London under a fiver: my favourite things to do in London for next to nothing

I’ve recently returned home to Australia having lived in London for a little while. London’s an awesome place and there’s so much to do.

I often get asked for recommendations of things to do by friends or family who are visiting. London is a hugely diverse place and you can truly make it what you want it, but having lived over there for little while I found some things that aren’t always on the tourist trail but absolutely worthwhile. Here are some of my favourites that are either completely free or really cheap that I recommend when people ask:

The British Museum

One of my absolute favourite places in London. The UK is great because many galleries and museums are free, and the British Museum in Holborn is the very best of them. The collection is massive and jaw-droppingly amazing – there’s no way you’ll get around it in one visit. The must-sees though are the Egyptian collection (Rosetta Stone), Assyrian Collection (bad guys from the movie 300), Ancient Greece collection (including Acropolis statues) and the Saxon exhibit.

Just as interesting as the artefacts themselves are the stories behind them – it’s worth finding out about the how the collection was protected during the blitz, the ongoing tension with Greece over the Acropolis statues and the extent of the collection that is stored and rotated in and out of display.

The Walkie Talkie Skygarden

Yeah the London Eye is great and all, but it’s also the domain of tour groups, long queues and high prices (especially given the Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower is under scaffolding at the moment). Instead head over to the other side of town and go up to the top of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building at 20 Fenchurch Street. It’s free but you do have to book yourself a time slot so they can manage the foot traffic.

While you might not get the same view of Westminster, I’d argue that you’re in just as interesting a part of town in the original City of London – you get a great view of the Tower, Southbank, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s. The other thing the Skygarden has over the Eye is that you can sit down at the bar and enjoy a drink overlooking it all. Provided you can plan ahead a little, a visit is absolutely worthwhile.

Fun fact: apparently they had to replace the original windows on the concave exterior of the building as the reflective glass was focusing the sunlight onto the street below and melting the road and parked cars.

Hire a ‘Boris Bike’ and go for a ride in Hyde Park.

London has some great parks and Hyde Park is my pick of the bunch. Home to Kensington Palace, the Serpentine, Speaker’s Corner and loads of monuments there’s quite a bit to do and plenty of people around. Hyde Park is absolutely worth exploring, and we found the best way to see it all was by hiring one of London’s ubiquitous TfL Santander cycles, or ‘Boris Bikes’ as they’re known.

There are bike stations all around the park, especially near the gates. It’ll cost you £2 to get a code to access a bike and ride for 30mins, then £2 for every 30 minutes you ride after that. In the park itself there’s a few pedestrian-only paths, but you can access most spots and it’s a cruisey way to cover the ground and spend an afternoon.

St. Dunstan-in-the-East

Not far from the Walkie Talkie in the City of London is St. Dunstan-in-the-East, a classic church that has been converted into a public garden space. The church itself is hundreds of years old, and the current building was designed by Christopher Wren who has his fingerprints all over many iconic buildings in London, including St Paul’s, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace. The church itself was badly damaged in the bombing blitz of WWII and, instead of rebuilding the church, the ruins were turned into a public garden.

The result is a uniquely atmospheric pocket of the city, with vines and greenery overtaking the church walls and ornate glassless windows. You can sit on park benches or on the lawn that are within the former nave, or walk around the old church yard and take in the unique gardens.

A pint of Pride at The Lamb & Flag

The pub culture in London is absolutely brilliant, and you absolutely should drop in for a pint of ale while in the city. Loads of pubs across the town claim to be the oldest etc., and The Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden is a genuine classic. Apparently the pub was a regular of Charles Dickens and was the home of bareknuckle boxing back in the day, but for me its central Covent Garden location, unique laneway setting and original style interior made it my favourite watering hole while out and about with visitors. During peak time you’ll likely have to hang about outside, but it’s absolutely worth looking around the whole inside, too.

