UK travel on a budget
March 10, 2008 2:41 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Jolly Olde England in May. Does anyone have any advice on reasonably priced accomadations in London? Other budget-friendly advice? Other travel-savvy tips for vacationing in the UK? Indian restaurant rec's? Thanks in advance.
posted by nikksioux to Travel & Transportation around United Kingdom (39 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Sweet and Spicy on Brick Lane is pretty unbeatable.

No idea where to get reasonably priced housing, but you could check gumtree for a sublet.
posted by cloeburner at 2:53 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for a good hostel, my friends and I had a good experience staying at the Generator near Russell Square. You can get private rooms and still save a bundle.
posted by autojack at 3:00 PM on March 10, 2008

Oh and Sweet and Spicy is pretty cheap, and if I recall when they close circa 10, they give away their food or something to that effect.

On Holloway Rd. is the Darkness's favorite Indian restaurant. It has hilarious pictures of the owner rocking out with the Darkness. I would recommend only going there for tongue-in-cheek enjoyment rather than food-on-tongue enjoyment. The food sucks as much as the Darkness.
posted by cloeburner at 3:01 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: I'd definitely recommend a sublet. Check out the gumtree, and craigslist. I was there last year and found a fabulous place for a week that was far cheaper than a hostel, and was far more comfortable.

I worked at the generator a few years back, and while I had a great time, I wouldn't recommend it unless I knew you were seeking that kind of experience specifically... there are lots of young people, lots of parties, lots of alcohol, lots of sex, and not much else. It's great if that's what you're after, but if you'd prefer privacy, space, quiet when you want it, and a bit more freedom, then definitely try for a sublet.
posted by twirlypen at 3:09 PM on March 10, 2008

My fiance and I spent three months in various hotels and such around England recently, and doing other various touristy things... my brain boggles when I try to condense it into "tips", but we learned a lot...

I'd love to hear more about budget, tastes, length of trip & goals - I'm sure other MeFites will benefit from the perspective as well.


1) We like to stay places on the cheap, and for us this means $60-100 USD/night. We almost exclusively used and ( and, but for Canadians, of course.) If you'll be in London exclusively, make sure you pick a hotel close to an Underground station... the ease of travel this will offer is immeasurable. I understand that is doesn't constitute cheap for everyone, but I have no personal experience with other price ranges is negligible.

Hotel 87
87 South Lambeth Rd
Sw8 1RN

This is a 2-1/2 star, but clean and the staff were great. It's close to a convenience store and a neighborhood Indian place, across the street from a good pub. It's a 5 minute walk to a tube station and overall about 20 minutes from interesting things. I like the walk to the tube station in the morning; it's refreshing.

The Majestic
160 Cromwell Rd

This is an older hotel with narrow corridors and a tiny elevator, but it was decent in an "elegant, classic" sorta way. Also a 5 minute walk from the tube, not quite as convenient to amenities.

2) The tube is awesome, despite all the totally true criticisms of it. Buy a day pass daily, and enjoy it. We had a London-Wide map book that was awesome, it had a complete condensed tube map on the back cover... an easy reference that we used constantly. This book is sold at the little shops in tube stations, it's larger but thinner than most paperbacks, and is distinguishable by the map on the back. Costs 6 pounds as I recall.

3) If you're thinking of going to the V&A museum, give it two trips.

4) If you want an easy way to get tickets for shows, events, concerts or attractions, see if one of your credit cards offers a concierge service. It's typically cheap, on the order of $10 a year or something, and you can call them 24/7 and tell them to get you tickets. Way better than trying to get online at any given moment, or otherwise wasting time.

Geez, I'll tell you more if you have specific questions... you can mefi mail me if you want more touristy perspective, but there are a lot of locals here too, so I'm sure you'll be well covered.
posted by chudmonkey at 3:17 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you looking to travel in the UK or specifically in London? If you're on a budget, London is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, and there are plenty of small towns in the region that might be worth a stay not only for the scenery, but to cut costs. Also, might I highly recommend a day trip to Cambridge? Only an hour by train, and if you get train tickets together as a group you can save a bit of money. You could see Cambridge for the day, go punting, eat at cheap ethnic restaurants on Mill Road, and if you arrange to spend the night relatively cheaply at one of the colleges (look at some of the Cambridge college websites for accommodation info, they are cheaper than hotels, better located than hostels, and oftentimes in quite beautiful surroundings), you could on the next day take a walk to Grantchester and enjoy tea in their famous orchard, or take a day trip to Ely, a wonderful little town with a famous cathedral that's only twenty or so minutes by train from Cambridge. I've also heard that Devon is quite beautiful. Mefi mail me if you have any questions!
posted by farishta at 3:20 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

My favorite curry place is New Tayyabs. It can get very busy though.

