London is the place to be if you’re a fan of culture and arts. Theatre, cinema, art galleries, museums, concerts, stand-up shows – you name it! It’s difficult to keep up with London’s vast cultural schedule, yet many students can’t take advantage of living in the capital of theatre, art, and fashion as the ticket prices are out of their budget. Having lived in London for almost four years, I was painfully aware of how many world-class shows I am missing out on, but where there’s a will there’s a way. I’ve learned some hacks that keep my cultural cravings satisfied and allow me to regularly visit memorable shows and unique exhibitions without sacrificing all my savings. There are lots of student discounts you can benefit from, so if you’re looking for ways to explore London’s cultural scene on a budget, keep on reading!
Imperial College Union societies
One of the biggest perks of being a university student is access to student societies. On top of academic, sports, and cultural societies, Imperial College Union has plenty of arts & entertainment societies (such as Musical Theatre, DramSoc, or Wind Band), and many of these organise fantastic shows and concerts. I love going to these events as they’re often conveniently located on campus, relatively cheap (usually for under £10) and it’s a great opportunity to see and support your fellow students’ talents.
Seat filling and rush hour
The first thing I want to mention is one of the cheapest ways to get tickets for various types of shows, but primarily theatre plays, musicals, comedy shows, and concerts. The idea behind seat filling is that you buy tickets that haven’t been sold by the venue so that you fill the empty seats. Although most of the shows need to be booked last minute – a few days or a week before – you will only be charged a small administrative fee (usually around £4-6, but can be up to £15 for more popular shows). You’ll usually not be able to choose your seat, but other than that, there are not many disadvantages. It’s also a great way to explore lesser-known venues and give new things a try! One of my favourite shows I went to as a seat filler was the Royal Albert Hall’s Classical Spectacular concert with impressive special effects and the screening of a James Bond film with a live orchestra. Interested? Google ‘seat filling London’ or have a read of the Guardian’s article on this topic.
For West End musicals, check out rush hour tickets (e.g., on TodayTix app) for around £25. You need to be quick for this one as once the tickets are released they can be gone in a matter of seconds, but there are plenty of all-time classics and biggest hits available, such as Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Heathers, Juliet or Six.
Under 25 schemes
Quite a few institutions have their own under 25 schemes that make you eligible for buying discounted tickets for shows and exhibitions if you’re under the age of 25. The Royal Opera House is a real gem – their Young ROH scheme gives young people an opportunity to see operas and ballets for £25 (if you book early, you can grab stalls tickets worth around £250 for about a tenth of the price). If you’ve never been to opera or have never enjoyed one, give it another chance at the Royal Opera House. The top-quality performers, riveting choreographies, fanciful costumes, and lavish sets transport you to a different world for a few hours. Similarly, English National Opera offers £15-35 tickets for people under 35 years old and even free entry if you’re under 21! Optional but recommended for an extra fancy feel: jump into a black-tie outfit and enjoy an elegant night out.
Young Barbican scheme gives you access to exhibitions and cinema tickets at Barbican Centre for only £5. If you’ve never been to Barbican, I highly recommend a visit to see the brutalist architecture and explore their versatile cultural space with art installations, a conservatory with exotic plants, film screenings, theatre shows, and more!
Off-peak cinema tickets
In addition to Barbican, many cinemas offer cheaper tickets outside peak hours. Check out Picturehouse, Curzon, BFI Southbank (including screenings during BFI Festival) and Institute of Contemporary Arts for cheap off-peak tickets. Whether you’re in the mood for an entertaining blockbuster or an art house film, you can see it on a big screen and not pay a fortune!
The last tip is for my fellow art and museum lovers! A yearly Art Fund membership for students is a bargain at £5 and grants you reduced entry to tens of exhibitions in London (and other parts of the UK), often at half price or better. If you’re looking for something close to campus, try the Victoria and Albert, Natural History, or Design Museum temporary exhibitions. Whether you’re into art, humanities, or science, there’s plenty to choose from. Check out the Student Art Pass here!
I hope you enjoyed these recommendations and have fun exploring the cultural side of London!