London on the Cheap

It’s been a month since Paola arrived in the UK, but until Monday she hadn’t seen what she really wanted to see – London. For our third wedding anniversary, I put that to rights and treated her to the cheapest visit to London possible. Yeah, I know, one isn’t meant to be cheap, especially for an anniversary. London is expensive however, and my budget is still recovering from the visas and airfares to get her here in the first place. But we had an absolute riot anyway. Although more on that later.

Cheap is, perhaps, the wrong word. I wanted to get value. And also to show that a great time can be had without spending a small fortune. It can be done. First stop, the Megatrain website. A train from Bournemouth to London usually costs £50 per person return. With Megatrain, if you  book in advance, you can get return tickets for the princely sum of £2.50. I didn’t book quite far enough in advance to get those fares, but I did get us tickets at just £8.50 pp. An instant saving of more that £80.

Next stop was the easyHotel website. The company that brought us dirt cheap flights a decade ago, now does dirt cheap hotels. I hesistate to quote the cost of a room. They really aren’t rooms. They are cubicles. A decent sized double bed takes up at least half the space. A further quarter of the cubicle is consumed with a shower/loo cubicle. Which has a very honest sign on the door…’a tiny loo’.  There were no windows, although for a few extra pounds, you can upgrade to a cubicle which does let some natural light in.

But the room was clean and functional and did the job. The cost? Again, booking in advance can get you a room in a posh part of central London for around the £30 mark. That’s for the room, not per person. Again, I didn’t book enough in advance and had to pay £48 per night. But that’s still very cheap for a night’s stay in the heart of Kensington. You’re lucky to find a room at less than £100 in this sort of location. Let’s call that another £100 saved over the two nights. The ‘rooms’ might be cramped, but at that price, we’ll be staying there again. And using them across Europe too.

Getting there, and finding a place to lay your head at night are the two most expensive parts of a trip to London. You do also need to eat though. Luckily, I had noticed someone posting something about a Tastecard on Facebook a while back and had sent off for a free trial. Tastecard gets you 2 for 1 or 50% off your bill at over 5,000 restaurants across the UK and normally costs £43 per year. My free card only lasts a month, but I reckon I might be forking out for a full annual one when mine expires. We’ve eaten twice at Prezzo, twice at the truly excellent GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) and once at a patisserie. Off the top of my head, I think we saved about £35 in just over 48 hours.

Shopping around and looking for bargains does pay off. We saved over £200 at still travelled in style on the train, ate some good food, and slept comfortably. And all without once having to climb through a shop window or delve through a foreign visitors backpack while he lies bleeding on the pavement. Although the trip wasn’t really about how we got there, what we consumed and how well we slept. We went to see the sights. And I have enough photos and materials to keep my blog ticking over for the next week or so.

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