Read the previous AskMe threads on London.
posted by grouse at 3:22 PM on March 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone, so far. Neither of us has been to Europe or the UK before, so this is a first for both. We are in our late twenties (26, 27 respectively) and will be in the country for about a week. We are very "into" art, music, literature, castles (ha!), nature, cemeteries, not so much the partying night life, but good food, and fun, relaxing atmosphere. We will probably do some day trips outside of London, but want to stay in the city. I have one (online) friend who lives in Manchester that I may try to meet up with, otherwise, we just want to have a good time, some adventures, and see some art, without spending all of our savings.
posted by nikksioux at 3:27 PM on March 10, 2008

If you're looking for a good hostel, my friends and I had a good experience staying at the Generator

I've spent around four weeks total staying at this place, and I'd only recommend it if you're looking for a loud drunken party. It's cheap, but be forewarned if you're looking for a quiet couples vacation.
posted by Adam_S at 3:35 PM on March 10, 2008

You can get your castle fix at the Tower of London, which has history, art, weapons, royal jewelry, crows and all kinds of fun stuff. Talk to the beefeaters there for some good stories.

I think you'd enjoy a day trip to Liverpool, and if you're a Beatles fan, you positively have to. Even if you're not, you can find great free (they're all free, as I recall, in Liverpool) museums there, plus lots of bars with music at night. It's a fun, fun city and the waterfront there was really nice to walk along. It also has two terrific cathedrals, and the older one (I'm sorry I forget the name, but one is old and venerable and one is new and stylish) has a public cemetery and adjacent park that we spent a pleasant hour or two perusing.

In London, go to Harrods and look around. In the end, it's only a department store, but I've never seen anything quite like it in the US (Or Canada).

The London Eye is a scenic way to kill an hour, and you could easily walk to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey afterward.

And yeah, it's pricey in London, even compared to the UK in general. Spend a day in Manchester or Liverpool and you'll wonder at how much cheaper it is to get around, entertain yourself and eat and drink.
posted by chudmonkey at 3:52 PM on March 10, 2008

>We are very "into" art, music, literature, castles (ha!), nature, cemeteries

Don't miss the Tower Of London then. It's touristy and whatever, but, you'll be standing on the exact spot where kings and queens were beheaded, or in the actual cells where they were imprisoned.

And of course, Highgate Cemetery. The grave of Karl Marx is the big drawcard, but there are lots of others.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:53 PM on March 10, 2008

I have one (online) friend who lives in Manchester that I may try to meet up with

Buy your train ticket in advance now, unless you think that $400 is a reasonable price for a 2hr20m train journey.
posted by randomination at 3:53 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: A quick whistle stop tour of favourites from a londoner in New York.
Art. The Tate Modern is mostly free and always excellent.
Music. Heading up to Camden and seeing whats on at the Dublin Castle often produces nice surprises.
Castles. Not much in the way of castles in London although the Tower of London oozes history and Hampton Court Palace is a short train ride out of town.
Nature. Parliament Hill is pretty and also features an excellent view of London and is used as a location in every film that is about London ever so once you've been there you will recognise it in every London based film you ever see and will say "hey! we were there!".
Cemeteries. Abney Park Cemetery is very pretty in a very gothic kind of way and packed with famous corpses.

And it's not Jolly Olde England. London is a bucket load more modern than New York any day!
posted by merocet at 4:01 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The hubs and I traveled to London for two weeks in the spring of 06. We were on a budget and we ended up staying at the Star Hotel. I can't remembered exactly what we paid but I think it ended up being about $75 or $80/night for a room with a double bed. It wasn't huge but it was clean, with a big bathroom and that included a big hot breakfast each morning. Note that you'll want to contact them for a quote, since we got a big discount over their published rate because we stayed for more than a few days. This hotel is about a 10 minute's walk from the Hammersmith tube, which connect to multiple tube lines and is a good transportation hub in general. The area was fairly residential but that didn't bother us, as we liked the quiet and were able to travel about quite easily.

Also, there was a grocery store across the street that we used all the time. My big money-saving tip to to avoid eating out every meal--it's SO expensive, especially in London. Instead, we'd eat breakfast at the hotel, then buy some fruit, cheese, and rolls at the grocery store for lunch and snacking. We'd usually eat dinner out, because that's part of the fun of getting to know a country. But doing it this way, we saved a ton of money and still ate well.

