Ah, London! For all the complaints about rain, smog, traffic and warm beer, it’s still surprising how many tourists make the trip to the capitol of England every year, especially since 9/11. With the exchange rate fluctuating and an unfamiliar currency, it can be difficult for visitors to know if they are getting a good deal while they are in London. There are several ways to save money, whether you are visiting for a day trip or longer.
The best deals on flights are usually to be found outside peak holiday season, so if you can bear a little less sun and a little more rain (although neither are guaranteed) try to book your vacation for sometime between mid-September and May. Everything tends to be more expensive during the local school holidays, so it is wise if you can to avoid those weeks as well. In the UK most schools have a week-long holiday at the end of October, 2-3 weeks over the Christmas and New Year period, and another week mid-February. If you are visiting from continental Europe, there are some reasonable deals on train tickets from Paris through the Chunnel. For those on a tight budget but with time to spare, it is possible to travel from as far east as Poland by bus to London though it will take you around 3 days to get there!
The most obvious way of saving money when you visit is to stay with friends instead of in a hotel. With the internet age, this is becoming more commonplace, and really can help with the cost of travelling. It could also mean that you wont need to hire a car, or to eat out for every meal (which is also notoriously expensive in the UK). But if that is not an option for you, then your accommodation will be a large chunk of your expenses. Hotels are always more expensive than Bed and Breakfast (B&B) accommodation, but have the advantage of allowing you access to your room at any time (many B&Bs require that you are off the premises during the day). If London is just one stop on a wider trip around the UK for you, then for other areas you may want to look at staying in a Youth Hostel. These are very basic, but also reasonably cheap, and can be a good way of meeting people and getting close to some of the National Parks such as the Lake District or Exmoor.
If you are only staying in London, then you really wont need a car. There is a congestion charge for traffic using the inner city, but the streets are still very busy and it is far easier and cheaper to buy a pass to use on public transport. Despite all the horror stories, it really is a very safe way to travel around the city. Travel passes usually allow you to use the Underground, buses, the Docklands light railway, and Tramlink in the city, and often you can also use the pass to get discount entry to some attractions too. You can buy your pass online before you leave home. Taxis are the other way of getting around London, and everyone should take a ride in one if they can as it is all part of the experience. But make sure it is a licenced Black Hackney Cab, and be aware that cabbies are one of the UK exceptions to the ‘no-tipping’ rule. No matter how far the journey, a tip of 5 pounds stirling would be reasonable.
If you can get a good deal with your accommodation that includes breakfast and one other meal, you will save money on having to eat out in London. The British may not be known for their own cuisine, but they do embrace a huge range of ethnic outlets and restaurants. In the UK almost everyone has their own website, so it should be quite easy to browse for restaurants in the area that you will be staying and look at sample menus and prices. It is advisable to book before you turn up, as many are small and the popular places are always busy. If you only have to find yourself lunch, then London has numerous sandwich bars as well as many larger stores that sell pre-packed sandwiches, drinks and snacks for 2-3 pounds stirling.
So, you know where you are staying, what you will eat and even how to get around. Now, what do you want to see? The official London tourism web site www.visitlondon.com should be your first stop. Here you will find details of events and places to see, as well as special offers on admissions. Several London attractions offer discounts if you visit more than one of them, so keep your tickets safe. There is also available at www.londonpass.com an inclusive ticket for up to 6 days that gives you entry to 55 attractions for around 100 and you can also use it on public transport too. But London also has many things to see that are free, and you should take some time to stroll around one of the 8 Royal Parks, or along the banks of the River Thames. Take an open-top bus ride around the capital to get a better view of the centre. If you want to take in a West End show, why not try for a Matine performance instead of an evening one; these are usually a little cheaper, and often if you go to the box office around 30 minutes before curtain-up, you can get very cheap tickets.
As for buying souvenirs, keep in mind that you may be limited to one piece of hand luggage when you fly home. All souvenirs in London are over priced, so however tempting they may be, try to restrict yourself to small things that wont break on your journey home. The best souvenirs are photographs, guidebooks and memories.