I recently read the new post on the NYT’s frugal Traveller blog in London. Seth seemed to have gotten a bit of a raw deal. As a Northern UK person, we all know how expensive London is in comparison to the rest of England, never mind if you had to change your currency to half of it’s worth! (meaning you need double $$ to get just £). Plus our recent bump up in VAT from 17.5% to 20% (although as an NON-EU citizen you can claim this back)
When I visit London (on a somewhat often basis for Art reasons) I meet others from the North and the majority of conversations don’t sound like this, ” hey, did you see that amazing exhibition? or where have you been? any advise on places to go to?”
it’s more like this: “how’s it going? gosh, it’s expensive innit? i just paid £1.50 for a CAN OF COKE. It’s 60p in Sheffield?! did you know how much it cost to eat out? how expensive it was to go to the movies?!”
I leave feeling wallet lighter and a nagging feeling that I could have got a Ryanair flight to Barcelona and stayed in a hostel for 2 days cheaper than spending a day and a night in London. But my love of art keeps me going down, despite having not bonded with the city. (Main reason why I have resisted moving down there to ‘make it’ in the commercial art world).
So this is for you all who will be attending London in 2012 for the Olympics, perhaps visiting for the Royal Wedding (lol), Gap year, summer holidays, business, ect. I’m going to save a few ££ and avoid you falling for Wetherspoon pub chains (which are ok – but you don’t go to America to keep eating at McDonalds or TGI Fridays)
First things first, when in london TAKE OR BUY A MAP.
straight up. FREE STUFF
There’s a bunch of free stuff to do in the Capital behind it’s face of expense and extortion.
MUSEUMS. In NYC you have free nights or pay-what-you wish hours, or suggested donation that makes you feel like your cheaping out the museum of $ when you only pay up $1. In London, the majority – not all – museums are free with a donation box. National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britian and TATE Modern’s collections are all free to view. This will radicalize the way you treat viewing art. Special exhibitions, however, are NOT free. Tate Modern for a special exhibition will cost you £10.00 a go (without concessions). So if you’re on a budget – my suggestion is to check out the gift/ bookstore and have a look at the exhibitions catalogue/book. Does the work interest you? Yes- then go ahead. No, then don’t bother.
Commercial art galleries are free too, like they are in NYC, Paris, Berlin ect. But are located all over the place. Every 1st Thursday of every month, the galleries on VYNER STREET [the main commercial area for galleries] (east London, tube stop Bethnal Green) are all open for business at 6pm with many free drinks and food. Get you art-clothes and networking hat on. This is where all the artists come out to play from all over London and the UK. Here you will probably get invited to drinks to a well known bar and find out where all the hip-cool places are at and possibly make some new friends. And not to mention you might get trashed on free cheap wine!
TOURS. if you’re stopping at a hostel, then tours are often free with the option of tipping at the end. if you’re not – Don’t fear. DON’T pay big companies to get a bus and look at stuff. no-way-oh-zay. instead just get a free, funny and personal tour here: http://www.newlondon-tours.com. I’m not a tour person myself, but for those of you that are: try and get a different sort of tour. Get one of the cool street art scene around london or the architecture.
BBC PROMS. In the summer the BBC puts on classical music (trust me on this) and theater on for FREE in the parks around London, bringing you the most talented people from around the world. It’s a vibe and experience you can not pass on. You need to check out the BBC website for more details. But it is flat-out amazing. Bring a picnic and drinks, bask in the luke warm, probably a bit over-caste weather (great british summer!) and feel your IQ level rise.
PARKS. are all free and beautiful. enough said.
SIGHT SEEING. Like everywhere. seeing sights is free to do. (so long as you don’t want to go inside!) London has LOADS. How about instead of spending lots of £££ on your Oyster Card or Travel Day pass – rent a bike. The government has a new scheme unfortunately for long periods of time, it doesn’t work out that cheap. But for less than 30 mins, it’s free to rent a bike off the street at located stalls. I would suggest a real hire bike place : with a bit of research to what would suit you: http://www.lcc.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=171 free official maps avilable here: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/11682.aspx. Then enjoy the architecture, the sights, the small food places you can eat on the road and meet new people without the bustle and squeeze of the underground.
