How to park for nothing on a London day trip

Charging an electric car from a public chargepoint


Yesterday we had a day in London with the kids. We took the car, and we parked it totally free of charge, all over the capital, while we explored some sights, sounds and smells we’ve never discovered before with the kids. We were able to do this because we have an electric car. Read on to find out how it works.

How to charge an electric car

Over the last few weeks we’ve been road-testing the Renault Zoë on behalf of Go Ultra Low. Until 31 March 2015, British Gas will install a charging point at your home free of charge, and the process was really simple for us. Over the weeks, we’ve gotten into the habit of plugging in whenever we get home for the evening, and switching off before we go to bed, with a fully charged car. I’ll be honest here and say that the thought of plugging the car into our house freaked me out to begin with, so I handed the job over to he who loves change more than I do. But there came a time when I needed to learn how to charge the car. I have no idea what I was worried about. Take a look at just how easy it is:

Charging an electric car in London

We’re subscribed to Urban Explorer, who every week send us an email with details of things we can do in London with the kids. Sometimes its whole day events, others its children’s theatre suggestions, and often a mix of bits and pieces we can dip in and out of. Last weekend was exactly that, and we’d already secured tickets to see Little Mix at British Summertime in Hyde Park, so we decided to make a day of it. We planned our visits around events with public charge points nearby, thinking we’d park up and leave the car to charge whilst we spent an hour or two enjoying the various activities.

Stop 1: A Pop-Up Book Festival at Swiss Cottage

A pop-up book festival on our electric car tour of London


We have travelled through Swiss Cottage on numerous occasions, but never got off the train, or out of the car. The iconic pub is shut, and there never seemed to be anything else worth visiting on the Finchley Road. But on this particular day, tucked behind the library, little stalls selling gorgeous coffee and mouthwatering crêpes facilitated our journey around the book stalls and children’s activities. Never able to resist a new book, the kids both quickly convinced us of the need to buy one signed by it’s author. They quickly got stuck in, but were soon drawn into the performance poetry of the Poetic Debaters Project. Teenagers arguing their points – Arts vs. Science, environmental issues – all through the medium of poetry. It was inspiring!

Charging an electric car

Car plugged into a public chargepoints a couple of streets away, with 3 hours free parking, we felt relaxed enough to hang out for as long as the children were interested, soaking up a little sunshine along with the literary talent. All we had to do was find the free spot (the car’s satnav system will tell you where the nearest chargepoints are, and whether or not they’re in use) and connect up using the cable we’d been supplied with the car. You just swipe your network chargepoint card, plug in at the chargepoint, connect to the car, and you’re set. Locking the car also locks in the cable, so no-one else can unhook you. An hour and a half later we’d topped up with about 20 miles of battery power – extra security on what we had left after our drive into London.

Stop 2: Spitalfields City Farm

Charging an electric car at a public chargepoint

We deliberately parked a short walk away from the Strawberry and Honey Fair at Spitalfields City Farm, becuase we wanted to walk through Brick Lane. The Bug is a huge fan of curry, and we knew that the street food there would be good. Luckily we had another 3 hours on our free parking spot, because the temptation to linger amongst the markets of Brick Lane was just too great.

Street Food at Brick Lane London

Every nationality of food imaginable – Ethiopian, Thai, Chinese.

 We were sorely tempted by this too:

We found a Heisenberg t-shirt at Brick Lane

Spitalfields City Farm is a tiny gem in the East End of London. You wouldn’t visit unless you lived nearby, but you should. A volunteer-run farm and garden, it is full of the unexpected, from literally giant flowers, to the healthiest donkeys you’ll ever see. Add to that the heady waft of warm tomato plants, and the best climbing frame EVER, and you’ve got a compelling reason to spend some time delving deeper into east London than you’ve done before. We had visited for the Strawberry and Honey Fair – devouring a teacup of strawberries and cream topped off the experience perfectly!

The plants are giant! Spitalfields City Farm

Giant thistle.

You'll see some crazy sights at Spitalfields City Farm

This bee was so heavy with pollen he was flying like a drunk!

Spitalfields City Farm - the best climbing frame

The best climbing frame,

Stop 3: Park Lane!

Yes, you can park free on Park Lane. Well, on Upper Grosvenor Street, which is pretty much as good as it gets. Happily chilling at British Summertime in Hyde Park, we knew the car was safely hooked up to the next chargepoint, filling up on mileage to get us back home. Which is just as well, because there was free ice-cream. And Little Mix played for over an hour…

Little Mix playing Hyde Park British Summertime

Little Mix

More on charging an electric car in London.