People sometimes say to avoid ‘chain pubs’, which are owned by large organisations and seen to be run as cookie-cutter enterprises (Wetherspoon’s, Nicholson’s, Greene King etc). Independent pubs or smaller boutique chains often are more unique and intimate, but The Lamb & Flag is an example of a traditional classic pub that certainly retains its own character despite being a Fuller’s owned venue.

Another thing to mention is the style of beer. Traditional ales vary from region to region much more than the beers tend to do in Australia, where national distribution is more of a thing. ‘London Pride’ is the ubiquitous local ale in London and worth a try. If you’re not sure and don’t want to ask, the way to spot the different types of beer is the location of the taps at the bar. The big tap handles that stand up at bar level are for the uncarbonated traditional English ales, where the bartender will need to ‘pull a pint’ by pumping the handle back and forward to pour the beer. By contrast, carbonated ‘normal’ beers (at least to me in Australia) come out of the higher taps at eye level, where the carbonation of the beer pushes the liquid to run up from the keg, through the lines and out of the tap. The feeling of refreshment is very different between the styles of beer but equally great once you get used to it.



Apple Stores and Aha moments

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were in Glasgow in the middle of a road trip around the UK. Amelia needed a new phone cover (exciting, right?) so we went into the Apple Store in Glasgow to see what they had.

Now I don’t intend this to be another instalment in the long line of ‘How amazing are Apple!?!’ pieces, but for the first time I actually sat back and observed how slick the whole experience was. Here’s how it went:

  1. Concierge guy links us up to an assistant in the accessories area.
  2. The assistant shows Amelia the options. She picks one from the display models.
  3. The assistant orders a case from the stock room via the ‘iPhone/ordering device thingy’ all the staff in Apple Stores have.
  4. While the new case comes from the stock room, the assistant sticks around, gives us a few dinner recommendations and processes our payment on the spot.
  5. The brand new case is delivered by a second assistant, and the original assistant puts it on Amelia’s phone.
  6. As we walk out the door the receipt is emailed to us, opening up CRM/e-mail sign-up opportunities for Apple.

It’s not new in Apple Stores and it’s something I’ve experienced before, but what struck me this time was the whole operation – quite literally – revolved around the customer.

It’s very different to the typical shopper experience where you wait for an assistant, walk across the store to the registers, wait in line to pay someone and then be sent on your way. To me that all seems to suit the retailer more than it does the customer.

Apple gets the customer experience so right. When you think that this is for a phone case and not a new Mac or iPad (still exorbitantly expensive for what it was, mind) it doesn’t really make much business sense from and ROI perspective: they’ve paid a concierge, an assistant, a store room guy and another assistant to make one sale.

But what it shows is that they work a little bit harder and demonstrably value their customers at the most important moment of truth for any brand – the point of purchase.

In an economy where bricks and mortar retail is on the wane it’s probably not sustainable to assign three staff to every customer, but the Apple Store experience is another trait within a fine-tuned customer-first philosophy that’s well worth emulating. Especially when you consider all the hard work you’ve done in driving customers in store and then will do in talking to them after they make a purchase via extensive CRM programs.

At the very least, by injecting a little romance into your in-store experience your customers will come away thinking that you really give a crap.

The most important graph you’ll ever see.*

Here it is…


A couple of our planners at Cummins&Partners returned from an IPA strategic planning course recently, where they were lucky enough to hear from effectiveness guru Peter Field. Simply put, in the Advertising world he’s kinda a big deal. Peter Field has done a mountain of research in the area of the long-term effectiveness of brand advertising, which is reported in his paper ‘The Long and the Short of it’.

The above chart is absolutely key and to me summarises the contention of his work. What it shows is that two different tactics of advertising have very different outcomes in sales uplift over time. The red line shows the typical pattern of bursts of sales activity or undifferentiated product feature messaging. The blue line shows brand advertising designed to build favourability and consumer connection. What’s clear is that while sales promotions are effective in the short term, sustained investment in brand building ultimately drives stronger sales results.

