London on a budget: Five things to do on the Meryl Streep
London can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Jane Last has five top tips for a city on the cheap.
London is a city we all take for granted.
The last time I was there, previous to this weekend, was five years ago and it was to see friends. I had somewhere to stay, a cheap flight and just went out.
I didn't know when I'd be back - I just figured it was always going to be there and I'd do the 'tourist' thing next time I go over. Which ended up being several years...
So this time, I bit the bullet and decided to give London the full tourist treatment. It ain't cheap, but here are my five tips for doing it on a budget:
1. Take a tour
You never really get to know a city unless you do the tour.
Bus tours are commonplace in London, but they can be pricey - so why not try a relatively new business model courtesy of the 'Free Tour of London' (above, freetoursoflondon.com) instead?
I gave one a try, and learned about the history of Soho's sex industry, saw the pub where Paul McCartney first met Linda Eastman, the spots where Jimi Hendrix liked to hang out as got to hear the guide's tales about Oasis. Highly recommended.
As we know, however, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
The tour guides explain the system to every group - basically, tours are free but you're expected to tip the guide when you finish the tour. Anywhere between £5 and £10 is the going rate - but these guides know their stuff, so it's great value.
2. Stay in Tune
Tune Hotel: King's Cross
Thanks to my friends and their couches over the years, I never realised how expensive accommodation can be in London.
Then I discovered Tune Hotels. The company has several branches in the city - in locations such as Paddington Street, Westminster Bridge, Liverpool Street and Kings Cross - and they keep costs down.
How? Its business model differs to other hotels in that they don't have a dedicated room service and no breakfast or dinner deals. Savings on overheads are passed down to us consumers with cheaper rooms... and there's a coffee bar in the lobby too.
I stayed in King's Cross - easily accessible from Heathrow and Gatwick airports via train or Tube and in close proximity to the major transport hub that is St Pancras.
Now - you're not staying in the lap of luxury. Rooms are basic - bed, TV and bathroom. Some rooms are even 'windowless' (and cheaper still). But it works.
We found the rooms spotless, comfortable, and the staff super-efficient and friendly. It was an oasis of calm in the middle of a vibrant metropolis - and ironically, the no-nonsense business model is now attracting business clientele - particularly those using the international Eurostar service in St Pancras.
Tune was different to any other hotel I've stayed in - I wasn't expecting much to be honest, but I was thoroughly surprised and would definitely stay at one of their hotels in Newcastle, Edinburgh or Liverpool, too. I hope they come to Ireland - Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick could really benefit.
Rooms at Tune Hotels (tunehotels.com) start at €75 per night.
3. Get the Tube - Everywhere!
Look at your debit or credit card - does it have the contactless symbol on it? If so, no more queuing for tickets at Tube stations - your card can be used instead.
How? Basically, card machines read any Irish bank card whether it's Bank of Ireland, AIB, Ulster Bank... Whatever bank it is, once you have the contactless symbol on your card it will work in the machines.
I was queuing to buy a day ticket when London Underground staff pointed out that I could use my card - I went on to do five journeys and saved some €8 in the process. The total amount was deducted in one go from my account a few hours later.
I tried filming my contactless adventure for a Vine - it's pretty hopeless (see above, Spielberg has nothing to worry about) - but proves to the doubters out there that an Irish bank card can be used!
Can you imagine the hassle we would save if we could use this technology on the Luas, Dublin Bus, Bus Eireann or Irish Rail?
Also the Night Tube is up and running now on the Jubilee, Victoria, Central, Northern and Picadilly Lines. And yes - your contactless card will work on these too
4. But you ARE going to have to splash out on one tourist sight....
That can be Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Westminster, The London Eye. There is just so many.
I chose the tower - it houses the Crown jewels, was a prison for Elizabeth I before she came to power, and is the last resting place of Anne Boleyn was buried. It's right beside London Bridge (above), too.
And if you're of the mind, head to Harrods in Knightsbridge. You'll probably only be looking, but get a slice if pizza in the food hall and sample their beer. It's not exactly cheap - but definitely memorable.
5. A parting glass
Pint, anyone? The Hawley Arms
I didn't hit celeb haunt Chinawhites, Mahiki (Prince Hary's favourite) or get as far as TOWIE fave 'Sugar Hut' - forgot to do the fake tan, see?
I did head to the Hawley Arms - the Camden pub made famous by the late Amy Winehouse. The place was kicking, particularly the beer garden upstairs, and it stayed open till 2am.
We chatted to the bouncer for a while who told us a few little things about how Amy would take her spot in the upstairs lounge to sing. Apparently, the landlord gave her her own private room on the top floor of the pub where she would get ready or perhaps spend the night.
That room has been closed since her tragic death at just 27.
Anyway, great night, great craic and apart from the drinks we didn't pay anything extra - also Camden is kicking. It's the new Shoreditch - or so I was told.