London is pricey. But despite the tough reputation of the British pound to the wimpy American dollar, you don’t have to break the bank in killer exchange rates to go. In fact, 2011 exchange rate forecasts suggest the value of the pound will drop between January and May, so now is the time to plan a trip. Like any other big city, you’ll pay to stay, eat and get around, but here are four simple things you can do to stretch your dollar further in the expensive metropolis.
1. Skip London Department Stores
You can get most items in London’s department stores for half the price in America. Veer away from Oxford Street and skip Harrod’s, Harvey Nick’s, Debenhams, and Mark’s & Spencer, and head to London’s best markets. Spitalfields market in East London has funky wares for sale, and at Portobello Road, the Notting Hill antiques market, you can find anything from old clocks to camera equipment, jewelry, paintings and leather. Culinary Borough Market is the perfect foodie destination, and the Camden Markets, old horse stable grounds, are an eclectic mix of indie-style and international stalls.
London taxis are super pricey. Short distances cost £10 ($16). Cabs just a few times a day will drain your budget before you know it. London is extremely walkable, however. Plus, the clean, well-connected, frequently running Underground Tube and intricate bus system provides the city with great transport links. Get an Oyster Card, a smart card that reduces fares by almost 50%. Talk to the ticket seller at an Underground station and he or she will sell you an Oyster Card for just £3 (about $5) that can be topped up and used like a debit-system. It’s well worth it considering your savings and not getting an Oyster Card is the number one tourist mistake as an individual tube ride costs £4 ($6) without it, and less an £2 ($3) with it. Plus you can return the card to a ticketing agent on your way out of the city and get a return on the £3.
One of the biggest expenses on any trip to London is accommodation. London hotels can eat up your entire budget before you even arrive. To avoid the high hotel prices, try staying in a hotel outside of central London in a cheap London hotel. At around £70 ($105) a night outside the city center is less expensive than central London but is close enough that you can hop on the tube and be there in 15 minutes. As a bonus, you get a more local experience of London. Easytobook.com offers a range of hotel accommodations for most budgets, and has a comprehensive list of hotels in Greater London.
4. Visit Museums for Free
All of London’s major museums, like the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert, and the Tate Modern, are free. Visit the famous dinosaur skeletons at the Natural History Museum, the Egyptian and Greek antique collections at the British Museum, the Science Museum holds interactive exhibits for all ages, or the Museum of London that documents the entire history of London from Roman times to the present. Most museums offer special exhibitions for a small fee and they’re a great way to spend classic rainy London afternoons.
For more on saving money in London, snag one of these guidebooks.