Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Affordable London?

Dear God, how can you afford to live in London?

As the third most expensive city in the world after Tokyo and Osaka, it is one of the questions I am asked all the time. Which London, I always fire back, the London of investment bankers, football players and Russian oligarchs or the other one? The first London is financially ruinous. The second London is far more affordable.

What is true for the resident can also be true for the visitor as was shown by Jennifer Conlin in her recent article in the New York Times, “A Family Vacation in London, Guided by Scrooge”.

I like this article a lot. Conlin delivers useful advice on how to tackle London’s main budget busters: housing, food, transport and entertainment. If you have time, read the article. If not, here are the headlines: rent an apartment, eat in ethnic restaurants, take public transport and make use of freebies like parks and museums.

But I think NoCrowds can take this idea to a whole new level and since I’m on a roll nicking other peoples good ideas, I’ve decided to write a series of posting on my favourite ways to save lots of money in my favourite city. Since most visitors to London begin with a shockingly expensive trip in from the airport, I’ll begin with the whole topic of moving around London.

NoCrowds Top Tips for Saving Money on London Transport

Save roughly £40 ($70) simply by taking the Underground, not a cab, from Heathrow Airport to Central London. It can take up to an hour but it is a straight shot to Piccadilly. If you land at Terminal 4, take the free portion of the Heathrow Express to Terminals 1,2 and 3 where you can pick up the Underground. The Heathrow Express train to Paddington is fast but costs £13.50 and then you still have to get to your final destination. Bus service from National Express to Victoria Coach Station costs £10.

Take Southern Trains service from Gatwick Airport instead of the Gatwick Express. The Gatwick Express charges £14 for a single economy ticket while Southern charges £9. Both services run every 15 minutes. Both services have special group rates and other offers but Southern is always cheaper. Southern also offers 2 for 1 deals on tickets to London attractions such as the London Aquarium, the London Zoo and London Dungeon. Spend the money and take the Gatwick Express during rush hour because the crowding on Southern is diabolical.

Buy an Oyster Card for £3 from Transport for London at any Underground Station or Tourist Information Centre and save on each and every fare. The card will have paid for itself in just a few rides on the Underground or bus as substantial discounts apply depending on distance and time of day. You can pre-pay and avoid waiting in line and the cash on the card has no expiry dates. Also be aware that children under 16 ride the bus for free all day and those under 11 ride the Underground for free after 9:30 A.M. when travelling with an adult. There are also good deals on Travel Cards but I prefer the freedom and flexibility of the Oyster. Ask at the station which is the best fit for your needs.

Take the bus. Even Kate Middleton, girl friend of Prince William was snapped recently waiting for a bus in Sloane Square, so how fashionable is that! Buses are the cheapest, most efficient and nicest way to get around London. For example, from the top of #23 bus, you can see most of the same monuments you would get with an expensive guided coach tour (without the inane commentary). With an Oyster Card, you can travel anywhere on a bus for a £0.80 (under 16s are always free) and even though our Mayor, Ken Livingston says a lot of really idiotic things, bus service has improved dramatically during his term. Bus maps are available at Underground Stations and there is a route planner on the Transport for London website which is a bit cumbersome to use but gets the job done.

Walk. A blindingly obvious statement but walking remains the best way to see London and the best way to work off all the affordable meals I will talk about in tomorrow’s post.

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