London has an unenviable reputation for being expensive for visitors. But is it? Well, it certainly can be. Yet, there’s no reason why a first-time visitor has to pay over the odds and not do the UK capital on a decent budget. Indeed, here’s how to do exactly that.
Where to stay
London’s absolutely brimming with high-quality accommodation – and you don’t need to break the bank to be able to find somewhere appealing and comfortable. What you do need to do, though, is to be smart – and flexible. Do your own hotel-searching online and, where possible, book through a hotel’s or a hotel loyalty scheme’s own website (such as for hotel rewards programs); that way, you may be able to take advantage of some highly desirable deals and not pay out to a third-party for the pleasure of them merely narrowing down your accommodation search.
How are you going to travel from home to the Big Smoke – and vice versa? It may well be your only choice is to do so via an air flight. So be it but, again, shop around for deals – and in order to secure one, search and book early! It may also be that a cheaper option than air travel’s possible. For instance, if you hail from Continental Europe, is it feasible to travel by rail (i.e. via the Eurostar train, arriving into London’s St. Pancras station?).
Getting to your hotel from your accommodation and back again is an issue too – your best bet here may also be to rely on rail. All three of the city’s major airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted) are served by fast rail services straight into the centre of town or, in some cases, you can travel from the airport via the London Underground – or Tube (i.e. from Heathrow). Doing that comes with a bonus because it means you’ll get used to Tube-travel – and using the public transport-based electronic top-up payment system that’s the Oyster card – before you reach London proper; something that could prove invaluable.
There’s much you can actually do in the capital for free; believe it or not. For instance, you can watch the iconic Changing of the Guard ceremony at St. James’s Palace and then at Buckingham Palace for absolutely nothing, as well as discover much of the traditional and dynamically modern heart of the city on foot.
For example, in one unbroken (albeit long-ish) stretch, you can start at Piccadilly Circus and pass through Leicester Square; through Trafalgar Square; down Whitehall and past 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament; cross Westminster Bridge; walk along the Southbank and pass the London Eye, Waterloo Bridge, the Tate Modern gallery, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and London Bridge; cross Tower Bridge and, finally, pass the millennium-old Tower of London. Talk about a scenic, highly photographic route!
It’s also free to spend however long you like in any of the Royal parks and in many of the city’s – and, indeed, the word’s – greatest galleries and museums, including the National Gallery; the National Portrait Gallery; the Science Museum; the Natural History Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and, of course, the British Museum.
Finally, despite what you’ve heard, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to dine out in London. How so? Again, it’s about being in the know. Nowadays, several smartphone apps will inform you of myriad deals at many a fine restaurant, while you can eat traditional English dishes – and relatively inexpensively – at one of the city’s inordinate roast dinner/ fish and chips-serving pubs or at one of the iconic curry houses on the East End’s Brick Lane.
Or how about dining in your hotel? Doubtless, if you’ve secure a good deal on your room, the place’ll serve decent food should it have a restaurant; like at hotels near Piccadilly, such as the Grand Royale London Hyde Park hotel.
So, to sum up, there’s so much to see and do in London, but there’s no need to break the bank at all!
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