Visiting London for a holiday? This is a city whose history is written into the tangled mess of its streets and alleys. Buildings and bridges sprawl half-random from the twisted length of the Thames and spires of metal and glass leap upwards, competing with centuries-old architecture in an anachronistic cityscape of organised chaos. People from all over the world live in communities or mingle in a blinding patchwork of culture, combining with the city’s history and endless variation to make London one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Unfortunately, because of this, as well as London’s status as a financial centre and a city blighted by high rents courtesy of property investors, life in the UK capital doesn’t come cheaply for visitors. From the moment you step off your airport shuttle, service, food, entertainment and transport all come at a premium. It’s well worth following a few tips to minimise expenditure during your visit.
Keep the number of a good minicab firm handy as the ubiquitous black cabs are enormously overpriced. Their price tag is justified by the Knowledge of London, the set of examinations whereby a driver is deemed to have full knowledge of every route, landmark and street in London. This qualification theoretically ensures that a driver should be able to take you anywhere you care to name, in absence of postcodes, street names, and addresses. A black cab driver is supposed to be able to take you the quickest route to anywhere based on a visual description of any distinguishing marks of your destination. Unless you really like the novelty of travelling by black cab, save your money and take the same journey in a minicab with a satnav.
Booking in advance is another good way to save money on cabs (and, in fact, on trains should you be visiting anywhere outside of the city), and this goes for airport travel as well. Plan your route in advance and book an airport shuttle service rather than catching a cab on the day. Airport shuttle services travel to and from all London airports, and you’ll find them cheaper than taxis, due to the fact that while a taxi is private, an airport shuttle service can be either private or take several travellers at once, thus spreading the cost.
Theatre & Opera
London has a world famous theatrical tradition, with the West End being considered by many to be the heart of the theatre scene. Many West End productions are, however, prohibitively expensive, charging £50 or more per ticket. There are plenty of other highly regarded and historically valuable theatres throughout London, including but not limited to the Barbican, the National, and the Almeida. There is also a plethora of lesser-known theatres such as the Tricycle, the Bush and the Orange Tree. Tickets for these theatres tend to be available for around the £20 mark but are often lower, dropping below £10 at the smallest theatres, which have the added advantage of a small, intimate auditorium where you’re more likely to be only a few feet away from the actors.
The opera is similarly famous and even more expensive; many visitors want to visit the Royal Opera House, where tickets frequently run into three figures. If you have your heart set on the spectacle and fame of the ROH, book well in advance and you can get standing tickets, often for under £10. Alternatively, visit one of the other famous, but less expensive, opera houses such as the English National Opera, or enjoy one of the myriad “guerrilla” operas, performed in small, often virtually unknown or repurposed venues.
Station Restaurants & Pubs
Avoid eating or drinking in station pubs or restaurants – that is, a pub or restaurant in or very close to a busy station (or indeed anywhere with a high volume of foot traffic), unless acting on a trusted recommendation. These establishments often inflate their prices, and have little incentive to court repeat custom, as the high volumes of foot traffic will ensure sufficient business. It’s better to visit places which you’d be less likely to walk into by chance, as they’re more likely to draw regulars with a high quality experience, or to visit places that come highly recommended.