London 2012 – My Budget Break

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If you believe, like I did, that you can’t afford a city break in these austere times then I have news for you. When penny pinching is at a premium it is very easy to feel hemmed in, but with a bit of research, forward planning and taking advantage of consumer offers that really needn’t be true. Finding and negotiating the deals can at first seem cumbersome, luckily for me my good friend Dave is something of an expert in this field. On our two day break we managed to cover some serious ground visiting Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Soho, Covent Garden, Waterloo, Camden, Tower Hill and Hammersmith. He travelled on a £20 Trainline return ticket from Manchester to London, booked a couple of months in advance,  wheras I did the same journey on a £2 National Express FunFare ticket, purchased about a week ago – these can be found on the National Express website. We stayed in Travelodges in Waterloo and Tower Hill, purchased in a Travelodge Room Sale, for £10 and £12 respectively per room, per night. You have to be up fairly early to catch them as room sales start at 6am, but it’s definitely worth the effort. There’s one on tomorrow for rooms in April to August – take a look at this link to find out more http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/hotel-sales#travelodge.

We couldn’t have got to so many destinations without having made use of the Oyster Card, which you can get from rail ticket or information offices in main train stations. These can be used on buses and tubes around the capital, and possibly trains too. You have to leave a £5 deposit and top up with as much as you think you might need. I topped up with £15 and got refunded £6.30 at the end of my trip. If you do this make sure you find out what peak travel times are as journeys are more expensive then. The Tube system is reasonably easy to navigate and there is lots of signage, but picking up a free tube map from the information office is definitely a good plan as it informs you of  any station closures/ line maintenance you might encounter.

We also made a lot of use of FourSquare and VoucherCloud websites which are designed for use with smartphones. These are both free to use and definitely worth using. FourSquare is a site set up for consumers to share information and companies to share offers. You get badges for different kinds of check ins e.g. bars, restaurants, shopping, parks, galleries, museums, hotels etc. and it lists “specials” which are offers you can take up by accepting on the site then showing staff at the venue on your phone – these can be a reward for your first visit or a loyalty reward for a set number of visits. VoucherCloud lists offers local to where you are. With VoucherCloud you can also print off vouchers at home but it’s much easier to do it all on your phone. Both sites allow you to locate the venue on a map and give you an indication of your distance from it. Using these offers we got free drinks at a number of venues including Sophie’s Steak House and The Green Carnation and dined out on main course meals at Table Cafe near Tate Modern and Masala Zone in Camden for just over a fiver each. The Grand Thali set menu at Masala Zone is definitely worth it and you certainly won’t go hungry. Dinner is served on a tray that includes a curry of your choice, pilau rice, poppadom, salad, chutneys, dhal and a paratha.

One of the highlights of our visit was going to watch ITV’s The Cube being recorded at Fountain Studios in Wembley Park. Dave had got us tickets for this from LostInTV, you can also get tickets for shows from ApplauseStore. Much of the matrix like effects of The Cube gets done in post production however we did find ourselves very gripped by the game in the studio. Phillip Schofield was personable and friendly and in between takes wandered up into the audience and had a chat with everyone. They also provided us with a bottle of water and some biscuits to keep us going! The show we watched featured celebrity guest Sally Gunnel, so if you watch The Cube keep an eye out for us. Dave went off the following day to watch Britain’s Got Talent auditions at Hammersmith Apollo leaving me to explore the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

Also helpful to find places to go in London is the TimeOut app, which gives up to date information about events going on and features reviews from contributors about venues worth visiting, meaning you can plan your visit in a very laissez faire way and make spontaneous decisions! London is a great place for live entertainment and there’s usually something going on somewhere for free. On our first evening we saw cabaret acts at Halfway to Heaven and Molly Moggs in Soho, both venues with great atmospheres and happy punters, and  kareoke performed with piano accompaniment at The Green Carnation. Our second evening took us to Camden where  staying close to the tube, we sampled The Worlds End pub and Brew Dog, which serves some of the stronger beers in thirds of pints. We then ventured down to Camden Lock to find one of Amy Winehouse and Noel Fielding’s locals, The Hawley Arms.

So all in all I’ve just had the most inexpensive city break of my life, and very much enjoyed being a modern tourist, making use of deals and offers. You can do it too! : )

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