Budget London: a cheapskate's guide

by Katherine Hackworthy

It is one of the world's most expensive cities, but a holiday in London doesn't have to cost the earth. There are plenty of cheap ways to eat, drink, travel and absorb the culture of the UK capital

Cheap sleep

The Hoxton Urban Lodge (see Make It Happen, top left) is a contemporary, funky hotel in trendy Hoxton with rooms from £59 a night. There are regular special offers from £30 a night , as well as the famous £1 room sales. It's easy to see why the place was voted Best London Hotel 2008 by The Times. Don’t let the low prices fool you, though; this hotel is cutting-edge, and a fantastic place to stay in London

The Clink Hostel is a converted 300-year-old courthouse near King's Cross where The Clash went on trial for shooting a pigeon, and Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist. Choose from dorm rooms, private rooms and rooms in the old cells. Prices from £9 per bed per night.

If you are staying for longer than a few nights, or are with a larger group, consider renting a flat or house. Many options work out much cheaper than hotels, plus you can cook at home to save even more cash. See www.holidaylettings.co.uk for details.

Cheap eats

With the credit crunch hitting all budgets, there are deals to be found even at Michelin-starred restaurants. Check out www.toptable.com and see what deals are available on set menus and lunches at prestigious restaurants such as Tom Aikens, Aubergine and Hibiscus.

Cheap fast food in central London is in abundance, without you ever having to set foot in an international McChain. From family-run sandwich and falafel shops, to cafés and Thai takeaways, just wander around until something takes your fancy.

For cheap, healthy fast food try Leon (36 Great Marlborough Street, W1; Oxford Circus Tube), Beetroot (92 Berwick Street, W1; Piccadilly Circus Tube) and Food For Thought (31 Neal Street, WC2; Covent Garden Tube).

Pub meals are often great value for a sit-down meal. The Green Man on Berwick Street, Soho (just off Oxford Street) has very cheap food and drink offers, while the Wetherspoons chain of pubs has lots of deals at locations all over the capital. Try The Moon Under Water, a Wetherspoons pub in Leicester Square, or the chain's Montague Pyke on Charing Cross Road.

Around Soho, Café Emm on Frith Street and The Stockpot on Old Compton Street both offer basic, hearty meals at very low prices. Main courses start at about £6.

In west London, try the Mona Lisa Café at 417 King’s Road, SW10 (Sloane Square Tube, then bus 11, 22 or 211) for bargain prices and good-sized portions of Italian food.

Cheap drinks

The Samuel Smiths chain of pubs offers its own brewed beers – and prices are low. A pint of Alpine Lager, at less than £2, is surely the cheapest pint in town. Try the Chandos Pub next to Trafalgar Square, The Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street, or The Champion just north of Oxford Street, on Wells Street.

Cheap culture

Most of London’s major museums and galleries offer free entry. Highlights include: The British Museum (Great Russell Street, WC1; Tottenham Court Road Tube), The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum and the V&A Museum (all South Kensington Tube) and Tate Modern (Southwark Tube, or get off at St Paul’s station and walk across the Millennium Bridge)

Other, smaller free museums include my personal favourite, the Sir John Soane’s Museum (13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2; Holborn Tube). The 18th-century architect’s house is stuffed full of his collection of oddities from his travels. Look for the hidden Hogarth paintings, the Egyptian sarcophagus and all manner of unusual treasures in this rabbit warren of a house.

For discounted theatre tickets, go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square on the day of performance. See www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk/tkts for details.

Both the English National Opera and The Royal Opera House offer a limited number of heavily discounted standing tickets each day.

Free classical concerts are often given at lunchtimes in churches. Try St Paul’s Cathedral, St Giles-in-the-Fields, St Martin-in-the-Fields and, if the weather is nice, the Victoria Embankment Gardens near Embankment Tube.

There is usually free entertainment on the South Bank. From jazz concerts in the foyer of the South Bank Centre, to street performances by international artists, as well as regular festivals, this is a buzzing place where you could spend a whole weekend soaking up the atmosphere and being treated to all manner of weird and wonderful free entertainment. A walk along the South Bank,  from the foot of the London Eye in the west to Tower Bridge in the east, won't disappoint.

Cheap travel

If your stay is for more than a week, pick up a weekly Oyster card at any Tube station. It costs £25.80 for an adult Zone 1-2 pass, which entitles you to unlimited travel on Tubes and buses. (Unless you are staying outside Zone 1 and 2, this should be all you need.) To make your sightseeing easier, use the free journey planner at www.tfl.gov.uk/journeyplanner.

Instead of spending lots of money on an open-top bus tour, you can put your travelcard to good use on a self-guided tour. Try one of these:
Number 11 bus Start at St Paul’s Cathedral and it will take you past Fleet Street, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament (Big Ben) and Westminster Abbey.
Number 14 bus Start at Tottenham Court Road and it will take you past Piccadilly Circus, Green Park, Hyde Park, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, Harvey Nichols, Harrods and on to Chelsea Football Club.

Cheap news

There are three major free newspapers in London. The Metro is available at Tube stations in the mornings, while the Londonpaper and London Lite available in the early evenings. Have a read through to see what free or cheap events are happening during your stay, such as film premières, festivals and events. Also, buy a copy of the weekly listings magazine TimeOut, so you know about all the events that Lonon has to offer that week.