Boomeresque:Definition
1. Adj.: Describing a person born between 1 Jan. 1946 and 31 Dec. 1964
2. Adj.: Description of a person, place or thing possessing Baby Boomer je ne sais quoi
3. See also, Boomer, Esq.: A Baby Boomer who is also a licensed attorney (See, e.g., About).

How to Visit London Without Breaking the Bank

by Suzanne Fluhr on December 16, 2012 · 21 comments

London red double decker bus

They really do use double decker red buses.

It’s not just 20-something backpackers who try to keep their travel costs as low as possible. Many Baby Boomer travelers want and/or need to stretch their travel funds. Between 2011 and 2012 London moved up five places from number 15 to number 10 on the list of most expensive world cities. Fortunately, there are ways to make a visit to London affordable. Here are several suggestions:

Rent an Apartment Instead of a Hotel Room:

If you are past the age where hostels or couch surfing are attractive options, renting an apartment instead of a hotel room is one way to conserve funds when visiting another city. There are good apartments in London available for short term traveler rental. In addition to the ability to find a lower per night cost, renting an apartment (flat), provides the benefit of you being able to prepare some meals without eating at restaurants. Renting an apartment also provides the opportunity to stay in one of London’s vibrant residential neighborhoods rather than in one of the usual tourist districts. Even if one chooses to eat most meals at restaurants, there are likely to be less expensive options. Often, the owner of the apartment being rented will provide information about the good, well priced local eateries and pubs. These days, most apartment rentals provide free wifi, so there is no need to buy an expensive cup of coffee just to stay connected.

The London Eye

The London Eye

Use Public Transportation

As in most large metropolitan areas in the world, trying to drive in London is likely to be a nightmarish (and expensive) proposition. On weekdays, central London imposes a “congestion charge” on non-exempt vehicles. They enforce this with license plate recognition cameras, levying a hefty fine if the charge isn’t paid promptly.  (For some of us, there’s the added disincentive of having to drive on the wrong side.) London has an excellent public transportation system, so by doing a little homework, you can rent an apartment close to London’s extensive underground (subway) system that can conveniently transport you to where you want to go. Central London’s ubiquitous taxi drivers are the most professional in the world and riding one of London’s iconic red double decker buses can be considered a tourist attraction unto itself.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from Across the River Thames

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on the River Thames

Find Free Attractions to Visit

To be sure, there are plenty of  places in London that are well worth the price of admission, including, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. For a bird’s eye view, you can ride the now iconic observation pod ferris wheel, the London Eye. However, there are also world class museums and galleries that can be visited without charge. Trust me, you will be moved to make at least a modest donation for the privilege.

One of the most astonishing free museums is the British Museum. This museum is perhaps most renowned for its ground floor ancient world collections, including your chance to see the Rosetta Stone up close and personal, but perusing the upper floors will also be well worth your time. In nice weather, you can enjoy a takeaway (takeout) lunch break in nearby Russell Square or avail yourself of the modestly priced soup/salad/sandwich place in the museum. Some other must see museums that don’t charge an entry fee are the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London and the National Gallery.

If you’re a bibliophile, head for the British Library, the depository library for the United Kingdom which has a first floor gallery displaying a Guttenberg Bible and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales among other famous texts. There is an entire room devoted to the Magna Carta. One can also easily spend a day on the Museum Mile which contains twelve free museums along its way, including less well known ones such as the Charles Dickens Museum and the Courtland Gallery.

Church of Saint Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square

Church of Saint Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square

Look for Free and Discounted Events

One of our best “stumbled upon” places in London was the church of Saint Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square, especially because the chamber orchestra for that evening’s concert was having an open, free rehearsal. While it would be worth the price of admission to buy a ticket for an evening candlelight chamber performance or a jazz program down below in the Café in the Crypt, there is also a series of free lunchtime concerts.

Chamber Orchestra Rehearsal inside the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields

Chamber Orchestra Rehearsal inside the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields

On our last visit to London, we paid the somewhat steep almost $26 per person entry fee to visit Westminster Abbey with an audio guide. However, if you actually want to worship or attend a beautiful evensong service which I did on a prior visit, admission is free.

London is renowned for its West End theater scene. Half price and discount “day of” tickets can be purchased at a ticket booth in Leicester Square (for the uninitiated, that’s pronounced as “Lester”).

Park bench stature of "the Allies" (Roosevelet and Churchill), Bond Street, London

The author joining “The Allies” and earnestly trying to communicate some no doubt urgent matter to Franklin Delano Roosevelt while Winston Churchill looks on bemusedly. (Talk is cheap.)

Last, but certainly not least, you can get your pomp and circumstance fix for free by showing up for the changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. (Americans should feel historically right at home seeing the “Red Coats” in action). The Royal Family even has its own website so you can look up the information for dates and times.

Do you have a favorite London sight to share with your fellow Boomeresque readers— even if it’s not free?

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Gill December 16, 2012 at 11:29 am

Speaking of London buses, the #15 bus is one of the best value slightseeing tours, as it passes many of the favourite tourist spots. If you can snag the front upper deck seats, then you’re in for a happy couple of hours. Buy an Oyster card to save money on your tickets too, and swipe your way onto any bus or tube train without having to queue for individual tickets. Of course, you know about queueing, yes?

Lots more free places to add to your list, starting with the Soane Museum http://www.soane.org/ , moving on to the spectacular Leadenhall Market http://www.leadenhall-market.co.uk/ and maybe including one or two of the magnificent Hawksmoor churches http://www.london-footprints.co.uk/arthawksmoor.htm , especially if you’ve read Peter Ackroyd’s novel “Hawksmoor”.