Also: the TKTS booth in Leicester Square is a tourist cliche by this point, but we ended up getting AMAZING seats for two different shows. We only paid about $15 each and got front-row seats to a musical. I think the fact that they were in the very front made them less desirable, but we loved being close to the action and didn't have a problem with it. So if you're into theater, give the booth a chance. (Don't go to the sketchy storefront discount ticket booths, and don't go expecting good prices for the most popular shows--they usually don't have tickets for those.)
posted by Bella Sebastian at 4:01 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

This place is cheap and in an EXCELLENT area of Kensington Gardens. Very convenient and nice place to call home base for a few days.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:02 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Smaller hotels may not have private bathrooms.

Try a chippie, you'll love fish and chips, a great lunch or dinner and won't cost too much.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 4:08 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: A great way to spend a cheap day in London is to start at St. Paul's Cathedral (there's an underground stop that takes you right there), then walk across the millennium bridge to the Tate Modern. You can easily spend a whole day there, but limit yourself to an afternoon so that you can walk down the south bank of the Thames as the sun sets. The south bank is great: there is a used book vender under a bridge, plenty of reasonable places to eat (I like EAT, a relatively inexpensive chain of prepared sandwiches, yogurts, etc.), and it will eventually take you to the London Eye (you'll be able to see it from afar) and, past that, a bridge to take you to see the houses of parliament, big ben, etc. If you did this trip right after lunch at home, you could have a light snack and tea after the tate modern (or in its neat cafe) and be finished with your walk before dinner.
posted by farishta at 5:06 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're going to the Tate Modern or elsewhere on the South Bank, and want good, cheap, canonically English food, Masters Superfish will do you just fine.
posted by escabeche at 5:33 PM on March 10, 2008

Grab a copy of Time Out as soon as you get there for the latest news on what's going on in town and recommendations on just about everything..
posted by 543DoublePlay at 5:46 PM on March 10, 2008

Westminster Abbey is where Britain's famous dead people hang out. But Bunhill Fields is my favourite cemetery.
posted by holgate at 6:15 PM on March 10, 2008

I think you'd enjoy a day trip to Liverpool,

It can easily take 6 hrs to get to Liverpool from London by train, it costs about $200 and the chance of the train breaking down is about 85%. It's definitely not a day trip. I don't recommend leaving London at all if you're only there for a week to be honest. There's plenty to see and do and the difference in cost is going to be negligible, not to mention wiped out by the cost of the train ticket.
posted by fshgrl at 6:18 PM on March 10, 2008

The India Club - Strand (up two flights of stairs from Sitar but worth it)
Masala Zone - Marshall Street
posted by london302 at 6:49 PM on March 10, 2008

We used the website whotif when going to London about a year ago. The downside is that you can only book 28 days in advance, but the rates were quite low and the place we stayed at was quite nice.
posted by mcroft at 6:58 PM on March 10, 2008

Best answer: You should go for a delicious lunch in a crypt.
Seriously, it's pretty cool.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:40 PM on March 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, so much! You have all been incredibly helpful.

Also: merocet, "Jolly Olde England" was meant for a joke, I am aware that London has moved into modernity. :)

miss lynnster, Oh my goodness, we will definitely be visiting the Crypt cafe! Thank you!
posted by nikksioux at 9:15 PM on March 10, 2008

i recommend a homestay. that is, people who rent out rooms in their houses for short-term periods. often they will include a continental breakfast. so it's sort of like a bed & breakfast but in a private home with just you or one or two other guests. you can find people who advertise their homes online. you can find some with separate entrances where the rooms are quite separate from the rest of the bedrooms in the house. i did this the last time i was in england, when i stayed for a month. i found a home with a basement apartment that the owners rented in kensington. the room had it's own bathroom. i would never have been able to afford a hotel in kensington otherwise. i was able to negotiate a lower price because i stayed in town for three weeks. i think the per night rate came to about $65 or so—but that was about six years ago.
posted by violetk at 11:27 PM on March 10, 2008

also forgot to mention that my particular accommodations were very comfortable—comparable to bed & breakfast accommodations.
posted by violetk at 11:30 PM on March 10, 2008

Last time I was in London (April-May of last year), I stayed here. It's a nice place with decent rates. It has free wifi, free continental breakfast, and is close to pubs, restaurants, and grocery stores. It's also a short walk from Old Street tube station.

