeric, garlic and ginger, alongside enjera topped with mildly spiced chicken. Up next? Farringdon’s The Chocolate Cocktail Club. Your two £9.50 tickets get you a table booking in the intimate space and include a drink on arrival. Choose between moreish muddles like the Chocotini or Strawberry Dreams; they make the most indulgent desserts after your mains earlier.
4 cocktails at Swift Shoreditch: £24
Ping pong and nachos at Bounce: £20
When it comes to date night, Shoreditch is always a great shout. There’s an impressive slew of beaut boozers on Great Eastern Street. My top pick? Swift Shoreditch is the perfect place to cuddle up, thanks to its sleek bar counter and ambient lighting. First up, we’d get £6 cocktails on their aperitivo menu, which is available all day until 7pm. I’d recommend the Solstice – a mix of Martini, blood orange vermouth, passionfruit and a hint of prosecco. Two creative concoctions each come in at a budget-friendly £24. Not bad for London.
Now if you’re anything like me, getting competitive with your other half makes for a good time and a tonne of teasing. This is why strolling over to Bounce is a real winner in my books. For £6 per person, you and your partner can smash balls about for 55 glorious minutes. Not a big fan of table tennis? Have a go at beer pong or shuffleboard for just £5 a pop. After a few games (where I’d win, of course), it probably comes as no surprise that we would be a tad peckish. Luckily the venue has cheap sharing plates like £8 nachos. Who wouldn’t for a little ooey gooey nibble before bouncing off?
Minigolf at Montgomery Square: free
Fairgame entry for 2: £26
Badiani Gelato for 2: approx £8
I’m always after a bargain. I would take advantage of the capital’s finest freebies. To start the day, head to Montgomery Square in Canary Wharf to play a few rounds of mini golf (the location changes every year, so keep an eye out for updates online), where I would showcase my finest Happy Gilmore skills.
We'd then venture around the corner to Fairgame, a quirky arcade-style venue for a few more rounds of fun. Here, £13 each gets you unlimited access to all of the arcade games for 75 minutes. Think whack-a-mole-type drills, Skee-Ball, or space-themed missions. After working up a sweat, it's a cool down at Badiani Gelato, which is a 5-minute walk down the road. This hotspot is all about serving up authentic Italian sweet treats; their signature Pinguinos (roughly £4 each), are served on a stick with a Venezuelan dark chocolate coating for that added crunch.