Seeing London on a budget
May/June is a great time of year to visit London. The ubiquitous black umbrellas are tucked away and the sun finally comes out for what seems like the first time in months. Parks are full of flowers and people feed the ducks by the pond. Pubs put picnic tables on the sidewalk for an outdoor option. The summer crowds haven’t arrived yet, giving you a great view of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.
The one drawback of London, at any time of year, is that it can be notoriously expensive. When money is tight, it may seem like this is a destination that’s well beyond most budgets. However, like many cities, the trick is in knowing where to go to get the most bang for your buck. You can survive quite well as a cheapskate in London.
From the moment you poke your head out of the Underground (The Picadilly subway line is a nice, cheap way to get from Heathrow to downtown London), you’ll have the chance to admire red phone booths and double-decker buses, some of the icons of the city. To get your bearings, instead of the subway, take a ferry boat along the Thames. You’ll enjoy a relaxing ride as the onboard guide points out the major landmarks. The price is only twice the cost of a subway ride.
The afternoon could be spent at the nearby Museum of London (free), with historical artifacts dating back to Roman times, or at the Tower of London (not free – 16 pounds for adults, 9 pounds for children). Then, at 5 p.m., meander over to St. Paul’s Cathedral to marvel at the architecture and take in the nightly evensong chorale concert (free). And finally, it’s time to find your hotel (try to find one in downtown since transportation in the city is pricey) and ask about popular local dining spots nearby.
Everyone can find something to do in London, even if you’re on a tight budget. Free museums abound, such as the British Museum (home of the Rosetta Stone), the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern art gallery, and the Natural History Museum. A free, and usually crowd-less, treasure can be found at the British Library, where visitors can peruse the only surviving Beowulf manuscript, Canterbury Tales, Beatles lyrics scribbled by Paul McCartney on napkins, the original Alice in Wonderland manuscript, the Magna Carta, and much more.
Theater fans can get 50% rush tickets at many theaters and tickets to the National Opera House go for 3 pounds if you get your ticket at 10 a.m. the day of the performance. Anyone looking for a souvenir to bring home may want to visit one of the city’s many markets, where items will be much less expensive than at Harrods, and unique pieces are waiting to be uncovered.
If You’d Like To Go
Airfares to Europe are down substantially over last year. For example, on May 19, round-trip tickets from New York City to London in May and June could be found for as little as $453 per person. www.priceline.com/flights/
Getting around London is pretty easy via public transportation. If you’ll be there for a week, consider getting a Tube Pass, which is good on buses and metro. The train system, which runs throughout Great Britain, is another good option. Ferry service is available for traveling up and down the Thames. If you’re brave enough to drive on the left, priceline.com has rental cars available. On May 19, priceline.com was offering compact rental cars starting at $207 a week www.priceline.com/rentalcars/.
Priceline.com offers hotels in London on both a published-price and on a Name Your Own Price basis. www.priceline.com/hotels/ Budget travelers will want to use the Name Your Own Price option. Recent priceline.com hotel customers have been successful making bids as low as $85 a night for 4-star hotels in the Kensington/Knightsbridge area, and $100 a night for 4-star hotels in the Bloomsbury/Marble Arch area. Bid examples do not include taxes and fees. Even the published hotel rates are excellent this year. On May 19, priceline.com had hotels available around London for as little as $60 a night.
Pubs usually have cheap, decent food, like bangers and mash, and they’re the perfect place to stop for a pint and some lunch or dinner. There are also great fish and chips places across the city that hand you your food in unprinted newspaper. Or try one of London’s many Indian restaurants. Consider getting Indian takeout and eating on a park bench to cut down on costs.
Former priceline.com intern Jessica Ek spent a semester studying in London on a student’s budget. In recent years, her global travels have taken her and her husband, Chris, to southern France, where they lived for a summer; South Africa, where they went on safari; Malta, and the jungles of Thailand, which they negotiated on foot and elephant-back. To see Jess’ travel photography, visit www.jessicaek.com.
Oh, and yes – she is the daughter of The Travel Ekspert.