Travel-Talk: London Olympics on the cheap!

10 Money-Saving Tips for your next trip to London, England.

Part 2 of my four-part series on “Budget Travel” (the full feature “Thrifty Trips” appears in our July issue) focuses on London, which, because of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is a popular destination this summer for Canadian travellers.

Queen's Guard
Last week the savvy folks at Visit Britain shared their round-up of budget-travel tips. I’ve cherry-picked my way through their list and here are five of their tips – followed by another five of my very own.

1. BritRail Transit
Benefit: the pass allows for unlimited and flexible rail travel with discounts for families, groups, seniors and youth. Visit britrail.com.

2. Oyster Cards and Visitor Transit Passes
Benefit: the Visitor Oyster Card is described as a “pay as you go” pass that promises to “cap your daily costs at the cheapest price available.” It’s a bonus for families with children under 11 years old who ride for free when accompanied by an adult. The Visitor Oyster Card is valid on the Underground (translation: subway), buses, trams and the Dockland Light Railway. Purchase your passes beforehand at visitbritainshop.ca.

Hop a bus, get on the tube - save big bucks (Courtesy: Visit Britain)

3. Bike Sharing
Benefit: Bike shares offer bicycles for short term rental, a wonderful way to get from point A to B, seeing the city close-up and not incurring cab fare. Some bike share outfitters offer the first half hour for free. Rent a bike from Barclays Cycle Hire (nicknamed the Boris Bikes after the London mayor who supported this mode of eco-friendly travel) in London’s zone 1 for £1 (which works out to about CDN $1.60) for the full day.


4. Discount Theater Tickets

TKTS London is your best bet for half-price, same-day theatre tickets in London’s West End.

Wizard Of Oz

Cheap tickets to Wizard of Oz and other shows (Courtesy: Visit Britain)

5. Museums and Galleries are free
I’m mildly surprised when visiting London and I have to fork out cash to get into some of the bigger churches and cathedrals (houses of worship) but world-class galleries and museums – such as the Tate – are free.

Now, my own personal best budget tips for London:

6. Best budget-savvy (healthy) spot for mid-day lunch or snack: For the record, I’ve not ever received a free meal from the popular chain Pret a Manger. But they’re my personal favourite in big cities such as London and Manhattan when I want a healthy meal on the go. For freshly-made sandwiches and salads made with excellent fresh ingredients, you can’t go wrong. If you’re in the centre of London, grab your meal to go and find a spot in Hyde Park. If you want to plan ahead, check out the chain’s handy little Pret a Manger shop locator.

Of course, this should be your go-to stand-by. Rule of thumb: Eat like a local and don’t bypass the street-food. See item # 9 below.

7. Afternoon Tea: And speaking of eating like a local, afternoon tea is a British tradition you should try at least once. And, yes, it’s going to cost a few pound but the reality is: it’s much cheaper than a fancy meal out in the evening and you’re paying for the experience as much as the food. Compare 30 pounds for an afternoon tea in a swank hotel to a meal out in Knightsbridge. Visit London has compiled a list of excellent options (and booking ahead is a good idea).

8. Take the tube from Heathrow Airport. Avoid the taxi stand. You’ll save gobs of money — and the Underground (which we call subway and Londers refer to as the Tube) is very efficient. And you pay by zone. There’s a transit kiosk right at Heathrow.

9. Street food. The Guardian newspaper recently compiled the top 10 street food stalls. Like Afternoon Tea, it’s tradition — and will save you a few quid. It’s not all greasy hot dogs slathered in ketchup that clutter the streets of so many North American cities (though we are improving). Think: Pulled pork sandwiches, scotch eggs, Korean fusion food (kimchi on your burger, anyone?), spicy churros and more.

Suggestion: If you splurge on Afternoon Tea (see item # 3) then balance your budget by grabbing dinner on the street. Your taste buds and bank book will thank you.

 Afternoon Tea

Splurge on Afternoon Tea, then save on dinner (Courtesy: Visit Britain)

10. Buy your souvenirs and gew gaws at the Portobello Road Market. No, you don’t need to shell out 20 pounds for cutesy Tower of London salt and pepper shakers. Pick up some retro bijoux or tchotchkes at this or any other London flea market.

If you want to get really serious about exploring London on the cheap, check out Visit London’s budget section. For cheap(er) digs, scroll through Visit Britain’s special budget accommodation area on their web site.

If you have any money-saving travel tips of your own, by all means, post them below.