London on the Cheap

Budgeting for a vacation in Europe is tough. The plane tickets are enough of an investment, and once you’re there, the weak dollar means even a “bargain” is comically expensive.

Here are a few ways we managed to get out of London without going broke:

1. Museums, museums, museums! Most of the museums in London are free, and there are enough to provide days of sightseeing. We saw the Wallace Collection, the Victoria and Albert, the Natural History Museum, the Tate Modern, and the National Gallery. And we only had time to see a small part of their enormous collections.

2. Cheap transport. Most of the time, we walked – probably at least 5 miles a day. But we also bought Oystercards, which are a LOT less expensive than cash tickets- a ride costs £1.50 instead of £4!

Belgo Centraal Beat the Clock special
Beat the Clock specials at Belgo Centraal

3. Food specials. My favorite was at Belgo Centraal, a large underground Belgian beerhall featuring robed waiters and co-ed bathrooms. Between 5 and 6:30 on weekdays, you “pay the clock” for an entree and a beer. (In other words, come at 5 and pay £5.) The dishes were great – we had wild mushroom puff pastry and roasted vegetables in a pastry shell topped by a delectable slab of goat cheese.

Another good low-priced option is The Stockpot, with affordable fixed-price and a la carte options, and the kind of food you’d imagine eating on a Sunday night at home growing up in England. The restaurant has several locations.

4. Discount theater tickets. Thanks to the discount tkts booth in Leicester Square, we saw Monty Python’s Spamalot. Sure, we were at a dizzying height looking straight down on the actor’s heads, but it was still a ton of fun!

5. The grocery store. Visiting grocery stores is a regular part of my travels. I like to read the labels, know what the average person is buying for breakfast, see what the produce is like. This time I brought along a couple of plastic plates and silverware so we could have a meal or two from the Tesco down the street. We bought cheese, bread, fruit (fresh figs and ground cherries) and yogurt.

Tea at Sotheby’s and grocery store finds
Tea at Sotheby’s and grocery store finds

6. Alternative tea. We wanted to have afternoon tea while in London, but many of the famous options (like Brown’s Hotel) can be around $70 a person! While these options do offer a lot of food, anyone simply looking for a tea experience has a lot more affordable options. We had tea at Sotheby’s Cafe (inside the auction house). For £5 we had delicious tea, scones, clotted cream, strawberry preserves, biscuits with orange cinnamon butter, and friendly service.

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