If it's cemetaries you're after, don't leave out Golders Green Crematorium. People such as Keith Moon, Marc Bolan, Peter Sellers (plus his entire family) are all there. Besides that, the place is also quite gorgeous and very peaceful. I actually even managed to watch an ash scattering while I was there.

For art, go to both Tates (across the Thames from each other), the Victoria and Albert, and the National Portrait Gallery. You could easily get lost in all three places for hours. For a little fun, there is also a Toy Museum in Soho (can't remember the exact street).

I'm sure there's more, but I'm rather tired now. I went on an art specific trip last year, so I can look through my itinerary if you'd like more pointers. Emails in the profile. :-)
posted by arishaun at 11:55 PM on March 10, 2008

As a provincial resident of the UK. Can I please state that staying in London is not visiting the UK! Rant over.
posted by sdevans at 1:37 AM on March 11, 2008

IIRC the galleries and museums are also mostly free (except for special exhibitions, which charge sometimes exorbitant fees to get in).

Depending on how "into" art/ literature/ music etc. you are, London's got a buzzing theatre scene; the Royal Shakespeare Company is performing in may; and there's a truckload of musicals you might choose to see. Depending on your age, you could get substantial discounts - I got to see Ian McKellan perform as King Lear in December for £5, as I'm under 25yo. And then there's the Globe Theatre, near the previously mentioned Tate Modern.
posted by WalterMitty at 1:48 AM on March 11, 2008

Don't bother with all of those "sightseeing" buses that cost a fortune. If you want to see the sights, the best thing to do is buy a day bus-pass (from most newsagents) and jump on the number 11 bus at Liverpool Street Station heading west. It'll take you past most of the "postcard" destinations.

(From memory:
The Monument,
The Tower of London
Tower Bridge
Nelson's Column (and the art galleries)
Westminster...Big Ben etc.
...and many many more within walking distance of a bus stop or two...)

You don't get a commentary, but it's nothing that a guidebook won't sort out.

posted by Jofus at 2:11 AM on March 11, 2008

Oops. There is no Also.
posted by Jofus at 2:13 AM on March 11, 2008

I second Bella Sebastian's suggestion on the food. You can save a whole lot of money by buying something light for lunch (a drink and a packaged meal at Mark's & Spencers shouldn't cost more than £4, and some kebab/chinese places go for around that as well) and splurging more on dinner. A restaurant I visit every time I'm in London is Wagamama which serves excellent fusion/Asian noodles. There's one on Oxford street, a huge shopping area.

I travelled to London in November with a friend (student budget) and we stayed at this place. It was reasonably cheap (£50 per night for a double room, free breakfast) and the area it was in (near King's Cross station) was ludicrously central. Most of the guests were couples/older people, so the place had perhaps a quieter atmosphere than some "younger" places.

As for sightseeing, it's mostly been said but I would reccomend Convent Garden. It's pretty touristy but some of the shops are delightful.
posted by monocot at 4:31 AM on March 11, 2008

Monocot's recommendation of the Excel is good, but I also recommend the California, which is about the same price and nice to go to, even if they're a bit too fond of murals. Don't ignore as well -- we picked up a room at the Islington Hilton on a Saturday night for £70. Absolute bargain considering we were seeing a show at the Islington Academy (less than a minute walk away).

Look into getting a season ticket for the tube rather than constantly buying singles or day travelcards. I don't know if you can get an Oyster card, but that's even cheaper, and it'd be a nice souvenir when you return home.

Most of the museums have free entry and are divine. If you miss out on the British Museum, you will kick yourself. The Tower of London looks like kitschy fun, but the ticket price is £16.50, which means I've never gone because it's just too much for one thing.

Zipangu is Japanese home-cooking in Chinatown. It matches (and occasionally beats) Wagamama for price, but exceeds it in quality and awesomeness. The tonkatsu curry is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

And if you're exhausted from wandering around London and just need to sit down in a darkened theatre for a few hours, the Prince Charles Cinema is just off of Leicester Square, offers second-run movies for cheap prices, and it's just lovely to go to a movie in London that doesn't cost a tenner.

Day trips out: You can hit the East Midlands for around £20 per person if you book well in advance. Not only would you leave out of the gloriously redeveloped St. Pancras Station, you can come to Nottingham, which has Robin Hood, the castle, and a billion other things that I'm insufferably amused by and love. It's my city, I love it.

You can also head to Birmingham, which can be a bit grim if you look at it in one angle, but the other angle can have the Bullring in front of you, which is unbelievably gorgeous.