NOT SO FREE but cool.
A pizza place near goodge street tube stop (northern line) – you leave the tube stop, turn right, take your first right again. You continue up the street, past a Tescos and a cool Cupcake store called Candy Cakes ( recommended for those with sweet tooths, will run you £3 a cake) until the corner of Charlotte Street and Goodge. Best italtian Pizza in the place for the best price! A whole pizza (£3+) proper italian style- thin base, and a beer will run you only run you £5-6. In the summer 100’s of people sprawl out onto the streets from the pub between the cupcake place and tube stop called The Fitzrovia.
If in the UK, you need to eat good indian food. Those new to this food won’t know the difference between Pakistani food and Indian. Indian is more sauce/curry – Pakistani food is more rice and spice. Brick Lane is where you’ll find most cheap-ish Indian food. But beware, most of them claim to have ‘chef of the year!’ Time Out website/magazine and online reviews will help you search out the best on the area. Brick Lane at first looks a bit dingy, but this is its charm like a Brit vision of Williamsburg. Not too gentrified it holds many secrets. Whilst in the area, great bakeries that do the best bagels and chinese treats will run you a nice £1-3 depending on what you buy, open until late. Sunday Up Market as you guessed happens on a sunday and it’s a cool hip-happening place of art, funky foods and cool crafts to try. Close to here is the ‘Vibe-Bar’ which is a bar with an amazing beautiful courtyard (pictured below) in the summer months free live music happens. a beer will bust you about £3 – but at night you can probably sneak your own booze to the courtyard.
If you start at Whitechapel side of brick lane, head to the newly furnished Whitechapel Gallery (free and great) and end your long walk up BL at LCB surf store that combines surf and skate with great organic coffee. What a mix?
Like every Chinatown, London’s SoHo chinatown has many treats. Chinese Bakeries with goodies to fill your pockets up for train journeys and picnics. Avoid buffets, and go for a sit down menu meal. Depending where you go, a meal here will usually run you about £10 including drink if you don’t order starters.
Hidden greasy-spoon cafes hide behind back streets of the main streets. The further out zone 1 you go, the cheaper and more authentic food gets. Near Vyner Street you can grab a proper english breakfast for £3, so big and lovely you won’t need to eat for lunch.
You can’t go to London without having Afternoon teas and cakes – the stereotype of Britain. TEA, is for all you urban folk – this place is the place for every fair-trade tea goings on. Another cool place is bob bob ricard all polished brass, buttoned green leather and booth seating – it’s just the place to hide away for a discreet nibble and chat, and it serves tea and cakes all day. The only problem is that an afternoon tea here could run you £10.
Like Seth mentioned, great markets are dotted around the city will provide you with amazing, fresh food from around the world at modest prices below £6. Including and certainly NOT limited to Covent Garden markets.
By now you’ll probably know that alot of UK culture is on binge drinking. We love our pubs, clubs and boozey drinking offers (if near student campus’s you can find a cheap vodka and coke for £1). One of my favourite pubs/bar is called “Venn Street Records” in clapham. Venn ST Records wants to be a cool hip rock n roll bar. whilst it might lack the dirt n grime of a real dive bar, it makes up for it in drinks and coolness with bonding in with the Clapham crowd. Cocktails cover twists on some classics and tongue-in-cheek kitsch with options including the AC/Daiquiri, thePina Colada. On Tuedays its 2-4-1 cocktails, so bring a friend and on sundays they sometimes have live music (but i have no idea if it’s good live music – check it and find out!)
