20 Secret Bargains of London
Insider tips on how to save cold cash in Cool Britannia's red-hot capital
To B&B or not to B&B
Pricewise, London's a tough hotel town, especially if you're looking for anything central. You could stay in the local branch of the Travel Inn chain (London County Hall, Belvedere Rd., SE1, in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, 7902-1600; tube: Waterloo), where two adults and two kids will pay £69.95 ($103) a night. But bed-and-breakfasts offer charm as well as savings. A top central choice is 78 Albert Street in hip, young Camden, NW1 (7387-6813, fax 7387-1704, firstname.lastname@example.org; tube: Camden), with doubles from £80 ($118). But the Underground makes it easy to hang your derby just outside overpriced central London. An award-winning, typically English B&B (run by a Frenchman!) is Highfield Guest House (12 Dowanhill Rd., SE6, 8698-8038, highfieldbb.co.uk), whose doubles start at £47 ($68) a night; take the BritRail train from Charing Cross station to Hither Green. In the North: Kandara Guesthouse (68 Ockendon Rd., N1, 7226-5721, kandara.co.uk), also with doubles from £49 ($70) and reachable via tube (Angel or Highbury & Islington) or the 73 or 38 bus into the West End. In the West, Kensington Guest House (72 Holland Park Ave., W11, 7460-7080, hotelondon.co.uk; tube: Holland Park) has doubles from £60 ($85), in-room cooking facilities, and a lovely setting near Notting Hill; bus 94 goes straight to the West End.
In London's markets, rummage and people-watch where well-known designers get their inspiration (and find cafes and stalls where you can chow down for a couple of pounds). Best for fashion, jewelry, and antiques are Camden on weekends (tube: Camden) and Portobello Road on Saturdays (tube: Notting Hill Gate or Ladbroke Grove). At the Sunday-morning madness of Brick Lane in E1 (tube: Liverpool St., then bus 8 towards Shoreditch), anything and everything's sold on a street lined with cheap Indian restaurants and the legendary Beigel Bake (159 Brick Lane, E1, 7729-0616), where a smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese bagel is yours for 95 pence ($1.40). A short walk away is the Columbia Road flower market; grab a coffee and people-watch. For a reggae-flavored scene, cheap Afro-Caribbean eats, and fabrics, check out Brixton Market daily except Sunday on Electric Avenue (tube: Brixton).
You're never far from a green space in London, so pick up a picnic from a supermarket like Tesco (18 Warwick Way, Victoria, SW1; 224 Portobello Rd., Notting Hill, W11; 22 Bedford St., Covent Garden, WC2); Sainsbury's (17 Camden Rd., Camden, NW1; 15 Tottenham Court Rd., West End, W1; 31 Liverpool Rd., Islington, N1; 158 Cromwell Rd., South Kensington, SW7); or Safeway (35 Kings Rd., Chelsea, SW3; 159 Edgeware Rd., W2; 150 Kensington High St., Kensington, W8). Expect to pay about 40p for a small baguette; at the deli counter it'll cost £2 for a tasty piece of cheese, o1 for a small tub of olives, £1.50 for five slices of good ham, and 40p per piece for spicy finger food. Buy a decent bottle of wine for £3.99 ($6) from Oddbins, the ubiquitous vintners' chain, and head off. My alfresco favorites: classic Regent's Park (tube: Regent's Park); wild and rugged Richmond Park (tube: Richmond); and St. James Park, an oasis in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, with free concerts in the summer (tube: St James's Park).
For a fare of £1 ($1.45) or included on the Travelcard, public bus 11 does a grand tour from the Kings Road past Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben on to St. Paul's Cathedral and the City (London's Wall Street). Number 8 goes down Piccadilly and through the splendor of Mayfair to the City and on to the very different East End; hop off for a curry in one of the always cheap Indian eateries on Brick Lane.
The events section of Time Out (see above) doles out info on free readings in pubs and bookshops, along with lunchtime concerts in churches. Most major museums and art galleries are also free; central London's finest are the National Gallery (Trafalgar Sq., WC2, 7747-2885; tube: Leicester Square, Charing Cross); the National Portrait Gallery (St. Martin's Pl., WC2, 7306-0055, tube: Leicester Square, Charing Cross); the British Museum (Great Russell St., WC1, 7323-8000; tube: Tottenham Court Rd.); the Tate Britain (Millbank, SW1, 7887-8000; tube: Pimlico); the exciting new Tate Modern (Bankside, SE1, 7887-8008; tube: Southwark, Blackfriars); and the Natural History Museum (Cromwell Rd., SW7, 7942-5000, tube: South Kensington), free after 4:30 p.m. (and possibly offering free admission this spring). Buy a London Pass for free entrance to over 60 attractions: art galleries, museums, river cruises, cycle tours, palaces, zoos, and historic buildings (even go-karting!), as well as unlimited travel. Cost: £22 ($32) daily, £79 ($112) weekly-never buy a Travelcard if you plan on getting a weekly London Pass! (info: 870/242-9988, londonpass.com). The GoSee card (no longer sold after March 31) gives unlimited access to 17 major museums and galleries for o16 ($23) for three days, o26 ($38) for a week (7923-0807 or 800/869-8184 from the U.S., londongo see.com).