When visiting London, if you’re not careful you can end up spending a small fortune on accommodation, travel, food and entertainment. People are more than willing to charge extortionate amounts of money for things that would cost just a fraction of the price elsewhere. However, with a bit of clever planning, it’s possible to visit London without breaking the bank and to still have a hugely enjoyable and rewarding trip.
One of the most expensive parts of any trip is the accommodation but there are several ways in which you can save money on your accommodation in London.
First, book well in advance. Go to a discount website such as www.hotels.com and search for the cheapest rates. By booking in advance and through a website like www.hotels.com, you can easily save as much as 50% off of the hotel’s standard rate.
The second thing to consider when booking your accommodation is that when visiting a city like London, you will probably not be spending much time actually in the hotel. It’s not like going to a resort when a comfortable hotel with a pool and a gym could be really important factors for you. In London, all you really need is a clean room with a comfortable bed. You don’t even really need to have breakfast at the hotel as it can be much more interesting and fun to try out different cafes and bakeries. With this in mind, be flexible when considering hotels and think about staying in a lower star rating than you would usually choose.
Although most hotels provide accommodation to the standard you would expect, unfortunately London also has some real stinkers. The best way to make sure that you don’t end up in one of these is to use a site like www.tripadvisor.co.uk. Here, you can find hundreds of reviews of hotels all over London (and the whole of the UK). When you have found a hotel and are considering making a booking, check out its reviews first as these will usually give you a pretty good idea of what the hotel is really like. However, bear in mind that some people’s standards and expectations may be different to yours and make sure that you read several reviews to get the full picture.
The final point I would make about choosing accommodation is that it’s not always necessary to find a hotel right in the heart of tourist land, which is where the majority of the most overpriced hotels are to be found. Instead, if you stay slightly out of the centre, for example in a leafy suburb such as Wimbledon or Richmond, not only can you find cheaper, quieter and more spacious hotels, but by staying here this gives you the chance to experience a completely different side of London, and one which many tourists sadly miss out on.
The simplest way to save money on travel around London is to walk whenever possible. Not only will this save you money, but you will see a lot more of the real London and get experience its different atmospheres.
However, London is clearly a very big city and so there will probably come a time when you need to use public transport of some kind. In order to get the cheapest fares on the buses and tubes (underground trains), the best thing to do is to buy an Oyster card. These are available from all tube stations and many newsagents. With an Oyster card you don’t have to worry about buying the cheapest ticket, you just top up your card with some money and swipe your card in and out each time you use a tube or bus. At the end of the day, the Oyster card then calculates the cheapest fare for you depending on how many journeys you have made and which zones you’ve travelled in.
Alternatively, if you can limit your journeys to just using buses, then a bus pass can be an even cheaper way to go. What’s more, buses are generally a lot more pleasant than the tube and you get to see a lot more of London as you travel around. For longer journeys, buses can be slightly slower than the tube, but this can be a great opportunity to rest your feet for a while and sit back and relax as London just passes you by.
Attractions and sights
Although London contains many tourist attractions that charge to visit (Madame Tussauds, London Zoo, the Planetarium and the Tower of London, for example), it also boasts a huge selection of free attractions. From the famous sights that attract tourists in their thousands, to hidden treasures known only to locals, there are hundreds of free things to do all over London. You just have to know where to look!
First, London has over 300 museums and galleries and the vast majority of these are free.
South Kensington, in the south-west corner of central London, is a good place to start, as it is home to three of London’s most popular museums: the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The V&A, as the Victoria and Albert Museum is known, houses the world’s largest collection of art and design objects. The objects date from around 3000 BC right up to the present day and come from all over the world. With such a large collection, it can be hard to know where to start. A good option for many visitors is therefore to go on one of V&A’s free guided tours.
The Science and Natural History Museums are fantastic if you’ve got kids with you, as they are both extremely child-friendly. Highlights include the gigantic diplodocus skeleton in the Natural History Museum’s Central Hall and the hands-on exhibits in the Science Museum’s Launch Pad’.
Up in the Bloomsbury area of London, the British Museum is well worth a visit. Due to its exciting special exhibitions, in 2008 the British Museum became the UK’s top attraction, receiving more visitors than anywhere else in the UK. The museum’s rooms are located around the impressive glass-roofed Great Court, which has the famous round Reading Room right in its centre. The exhibits themselves contain artefacts from all over the world and from most of the world’s main cultures. Some of the most popular include the Egyptian rooms, where you can see real mummies, and the Greek rooms, which contain the famous Elgin Marbles.
Other London museums that are firm favourites with tourists and Londoners alike, include the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth (which has a special James Bond 007 exhibition on in 2008), the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and the Museum of London in the City. Again, all of these museums are free.
Some quirky and less well-known museums that are also free include the Theatre Museum, near Covent Garden, the Bank of England Museum, near Bank tube station, where you can pick up a solid gold bar, the Museum of St Bart’s Hospital which is near St Paul’s, and the Ragged School Museum at Mile End.
