Saturday, February 16, 2013

London budget travel - how to stretch your dollar

Budget travelling in London signboard
Tourists will be spoilt for choice in London

London is one of the world's most popular tourist destination for a number of reasons. Most of its tourist attractions are within easy access once you are in central London (all thanks to the Tube). Depending on your plans, London can be your gateway and launchpad to continental Europe. More importantly, it has something to offer for those who can afford to splash out or the those who are determined to stretch their budget.

So you have booked your accommodation through HostelWorld Language, which hostel beds are available from £10 per night. With rock bottom prices like that, you would be surprised to know that the hostels are actually near Paddington, London Victoria and Piccadilly. If you don't mind travelling to Docklands or Hammersmith, the prices can go down to £8 per night.

It doesn't mean that your London experience would be any lesser if you are travelling on a budget. You just have to know where to look. Here are some other ways of how to go about that.

Zipping around London using a Travelcard

All the major tourist attractions are within walking distance from a Tube station. The bad news is that London's public transport is one of the most expensive in Europe. But getting yourself a Travelcard puts a cap on how much you'll spend zipping around London.

London Underground Oyster card Travelcard
An Oyster card is a must even if you are not getting a travelcard

A travelcard allows free and unlimited travel on the Tube, buses, Overground, DLR and even National Rail within London. Refer to Transport of London's website for the costs of travelcard.

One thing to note though. If you are arriving through Heathrow airport (in Zone 6), don't get all excited about getting a travelcard that covers Zone 1 - 6. As you are most likely to be spending your time in London within Zone 1 - 2, just get an Oyster card at the airport, top up enough for a trip into central London (£5 for peak time, £3 for off-peak) before buying a travelcard (for Zone 1 - 2), which is tagged onto the Oyster card you're holding on to at any Tube ticket station in central London.

How to get cheap theatre tickets

What if I were to tell you that you can get theatre tickets for just 10p? That's exactly what the Royal Court Theatre at Sloane Square is offering for restricted standing view. You have to buy it on the day itself at the theatre though. For more details, give the theatre's box office a call.

Besides that, Almeida Theatre at Angel Islington offers £8 tickets for restricted view seating. They aren't that bad to be honest; most are blocked by just a slender pole. Also, Wicked the Musical offers 24 front row seats from just £15 each every day. Again, these are available only on the day itself and are sold from 10am.

These are just some of the theatres that offer cut priced tickets. I would recommend that you call the theatre's box office directly (number can be found on the theatre's websites themselves) and ask for more details.

The best museums are free

Steeped in history, museum lovers will be pampered in London. What's best is that unlike the world's major cities, London is not short of quality museums that offer free entry. In fact, the best museums in London are all free.

London British Museum top best exhibits
The British Museum, one of the most visited by tourists

Some of my favourite such museums in central London would be The National Gallery (Western European painting - 13th to 20th century), National Portrait Gallery (portraits of famous people in British history), Museum of London, Imperial War Museum and the British Museum. Others include Tate Modern (contemporary art, also offering one of the best view along River Thames) and Tate Britain (British art from 1500 till present day). If you have time a bit further to Greenwich, the Royal Observatory where the Greenwich Mean Time line stands beckons.

5 Free apps that will make your life easier

1. Timeout London - Arts, entertainment spots, pubs, bars, films, cinemas and restaurants nearby all at a touch of a button. The app will automatically detect your current position to point you to the nearest spots saving you time and anguish.

2. London Bus Live Countdown - waiting for a bus in a bus stop with no bus arrival time indicator? This app will tell you exactly which bus will arrive at what time at your bus stop.

3. WiFi FastConnect Hotspot Locator - Free wifi to be had at thousands of spots in spread out across London. All you have to do is to register for a free account.

4. Hailo - no one knows the streets of London better than London black cab drivers. Lost in the streets and alleys in London with no transport in sight? No worries, Hailo will zoom in onto your location and send you a black cab. You can pay the metered fare either by cash or card at no extra charge.

5. London Tube Map - does exactly what it says. Sometimes you just need a quick peek at the map to plan your route. Sure beats having to look for the crumpled map that you thought you had in your back pocket.

Grab a Barclays Bike

Since their inception in 2010, the light blue Barclays bikes have become part of London's landscape. With docking stations spread across central London, they have become one of the main means of transport for Londoners and visitors alike.

Barclays Bike London
The ubiquitous Barclays Bike docking stations

All you need to do is to pay a token registration fee (£2 for 24hr usage) using a credit or debit card and you're good to go. If you return your Barclays bike to another docking station within 30min, there will be no further charge. Refer to Barclay Bike charges for more information.

If you have not figure out already, as long as you plan your route and travel at 30min spurts, all you have to pay is just the initial £2 registration fee each day. That is a bargain considering a Tube ride costs at least £1.90. To better plan your route, download the Barclays Bike app. This will not only tell you where the nearest docking station is, it will help you plan your route there as well as displaying how many bikes are available at the station.

Have you got budget travelling tips for London to share? 

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