Summer is my favourite time of year anywhere. Autumn isn’t far behind, providing that the autumn in question is an Indian Summer sort of autumn, rather than an early winter sort of autumn. But summer rules supreme in my book. Especially in London. Some may disagree, and declare it to be a sticky, muggy and dusty time of year to be in a heaving metropolis. But those are small prices to pay for weather than allows you to go for ridiculously long walks through ancient winding street, manicured parks and along the river, old Father Thames. Who doesn’t love to sip a cold drink out front of a trendy establishment in a chic part of town and watch the world go by?
Alas, in London during the summer, the stickiness and dust are the only small prices you will generally pay. The city gears up for a huge influx of visitors, ready to relieve them of every hard earned dollar, euro, yen or (these days) yuan that they possess. Tourism is big business, and London is an international magnet. If you include business visitors then the UK capital sees more overseas visitors than any other city in the world.
But London doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive to visit, if you plan things properly. Ideally, you wouldn’t come in summer. Many visitors have kids though, and even domestic visitors like myself and Mrs P don’t want to be excluded from the capital for the three best months of the year. There are four big costs to any visit. Accommodation, transport, food and entry charges. For a family of three or four, they add up really quickly.
First tip – instead of seeking out bargain hotels outside the centre (which are still rarely cheap!) try and look for hotels near the London Eye. There are some very central hotels to be had at reasonable prices. But best of all, you’ll be so close to centre that for at least a couple of days of a five day vacation, you’ll be able to save on London Underground tickets. There’s so much close by. The houses of parliament, Somerset House, the South Bank, the Tate Modern, Trafalgar Square, Banqueting Hall, Churchill’s War Rooms, the National Gallery and so much more.
A lot of ‘doing London cheaply’ guides will now direct you to lots of alternative venues that, although good, aren’t really what you came to London for. Unnecessarily so. Besides all the main museums which are usually free of charge to enter (the British Museum and the Natural History Museum are absolute musts) there are some ever so traditionally British events that can be done on a shoestring.
Let’s start with the Proms, a musical extravaganza put on in the Royal Albert Hall every evening from the middle of July into early September. Standing tickets can be had for five pounds each, and it’s the perfect way to end a day. Don’t like standing so much? Go mid week, and there’s usually plenty of room to sit down on the floor. Or lie down. I’ve seen some people get themselves pretty comfortable.
Then there’s the Globe Theatre, with standing tickets again available for as little as a fiver, although it does get packed and the shows do go on a while. So plan something for after the performance that’s easy on the back. A lot of people might head to the Shard. I’ve done it. It’s an impressive view up there, as it should be for £25 a pop . But the restaurant at the Tate Modern has pretty decent views of St Paul’s and the cost is whatever drink you buy.
The last big cost is eating. It might also be the one side of London you aren’t looking forward to, given the UK’s rather poor reputation for cuisine. It’s a false reputation. London has more Michelin starred restaurants than Paris and cuisine from every corner of the globe. Hit Brick Lane for a decent curry at a sensible price. Good old fish and chips, pies, bangers and mash and other traditional English food can be had at excellent prices from many pubs. But if it’s a nice day, find a local supermarket. Food off the shelves isn’t expensive, and what is more traditional than a feast of a picnic in one of London’s glorious, green and pleasant parks?