There is a footpath the whole length of the river Thames, from the field where it begins just near me in Gloucestershire right up to the barrier. http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/thamespath/ On a fine day, that can include some interesting sights, including the London City Hall http://www.london.gov.uk/city-hall/the-building, where you can step inside and see what’s going on inside the glass “eyeball”.

Finally (for now?) there are heaps of interesting walks http://www.walklondon.org.uk/walk_finder.asp The area around Camden lock is an interesting place to explore and there are good places to stop for a bite to eat around there too.

Have fun! (We’re just off to London now, to a concert in the Wigmore Hall, where our dear friend Tra is giving a recital this evening. It’s the busiest shopping weekend of the year apparently, so wish us luck in finding a parking space – no congestion charge on Sundays btw)

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 16, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Gill, thank you so much for your very helpful comment. I know you are the true expert and these are wonderful addtions from someone who absolutely knows of whence she speaks. (I think most Boomeresque readers know about queueing, but just in case, to “queue up” means to line up and the British are experts at it.)

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Montecristo Travels December 16, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Great post! I (Sonja) lived in London for 3 years. Expensive place I know. About 70% of my salary went into rent. I also left before the city made me bitter. All those grey days, stiff upper lip and high cost of living … takes its toll I assure you. But to visit? yes I would certainly do that!

Oh and FYI … Ottawa (Canada)has double decker buses too now! 🙂

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 16, 2012 at 10:20 pm

We lived in England for a year, but that was before I had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I’m not sure how well I’d handle the short, gray winter days, but London, and the British Isles in general, are still one of my favorite places to visit.

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Madaline Fluhr December 16, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Sign me up! I want to go to London and rent an apt. and go to the British Museum and I want to walk on the footpath by the River Thames, (Thanks, Gill), etc., etc.
Suzanne – have you ever thought of becoming a chaperone to lead a trip somewhere?? You could have everyone make their own lodging plans (apt., hotel, whatever their budget will bear), but you would be the guide and develop the agenda for each day. Just a thought….Love the photo of you chatting with FDR & Churchill. Did they design the statues with that in mind, or do you think it was serendipitous that they kept a homophobically spacious space between the 2 statesmen?? In any case, great photo op!

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 16, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Mads, I’ve thought about the travel “chaperone” thing, but I know from our parents’ experience running those summer programs for the Allens Lane Arts Center that chaperoning adults would probably have some serious “herding cats” moments. I organized an extended family cruise for 10 people in Alaska and there were definitely some of those moments. On the other hand, maybe it would be fun. I think I’d be most useful organizing travel for non-Spanish speakers in Spanish speaking countries.

I don’t know if “The Allies” statues was designed to be welcoming for people to interject themselves between FDR and Churchill, but it really is difficult to pass up the photo op.

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bermtopia December 16, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Traveling with 16-year-old boy, I’d have to say the Jack the Ripper night walk was a highlight as was riding the tube packed with football (the British flavor) fans on our way to a Chelsea game. Oh, and the Blitz experience at the Imperial War Museum.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 16, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I think I might be glad that I skipped the Jack the Ripper night walk and riding the tube (subway) with British football fans. Did you wear neutral colors?

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bermtopia December 17, 2012 at 4:02 am

We were so bundled up colors were not an issue although I’ve become a die-hard Chelsea fan since that night. The 16-year-old was handed a random cellphone at one point and instructed “Tell ‘er I’m at the game, notta pub, mate.” The Number 2 Son complied.

And the fan song, in the tube, to the tune of She’s Coming ‘Round the Mountain, “Oh we’ll all go to to Tot’ham [The Hotspurs, sorry, soccer geek takes control] with our willies hanging out” still echoes. . . ..

Soccer. The other sport.

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 18, 2012 at 3:44 am

My #2 son was just in Seattle for a job and reports that professional soccer is a big fan favorite there. Seattle started the national infatuation with premium coffee, so maybe the rest of the USA will soon follow. Given the sorry season the Philadelphia Eagles (American football team) are having, I think Philly Phans might be willing to give it a try. We already have a reputation for rowdy fans, so we’re part of the way there already 😉

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Roz Warren December 17, 2012 at 1:05 am

My favorite free pass time in London is browsing the many wonderful bookshops on Charring Cross Road.

Great photo of you chatting with FDR. Did you tell him about the new movie coming out about the cousin he was schtupping?

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer December 17, 2012 at 2:24 am

Uh, no. I was there in June—before I knew about the movie—or his cousin. Next time, I’ll be sure to ask him about it, if Winnie will cover his ears.

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Jeremy December 17, 2012 at 2:35 am

Wish you knew about all of this stuff back in 08′ when we went to London…

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer (Suzanne) December 17, 2012 at 2:37 am

Sometimes, wisdom comes with age and experience. And sometimes, age just means we’re older. 😉

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Shanna Schultz January 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm

One of my favorite budget tips for London is the UK Tastecard (http://www.tastecard.co.uk/).

It is a dining club card that gives you half off and buy one, get one free meals all over London and the UK. The price is a little steep for a short trip (39 pounds), but if you are on a longer trip or traveling with a family, you will get this money back very quickly (food in London can be pricey, even at budget places).

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer January 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Thanks for this helpful tip? I wonder if other cities have a similar program.

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Brian Luckhurst January 28, 2013 at 4:08 pm

London is such a great city, but yes it can be expensive. I would recommend http://www.londonwalks.com as another good site for walking tours and although it costs, the recently completed cable car across the Thames is worth considering.

Can I also recommend that your readers consider swapping homes when traveling as this is a great way to vacation and save money at the same time. Why stay in a hotel or rent a flat or a villa when you can stay for free? Also your exchange partner can provide lots of local knowledge to make your stay more interesting.

Regards

Brian Luckhurst

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Suzanne Fluhr Just One Boomer January 28, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for the tips, Brian. Home exhanges are good if your dates work.

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