London has no shortage of attractions. Whether you’re into food (best Indian food, hands down), shopping (Harrods…need I say more?), sports (nothing better than a pint of ale and some footie in the pub), or art (Tate modern, V & A, the British Museum, to name a few)—there is something for everyone. Even for the hard-up traveler.
With that in mind, a different approach to our time in London is in order.
1) Don’t Eat Out – Though London is known for its smorgasbord of cuisines and fine dining options, if you are visiting on a tight budget, the biggest mistake you can make is to fritter away your money on overpriced restaurants. Instead of succumbing to the allure of artfully arranged ambiances and fancy cocktails, opt for less pricey meals at places where you aren’t paying for the atmosphere. Some of the best meals I had in London were from one of the many markets serving fresh food for cheap. You will find everything from Pad Thai to delicious quiches at the Portobello Market in Notting Hill. Just because you are on vacation, it doesn’t mean you have to eat out—there is nothing wrong with a frugal meal of bread, cheese, and wine in your hotel room before heading out to explore the city.
2) Don’t Take Cabs – Unless you are intoxicated and find yourself at the last Tube stop in Cockfosters at some ungodly hour, there is no excuse for taking a cab in London. London is a pedestrian friendly city (although the cabs do race down the streets—look both ways!) with restaurants, pubs, and shops around every corner. Though it seems like a novel idea to us Americans, walking is always the best way to go. The next best option is to use the London Underground. Instead of buying a single ticket which equals one ride, buy a ‘Pay As You Go’ Oyster card, which is cheaper than paying with cash and can be bought at the station, online, or at a newsstand. The card also works on buses, and can get you into London attractions.
3) Don’t Let Down Your Guard at ATMs – Another tip for the coin-conscious traveler: don’t get what little money you have stolen. London is notorious for ATM thefts. I had a friend who was robbed by a man who tapped her on the shoulder, asking if she dropped five pounds. When she turned around to look, he grabbed her card as it was ejected from the machine. Though she chased him for several blocks, he managed to evade capture. Moral of the story: use the mirrors on the ATM to see if anyone is watching you enter your pin, or even better, go in pairs.
4) Don’t Go to Fabric – London’s nightlife is extensive…and expensive. Clubs like Fabric boast three different rooms and a vibrating floor, but cover and drinks will have you weeping at your balance the next morning. As with most London clubs, it is man-heavy, loud, and far too easy to get lost in (I lost my friends within 5 minutes, never to be found again). However, if clubbing is your cup of tea, check online for the nights with deals or go early when cover is discounted.
5) Don’t Go On Tours – There is nothing worse than driving around the city in a bus as an annoying tour guide attempts to crack a joke about Big Ben. So don’t do it. All you need is an Oyster card, a London guidebook, and well-rested legs and you can be your own guide (and get a great workout).
By Claire Cudahy who lived and worked in London on a budget.