Out of London’s many art galleries, four of the best free ones are the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain, the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery.
As you’d expect, the Tate Modern contains an exciting and frequently-changing selection of modern art. Located on the South Bank in a disused power station, it is also a great place to get one of the best free views over the rooftops of London. The Tate Britain is also on the Thames, but a bit further west, and here you can see the best of British art from 1500 to the present day. The National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery with their central locations at Trafalgar Square are always popular. Home to some of the world’s best paintings there is something for everyone.
Another interesting and, of course, free gallery to visit is the Photography Gallery, near Leicester Square. Spread between two nearby houses in the same street, this gallery houses frequently-changing exhibitions of modern photography.
When you’ve had your fill of museums and galleries and want to be out in the open air, the cheapest way to see London is, of course, by foot. This is a great way to soak up the cosmopolitan London atmosphere. The best way to really explore is to forget the map and just wander wherever takes your fancy. This is how you will find the hidden gems that are tucked round corners off the beaten track, and that other tourists may miss out on.
However, if you prefer a more structured approach, to make sure that you don’t miss anything, then there are numerous walks that you can do. One of the most popular is along the Thames’ South Bank as it takes in many of London’s top landmarks and is almost entirely road-free. The walk starts opposite the Houses of Parliament by Westminster Bridge and continues east along the Thames to Tower Bridge. As well as the Thames itself, along the way it passes the London Eye, the Royal Festival Hall, the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, City Hall, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, as well as affording great views of other landmarks including St Paul’s cathedral and the famous Gherkin’ or SwissRe building.
Other popular walks include the canals of north London, the Royal Parks and the West End. For details of these and many more walks, there are numerous websites, such as www.london-footprints.co.uk, that offer free walking guides that you can download and print out.
It seems to be agreed by everyone from first time visitors to seasoned Londoners, that some of London’s finest attributes are its numerous parks. As well as being, for the most part, free of traffic (and, of course, simply free) and therefore great places to walk through, the parks also offer an oasis of relative calm from the hustle and bustle of the city. In addition, there are a number of free attractions located within the parks, such as the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, beautiful flower gardens and lakes in parks like Battersea Park, Regents Park and Holland Park, and the herds of deer in Richmond Park. Spending an afternoon in one of London’s parks is a pleasure that no tourist or Londoner should miss.
Other great attractions are London’s many and varied markets. Even if you don’t buy anything, they are all interesting and fun free places to visit. Each market has its own unique character that makes it special. For example, Borough Market, near London Bridge, is one of the finest food markets in the world. Many of the stalls offer free tasters so it’s even possible to sample its delights without spending a penny. Portobello Road market, in Notting Hill, is a great antique market and fascinating place to stroll around. Camden Market, up in the north of central London, is popular with students for its eclectic fashion and decorative items. It’s also a great place to people-watch. Covent Garden is always popular with tourists and if you tire of the stalls and shops, there always plenty of buskers on hand to provide free entertainment.
If, perhaps inevitably, it starts to rain during your trip, then you may want to head inside for a more weather-proof shopping experience. Two really interesting and enjoyable shops to visit are Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly and Harrods on Knightsbridge. Both of these shops are noted for their food and are fascinating to explore without purchasing a single item.
Finally, one of the most important things for any tourist to do in London is, of course, sightseeing. All of London’s famous sights can be viewed (from the outside at least) completely free of charge. A complete list of famous sights would go on and on, but some of the highlights are Trafalgar Square with Nelson’s Column, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, China Town, the Monument, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guard, Downing Street, Cleopatra’s Needle and the OXO Tower.
So from museums to parks, and markets to Trafalgar Square, the vast majority of London’s attractions can be enjoyed for absolutely no money at all. The only tricky thing is deciding what to see first.
As with accommodation, the way to find cheaper and, arguably, better restaurants is to avoid tourist areas such as Covent Garden and Leicester Square, where prices can be hugely inflated due to their popular location. If you really have to eat in these locations, then one way to get a cheaper deal is to dine on a pre-theatre’ menu (you don’t have to be going to see a show). Although these menus often have a more limited choice, they can offer good value for money.
However, by far the best way to eat for less in London (and the method that all savvy Londoner’s use) is to visit the website www.toptable.co.uk. At www.toptable.co.uk, you can read customer reviews and book at almost any restaurant anywhere in London. But the most fantastic thing about this website is that every day there are hundreds of restaurants offering fantastic deals such as 50% off the food, or a special menu for a considerably reduced amount. If you like good food but hate paying a huge bill for it, then try out www.toptable.co.uk, you will probably be very pleasantly surprised.
So there you have it, my guide on how to save money when visiting London. Try out some of these tips next time you visit and you will not only save money, but hopefully you should also have a much more enjoyable and interesting visit.