Spontaneous London

August 06, 2016

A few weeks ago I woke up on a Monday morning, bored out of my mind and wanting to find something to do. As you get to know me you'll realise that I'm definitely a do-er and not a sit-around-and-watch-tv-all-day kind of person. If I have a day free and the means to do so I'll be out and about. So on that Monday I thought, "hmm. How about London?". Cities are my favourite places, in particular New York and London. My boyfriend had that day and the next day off as well so I thought why not make a quick break out of the opportunity? Now neither of us are particularly rich, he had about £50 to his name and I had about £200 (considerably more but I get paid monthly and this was at the beginning of the month so I had to also make this actually last). I wanted to surprise him with it so I went off looking for a cheap hotel in London (which can be a task).

 - Hotels -
The best places I recommend looking for cheap hotels in cities such as London are the budget hotels. Unless you want to spend a bit more on luxury, these are the best places to go. We went on a weekend away to Brighton in February for Valentines and paid £109 for 3 nights, for 2 people! This was with Premier Inn, but even they were a little pricey for one night this time. So I went basic and looked at Travelodge. They were really amazing with their prices considering I was booking on the day for 2 people. The hotels get pricier considering how central they are, for example a night in Covent Garden Travelodge was around £129, whereas one in Ilford was around £39 for one night. I didn't want to be too far out but I also didn't want to pay central prices so I shopped around a bit and settled with Travelodge Greenwich. It was actually really great, I paid £79 for us both including breakfast in the morning. It wasn't hard to find at all and the hotel is very nice, basic (yes) but not bad at all. We were right next to the DLR station as well so that was good too. Our only issue was with parking. Which I will get on to next.

- Parking - 
Parking in London is expensive, and you also have to be careful when taking a car to London not to go into the congestion zone otherwise you have to pay a fee (unless your car is eco-friendly). Our hotel had recommended a car park nearby which wasn't in the congestion zone however when we got there we realised it only allowed parking for up to 6 hours! So we needed to find somewhere else. This was a bit frustrating as we had just driven through horrendous traffic (we managed to arrive around rush hour). We looked around and everywhere was so expensive, so in the end we decided to drive back out of London and towards Westfield in Stratford. This has become our go-to car park in London as it is easy to get the tube in and out and also doesn't charge expensive prices. It is £6.50 for more than 4 hours (I think) and you can stay for up to 24 hours. I think we paid about £13.50 for the whole time we were there (a day and a half). It is by far the best place to park as it is not central so there's less traffic and transport into London is easy and cheap. So if you're overnighting in London and your hotel doesn't have a car park, go to Westfield!

- Food - 
Whilst we are yet to do this, ultimately the cheapest way to eat on a holiday is to book somewhere with a kitchen and cook yourself. When you go out to restaurants you're paying mostly for the service, so if you're looking to keep it really cheap it's best not to eat out and cook yourself. We didn't have a kitchen at our hotel so we had to keep the costs down otherwise. We booked breakfast at the hotel, so we didn't need to worry about that. For dinner on our first night we allowed ourselves to splurge a little and we went to Bill's for dinner. I have a student discount which allowed 20% off our bill which was good, so if you're a student make sure you use your discounts as they can save you a lot of money! The next day, we went around central London and everything is twice the price there. For lunch we simply had a sandwich from Sainsbury's and for dinner we got McDonald's. I know it doesn't sound fabulous but if you're looking for cheap you gotta do what you gotta do! But of course if we had had a kitchen we would have made packed lunches and our own dinner so we will be doing that next time.

- Things to Do - 
The best thing about cities is the vast array of activities and things to do. The city never sleeps, so you can never be bored. After we had eaten dinner we didn't get out in London until around 8pm which was pretty late, but we wanted to explore anyway. London is full of places that are open late. We took the DLR and tube to Tower Hill and walked around there as it is out favourite place in London. If we had been a bit earlier we would have gotten the night bus tour which was £9 each, but we missed that (next time). I hadn't been to Piccadilly Circus before so we got the tube there and by this time it was around 10pm. I had heard of Ripley's Believe it or Not! but I didn't know where it was, so I was pretty excited when I noticed it there. We went in to look at prices and at first it was off-putting. It was kinda pricey. But I asked one of the staff members if they had any discounts and he offered us a deal of £30 for us both! That was about £20 off the usual price so we took it and went inside. I would recommend going to these kind of places (tourist attractions) later at night as we were the only ones there with one other couple and it's so much better when it's not so busy you can't see anything. Ripley's was great, the mirror maze was so much fun and it was really interesting too. (Although we both got too scared to go into the dungeon section alone, haha). They even let us do the lazer thing twice as it was empty! After this it was quite late, so we went back to the hotel at around 11:30pm.

The next day we headed out bright and early. If you're around all day, I'd recommend getting a Travelcard for £12.10. It gives you unlimited access to the tubes and buses in London so it is definitely worth it. We went to Bow Street and walked up the where the London Eye is. The eye is expensive though, so we gave it a miss (also the queues were so long!). There is a lot to do there however, so take a look around if you're there. After that we went to Covent Garden and walked around the markets. Window shopping is a good way of passing time without spending (if you can restrain yourself!). It was lovely and there was some very nice stuff there. After we went and there was a street performer outside Covent Garden. We watched him for a while and he was funny, we gave him £3 at the end of his performance. Street performers are common around central London, and they're great entertainment too so if you see one be sure to watch :) We then walked towards Oxford Street and got some food. Then we walked to the British Museum. The museums in London are great because they are mostly free to go to and they are so interesting. We walked around the museum and saw the Egyptian section before deciding to head back out again. We went down Oxford Street and went into Selfridges & Co. This shop is for those with money but it is fun to browse the handbags worth more than your car (lol). Finally, we had to get going as we had a long drive home, so we headed back to Westfield and picked up dinner and went home.

I know it doesn't sound like we did a lot, but we spent nearly no money on anything aside from food and it took up our whole day!

- Overall - 
If you truly want to experience London you will need more than a day, but our trip goes to show you can do a cheap and spontaneous outing to London without breaking the bank! Overall we spent around £120 between us both. With food, hotel, parking, and activities that isn't bad at all! But here are my main tips for staying in London:

• Go for the budget hotels, or even better a hostel would be super cheap
• Don't dine out often, these rack up and are expensive if you eat out a lot 
• Window shop instead of actual shop - look at stuff to save up for!
• Buy a travelcard, it makes travelling around London so much easier
• If you got the train to London, use their 2for1 deals on the attractions
• If you're a student, use your student discounts to your advantage!
• The museums are free, so take a look around them :)
• Just walking around London is fun in itself, take in the beauty of the city!


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