Shoestring budgets in London? YES!
Is traveling to London on your list? This beautiful city has something to offer everyone and its well organized, English-speaking attractions and excursions make it very appealing to a first time traveler. Unfortunately, the exchange rate of the British Pound puts just about every other currency at a distinct disadvantage. It’s not that the prices are so unreasonable for a local resident – it’s the conversion that really makes a visitor suffer! Still, with a bit of advance planning, you can enjoy the best of London, even on a budget.
1.) Plan Accommodations Wisely.
There’s a wide range of accommodation options in London and, with some thorough searching, you CAN find clean, comfy, central choices that are very affordable. Solo travelers will love the wide range of hostel choices. Read the reviews carefully to find the hidden gems and consider staying in the largest dorm in your chosen hostel – it will be the least expensive and saving even a few pounds a night will really add up over a long trip.
If a hostel isn't your style, you still have plenty of options. Private rooms in a university dorm or an unassuming B&B are great choices for those craving a greater degree of solitude. And if you really do seek the comforts of a hotel, the compact, convenient offerings of easyHotel might be right for you! (We did a windowless, basement room for 4 days - yep, the two of us! But it was CHEAP!)
2.) Culinary Deals Abound.
London is famous for fish and chips, classic ploughman's pub lunches - and some of the world's best Indian takeaway! These are more than just great value meals; they're delicious ones as well. London has a growing food scene and the city's internationally inspired cuisine, including kebab stands, sushi joints, and European-style bakeries, offer great prices and authentic flavors. And don't forget traditional desserts - treacle tart, summer pudding, and anything with custard are always worth seeking out.
Finally, if you are seeking some budget friendly meals-to-go, shun the trendy delis in favor of the food hall in a Marks & Spencer department store. M&S sells a wide range of healthy, creative, and well priced sandwiches, wraps, salads, snacks, light lunches and more substantial take-home dinners. They have a large offering of vegetarian, gluten free, kosher, and halal offerings and all food is clearly labeled for allergens.
3.) Pack Your Walking Shoes.
London is an immensely walkable city and I love getting around on foot. For longer distances, I use the subway system, The Tube, which is a clean, extensive, easy to use transportation network. Tickets prices are moderate, but the exchange rate can render many short Tube rides into an expensive venture. I try to organize my trip so activities requiring a subway rides are grouped together, allowing me to invest in the more economical day pass.
One of the best bargains in towns is a guided themed walking tour from London Walks. They have dozens of different guided tours from morning till night in every part of town, along every possible theme - including The Beatles, Jewish London, Darkest Victorian London, Harry Potter Film Locations, West End Ghost Walk, Hidden Pubs of Old London Town, and London at War. The cost is 9 GBP (less for concessions and free for children) for an excursion lasting 2 hours or more.
4.) Time for Tea.
One of these days, I’ll have enough money to have high tea at the Savoy or Ritz hotels. Until then, I highly recommend the Orangery Tea Room on the grounds of Kensington Palace, with reasonable prices, generous servings, and unmatched atmosphere. Tea doesn’t get much fancier than being in a royal palace and it is a quintessentially British experience. Make sure to check their website in advance to confirm hours.
5.) Value Packed Attractions
Some of London’s best attractions, galleries, and museums are absolutely free. The National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum, the Tate Galleries, the Imperial War Museum, and church services at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey are all completely free – just be sure to give akind donation or support them in some way.
Not all attractions have reasonably priced fees, unfortunately. I have visited London over a dozen times and I have yet to see the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, or go for a spin on the London Eye. Even in local currency these attractions are overpriced. If you are certain you want to visit a London site that charges admission, some advanced research and coupon searching might save you some money.
London is famous for being an epi-center of incredible theater and dramatic arts and some of my favourite London memories involve going to performances of Les Miserables, The Lion King, Carmen, and more. Great theater tickets can be had for great prices, provided you are flexible and willing to deal with a bit of uncertainty. Same day ticket booths and a willingness to sit anywhere and be separated from your party will result in wonderful deals and wonderful performances. If you love something more classic, head to Shakespeare's Globe Theater, where a front row view in the yard cost just 5 GBP a performance - in my opinion, it's the best deal in the city!
London is often cited as one of the most expensive cities in the world, but you don’t have to stay in a fleabag hotel or subsist on dry crumpets to get out and enjoy it. With some advance planning, you can enjoy the best of London and have an incredible trip, all without a financial hangover!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. What are the best bargains you've discovered in London?
Looking for more about London? You'll also enjoy:
The Tower of London for 55 Pence.
The $200 Challenges Takes on London
The 200 Meter Challenge: London Edition
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphries: Book Review
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