Visit England's biggest city on a little budget and shave off those Pounds (Sterling) with savings suggestions for airport, sightseeing and local transportation.
With the Great British Pound (GBP or £) holding strong at 2:1 against the US dollar ($), families have every reason to look for ways to cut their costs. Here is a list of discount travel and sightseeing options put together by the FTF staff with the assistance of the British Tourist Authority, to help those who want to see London without shedding too many pounds.
1st Big Cost – Transport To/From London Airports
Heathrow Express is the fastest and most environmentally friendly alternative to the US$60-US$80 cab ride into the city, and a good deal for small families. Every 15 minutes, you can hop onboard the fast train from Heathrow, including its newest Terminal 5, for Paddington Station. The ride, which takes less than a half-hour, costs £14.50/adult (US$35) per person (reduced fares for kids ages 5 to 15; under 5 ride free) one way in Express Class if purchased online. Prices are higher for first class and if purchased at the airport or on the train. Ask at the airport ticket offices about Family & Friends Rail Cards for up to eight passengers; they can save up to one-third of the adult fair and 60% for children. Tickets can be purchased online (another 10% discount), over the phone, through hotel concierge desks, at a machine at Heathrow Airport, at Paddington Station, or at Bureau de Change locations and onboard.
The Gatwick Express is a nonstop train service every 15 minutes from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station. The one-way ticket costs about £15/adult (US$30) per person in Express Class or £25.50/adult (US$51) per person in 1st Class, compared to the US$100 taxi fare. The trip takes about 30 minutes.
The Stansted Express is a train service departing Stansted Airport to central London's Liverpool Station, stopping at Tottenham Hale station. Because this hub for regional European carriers has become very popular, it's slated to expand by 2012 into an even larger air transport hub than Heathrow. The one-way express ticket costs £15.50 (US$31) and the trip takes 45 minutes, compared with a US$120 and 70-minute taxi ride. Ask about a Kids Go Free ticket, available for trips booked by 7/31/08 for travel by 9/30/08. With this ticket, children under 16 travel free when they are accompanying a fare-paying adult.
The new Dot2Dot shuttle service is now operating from Heathrow and Gatwick airports to Central London. The shuttle brings you from the airport directly to your door, and makes no more than three stops along the way. Prices start at £17.50 (US $36).
The Piccadilly Tube Line runs through the heart of the city directly to Heathrow, connecting the main airport with the rest of the London Underground or Tube system. There are daily trains every few minutes, and at a cost of £4 (US$8) per person (including kids). Though it takes about 50 minutes to or from Hyde Park Corner and can be very crowded, it is the best value for larger families. There are multiple Underground stations at Heathrow Airport, serving Terminals 1-3, Terminal 4, and Terminal 5.
For 2009, a London Taxi seating five will cost approximately US$80-US$120 from Hyde Park in central London, although the GBP:$ exchange rate may vary.
National Express Airport coach services economically connect seven major UK airports with towns and cities across the country. For example, you may take an National Express bus going to Victoria Coach Station from Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted. It's good value at £4 (US $8) but the traffic can be challenging.
Sightseeing & Entertainment Savings in London
If you're going to tour the United Kingdom, you should consider taking advantage of BritRail Passes. You can explore great cities like London and Edinburgh as well as the beautiful countryside with the country's national railroad. If you plan your route ahead you may be able to take advantage of special savings on certain routes. Additionally, the England Party Pass offers a 50% discount to the third through ninth passengers traveling on the same itinerary with two full-fare adults, and children's discounts often apply. You may purchase these passes from a travel agent or from the website before you leave for Europe.
Whether you're touring by train or car, gain access to nearly 600 castles, stately homes and gardens in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales with the Great British Heritage Pass. The pass costs US$60 for four days, US$88 for seven days, US$117 for 15 days, and US$157 for 30 days and provides travelers with exceptional savings on admission to these historic attractions. Family passes are also available at $137 for 4 days, $187 for 7 days, $236 for 15 days and $235 for 30 days. Another perk of this pass is the opportunity to learn about the many historic homes and manor houses that rent rooms with breakfast at less than market rates. These can be quite a bargain for a grand countryside vacation.
Museum lovers should take advantage of the free admission at national museums and galleries in England, Scotland and Wales, a gift from the Royal Family to promote the arts for all citizens. In fact, there are 238 free museums and galleries in London, 11 in Scotland and eight in Wales, more than enough to keep the family busy.
The London Pass is a great way to save on local sightseeing, as most of the city's small off-beat museums are included in a one-price admission booklet. This link provides a coupon for 5% off the retail price of the pass if you use this code: londpas05 .
