Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Budget travelling in London - London on a shoestring budget

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photo by midnightglory

I have received quite a number of emails over the past couple of months from Singaporeans and Malaysians who are planning to visit London for the first time. I noticed that most queries are focused on a couple of specific questions with regards to costs, transport, accommodation and attractions. So I thought that I would touch upon some of these over here and I'll start off with the top concern on everyone's mind - how much are you expected to spend per day in London.

The saying goes that "everything's big in New York while everything in London is expensive". Curiously, even though the VAT has been (temporarily) cut to 15% from 17.5% and the sterling pound is near its all time low against the euros, we still could not shake off the common perception that London remains one of the most expensive cities in the world to travel in.

The amount of cash that one should set aside for each day of travelling in London depends greatly on what one seek to accomplish. I received an email from a student who is on a shoestring budget and looking forward to spend a couple of days in London while staying in a hostel in central London. Frankly, if accommodation has been taken care of, save for food and transport there is nothing very much else that one would have to pay for. Let's look at what the options are.

Food
Due to its metropolitan nature, the visitor to London would be spoilt for choice. However, if you are on a shoestring budget, you could opt for a simple takeaway baguette from Prêt or E.A.T. for less than £3. If you don't mind forking out a bit more, head to Mr Wu's buffet along Whicomb Street for less than £5 and eat your fill. However, if funds is a tad low, go for the hot cross buns at Tesco super mart (packs of 6 going for as low as 30p).

Transport
Assuming you are staying in a hostel in Zone 1 (Bayswater, King's Cross, Russell Square are in Zone 1), you can consider taking a stroll as many attractions are within walking distance. Well, you could also take in the sights as you walk but do prepared to set aside up to an hour or so for that.

A bus trip would cost a flat fee of £1 and a Tube (Underground) £1.60 if you stay within Zone 1. Heck, most of the sights are in Zone 1 anyway. If you are not quite sure about the bus routes, I suggest you go for the Tube - the Tube staff are way more helpful than bus drivers.

Attractions
Most major museums are free (Tate Modern, British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of London are some of them). All the parks, which include Regents' Park, Primrose Hill, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, St. James Park, are free as well. The parks, especially Regents' Park and St. James Park, are sights to behold when the flowers bloom during spring.

There are quite a number of visitors, constrained by time (you could cover only so much in a day), contend themselves by marvelling at the architecture of Westminster, St. Paul's Cathedral and Tower Bridge. Besides, a walk along the Embankment would pretty much occupy you for better part of an afternoon.

All in all, you could probably get around London with just a tenner (£10) a day excluding accommodation costs. Any other tips on how to get around London on a shoestring budget? Do share it with us! And while you are at it, do check out 10 things to do in London for $10 or Timeout's 1000 things to do in London for under £10.

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9 comments:

Fëanor said...

What about the little Thai/Chinese buffet eateries where one can dine for less than £5? I think there's one across Angel Tube station to the left; and there are others of that ilk in other parts of town too.

Also, it's usually cheaper to buy a day's travelcard than to buy several bus or tube rides, no?

sixmats said...

I thought London was maddeningly expensive when I visited a few years back.

I like the new header BTW.

C K said...

@Feanor,
I know exactly which one you are talking about. There's this rather misleading sign out the shop back then that says "£3.5 only!" The fine print below indicated that the price is only for takeaways....

When I first arrive in London, I used to walk everywhere. lol, I was a bit taken aback by the transport costs. It seems that a travelcard is only for Tube or buses but never both, isn't it? Also, there's a cap to how much one needs to pay per day for Tube rides. If I am not wrong, the cap is not much higher than the cost of a travelcard.

I think you'll be in a better position to advise us on this. Cheers!


@sixmats,
Thanks! I've only been to NY City and San Francisco in the States. Like for like, London is more expensive, but the field is rather levelled if you factor in the tips. Then again, that's only for food items. Electronics are way cheaper in the States.

yanjie said...

£1.60 within zone 1 for Tube is only for oyster! It cost £4 for a single ticket, regardless of zones. But you can buy the day travel card for £5+.

Greggs sells pretty cheap pastries and sandwiches as well.

SheR. said...

Guess what CK? I Love London now that I'm not living there!!!!

The prices for many things are so much better I wished to ship a whole container of clothes to Croatia!

Yes, a year ago, I got news (and a hunch for FOREX as usual) that GBP is depreciating to its lowest. So I converted my GBP to EUR last year. And I was right! I shopped like a king in London!

For those who are reading this comment, my advice is try Tesco's for sandwiches since they are the cheapest in town. Boots have lunch meal deals (Sandwiches, drinks and crisps.. my fav).

Take the bus. It's still madly cheaper than the Tube. Buy an Oyster Card from the ticket office if you are travelling in London for a week or more, saves you loads!!! With Tube, you need to plan your exact journey (the zones!!!). Bus are eesy-peesy. :P

Oh. I hate those Buffets! Why ill treat yourself with those high sodium and fats dishes. Yucks!

Fëanor said...

CK: yup, with a pay-as-you-go Oyster, your daily expense is capped, so that's better than a day travelcard if you end up only taking one trip, say. The day travelcard (paper version) is valid on tube/DLR/tram within its zone, but on all buses in all zones.

As for £3.5 even for takeaways, it's not a bad deal, eh? Assuming you're good at stuffing the box they offer you :-)

C K said...

@SheR,
Thanks for the tips! I've asked the person who emailed me to refer to your comment.

The funny thing is that I didn't even try taking the bus until nearly a month after I set foot on London. For a whole month, it was just Tube and walking. Not exactly an adventurous chap I am. The bus routes did look a bit intimidating back then. lol

As for the buffets, I tried some in London's Chinatown (in the name of experimenting) and I have to agree that they are not exactly appetizing.


@Feanor,
I didn't know that the (paper) travelcard covers all buses as well.

(so if any readers have got further questions on London transport, you know who to approach. :p)

I am real bad at buffets. I mean, I would be stuffed just after one serving, I must have been sent to one of those stomach stapling operation when I was a kid. So as far as possible, I'll try to avoid buffets.

As for buffet takeaways, haha, I am absolutely amazed at how much some people can stuff into the minuscule foiled container. They literally compacted the entire pot of fried rice into that a small container the size of my palm. Fascinating.

yoongz said...

Oh i love how useful your posts always are - i don't have anything to add as i don't live there - but just to say i appreciate the info.

C K said...

@yoongz,
Thanks, really. Appreciate you stopping by and comments. Cheers!