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3 Thrifty Steps to an Affordable London

September 29, 2002|LUCY IZON

London can easily be one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, but it doesn't have to be. For those on a student-style budget, there are many ways to stretch your funds and still see the city's tourist sites. Here are three easy ways to cut costs:

* Buy packages for independent travelers offered by six of London's most popular hostels.

* Download from the Internet instructions for free "do-it-yourself" walking/public transportation tours.

* Plan your sightseeing around renowned museums and galleries that are free.

The Youth Hostel Assn. of England and Wales is offering two special London Explorer packages for independent travelers. Each package includes accommodations in shared rooms for two, three or four nights, with breakfast, at your choice of six London youth hostels.

Although the hostels are used mostly by young travelers, they are affiliated with the worldwide Hostelling International network and do not impose age restrictions.

Both packages include a ticket for the Original London Sightseeing Tour (a five-hour hop-on, hop-off service that operates double-decker buses along routes linking the city's major sites), plus entrance to the London Dungeon and a pass for the Tube (subway) system for the duration of your package.

The City Sights Explorer package also includes a pass for the London Eye (at 450 feet, the world's highest observation wheel). For two nights the cost is about $131, three nights is $185 and six nights is $309.

The London History Explorer version includes a ticket for the Madame Tussaud Wax Works and another for the London Planetarium. Two nights is $139, three nights is $193 and six nights is $317.

Reserve through YHA Customer Services at 011-44-1629-592-708 or by e-mailing a participating hostel. For information on Hostelling International-American Youth Hostels membership, log onto

The participating hostels are YHA St. Pancras, near St. Pancras Tube stop; YHA City of London, near St. Paul's Cathedral; YHA Hampstead Heath, on the edge of the city near Hampstead Heath Tube station (this hostel received a "thumbs up" rating from the "Let's Go: London" guidebook); YHA Holland House (part of this hostel is a 1607 Jacobean mansion), near High St. Kensington Tube station; YHA Earl's Court, near Earl's Court Tube station; and YHA Rotherhithe, a modern hostel overlooking the Thames River.

The great news for budget travelers is that you can visit many of London's top museums and galleries free. (Donations may be suggested, and there may be charges for tours and special exhibits.) Admission is free to the British Museum, where you can see the Rosetta Stone, which made it possible to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, and gaze at the Elgin marbles; the National Gallery, which holds works by Botticelli, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci; the National Portrait Gallery; the Tate Britain and Tate Modern galleries; the Imperial War Museum; the Natural History Museum; the Science Museum; the Museum of London; the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

When you've tired of museums and galleries, you can find loads of other free activities in London, from watching colorful characters speak their minds at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park to visiting the Houses of Parliament or watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (11:30 a.m. every other day in the winter).

Two Web sites can help you find your way to these and other economical opportunities. The site lists free and low-cost ideas, from where to find Internet services in London for as little as $1.54 per hour, to markets, to where to see free performances of Shakespeare (the Guildhall School of Music). Its sister site,, is a great find for independent adventurers. It outlines six "do-it-yourself" walking tours, with photos and brief write-ups that are entertaining.


Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Her Internet site is

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