Tuesday, February 23, 2010

London on the cheap

When we embark on going to our nation's capital, we often think it's going to cost an arm and a leg. Whilst it's certainly easy to drop a fortune, it's also easy to have a couple of days spending relatively little money. Let me tell you how...

The first thing to note about London is that a lot of the main attractions cost about £0! Pretty good don't you think! When tourists come to 'the Big Smoke' what do they want to see? Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, Downing Street, The Horse Guard Parade, and Buckingham Palace to name but a few. What do all these things have in common? They're free!

Even better is that they're all very close together, easily walkable even for the least energetic or active of people. I'm not really one for spending hours looking at the outside of buildings so 20 minutes at each and I feel satisfied although I would've enjoyed spending longer
had it not been one of the coldest February's in my lifetime! We were also lucky enough to see a band regiment marching towards Buckingham Palace which was a highlight of the trip. The walk from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace took about 3 hours. We weren't walking at much more than a snail's pace as Hanh was taking in the views, buildings, costumes of the guards, the magnificence of the horses and the numerous parks, still eye catching in the midst of winter. From the Queen's abode we made our way to China town. Another stroke of luck meant that Lunar New Year was rapidly approaching and Soho was quite the sight!!

It also had an electric atmosphere, with vibrant colours and a vast array of Asian restaurants. We had lunch at a small Vietnamese place (for obvious reasons) before heading to the V&A museum at South Kensington Tube Station. Again...free (as is the Natural History). The V&A is emense. Much bigger than I expected. Although the fashion, art and iron work exhibitions arent' really my thing, I was extremely impressed with the number of items on view, their presentation and the time span covered. For anyone considering going, I would recommend it.

So far all I'd had to pay for (or would've had to pay for had 1. I not driven to just outside the congestion zone 2. Dad not paid for lunch) was a return bus ride to London with National Express, lunch and a tube pass for zones 1 and 2 for 2 days.

Before I went to London, Phil (a close friend of mine) advised me that I needed at 3 days to do half the things I wanted to do. He wasn't wrong. Had I not been in the fortunate position of being able to stay with him and Guillaume (another close friend) then even the 2 days we managed would've been a struggle on a tight budget. But lucky to have the friends I do, I didn't have to worry about accommodation. Anyway, Phil and G finished work and met us at a pub before proceeding to Pizza express. Fortunately there is a 2 for 1 deal on food if you have an Orange mobile so dinner didn't cost all that much. Furthermore, I've been informed that if you search around online, a lot of restaurants are offering such deals at various times of the week, presumably to beat off the recession. So all in all, I only had to add a couple of drinks and dinner onto the bill. Hardly the hit I expected my account to take.

The next day was a little more expensive as we wanted to see some of the attractions that you have to pay for. The first one is pictured above and was one of the highlights of my trip home. I have a passion for English history, particularly between 1300 to 1700 and the Tower of London features heavily in this period. Going inside the Tower turned me into a small child. I wanted to go everywhere, touch everything and all the other things excited toddlers do! However, the best thing about it is that National Rail offer 2 for 1 tickets to a whole bunch of attractions provided you've bought an overground ticket into London. I saved£17!! Bargain. As we were spitting distance from Tower Bridge we went there to. To go to the top of the bridge was £7 each but again, thanks to National rail, I used another trump card!

Unfortunately our time had run out and we had to go home mid-afternoon but we'd already covered a lot in two days. Next time I want to see the Dungeons, go up the London Eye and walk around St. James and Hyde Park. The Dungeons are effectively half price due to National rail (who I have a new found respect for), the parks are free with London Eye being the only thing I have to pay full price for!

This entry isn't intended as a guide to any one of London's multiple attractions. I haven't talked about how we saw Gordon Brown pull into Westminister, a blacked out vehicle driving away from Buckingham Palace with a police escort nor the ease at which you travel around the city but I just wanted to highlight that you don't have to remortgage your house to enjoy our capital. We had an amazing time and that was winter which isn't the best time to visit. Come the summer the parks, walking along the river and picnicking in Canary Wharf are all pleasant. London can be expensive if you want it to be, but you barely have to spend a penny to have a great time if the cash has stopped flowing!!

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