A full-day guided tour of London, including either the Changing of the Guard or a visit to Horseguards Parade, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London all await you on the London Day Tour. You get an experienced guide, a luxury air-conditioned touring coach, lunch, a cruise of the River Thames, all entrance fees, and a pickup at 40 London hotels. Day tours can be booked by your hotel concierge. As an alternative, consider the more casual double-decker London Bus tours.
Purchase a ticket valid for 24 hours and the entire family can hop on and off the Original London Sightseeing Tour's traditional red open-top buses. There are five tour routes covering the major sites, English-speaking guides or digital commentaries in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Russian and, for the young and the restless, a "Kids' Club Commentary" and activity pack. These one-day tickets cost £22 (US$44) per adult and £12 (US$24) per child and also include a free Thames cruise and walking tour. Discounts are given for purchasing tickets online. "Family tickets" are also available and are valid for two adults and three children. For details, call them at 44/0/20 8877 1722.
Or if you would like to take care of your sightseeing tickets before you even leave home, go to visitbritain.com or call 800/462-2748 and purchase the Essential London Kit. For only $124, this city pass provides a combination of transportation and sightseeing in a convenient and affordable way. Included is a three-day travel London Card, one ticket to the London Eye and the Tower of London, as well as a ticket on the traditional double-decker sightseeing bus, a Thames River Cruise and two walking tours. The kit provides a savings of nearly $15 per person. It also comes with a "London Planner Guidebook," can be shipped to your home before departure to London and the price is also in American Dollars, not Pounds! Additionally, Visit Britain occasionally has special promotions on the Essential London Kit where it can be purchased for as low as $99 for adults and $66 for children. The Essential London Kit saves you 10% from the purchase of each ticket individually.
If you keep your eyes open, there are plenty of free sights to enjoy in London. Take the tube out to Abbey Road and get a family picture that mimics the famous Beatles' album. Watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, explore the Royal Parks of London, or watch the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London (tickets for this event are free but need to be booked two months in advance). Many free events happen once a year, such as Proms in the Park (broadcasting Last Night of the Proms) or the Thames River Festival, complete with fireworks that will amaze the entire family. Grab a free copy of The London Lite to discover what's going on during your visit.
Don't miss a chance to enjoy London's famous theatre scene. There is a tkts booth in Leicester Square, which sells half-price tickets for West End performances on the day of the show. To see what's on offer, you can visit the Official London Theatre website or speak with your concierge. You'll have to get to tkts early to avoid disappointment; the booth is open from 10am-7pm Monday through Saturday and noon-3pm on Sundays.
Getting Around London Town
London has an excellent public transportation system, but single rides can cost more than US$4 depending on how far you plan to ride. With most programs, children up to 15-years of age can purchase a one-day travel pass for £1 if they are traveling with an adult who has a valid travelcard. Children under age 11 can travel for free at any time. Ask about The Underground's simplified new use-anytime Family Travelcard, available for up to 2 adults and 4 children. (Children may need to present photo IDs with their date of birth to qualify.)
The Transport for London Oyster Card is a new, refillable transportation option that allows family members to board any Tube, tram or public bus for a reduced fee. Basically, a “smart card” that tracks usage throughout the day while deducting charges, the Oyster Card works most economically if used after 9:30am, when rates revert to “off peak” hours. For example, hop on the Tube to the British Museum at 8:30am, and you can begin your day paying GBP4 fee for a single tube ticket, or start working on a £13 all-day ticket. Do the same thing 65 minutes later, and you’ll pay only £3.50 for a single ticket, and under £5 for an all-day ticket (meaning an unlimited number of on/offs with a maximum day-long charge of £5). The Oyster Card also offers 33% off River Thames boat services where kids under 5 travel free.
As the rates on classic black taxis continue to rise, many locals recommend minicabs, four-door sedans that may only pick up passengers if called in advance. They're quick to arrive and somewhat cheaper, too. Ask your hotel or restaurant to book it for you, or text: HOME to the Cabwise Service at 60835. This assures that one taxi and two minicab service phone numbers are texted back to your cellular for booking.
The London Pass offers sightseeing and transportation discounts. An offspring of smart card technology, it allows access to more than 50 attractions and the ability to beat the lines. The London Pass also saves waiting time because you have all your admission tickets in advance, and provides even greater savings if you purchase the "travelcard" option with it. The price for a one-day pass (with transport) is about £43 (US$86) per adult and £24 (US$48) per child ages 5 to 15.
Save on Hotels: Apartment Rentals in London
Apartment rentals are a great value in London, and last-minute apartment deals can be found online at Barclay International Group (800/845-6636). Visit their site for information on specific rates on the apartment, villa, cottage or condo of your choice and follow the links to learn more about London's various neighborhoods.
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