A couple of observations from me.

  • We’re talking about sales, not marketing metrics. I like that this chart measures effectiveness in terms of sales – the metric that a CFO would be interested in, not just the CMO. When the rubber hits the road and you’re pressured to justify your marketing activity, it’s much easier to point to sales results than it is to awareness, brand favourability, consideration and similar other metrics that we marketers know contribute to sales but ultimately leave a shade of grey.
  • The Kaizen principle. A personal mentor of mine explained this principle to me last year, borrowed from the 20th century Japanese industry approach of continuous incremental improvement. The brand building strategy doesn’t go backwards in sales (well, much anyway) and continues to grow and grow on itself, compounding its effectiveness. Sales pick up from a foundation of where they let off at each campaign, not starting from the start again as the short-term tactic does. And apart from compounding sales uplifts, a long-term view would save significant marketing investment and not put the business through the strain of supporting short-term sales promotion incentives (eg. discounting).
  • Tenure. Let’s assume that each spike on the x-axis represents 6 months of time. Playing this out, the intersection point of sales for both long-term and short-term strategies therefore comes after about four years of activity. Think then about how long the average marketing person is in a job for these days. Four years is a pretty decent stint, isn’t it? Therefore a marketer can look back and pretty easily justify to themselves their success in a short-term cycle of campaign activity, pointing to their results as they move on to a new role before the effort of a long-term strategy bears fruit. And their replacement picks up where they left off. This short term view of 21st century career progression pretty much encourages this type of strategic approach. The challenge then becomes staying the course to the point after four years when the brand building approach has built a foundation that leaves the short term approach in its wake.

Of course this is all very easy in theory and tricky to apply in practice. What does it even look like? Think about the poster brands of marketing case studies. Take Apple for instance. Ever since ‘1984‘ Apple has invested in big brand advertising carefully crafted to ‘zig’ against the category’s ‘zag’. With Steve Jobs at the helm and spearheading sustained brand growth and product innovation over the long term, Apple has consistently produced advertising that’s delivered on the Think Different brand platform.

Not everyone has the same access to budget that Apple has but perhaps we don’t need to. Next time you’re about to plan a marketing campaign, brief an ad or schedule a social post, maybe stop and think how you aspire your brand to behave in 10 years’ time. Is what you’re doing now consistent with what your envision for your brand?

If nothing else, your replacement will thank you for it.


*If you work in marketing.

Work worth noticing

Here’s some work that’s caught my eye across some of the industry’s biggest product categories.

Food/Beverages: Raise a Glass – Victoria Bitter

It’s probably not quite right to just call this a beer ad and I think that’s precisely why it’s awesome. Another great instalment for a great cause.

Automotive: A Message to Space – Hyundai Genesis

Hyundai have done the launch of their new luxury nameplate exceedingly well, especially in the online content space (see: The Empty Car Convoy). This execution is another cracker.

Sports: Ripple – Nike Golf

I’m a bit of a golf tragic, but Nike’s new spot for U.S. Masters has got to be up there as one of the best pieces of sports advertising this year. Nike always seems to strike a balance between big emotive brand spots like this and fun ads that keeps the punters coming.

Consumer Products: Shot on iPhone 6 – Apple

Shot on iPhone6 Billboard

“See what’s possible with the world’s most popular camera” – genius. Tackles the perception of iPhones having inferior camera technology head-on. Makes for some pretty impressive large format outdoor, too.


Mumbrella360 – Day 2 Wrap

I was grateful for the later start this morning – I felt like I’d been hit by a bus when I collapsed into bed last night.

In a caffeine-induced buzz I got into the morning’s keynote session and strapped myself in for what proved to be another bloody brilliant day at Mumbrella360. Just like yesterday, Day 2 was jam-packed full of awesome speakers, great ideas and razor sharp insights. Here are five of the more memorable moments from Day 2 of Mumbrella360:

Continue reading “Mumbrella360 – Day 2 Wrap”