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London for less
Shedding a few pounds in London
London, the land of fish and chips, sexy accents, royalty, and high tea. London can be a magical city with so much to offer, but let’s be honest, the exchange rate isn’t always in the traveler’s favor. So we have some advice on how to do London without a royal budget.
First things first, the Oyster card. This pay-as-you-go card is one way to get around London without breaking the bank. The Oyster card offers a nice discount when getting around on the Tube, bus, tram, and most National Rail services in London. The trick is to remember to always tap in and more importantly, tap out. It will cost you £5 for the card itself, but that will be refunded once you’re finished using it. You can fill it up as you need to at any Tube station.
Viewfinder Tip: Pick up an Oyster card to save money on local transportation.
The way the Oyster card works is that at the start of every journey you “tap in” at the electronic pedestals. This automatically takes £8.30 off of your card. Once you reach your destination and “tap out,” the Oyster card will calculate the price of your journey and then refund the rest. The most you can end up spending for one journey is £8.30, but in many cases you’ll spend much less. If you forget to tap out, you’ll end up paying the entire £8.30 regardless of how far you traveled.
If you want to spend a few hours in utter wonder, then be sure to stop by the massive British Museum. This museum houses the famed Rosetta Stone, which unfortunately won’t help you pick up a new language, but will help you read into the history of the world. Entry into the British Museum is free and is a fascinating way to spend a day in London. You could literally lose yourself for hours while taking in the Easter Island Moai, Egyptian mummies, and Roman ruins.
Any lover of the outdoors will find themselves at home in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The best time to visit is early in the day when everyone is walking their dogs while the morning mist rolls across the park. One special feature in the northeast corner of Hyde Park is the Speakers’ Corner. This spot is a dedicated place where those that have something to say can do just that. Snag yourself a cheap kebab, grab a bench, and listen to whatever the day’s heated topic may be, or if you’re feeling brave, jump up and speak your mind.
Walking the alleyways of Portobello Market may transport you to a vastly different London than the Big Ben and Buckingham Palace versions of England that you might have already experienced. This haven for London’s youth is bedazzled with hipster gear, vintage items straight out of Downton Abbey, food from every corner of the globe, and the most bizarre items you can think of. It’s free to window shop and relatively cheap to buy. If you find something you like, be sure to shop around. An antique rugby ball or a Jack the Ripper top hat can have five different prices depending on which vendor you talk to.
Add some magic to your day
For the true Harry Pottery enthusiast, missing out on Platform 9 3/4 is as unforgivable as the Avada Kedavra curse. Hop on the Tube and head out to King’s Cross Station, where a Hogwarts Express conductor will be waiting by the clearly labeled platform. You’ll be offered a pair of Harry Potter glasses and a scarf matching the Hogwarts house of your choice. Throw on your favorite props, grab hold of the disappearing trolly, and fling yourself towards the platform. The friendly conductor will take a picture with your own camera for free, or will charge you for a professional set.
While London boasts an overwhelming amount of attractions that are worth every penny, it’s still nice to explore the city and walk away with some extra change. With all the money that you’ve saved you could take a day trip to Stonehenge or even buy another pint at a local pub. Regardless of what you choose, rest assured that London won’t leave you wanting.
What are your best tips to exploring London on a budget?
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube