The Trundler loves London, her home of 30 years, with a passion. However, this grand affection is also tinged with the sentimentality of former resident turned visitor. Of someone who no longer has to deal with the daily doings of living in this magnificent city, but can explore at a leisurely pace, enjoying the new while remembering the old.
There are memories of life’s most poignant events on so many corners. A first kiss at the 168 bus stop on Waterloo Bridge, a first tentative date in the Cross Keys in Endell Street, St Marylebone Church for the school Christmas concert, Brewer Street for the Nursery run. And a thousand more.
London remains a thrilling, beautiful and fun place to spend a few days. It’s widely considered frighteningly expensive, but The Trundler contests this and insists that it’s possible to eat, stay and play on a reasonable budget. The problem lies in the fact that there is a splendid world of temptations on offer. However, providing you can keep a grip on yourself and resist most of these, our glorious capital is quite affordable.
And if you do wish to splash some cash, there is no better place to do so.
Where to Stay
This is the biggest dilemma for the budget minded, but the Trundler has the following suggestions:
Tap into a Tune
The Trundler considers Tune her London home-from-home. This Malaysian chain has properties in Kings Cross, Paddington, Liverpool Street and Westminster. Buildings of character have been transformed into fresh, inviting budget hotels offering double rooms from a bargain £35 a night. Tune fulfills its promise of five star beds at one star prices – you can luxuriate in comfort and also enjoy a hot, powerful shower.
Pay extra for wifi, TV, a safe, a hairdryer, toiletries and towels – although you can invest in a comfort package which includes the lot for £12. The cheapest rooms don’t have windows, which is fine if all you want to do is sleep in them.
The Trundlers prefers to pay a bit more in exchange for natural light and a stunning view. The Kings Cross Tune has vistas of the newly revamped station or the London skyline.
If you book in advance you can usually find a double room for around £55 and there are offers area available at quieter times. Breakfast is not included, but there’s a 24 hour coffee shop downstairs and anyway, who needs breakfast in a city where you can get a Pret a Manger coffee for 99 pence, at five minute intervals?(see Where to Eat)
Staff are friendly and helpful and the locations are ideal for hitting the town in one direction or another.
Check into a University.
See The Trundler’s Guide to Different Places to Stay for more information on this.
The London School of Economics has halls in amazing locations – off Trafalgar Square, in Rosebery Avenue, Islington, in fashionable Fitrovia, near the Tate Modern.
The Trundler’s top choice is still Passfield House in Bloomsbury, which feels cosy and friendly, serves a filling, varied breakfast and has a spacious kitchen where you can heat up food and make tea and coffee. Rooms from £45 a night. Showers for this price are separate but plentiful and clean.
Book a Secret
Four and Five Star rooms in London’s Top Secret Hotels are currently available from £99 through www.laterooms.com. You save up to 35% off the price by taking a little gamble. Pick your date and district and pay without knowing the exact hotel.
There’s plenty of information on the site about each one to help you make the right decision so make sure you read it through carefully. Then it’s out with the credit card, hold your breath and seconds later, the hotel name magically appears.
The Trundler has tried and tested this process and enjoyed a night in an elegant Radisson in Bloomsbury for £75. Definitely worth a shot.
If you’re feeling positive and upbeat, it’s worth just calling the hotel of your choice and asking if they’re doing any late deals. Or if they would make a discount just for you. It’s rare for hotels to be 100 per cent full. So if you leave it to the last moment, summons up your most charming and convincing telephone manner and ask to speak to the manager. You’re more likely to reach a generic booking centre, but it’s worth maintaining that speaking to the manager manner, in order to hopefully get a great deal.
Or you can download the hotelstonight app for a round up of what’s available at a discounted rate on that very night.
This ubiquitous chain has London properties which have recently been revamped. The Trundler stayed at the Travelodge in Covent Garden, which is conveniently situated on Drury Lane and has rather smart new rooms with extremely comfortable beds. The price varies greatly depending on when you book and when you stay, but you can get good deals throughout the year if you plan carefully.
London has efficient transport links and many of its less central boroughs are very pleasant places to have as your base. Walthamstow, for example has the longest street market in Europe and is the home of a wonderful museum dedicated to William Morris.
A smart, comfortable double room in the Travelodge there costs around £70.
Food and Drink
If you eat in a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you will soon use up your holiday cash.
One of the nicest things about London is the number of green spaces, equipped with seats and benches, where unless it is pouring with rain or freezing cold, you can enjoy a picnic, a snack, a takeaway or just a cup of tea.
No need to feel awkward about doing this. The Trundler has been doing it for years and it’s actually great fun. Try breakfast and lunch al fresco – perhaps on the river or in one of the many beautiful parks, and then you have funds to lavish on a swanky dinner. London is awash with Farmers’ Markets, so if you fancy a foodie snack with a touch of the countryside, you’re in luck.
