I visit London quite a lot for work, so know only too well how expensive a few days in the capital can be. Usually I have my business credit card and personal mantra “expense it, expense it, expense it” on hand to help, but when Rob and I decided to pop down for a few days to see a show, eat some food and have some general good times, I knew it could get costly.
In more reckless times I would’ve absorbed the cost and put it down to ‘just living life’, but these days I’m trying to be more sensible, so I thought I’d have a go at budgeting. A word not particularly familiar to me and my wardrobe of Whistles impulse buys.
The trip itself came about because I managed to score two return train tickets from Leeds to London for the princely sum of £20… total, not each. For some ridiculous reason it’s often cheaper to fly to Spain than travel 2.5 hours down the UK – it’s for this reason and this reason alone I remain subscribed to East Coast’s newsletters. They had a sale on, we were flexible with our dates – boom, cheap travel secured. Step 1 done.
The lovely folks at Premier Inn provided a complimentary room at their Waterloo hotel which was obviously a big bonus for our budget trip. However, I’ve stayed in this hotel and many other Premier Inns before and I’m never disappointed – you may not get the quirky charm of an independent hotel or the luxury of a 5-star, but the service is always brilliant. At the Waterloo branch in particular, the staff were delightful, the breakfast was delicious and the bed was cloud-like. They even have pillow menus now.
Once in London, my top tip for anyone wanting to explore on a shoestring is this – walk around. There is so much to see in London, and if you spend all your time in shops or on the tube, you’ll miss it. It’s so easy to wander along – I always think things are very well signposted, and in central most sights are reasonably close together so you won’t be schlepping for hours in the searing, er, rain.
After dropping off our bags at the hotel, Rob and I walked along the Thames and down to the South Bank, grabbed a burrito at the Wahaca van parked up and ate it on a picnic bench in the sun. It was a little breezy, but far cheaper than a big lunch in a restaurant. And so tasty.
From there, we took the tube and jumped off at Bond Street so we could walk all the way down Oxford Street, then veered off onto Carnaby Street via Liberty. Liberty is the perfect place to while away an afternoon… as long as you’re not tempted into a £400 cushion or Diptyque candle. I’ve never succumbed to the cushion but, aahhh, Diptyque…
After a quick change back at the hotel, we were ready for our evening entertainment. Rob and I are unashamedly fond of musicals, so I’d booked tickets to see Matilda. I kept it cheap with £20 upper balcony seats, but when we arrived to collect them an hour before the show, we were bumped up into the stalls. This is a great tip for mid-week theatre bookings – collect your ticket early and if the show’s not sold out, there’s a good chance you’ll get upgraded to better seats. And then you can go for a celebratory gin.
After the show – which was amazing btw, much better than the Broadway version I saw last year in New York – we went for a late dinner at Pizza Pilgrims. Two full pizzas and wine for £20 in central London? YES.
On our second (and last) day in London we checked out of our hotel after a slap-up breakfast, leaving our bags behind and heading for one of my favourite places in the city – the Natural History Museum.
When I travel to big cities, I always visit at least one museum. Yes, they’re total tourist traps, but it’s because they’re so good. Often free, full of interesting things, light, airy and usually with toilets – literally everything one could want during a day of sightseeing. The Natural History Museum is a particular fave because the building itself is beautiful, so you’re getting a treat before you even step inside.
We finished our trip to London with lunch at Cookhouse Joe which was fresh, delicious and very reasonably priced. A great way to end our budget visit!
If you’re visiting one of the world’s major cities, you do have to expect a certain level of expense. But if you’re sensible, you really can save quite a bit on travel, accommodation and food.
What are you top tips for budget travel? For London or anywhere else!