Worried that taking a short break in London could cost you a fortune? Check out these insider tips on where to go and what to do, and you can enjoy the capital to the full without breaking the bank
Where to stay
You don’t have to stay in a plush city-centre hotel to enjoy London; you’ll get a much better deal (and a better of experience of the “real” London) if you stay a bit further out. Euro Hotels has nine good-value hotels located across London, including in Wembley and trendy Clapham. Prices start from just £17.50 per person per night. If you’d prefer the leafy suburb of Wimbledon, the no-frills Phoenix Hotel has double rooms from £55 a night including breakfast.
Make sure that you pick up a pay-as-you-go Oyster card, available at all tube stations. All you need is a £3 deposit, and then you can top it up with however much you need. Each journey costs less than half the price of a normal single ticket, and you can hand the card in and get your £3 deposit back once you’ve finished. Single tickets cost around £4, so it’s definitely worth getting one.
A visit to a London comedy club is a must. My personal favourite is The Boat Show, which, as you might guess from the name, is held on a boat moored on Victoria Embankment opposite the London Eye. Comedy nights are held on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, and the venue turns into a late-night disco afterwards. Prices start at just £5 if you book in advance online. The intimate venue is renowned for secret gigs by famous acts. If you’d prefer a larger venue, the Big Night Out comedy club has venues in Leicester Square and Covent Garden, and its various party packages make it ideal for large groups, too.
Yes, the two-for-one deals that seem to be constantly running at Pizza Express, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and the like are good value - but you can only go there so many times without getting a bit bored. So if, like me, you’re sick of dining at chain restaurants, there are plenty of inexpensive one-off places to try.
The Little French Restaurant in Earl’s Court does a lovely three-course menu for a credit-busting £9.99 (beware, though: they don’t accept cards for the special offer, so don’t forget to visit the cashpoint on your way there). The restaurant has a lovely Parisian bistro feel, and the deal’s available seven days a week. If you fancy a curry and want to try somewhere other than the infamous Brick Lane (where you have to barter the price of your meal – a fun experience if you’ve never tried it!), take a trip on the Northern Line to Tooting, where you’ll find more curry houses than you can shake a stick at!
I love Filipino restaurant Kusinang Munti (winner of a Time Out award in 2008 for best newly opened restaurant), which does an all-you-can eat buffet for an impressive £7.50 (a glass of wine is less than £2, too). When we visited, we were the only non-Filipino customers there (a sure sign that the food really is good!) and found the hospitality to be exceptional. There was karaoke during the meal, and we were asked if we wanted to join in after we’d eaten (we politely declined, but it was nice to be asked!).
If you’re looking for somewhere a bit different, another great place is LMNT in Hackney. Its hearty European menu (with mains priced at £7.95 before 7 pm and £9.95 after) is tasty and filling, but what really makes this place stand out is its eccentric, Egyptian-inspired décor – in my view, it’s one of the city’s most atmospheric restaurants. It gets incredibly busy though, so I’d advise booking unless you are prepared for a long wait.
A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without doing something touristy like seeing the lions at London Zoo, having your photo taken with Prince William at Madame Tussauds or being scared to death by Jack the Ripper at the London Dungeon. Beware, though: all of these attractions are pretty pricey, and there are so many deals available that you should never just turn up and pay full whack on the door. One great deal is 2FOR1 London if you travel by train. All you need is a leaflet (which you can pick up at any overground station) and a train ticket. Even if you haven’t travelled to London by train, just buy a single ticket for any short mainland train journey (this costs from just £2), then hand the ticket and leaflet over when you are paying for any main attraction, and get a second ticket for free. I do it every time I have people to visit and have saved a small fortune! If you want to visit a few attractions, you can also purchase combination tickets online that work out much cheaper than buying each one individually.
If you’re into live entertainment, The Scoop at More London on the South Bank is highly recommended. This 800-capacity open-air theatre has various events, with everything from Shakespeare plays and epic films to music and dancing from local groups and up-and-coming artists. Covent Garden market regularly has live street performers, and is also good for picking up some souvenirs. And if you’re more of a rhythm and blues type of person, you might like to try the Ain't Nothin But... The Blues Bar in Soho, which has live bands playing every night. Entrance is free before 8.30 pm.
There are lots of shows filming at studios around London – including The Sunday Night Project, All Star Family Fortunes and Mock the Week – and the good news is that audience tickets are completely free! Check out SRO Audiences and Lost in TV online. You’ll need to book in advance, and it’s worth noting that they over-allocate tickets, so if you want to guarantee entry, you’ll need to get there early. And make sure you wear something eye-catching so your friends and family back home will notice you if you get caught on camera!
London is renowned for its cultural scene, so why not have a look around one of the city’s spectacular museums while you’re here? The majority of museums are free (excluding the special exhibitions). If you like interactive displays, the Science Museum is highly recommended, and has plenty to keep kids entertained (it’s currently running a Wallace & Gromit exhibition). For the fashionistas among you, the V&A Museum has a great fashion, jewellery and accessories section.
And finally, you can’t take a trip to London without seeing one of the spectacular shows on offer at the theatre. There’s something to suit every taste – whether you want a family musical like The Lion King, a comedy such as Avenue Q (it’s so hilarious, I’ve seen it three times!), or an opera like Madam Butterfly. Don’t worry if you haven’t booked in advance, either – for discounted tickets to top West End shows on the day, go to the tkts ticket booth in Leicester Square.