20 Secret Bargains of London
Insider tips on how to save cold cash in Cool Britannia's red-hot capital
Mansions for misers
A visit to Buckingham Palace (tel. 7839-1377) is a stiff o11 ($16) and Hampton Court (tel. 8781-9500) is £10.50 ($15.50), but smaller, just-as-magnificent palaces and stately homes are much more reasonable. The medieval and art deco Eltham Palace (Courtyard, SE9, 8294-2548, tube: Eltham) is £6 ($8.75); the eighteenth-century Osterley Park House (Jersey Rd., Isleworth, 8232-5050; tube: Osterley) costs £4.30 ($6.50), £1 off with a Travelcard; another eighteenth-century villa, Kenwood House (Hampstead Ln., NW3, 8348-1286, tube: Hampstead, or bus 210 from Golders Green or Archway) is free. Romantic poet John Keats' home (Wentworth Place, Keats Grove, NW3, 7435-2062, tube: Hampstead) costs £3 ($4.50) and offers special readings on Wednesday evenings (closed for renovation until May 1, 2001); Leighton House, the opulent nineteenth-century home of the Victorian artist Lord Leighton (12 Holland Park Rd., W14, 7602-3316, tube: High St. Kensington or buses 9 or 10).
Won't you take me to funky town
Out-of-towners tend to be wary of what's outside central London (much as New York visitors quail at the thought of venturing outside Manhattan). But what they find, very often, are lovely neighborhoods, a more stately pace, and low prices. One example of a still-untouristed region: Islington (tube: Angel), with its copious and elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture, as well as an antiques market at Camden Passage that hums on Wednesdays and Saturdays. My local restaurant pick: the vibrant Afghan Kitchen (35 Islington Green, 7359-8019), where a full dinner will set you back around £7 ($10.25). For a semi-rural excursion, riverside Richmond in Surrey (the tube or train station: Richmond) has Richmond Park, the hunting ground of Henry VIII (still teeming with deer) and the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (Kew Rd., Kew, Surrey, 8940-1171, admission: £5 ($7.50); tube: Kew Gardens). Prime spot for a lunchtime snack is the riverside pub the White Cross (Water Ln., 8940-6844), where the chef is terrific-and the sausage and mash (as we call mashed potatoes) costs £5.50 ($8), a Sunday roast beef plate £6.50 ($9.50). A few other areas worthy of an excursion: Hampstead, Camden, Battersea, Clapham, Hoxton, and Shoreditch.
London's old Victorian pubs may be regal watering holes, but these days they're often notoriously overpriced. For value (bitter for as little as £1.64/$2.40, for example), the name to look for on signs is Samuel Smiths Brewery; their Princess Louise (208 High Holborn, WC1, 7405-8816, tube: Holborn) in the West End, near the British Museum, is all engraved mirrors and gilt ceilings. "Gastropubs" (those serving full meals) also tend to be pricey, but there are a few exceptions, such as the Dartmouth Arms (35 York Rise, NW5, 7485-3267; tube: Tufnell Park), whose daytime menu serves up robust main courses around the o6 to o8 ($8.75-$11.50) mark.
See all those reduced and half-price theater tickets advertised downtown? Stay away! Very rarely are they bona-fide bargains. You'll only get genuine reductions by visiting the booth on the south side of Leicester Square (Mon. to Sat. noon-6:30 p.m., Sunday noon-3 p.m.; tube: Leicester Square) and checking out the same-day bargains. The Royal Opera House (Covent Garden, Bow St., WC2, 7304-4000, fax: 7212-9460; tube: Covent Garden), where seats are often in excess of £100, has free lunchtime concerts in the Vilar Floral Hall. A limited number of seats are available for the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet (both based at the Opera House) on the day of performance for £4 ($5) and £3 ($4.50) respectively; arrive at least one hour before the box office opens at 10 a.m. to buy tickets.
Hey, make me over
Go home with a hot British look by asking for a makeover at the cosmetic counters of one of the city's larger department stores like Debenhams, Selfridges, or House of Fraser on Oxford Street (tube: Bond St., Oxford Circus), Barkers on High Street Kensington (tube of same name), and Dickens and Jones on Regent Street (tube: Oxford Circus). It won't cost you a penny and you are under no obligation to buy afterwards (if you get a hard sell, just say you want to "live" with the look for a couple of hours!). For younger looks, try the new cosmetics concessions in glamorous Harvey Nichols (Knightsbridge, SW1; tube: Knightsbridge); names to look for are Stila, M.A.C., Chantecaille, Trish McEvoy, and Shu Uemura. Get a haircut for £16.50 ($24) or color for £17.50 ($25.75) from students at Vidal Sassoon's salons (a fifth of the normal price for coloring, less than half the regular price of a cut) by calling 7318-5205. (Metro and other papers also run vouchers for even greater discounts.)