I met up with a number of friends over dinner at Sedap the other day and were talking about life in London in general when one of them who stopped by London for a visit lamented, "Didn't realised that London can be so expensive".
For some reason, London seems to give visitors the impression of being expensive. It's not only the visitors, most expat forums are swamped with people enquiring about the cost of living in London are concern about the same thing too. Interestingly, Mercer ranked London the 16th most expensive city to live in, even Singapore ranks above at 13th (source).
Regardless of what impression people might have, London can be rather affordable to visitors and that's especially true if you know where to look. Here are 5 ways to avoid spending an arm and a leg during your next trip to London.
1. Occupy your time with free attractions in London
As the saying goes, the best things in life is free. That can't be more true in London. Some of the biggest museums in London are free and among my favourites are The National Gallery, British Museum, National Potrait Gallery, Museum of London, Tate London and Tate Britain. One could literally spend hours in each one of them.
Or head towards Covent Garden for some comic relief and people watching. What about attending the changing of guard at the Buckingham Palace? Surely no visitors should miss that. For more ideas, refer to London for free.
2. Know where the cheap food is
I'm not referring to the sandwiches nearing their sell-by date peddling at a fraction of their costs at the supermarkets. I'm definitely not thinking about the £4.50 buffet at Mr. Wu at Chinatown. I am talking about decent food at a modest price.
Assuming you are in the vicinity of Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square (well, most tourists would be), head to Sun Luen if you are feeling peckish, 1997 if you are seriously low on fuel, Jen Cafe for some handmade dumplings or even Lan Zhou Noodle Bar for some handmade noodles if you can splurge that bit more. For more suggestions, refer to Cheap Eats in London.
3. Look out for great online deals
One site that I would always check out before making any purchases is VoucherCodes.co.uk, which offers exclusive discounts to major UK chainstores. In fact, it's currently offering 10% off at Hotels.com.
Another great deal to be had would be the London Pass. A single day adult pass cost £39 but it allows you to get into 55 London attractions free. Well, you obviously can't cover them all but if you are to do Tower of London (£17) in the morning followed by Tower Bridge (£7), Shakespeare Globe Theatre (£10.50) and St Paul's Cathedral (£12.50) in the afternoon and end it all with a Thames River Cruise (£11.50), that'll mean a saving of a whopping £19.50 or 33%! You can get your London Pass here. If all else fails, head to DealChecker for hotel package comparison.
4. Get the latest happenings in London free
Not sure of where to go in London or would like to find out the most current theatre listings? Do what Londoners do, head to the Tube stations every late afternoon and grab a copy of the free Evening Standard newspaper.
Someone mentioned that the only reason why Londoners scramble for copies of Evening Standard every day after work is just so that they have something to focus on during their trip on the Tube so as to avoid eye contact with fellow passengers at all costs. Well, I'm not too sure about that but the Evening Standard does provide movie, theatre listings and happenings about town, not to mention the crossword and sudoko puzzles to occupy the rare spare moment that you might have. The only catch is that Evening Standard is available only during the weekdays.
5. Get cheap theatre tickets
If you are heading for some shows at the London's West End, the first thing you would notice at Leicester Square are the numerous discount theatre ticket outlets. My advice would be to avoid them unless you are really on a budget, don't mind sitting near the roof and spend your time staring down at the actors' head.
Otherwise, get your tickets at the TKTS on the south side of Leicester Square. TKTS sells only stall seats on the day itself at around half price plus commission - a steal if you wish to get the best possible seats. For best value tickets, consult Theatre Monkey for which seats to avoid at the various theatres before making your purchase. If that's too much information, you could always get a handy pocketbook version.
Else, to avoid disappointment, book your discount tickets in advance at London Theatre Direct.
Here you go, 5 ways of stretching your budget on your next trip to London. Do leave a comment if I've missed something. Read here for more tips on how to plan a budget trip to London.