by Luc O Cinnseala
With its countless museums, world-class shopping and unparalleled energy, there are a million reasons to visit London. Admittedly, a reason to avoid London is the higher-than-average cost of eating, drinking and getting around.
However, sticking to a few basic rules will ensure that you’ll return home from the English capital with some memorable experiences, great stories and a healthy bank balance.
Choose the right travel card
In case you didn’t already know, London is a BIG city and chances are you might not be able to walk from A to B all that easily. Your number-one friend for getting around here is the Visitor Oyster Card. This handy card allows travel on the Tube, Tram, DLR, Overground, most National Rail services within London and the river bus—so, everything really.
Fares in Zones 1 and 2 (which most tourists won’t need to venture beyond) automatically cap at £6.50 (€7.50), meaning you can travel as much as you want in one day for this price. Compare this to a paper Day Travelcard, which will cost you £12.10 (€14) for the exact same privilege.
As an added bonus, the visitor card will get handy discounts on food, drink, museums and tours all over the city.
Hop on a bike
Another great way to see the city is by bike. That’s where the city’s Boris Bikes (officially Santander Cycles) come in. The hugely successful public bike scheme has 750 docking stations around the city and costs just £2 (€2.30) for 24 hours. Each journey within that 24-hour window is free if it’s less than half an hour and costs £2 for each additional half hour.
Be warned that, while the situation is improving, cycling in London can be a high-pressure affair and might not be for the inexperienced city cycler.
Thanks to a comprehensive night bus network, getting home in London can be safe and straightforward, albeit sometimes time-consuming. Check Google Maps’ public transport directions or the journey planner on tfl.gov.uk to find out which routes can take you home after a late night. Your Oyster card will work as normal on these services.
If you’re looking for the extra convenience of a taxi then don’t think about hailing the city’s famous black cabs if you’re going any notable distance, as they’re famously expensive. Choose from any of the taxi apps in operation in the city.
Nothing helps you get your bearings in a new city like a walking tour. As with any city, there’s a huge number of companies and individuals offering free walking tours of London in numerous languages. They include the immensely popular Europe-wide Sandeman’s and Free Tour! Of London. As anybody who’s taken such a tour before will know, guides work on tips alone so you simply pay what you think the tour was worth at the end.
Sandeman’s offers a Free Tour of Royal London and several other paid tours while Free Tour! of London has a wider range of tipping-only tours like the Old City Tour, Free Soho Tour and Free Jack the Ripper Tour.
London has some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world, which also just happen to be free. They include the awe-inspiring British Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the V&A. Meanwhile, no trip to London is complete without at least a short visit to the Tate Modern: A contemporary gallery housed in the expansive halls of a disused power plant in Southwark, just across the Thames from St Paul’s Cathedral. The view of London’s skyline from the upper floors of the gallery also makes a great free alternative to the nearby London Eye.
If you do plan to visit one of the city’s many fascinating and worthwhile paid attractions, book in advance for the cheapest admission fees or else book combo tickets which cover different attractions.
Cheap tickets to shows
You’re in London and you want to see a show. Of course you do; you’re in the home of the West End after all. To get the best prices on theatre tickets you can either book well in advance through certain trusted websites like tickets.london or else visit the old reliable TKTS booth on Leicester Square for some last-minute bargains. If choosing the latter, just make sure you’re flexible about which show you want to see.
Few places can claim to be as culturally diverse as London is. To see this diversity laid bare in food form, visit Borough Market where you’re as likely to get a rich seafood paella as an authentic Thai green curry, and all at market prices—or, at least, slightly inflated London market prices.
Across town, taste the finest in British Indian food on Brick Lane. This 1km street, which connects Aldgate to Shoreditch via Spitalfields, is lined with Indian restaurants, each claiming to be better than the last and, truth is, it’s hard to choose a bad one. Make it here for lunchtime and avail of a delicious two-course meal for under £10. Ideal for the recovery after a late night.
If you plan on boozing in the West End then chances are you’ll get a lot less drink for your pounds than the trendy bars of Shoreditch and Hoxton, London’s hipster strongholds. Many bars in Soho do offer happy hours and drink promotions, so it never hurts to ask at the bar.
Drinking alcohol in public is illegal across London, save for some tiny slivers on the map, where complex loopholes mean public drinking is technically legal. One such sliver is the magnificent Primrose Hill near Camden Town. If it’s dry, grab a bottle of bubbly and some paper cups from a supermarket and plonk yourself down for a civilised liquid picnic.
Just remember that while drinking alcohol is allowed here, harassment, violence and littering are not, so if you can’t drink with some class then this particular excursion might not be for you.
Where to stay?
PubLove @ The Crown, Battersea
The PubLove chain combines two important thing for travellers in London: Quality hostels and pubs. Its addition in Battersea, has some of the best-value beds in the city and is popular with guests for its stylish interior, friendly staff and lively atmosphere. Free breakfast!
With private rooms and kitted-out dorms, free breakfast, free Wo-Fi and late check-out, Clink261 is the perfect hostel to use as a base for exploring London. It’s only a short walk to the British Museum and King’s Cross station is around the corner, meaning it’s super-easy to get wherever you want to go. Don’t forget to ask the staff about their free walking tour!