Borough Market on the South Bank near London Bridge is the most famous of these and Saturday is the key day. It’s very busy, but the choice of produce on offer is dazzling and delicious, so brave the chattering classes in their masses and fill your boots as you wander around or sit by the Thames with your upmarket picnic.
Or take advantage of one of the amazing lunch deals available even in the poshest restaurants. This is a chance to taste the cooking of some of Britain’s finest chefs far more cheaply than you would pay at dinner. A three course set lunch for between £15 and £25 is easy to find. Lunch is such an enjoyable meal and you can linger long over it and feel full up for the rest of the day. You might like to grab a pork bun in Chinatown on your way to the cinema later or just a little pot of mango slices from Pret a Manger.
If you’re going to the theatre, many restaurants offer set dinners between the hours of five and sevenpm. These are also far cheaper than eating later on. You don’t even have to go to the theatre, if you don’t want to. But if you do want to lastminute.com has some good theatre deals. Or turn up at theatre at the last minute as they often sell returns at bargain prices.
The Trundler is a great fan of Pret a Manger. Try porridge for breakfast, superfood salads for lunch, sushi for dinner and the most wonderful sandwiches.
They are always on trend with whatever food fad is fashionable or you can just choose a nice old-fashioned egg and tomato on granary and be happy with that.
Everything is freshly made and tastes delicious and you can probably get by on a tenner a day for your food budget. For a fragrant coffee at 1980’s prices try the Algerian Coffee Stores in Monmouth Street.
There are other chains too such as Eat and Leon but PAM was the forerunner. If you like Japanese food, try Itsu where they sell off the sushi and sashimi towards the end of the day.
There are millions of restaurants in London and prices are very competitive. So forget that nonsense about not being able to afford to eat out in the capital.
It’s cheaper to find a delicious meal there than in most towns and cities around Britain.
The museums and galleries in London are heaven. Even if you’re not remotely cultured they are delightful places to spend time and nearly all of them are free.
If you want to see specific exhibitions and plan to visit the city regularly it’s worth buying a membership card.
Join the National Portrait Gallery for example and £70 will buy you an annual ticket for yourself and a guest, plus discounts in the shop and their fantastic restaurant with its startling view of Trafalgar Square and beyond. Join the V & A or the Tate and you will get invited to preview days so you can beat the crowds.
Both the London Tates have members’ rooms in lovely settings where you can relax after enjoying the sublime exhibitions they stage. Or you can just buy some postcards from the gift shop and look at them over an Americano and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. It’s up to you to decide how hard you want to work for your art.
The British Museum is another amazing spot to spend some time. Apart from inspecting all those incredible artefacts, you will want to spend time in the spectacular Great Court whose glass ceiling allows you to gaze at the sky while you drink your coffee or just wander around.
Another great treat is the Sir John Soane’s Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It’s free to get in and a joy to explore the private collection and former home of the architect of the Bank of England. Pick up a takeaway coffee and cake from the Fleet River Bakery, tucked away in the corner of LIF afterwards and sit in the square to enjoy and relax.
When The Trundler first arrived in London aged 18, she was enchanted by how easy and enjoyable it was to wander through the streets of her new home. It’s still the best way to get around, following the tube stations as a route if you need one.
The underground is fast and fun if you avoid the rush hours. Or just hop on a bus with an interesting set of stops. For example the 38 will take you all the way from Victoria to Hackney and if you’re lucky you might find yourself on one of those streamlined Thomas Heatherwick designed models, which even have conductors.
The bike lanes are far better and clearer than they used to be and of course you can pick up and ride what are annoyingly called Boris Bikes, even though they were first conceived of by Ken Livingstone. But London is still hazardous for cyclists unless you really know what you’re doing. So take care and wear a helmet at all times.
You can’t go far without an Oyster card now, so even if you’re a visitor, buy one in the newsagent or the tube station or wherever you see the friendly blue sign and top it up to cut the fares in half.
The best way to see London however, is to walk along the Thames which cuts an enthralling swathe across the city. Or if you get tired, hop on a Thames Clipper, which although not cheap, are more affordable than one of those excursion boats with the running commentary. The Regent’s Canal is also a great way to walk across a cross-section of London, stretching from Limehouse to Maida Vale. Just mind out for those cyclists who tend to dominate the path given half a chance.
Much fuss has been made about Uber cabs, which are privately owned and far cheaper than the traditional black cabs. But for the Trundler there is no substitute for hopping in a Hackney, especially at night and ignoring the metre as you relish the ride. Addison Lee are very reliable, if a bit pricey, for longer journeys.
Don’t be Scared to Spend.
It’s quite easy to be fairly frugal in the best city in the world. But it’s also fun to let go of the budget and watch those fivers fly out of your pocket.
Mix it up and have a cheap day out treat yourself a night to something really special. Or spend it up in the daytime and pass the evening walking by the Thames.
You are in London to be decadent, if only for a few hours. It’s impossible to tire of the place, but you may get tired while you are there. So take plenty of stops and breaks and take it easy as you breathe in all that lovely air, suffused as it is with life and sheer glamour.