Wednesday, February 10, 2010

London can be affordable too - 5 ways to save on your visit to London

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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.

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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.

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15 comments:

drcrab said...

Hi CK!
I think people perceive London to be expensive (as tourists) because they have to do everything 'out' and possibly at 'touristy places' where the quality may not be as good and the prices may be high. It's like when we go on holiday - we eat out all the time. Coffee, lunch, tea time, snacks, dinner... a normal day in your home country wouldn't cost as much as a day on holiday in a foreign land! (well, I found that recently, when I was in Spain - had to pay for everything, obviously, and with the pound so low against the euro, it was actually expensive in Spain!!).

:)

Emm said...

This is a fantastic post! I must do one too soon...

Nora Din said...

A few tips here for cost saving whilst in London.

A) Don't stay in hotels in London. Stay with the locals in Bed & breakfast in the suburbs. You can immersed yourself in the local culture which is what travelling is all about!! Usually a single room cost around £35 per nite or about £50 for a double. I can recommend some good B&Bs. If staying for more than a week, rent a room in a flatshare.

B) Takeaways are cheap. ie fish and chips and local high street Indian or Chinese or Thai takeaways. Buy food from supermarkets. I know some Sainsbury have very nice pick and mix DIY salad bar. Usually for less than £5.

C) Use Oyster card for the tube. It saves you heaps!! Or walk!! London weather is fantastic for long walks.

D) CK, have you been to Mawar restaurant?? The one in Edgeware?? They have very reasonable price for the almost authentic Malay food there. Last time in the 90's I always eat at the basement canteen in Malaysian Hall @ Bryanston Square. A hearty meal with kuehs and teh tarik all for less than £7!!! I kid you not!!Too bad that Malaysian Hall have moved now. Another thing I always do whenever I am in Leicester Sq is the very cheap pizza takeaway there. Less than £2 a piece and quite filling for a light eater like me.

C K said...

@drcrab,
I can't agree more. I guess the trick is to get a local to show you around if possible. Other than the cost, it's the hassle of navigating London's roads and Tube as well.

Imagine all the time saved if there's someone to bring you around!

That said, euro has weakened (a bit) against the pound. Heading towards the continent again?

@Emm,
Thanks! Give me a shout when yours is up, will you?

@Nora Din,
Mighty thanks for all the invaluable tips! For the first few days when I was in London, I practically walked everywhere. Like you said, most of the major attractions are really within a couple of minutes of walk away.

I've tried the Malaysian Hall near Bayswater. Though it couldn't compare with what I could get in Malaysia, it did bring back some fond memories.

I've not tried Mawar. Hmmm, another place to look out for. Thanks!

Nora Din said...

Alamak CK, just found out yesterday Mawar restaurant has closed down.

I've not been in central London for makans for a while so lost touch already lah. Try google for other Malaysian restaurants. I know some serve inexpensive halal authentic Malay food.

Next time I am in London you can show me where the new Malaysian Hall is at Bayswater.

William K Wallace said...

Nothing beats a long walk along the Thames in Central London and if people are truly broke take your own sandwiches, snacks and drinks with you and save a bundle.

I feel that Greenwich is often overlooked by many tourists, which is a shame because in my humble opinion it is truly worth a visit. Take the ferry from Central London to get there and then make a day of it taking in the various museums and the park, AWESOME....

C K said...

@Nora Din,
Not sure whether you've tried Puji Puji's satay was quite good initially but it was burnt the last time I went there. We can sure go there if you come by London.

Oh, that and the Malaysian Hall!

@William,
I love a walk along the Thames from Embankment to Westminste. To see London Eye on the southern bank and then the clock tower up front is quite a sight.

I've not actually taken a ferry from central London to Greenwich yet. Hmmm, another thing to do in summer.

Melissa said...

Great post, and I agree with drcrab also. I have a friend visiting in 3 weeks and even though she ended up getting a flight on the more expensive end (due to her indecisiveness) I'm confident that I can show her the best London can offer without breaking the bank.

I'm considering that London Pass now that you broke down the savings, depending on what she wants to do of coure, being here for 2 years now I haven't hit all those places you mentioned and would like to.

Thanks!

C K said...

@Melissa,
Ah.. with a local showing her around, your friend's in for a treat. I realise that the London Pass is really for those who plan to cover a number of places within a very short timespan. I for one could easily spend half a day in Tower of London, so the Pass wouldn't be ideal for me.

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Anonymous said...

I was checking around the web for hotels just to get an idea for prices and I came across the idea of reserving a slot in a vacation home. My husband and I plan to come visit some day and it will be a once in a lifetime visit for financial reasons. (coming from the USA) Because it will only be a one time visit, we intend to spend about 3 weeks there so we can see and do everything that England has to offer. I think that it would actually be cheaper in our case to go with a vacation home rental. That could be an idea for people who plan to visit for more than a weekend. The average price for a not-too-fancy hotel was about 90 pounds per night, the average price for a vacation home was 350-600 pounds per week in a small studio apartment. All of the vacation homes I came across have kitchenettes with utensils so not only will we be saving on hotel cost, but we can cook our own food and save that way too :) We won't mind having a small studio apartment instead of a bigger one with a bedroom because we aren't coming over there to live, we're coming to see everything outside of the apartment! Besides, just how much space does one get within a hotel room anyway? Not much....

C K said...

@Anon,
That's definitely one of the options to cut cost. I'm just a bit surprised at how much more expensive it would be to go for a short let in London. A studio in central London would normally go for less than £280 per week for long lets.

Anyway, have you considered going for student accom? I understand that some student accommodation will be lying empty during term breaks and they can be as cheap as £26 per night. One thing though, the kitchen and toilet facilities are shared. You might want to check out http://www.londonuniversityrooms.co.uk for more info.

Traveller said...

IS 4000 Singapore Dollar enough for a 13days trip to London? Please advice and help me

Traveller said...

Is 4000 Singapore Dollar enough for a trip to London for 13days. It is excluding the air tickets and hotel. Please advise and please help me

London Chow said...

@Traveller,

Yes, it is. Other than airfare, the main bulk of the cost would be on accommodation. Consider doing homestays for cheap accommodation in London.