Fast paced, busy, bursting with British culture – the few times I’ve been there have always left me wanting to go back for more. London is also one of my most extreme shallow-pocketing experiences – both with the lengths I went to stretching my euro and how it all went disastrously wrong!
With our Parisian Erasmus coming to a close, we went on one last trip together. I wasn’t really able to afford it but given the circumstances, it was a must! EasyJet made it possible with cheap flights; around €30 return. We stayed in Journey’s Greenwich; a decent hostel close to the city centre. It’s beside the Tube so easy to get to, staff are friendly and the common room is really comfy. Breakfast is included in the price which is always a plus. Being on top of a pub, it’s noisy at night, though we didn’t find that particularly bothersome.
A handy money saver is the Oyser Card; the London travel card. You can buy it for £5 and then top it up as you need to. There’s a cut-off point each day so once you reached that, you won’t get charged any more no matter how much you use it. When you’re leaving, you can return the card for your £5 back. Not bad, eh? Have a look. It’s also possible to get day travel passes, but it’s best to ask about these at ticket booths as prices vary depending on zones.
The main reason we chose London was the West End. Go to any of the ticket kiosks around London on the day of the show and you’ll get tickets at a discount; get there early so seat supply won’t be an issue. We went to see Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, costing us approx. £43 each, compared to their normal price of approx. £60. Both were fantastic and worth every penny! You can get great deals online too; sometimes much better than on the day. Going to the Lion King a few years ago (absolutely brilliant), I booked tickets for £27. Check out:http://www.theatreticketsdirect.co.uk/?gclid=CPyR3JWW-qoCFYKDDgodaFYu-w
Despite being wonderful value, the shows weren’t cheap – this meant that I had very little money left so I really stretched it. In regards to food, I ate as much bread as I could during the free breakfast – slow release energy keeps you going for longer. Going to Tesco, I bought a couple of Meal Deals – £2.49 for a pot of pasta, a pack of crisps and a juice. I made each pasta pot last me two meals, eating the crisps in-between. This meant asking for a tap water in the restaurants while my friends had their delicious dinners of bangers and mash and cod and chips, followed by me eating outside on our way to the shows; not the nicest scenario, but not the worst either –commitment to the cause, people! I also packed some snacks so I wouldn’t have to buy any in London – chocolate bars and nuts; great energy-givers.
The others, also feeling the pinch of the shows, were more than happy to do sight-seeing on the cheap. The National Portrait Gallery is perfect for this – free entry and great fun. There are all sorts of famous peoples’ portraits on display…and some really “out there” stuff including the glass face of an artist filled with his own blood! The Natural History Museum is brilliant and free! There are loads of colourful and interactive displays including dinosaurs, insects and large mammals – you can easily spend a few hours here having the craic. The big robotic T-Rex and the room with Whales hanging in it are particularly memorable exhibits.
London is an easy city to stroll around and see famous places such as Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, the London Eye and Downing Street – cheap and cheerful culture! The parks are wonderful too. Being blessed with good weather, we were able to picnic in St. James Park and Hype Park. Both are beautifully laid-out, clean and home to really cute squirrels, who are quite happy to eat out of your hand. Eager pigeons will also come over. En masse. Having seen The Birds, I panicked, threw what I had at them and ran. This does nothing; only makes you look like a fool!
St. James Park is surrounded by the Royal Palaces; the Horse Guards Palace, Buckingham Palace and Westminster. The Changing of the Guards ceremony takes place near here. It’s fun to watch as it’s something different; uniforms, horses, marching band… Being spoiled by the French Chateaux, I didn’t think much of Buckingham Palace but that’s not to say it’s not impressive. Public viewing is available from the end of July to the start October – get more info here: http://www.goldentours.com/partner/visitlondon/productdetails.aspx?productid=137
While I didn’t go this time, I’ve been on the London Eye before. It’s enjoyable as the city looks really pretty but if you’re on a tight budget, it’s definitely missable. Save 10% by booking online. See their prices here and decide: http://www.londoneye.com/TicketsAndPrices/Tickets/Default.aspx
If you’re a shopper, Harrods is the place for you. If you’re not, it’s still worth the visit to see the Egyptian Escalator with the performing Opera Singer on one of its balconies. The food section has some fantastic displays too. Here, you’ll see products like tiered princess cakes costing over £1000! There’s also an entire section devoted to pets, in which you can find the Canine Cookie Company (“UK’s premier bakery for dogs”)! For some more affordable shopping, Oxford Street is a super place to go. Loads of mainstream shops are found here as well as some fancy boutiques – a good mixture to give you a taste of the “London Look”. Piccadilly Circus is also a great haunt- just beside the West end, it is bursting with life – the huge display screen found there is pretty swanky and some well-known shops are about such as Virgin Megastores. Considering I was broke on this trip, I just window-shopped.
So, it all sounds good so far… I’m sure you’re wondering what went wrong – I sleep through my alarm and missed my flight. BAM! €200 gone! Always, ALWAYS make sure you have a loud alarm and a back-up one too! Consequently, I ate nothing but awful chicken nuggets and bread for the rest of my time in Paris – pretty gross, I know. However, this drastic measure meant despite the major budgetary set-back, I could afford to go to Prague a few months later.