If you fancy wondering out to Battersby then a place called LOST SOCIETY (no joke) is said to be happening. I avoid this place on a weekend cuz it will run you £5 but it’s worth it for the cool DJ’s spinning great tunes. On a budget though, i am sure you can find the same music somewhere else for free. At the Lost Society they have created their own society full of imaginative cocktails ( a list of 60 on the menu) and this is where you can try many different liquors from around the world. In the summer, yuppies and hipsters come out and talk pretension in the fancy courtyard.
Mason and Taylor on Bethnal Green (yep i love the East side of LDN) is a place for anyone really wanting to get to grips with the many cool beers that London (and the UK) have to offer. It’s industrial looking within but I find this intriguing. Local London beers include Kernel IPA and Meantime Raspberry while a blossoming British artisan brewing community is rightfully well-represented in the shape of beers from Marble in Manchester, and many more from Wales, Sussex and the world including American.
In terms of film – a movie theater within zone 1 will cost you a limb. tickets start at £10 for multiplex’s with Leister Square being the most expensive of them all (for obvious reasons). Unless you want to go to the movie theaters where the premieres happen, I would advise to avoid seeing films here. Cineworld is a great Multiplex cinema in the UK and has a few within London starting from Zone 2 outwards. 1 ticket here will still run you about £8+ onwards (don’t see a 3D movie) but lots of leg room, and many screens to choose from including the latest releases and Hollywood’s blockbusters with the odd arthouse or limited release movie showing. If hollywood or multiplex cinema isn’t your scene, then the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is a great place to go. They usually have fantastic contemporary art exhibitions on – and since early 2010 it’s now free to see them – a fantastic bookstore, and cafe/bar which doubles up as a gig/live music place at night. This place is happening and won’t even brush you a penny. The ICA has great choices of films from foreign films you won’t see anywhere else, artist films, documentaries, classics to BAFTA choices. The tickets are also priced here slightly less at £7.
If you’re a true film buff, when in London the British Film Institute is your guide to what’s happening and showing. They do various film festivals all year around with October BFI film festival being the most significant. For those of you wanting to see a 3D movie, then the IMAX complex is the place to go, pay out an extra £2 for the real deal instead of a normal cinema that doesn’t have the technology to get the full effects across to you.
GETTING AWAY FROM LONDON
If you’re in London for longer than 4 days then perhaps leaving London is a good use of your time. Actually see a bit more of the UK than what’s simply portrayed in the movies. Brighton is next to the sea and is seen as a London suburb and only an hour train ride away. Many Londoners like to get away to here on a weekend. The clubbing scene is cheaper and more openly lively. Drink in cafes that will only cost you £1 for a cuppa, or eat an ice cream on the pier. perhaps go on a ride or chill on the beach. Brighton has one of the biggest gay and lesbian populations in the UK, so come and feel the pride and enjoy the loud brash culture here! A return ticket will cost you about £10.00
If the gay sea-side isn’t your thing, then how about Oxford. Heading further up North – a return ticket on the train will bust you between £2.50 – £10.00 depending if bought in advance or not. The train ride is 45 mins long. Oxford is the home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Here lies even more history than you would have ever expected! Spend the day watching people train on the rivers, or seeing more bikes on the road than cars. See a scene you can only imagine would be on Harry Potter, or go to the library that has billions of books underground! Take in the rich green fields and the limestone architecture.
If countryside is more your thing, and you’re in the UK for more than a week. Then perhaps a MEGABUS or an advanced bought train ticket will get you up to places like Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester in less than 3 hours. The further out of London you go, the further your ££ will go too.
In short, after accommodation – London is your Oyster. (literally if that’s your main use of transport) Spending your day divided by museums, food, bars, music, and sights it’s easy to be cheap with a bit of perseverance and research. you can wander the streets and live off baked goods and fresh fruit from market stalls. You could spend your money on cocktails you’ve never heard of and see artists studios.
Oh and I forgot, you must all see if my good friend Myra DuBois has a show, critically acclaimed by Time Out London, and go. Seriously.