There are 1408 electric car charge points in London. That’s twice as many charge points as there are petrol stations. And electric cars are exempt from the congestion charge, so that’s a saving of £10 every time you drive into London. The aim is for every Londoner to eventually be within one mile of an electric car charge point. All you do is register with Source London, pay an annual fee of £10, and then use any charge point to charge your vehicle at no extra cost. (Parking charges may apply, but we didn’t find any points where we needed to pay).

You can find out more about charging your car with Source London here. Visit the British Gas Electric Vehicle page to find out more about free installation of a home charging point. To plan your own out of the ordinary day in London, check out Urban Explorer.

We were loaned a Renault Zoe 100% electric car for the purposes of this review, and will receive a £100 admin fee for writing about our experiences. All opinion and editorial is our own. For more on owning an electric or low emissions vehicle follow the #GoUltraLow hashtag, or visit Go Ultra Low.

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16 thoughts on “How to park for nothing on a London day trip”

  1. I do think this is a fabulous idea, I really do. Electric cars and biofuel have got to be the way forward and incentives like this are absolutely ideal. It takes out the ‘waiting while it charges’ and makes it a bonus 🙂

  2. What smashing photos Helen, and I don’t just mean the one with 2 of my fave men on side by side.
    I’ve always had a sort of mild panic that I’d go out in an electric car and wouldn’t know where to charge up or it would go flat – I’ve been burnt by my mobile doing that a few times! I didn’t know that they help you set it up so you can charge it from home. Does it cost much to charge it up? x

    • I felt the same, Annie, before we got the car, but I very quickly realised that it’s absolutely fine, and there’s always a chargepoint nearby if you need it. You do need to do a bit of planning to check where the chargepoints are if you’re going somewhere out of your car’s range, but for most of the regular journeys you do, you quickly get used to where your points are.
      It cost us about £3 to fully charge from nothing to 75 miles, so a big saving on fuel costs.

  3. I think, if you spend a lot of time in and around the city, this is fabulous! So many things I didn’t realise, like how many charge points there are.
    In all honesty, I train or bus it in to London, makes a day of it (a whole day off!) x

  4. wow what an awesome review with some really cool photos and check your hubby out with the half cut Breaking Bad tee shirt lol
    I think electric cars are such a fantastic idea especially in cities (the countryside like where I live would be harder to manage possibly) and must be the way forward, for so many reasons. However, as Annie has said my worry would be being able to find somewhere to charge it but then if it could be done at petrol stations then they would be easy to find.

    • I was amazed at how many chargepoints there are Jenny. You just don’t notice them until you need them. We charged every night at home, and then topped up as we went. I bet there are some public chargepoints near you, and what’s more, because there aren’t yet many electric cars on the roads, you’re pretty much guaranteed a chargepoint AND a free parking spot!

      • The accessibility of charging points was my main worry too. I’ve never seen one about, but I guess that’s because I don’t use them. How is it in remote areas? Do they have them at petrol stations?

  5. I love the idea of electric cars in our city and your post shows itr really can work. Some great places you visited too, a real family day out with stunning photos.

  6. Have to say I am highly impressed!! I was never interested in electric cars before as it seemed such a hassle but I am glad to hear British Gas are getting involved and installing electric points – it all seemed so easy to do to and the car is very cute!! I may well be looking into one but unfortunately, here in Manchester we don’t have anywhere near as many electric charge points.

  7. What fabulous days out and the photo of the bee is amazing.
    Sounds like you’re having lots of fun in your ULEV – and free parking too 🙂
    I guess my twins will be looking at music concerts soon too, exciting.

  8. I’ve spotted a few charging bays locally to us but never really paid any attention to them, I just assumed you’d have to pay to charge your car. I think if more people realised the benefits of electric cars they would be persuaded to make the change.

  9. Well I never knew all that. I have had an offer on trying an electric car too so it is really worth knowing. All very interesting with my first son having his test this week. Love how easy it is to charge – and that you had your son doing it for you! I hate fuel stations so could get used to charging at home!

  10. Crikey – I’ve been considering getting us an electric car for a while now, but this might actually tip me over the edge. Finding a parking space around London (heck – around *anywhere*) is a nightmare most of the time. This is genius!


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