And there's Brighton and Oxford and Cambridge and...pretty much everywhere, really. Just make sure you plan and book tickets in advance, because the earlier you book, the cheaper it is. The Trainline lets you book tickets in advance and reserve them to be picked up at the station. If you can use the kiosks as well, that's awesome, because people forget about them and there's less chance of a queue.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by Katemonkey at 5:23 AM on March 11, 2008

I stayed at the Hotel County in Tavistock Sq. near the Euston /king's cross staion. Old and tatty with great character, usually home to skinflint east European professors lecturing at the nearby Univ. of London. The Hotel Tavistock nearby is also good and "cheap".
posted by zaelic at 5:24 AM on March 11, 2008

Consider staying at a Travelodge. It's corporate and soulless, but efficient, clean, and cheap.

Seconding getting an Oystercard on Day 1. It will have paid for itself in less than 48 hours.

My one and only Indian (strictly Pakistani) restaurant recommendation is the much imitated Lahore Kebab House. It is an east end institution. There are constant queues out of the door. You can eat like a king for less than a fiver.
posted by roofus at 5:41 AM on March 11, 2008

re: day trips, consider Brighton. It takes me 4 hours and a whole bunch of changes to get there from Bristol, but from London it's so much quicker - less than an hour I think. You can eat chips on the pebbly beach, wander around tiny streets with tiny shops (there's one place that sells vegan shoes that I've been dying to go back to), and the pier is excellent. Lots of games and rides and old timey beach things to do, I went there for my birthday (there's a set on my Flickr if you're interested) 2 years ago with a couple of friends and it was brilliant.
posted by saturnine at 7:29 AM on March 11, 2008

Oh wow, that will be a pricey trip. Just for the record, hotels in London under 100 dollars, arguably 150 dollars, will be holes in the wall. And also for the record, 2, 3 or 4 stars in Britain are not the same as in the states. Most chances are, the room will be the size of a closet.

But London rocks so here's some nicer advice:
Use expedia, Travelocity, Trip Advisor, whatever to get yourself a reasonably priced hotel room as close as possible to a subway stop. That is the best advice. Preferably one in zones 1-2. Anything farther out will be a pain -- it will take more than an hour to get in and out of town.

If you can afford it, avoid hotels in Bayswater, Kings Cross, Edgeware Road..anything too north west or northeast..gross gross gross. Hookers. Homeless people. Etc. Anything east of Tower Bridge is dead at night, anyway.

Great places are South Kensington, Covent Garden, Holborn, Knightsbridge, Gloucestor Road, anything in the center obviously.

Get to Leicester Square and get discounted theater tickets..any of the booths in the area are legit but the center TKTS booth has the best seats.

Don't eat British food..and if you do, bring along a bottle of Tabasco.

Pret-a-Manger's banana cake should be patented.

Don't take cabs (expensive). Get an Oyster card at the airport and use the tube (subway) or buses, or walk -- often, it's faster and of course nicer.
posted by bondgirl53001 at 12:12 PM on March 11, 2008

I've mentioned it before, but Les Portes des Indes is a fantastic Indian - if a bit more posh than your average Indian meal. It was recommended to me by a Londoner and I've been there several times.

You can get cheap meals at places like Eat, Marks & Spencer and Pret a Manger. There are little sandwich shops like this all over the place, they're pretty good and you'll pay less than $10. Or consider eating good old fashioned pub grub. You'll find decent meals in pubs and most of them should be pretty reasonably priced.

I travel by train from Liverpool/Manchester to London pretty frequently and it's about a 2.5 maybe 3 hour trip. Despite the well publicised train problems, I have never had a train break down on this route, so I think you'll probably be okay. Just travel on a weekday, when there are fewer stops. Travelling on a weekend and especially a Sunday will take 4 - 4.5 hours as they stop at every station. But do book your tickets ahead as it will be much cheaper. I think $200 is about right.

Though I agree with others that 1 week is not nearly enough time in London, I also know how tempting it is to take a day trip. Liverpool/Manchester are good options (they're about an hour apart by train, so you may have to pick one or the other) and I also really like Bristol/Bath, which I think may be closer to London. Liverpool/Manchester may be better if you want to get an idea of the north/south divide!

The only castle I've ever been to is Warwick Castle, and I loved it. It's one hour forty-five minutes from London and not far from Birmingham. I would also agree that the London Dungeon is lots of fun and the London Tower is great as well. Westminster Abbey is probably my favourite attraction though.

Whatever you decide, you won't be bored - have fun!
posted by triggerfinger at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2008

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